PENELOPE ROWLANDS

BIOGRAPHER & JOURNALIST

BOOKS

Biographies

I'm the author of A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Art, and Letters, a biography of the Irish-American editor of Harper's Bazaar from 1934 through 1958. Snow -- a key figure, not just in fashion, but in the cultural life of the United States and Europe -- had been just about forgotten before my book was published (by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster) in 2005; it was a privilege to bring her back to prominence.

Snow was an outsize figure — funny, brilliant, imperious, endearing. She had a keen eye for talent of all kinds, discovering and /​ or nurturing the careers of such diverse people as Cristobal Balenciaga, Andy Warhol, Jean Cocteau, Truman Capote, and Lauren Bacall, and moving quickly to bring them into the pages of her Harper’s Bazaar.

Her magazine, which she put together with two of her most famous hires, the art director Alexey Brodovitch and Diana Vreeland (as fashion editor), brought first-rate journalism, fashion, fiction, and design —some of it startlingly avant-garde — to America, setting the cultural pace of this country for decades to come.

My research for Dash took me to Paris, New York (of course), and across Ireland. I interviewed about a hundred people who had worked with Snow, or just been hugely influenced by her, among them: the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson; the couturier Hubert de Givenchy; Ned Rorem, the noted composer; and many others. Richard Avedon, the famous photographer, summed up her influence most succinctly: “Carmel Snow taught me everything I know,” he told me, in one of the last interviews he gave before his death in 2004.

(For more details about Dash and some of my other published works, please click on the 'Books & Reviews' tab above. )

My current biographical project -- on the later years of the founding father Aaron Burr -- is due out in 2016.


Anthologies

I've also compiled two recent anthologies (both for Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). In each case, I edited the collection, while also contributing the introduction and an essay of my own.

Paris Was Ours (2011) takes as its subject not the city itself, but the transformative effect of living there -- something I have done twice in my life. I reached out to others who had spent serious time in Paris, too, curious to see if their experiences imatched my own sense that, while the city could be a difficult, even impossible place to live, its influence was almost uncannily profound. Contributors include: Diane Johnson; the Cuban novelist Zoe Valdes,; Joe Queenan; Judith Thurman; the Iraqi-born editor Samuel Shimon; Stacy Schiff, and many others.

Similarly, the subject of my anthology The Beatles Are Here! (2014) was not so much the legendary band itself, but the impact of its hugely dramatic 1964 arrival in the United States. The book includes essays (by such writers as Lisa See, Greil Marcus, Pico Iyer, Sigrid Nunez, and Roy Blount, Jr.), as well as oral histories by musicians, from Billy Joel to Bob Dylan, and assorted fans.


Design Books

My other books include three volumes on design, all published by Chronicle Books. Weekend Houses, which I coauthored with photographer Mark Darley, was published in 2000. Two years later, I came out with monographs on the work of Jean Prouvé and Eileen Gray -- two forward-thinking European industrial designers from the 1930s (and beyond) -- as part of Chronicle's Compact Design series.