What might a biographer someday write about you? Well, let’s examine the evidence. Inveterate resident of New York City? Possibly an overreaction to growing up in small-town western Massachusetts. Deep-seated geekiness? Probably all those childhood hours holed up in the Adams Free Library. A prying interest in other people’s lives? The many hours spent gossiping in the common room of Willie F. A commitment to scrupulous research? The lingering influence no doubt of your college professors. The obsession with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? The painful loss of that balsa wood glider brand-named Rosebud. A fixation on the aging Benjamin Franklin? Reread Freud. The depiction of Cleopatra as a woman of uncommon ability, discipline, and confidence? Pure projection. Being translated into 36 languages? Had a hard time settling down. The amassing of wide critical acclaim and honors such as the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, the Institut Francais’ Gilbert Chinard Prize, and even a Pulitzer? Chronic overachievement. Sorry if this cuts too close to the bone. We are merely following your own observation that “reality does not easily give up meaning; it’s the biographer’s job to clobber it into submission,” and are just trying to follow your own example since, as one reviewer has observed, “Even if forced to at gunpoint, Stacy Schiff would be incapable of writing a dull page or a lame sentence.”
I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Letters, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.
June 2, 2013