James Woodall

Non-fiction writer
Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

James Woodall’s first book, In Search of the Firedance (1992), tells the story of flamenco. It remains the leading account in English of Spain’s best-known musical idiom. In 1996, a biography of Jorge Luis Borges followed: The Man in the Mirror of the Book was the first posthumous life in English of this pioneering Argentine writer. Over two decades it has appeared in more than a dozen languages.

While researching Borges, James fell in love with Brazilian music. A newspaper interview with one of the key nineteen-sixties and seventies figures of bossa nova, Chico Buarque, also a novelist, led to a third book, A Simple Brazilian Song (1997). It was reissued in 2014 as a digital edition by Little, Brown.

Moving in 1996 for reasons of curiosity and some restlessness to Berlin, James published his fourth book, in German, the following year. Written in English but instantly translated, this was a biographical study of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It was one of a series of books then being commissioned by Rowohlt (Hamburg) on famous couples in history — until then no pop topic had been attempted. It was very successful in Germany, then all over Europe, and appeared in countries as diverse as Israel and Korea.

James’s lifelong preoccupation with the Beatles has led in recent years to three further digital books on the group, for Amazon. He has also done talks for BBC Radio 3, writes for the Economist and attends, as a journalist, many European film festivals.

James Woodall

Fellowships

Magdalene College, University of Cambridge 2017-19