Skip to main content

English Language & Literature


Consult biographical dictionaries to get brief information about people, dates and events. Biographical dictionaries often contain lists of a writer's complete works, as well as lists of related secondary sources and criticism, including book-length biographies.

Two categories of biographical dictionary are broadly useful for literary study. National biographies contain articles concerning historically important residents of a particular country; literary biographies collect the biographies of important writers. You can find specialized biographical dictionaries by doing a subject-heading search for biography in QCAT. For example: 

     Biography 20th century Dictionaries

To determine if the Library owns a book-length biography of a person, perform a subject search in QCAT. Enter [last name, first name], for example: 
     twain mark
You may wish to consult titles that just have the author's name as subject heading as well as those with subdivisions: Biography, Correspondence, Diaries, Family, Interviews.
Another approach to finding biographies in QCAT is to perform a keyword search using the term "biography" (in the subject field) and the name of the person. However, this method will not return a list of all the books that contain biographical information on your subject.

National Biographies

Dictionary of American Biography
REF E176.D5
Twenty-volume set containing scholarly articles and bibliographies about prominent Americans who died prior to 1927. Seven supplements bring the coverage up to 1965.
Revised edition of the Dictionary of National Biography. A definitive resource for British and Commonwealth biography, comprising 50,000 biographies written by over 10,000 contributors. Print covers from the earliest times to the year 2000 (60 volumes).

Literary Biographies

Dictionary of Literary Biography (series)
REF Call Number varies
A collection of essays on the lives and careers of authors from all eras and genres as well as critical responses to their work. To locate the individual volumes of this multi-volume set, do a title or series title search in QCAT for Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Contemporary Authors
REF Z1224.C59   Contemporary Authors First Revision, Vols. 1-44 (1962-1980)
REF Z1224.C76   Contemporary Authors Original, Vols. 45(1981-)-312 (2012)
REF Z1224.C592 Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, vols.1(1981)-223 (2012)
Provides bio-bibliographical information about living and deceased writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, motion pictures, and television.
Initial biographies are published in Contemporary Authors Original. Updated biographies are published in Contemporary Authors New Revision Series
Use the Contemporary Authors Cumulative Index (REF Z1224 .C76) to locate biographies in all the volumes.
The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present
REF PN471.F45 1990t
A compendium of biographical sketches for more than 2700 women writing in English, including those from African, Asian, Caribbean, Canadian and other literary traditions. Includes some topical entries and sources for further reading.
An Encyclopedia of British Women Writers
REF PR111.E54 1998
Biographies, secondary bibliographies, thematic issues and critical reception are included. 
A Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers, 1580–1720
REF PR113.B46 1990t
Alphabetically arranged by name, provides short biographical entries, as well as lists of anonymous and pseudonymous texts, false ascriptions, and several critical appendices on such topics as Quaker women writers and women in the book trade.
A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers, 1660–1800
REF PR113 D5 1985
Brief biographical signed entries which names major publications but provides limited references to critical appraisals.
Provides illustrated biographical profiles of approximately 75 children's authors and artists discussing the author's career, interests and motivation, among other topics.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century.