Do you want to write a biography about someone else? I have a notebook where I write down project ideas, including the names of people I’d like to interview about their life experiences. Over the last couple years, my list has become pretty long!

With my journalism background, I never have trouble sniffing out an interesting or eccentric personality. Honestly, everybody has some good stories to tell. You just need to practice your interview skills so people will share them.

There are so many interesting people in the world. Pick someone you know who’s led an interesting life and help them preserve and record their stories. It will be fun for you, and incredibly meaningful for the other person.

10 people to write a biography about

If you want to write a biography about someone else, here are 10 suggestions from my interview list:

Your grandma or grandpa. If you’re fortunate enough to still having living grandparents, put them at the top of your biography list! You’ll have so much fun asking them  stories about their life and they’ll love spending time with you. Some grandparents need a little convincing to really open up and share their experiences. Others might talk your ear off. Be sure to get them to repeat the stories you grew up hearing. One day you will LOVE having that story in their own words.

An elderly relative. We all have a kooky great aunt or great uncle, or maybe a globe-trotting distant cousin, who has the most amazing and crazy stories. Get in touch with those relatives and start asking them questions. To get the conversation started, ask for details about a specific story you’ve heard. It’s a good way to warm them up and get them interested in sharing more with you.

Someone diagnosed with a memory disorder or memory condition. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a gentleman who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His family wanted to preserve his stories while the details and memories were still sharp and clear. Before the interview, I did two things. I emailed questions to Paul and his wife to answer before I arrived. And I asked his grandchildren for a list of stories they liked to hear Grandpa Paul tell. This gave me a great outline for the interview. (You’ll hear more about Paul and his biography next month!)

A World War II veteran. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, less than 100,000 will be alive in 2021. If you know any WWII vets, please, please, please go interview them! These men and women have experienced incredible world events. They have lived through mind-boggling scientific advancements. Their stories need preserved! And while their war memories are just a small part of their life story, it’s often a subject they enjoy talking about. Also, do some advance research about where they served so you can ask the right questions and help trigger more memories. After all, World War II was about 80 years ago! Finally, be sure to ask if they have scrapbooks or memorabilia you could look at with them. This is a great way to help them remember more details.

A first-generation American. Both sides of my family have been in the United States for a long, long time. So I don’t have any relatives who could provide a first-person narrative of what it’s like to be an immigrant. But, it’s on my wish list to interview someone about their decision to immigrate to the United States and start a new life. If your family has living relatives who immigrated to the U.S., start asking questions and define your family’s history! What an awesome gift this will be for future generations to read.

Someone diagnosed with a terminal illness. When my aunt was in the final stages of cancer last year, I tried to interview her. She’d had some pretty wild adventures and lived through challenging times. And I wanted to hear those stories in her sassy voice. But my aunt just couldn’t face doing an end-of-life conversation. She said she wasn’t ready to talk about it. And that’s OK. I made the offer twice and then dropped it. If you know someone with a terminal diagnosis, let them know you’re here to help if they want it.

A recent retiree. A great time to ask someone to reflect on their career and accomplishments is right after they have retired. In addition, a biography book would make an awesome retiree gift! Help them define and celebrate the legacy they are leaving behind and get them excited about the next chapter of their lives.

A stay-at-home mother. Too often equate accomplishments to bullet points on our resumes. This mindset leaves out the millions of women (and now lots of men!) who have devoted their lives to running households and supporting children and spouses. Honor their work by helping them define and articulate the legacy they’re leaving behind. Plus, they probably have hilarious kid stories and loads of life wisdom.

A person of a different race or ethnicity. If you want this biography project to be an educational experience for you, use it as an opportunity to better understand a person of a different race or ethnicity. Let’s face it, the world would be a much better place if we all sought out, listened to and actively tried to understand more people who don’t look like we do.

Someone in a nursing home or veteran’s home. If you want to write a biography about someone else, just visit the program director at a nearby nursing home or veteran’s home (when it’s safe to do so). Ask if there are residents who might like someone to visit with and share their stories. Following the isolation of the pandemic, there will be many lonely people looking for new friends and opportunities to reminiscence. This would be a great opportunity to create mini biography books — simple documents filled with their stories and memories. They could share them with their families, or just have them for themselves.

Start your biography project

Now that you have ideas of who to interview, it’s time to get started! Begin with a list of questions to ask your subject. For some good questions, visit our Resources Page and download the 200+ interview questions. Never written someone’s life story? Don’t worry. I’ve outlined step-by-step instructions for writing a biography. Good luck!

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A tapestry of family history stories with brightly colored collection of Native American blankets hanging on wall.Man writing a book of his life stories to help define his legacy.