Biographical research – the project

I don’t have an outline for Isaac Bonewits’ biography yet. Since I don’t know enough about Isaac’s life, creating an outline now will predispose me to a particular narrative. First I learn about Isaac, then I’ll decide how to tell his story.

What I’ll set down here is my planned research outline; that is, how I learn about his life and times. I may go back and edit this post as I learn about biographical research or about Isaac himself.

  1. What Isaac had or wrote.
    1. Isaac’s papers

      Isaac never threw anything away. When he passed on, he left behind roughly 30 boxes of papers, manuscripts, correspondence, and anything else that struck his fancy. Phaedra Bonewits was kind enough to let me scan those papers before they were sent to the religious studies archives at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

      I didn’t try to read the papers. I glanced at something, made a snap judgement, then tossed it into the scanner if it looked interesting. These pages are sitting in my computer, waiting for me to go over them.

    2. Isaac’s writings

      I have to re-read every book Isaac wrote. I’ll also try to find as many of his articles as I can, but I know I can’t read every little essay he ever wrote for Green Egg (for example), mainly because I’m never going to collect them all.

      Hopefully this will give me some sense of how Isaac’s ideas evolved over time.

    3. Isaac’s calendars

      This is a sub-category unto itself, because Isaac never threw away any of his wall or desk calendars. I’ve got a complete set from 1974 through 2010. They’re a dense source of information, far too much to cover by myself.

      Fortunately told me what most researchers do: Get your friends to help. I’ve organized “calendar parties” to go over Isaac’s calendars and put anything significant into a private Google calendar. This will help me to identify festivals he attended and other places he traveled.

  2. What others wrote about Isaac.

    Isaac made this task a bit easier, because he saved many of the articles written about him over the years. I’ll still have to re-read some fairly dense books:

    • Drawing Down the Moon
    • The Triumph of the Moon
    • People of the Earth
    • The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft

    I’m sure I’ll find others. Of course, there are web sites I’ll have to search, but that’s a task for Google.

  3. Interviews

    Broadly speaking, the people with whom I’d like to speak fall into these categories:

    • Family
    • Friends
    • Those he worked with professionally (e.g., at Llewellyn)
    • Members of the same organizations as he (AADL, RDNA, ADF)
    • Those influenced or guided by Isaac
    • Those with interesting anecdotes about him.

      One thing about the interviews I’ve conducted so far: There aren’t many “wild Isaac stories.” I ask the subjects for them, but either they say they don’t have any, or they say “I can’t really tell you those; they’re too embarrassing/personal/dirty.” I make it clear that I”m writing a biography, not a hagiography; Isaac didn’t have any halos when I knew him, and I don’t think he needs any now. But they’re still mum.

My original intention was to pursue this research in the order above. However, I’m pushed by a harsh reality: Many of the folks I’d like to interview are elderly or in ill health. I estimate the time for the textual research to be one or two years; it would be nice to have that done so I’d know what questions to ask, but if I wait that long I may lose some subjects to interview.

So I’m doing the interviews first. This means that as I do the textual research, I’m going to discover questions I should have asked. Well, that’s what follow-up interviews are for.

After all this, I’ll think I’ll have a good chronology of Isaac’s life, have a sense of the narrative of the biography, and I’ll be able to prepare an outline. Then… I write!

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  1. wgseligman

    With help from Deborah Lipp, I came to understand why I didn’t get any Isaac stories: it’s because I melodramatically referred to them as “wild” or “crazy” Isaac stories. From now on, I’ll just ask for “Isaac stories.”

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