7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Registration (Hotel Lobby)
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Writing Workshops for Selected Entries (Conference Rooms, 1st Floor)
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Panel Discussion: "Unveiling the Mystery: Writing, Editing and Publishing for the Literary Market" (Val Verde)
Writing a book and building a career in literary nonfiction publishing requires an understanding of the larger literary world – a Byzantine and mysterious world to most of us. What sort of ideas grab a nonfiction book editor’s attention? How do you shape that idea into a book proposal? Do you really need a literary agent to help you prepare and sell the proposal, or can you do it on own? And if you need them, how do you get them interested in your book idea? A panel consisting of one of Little, Brown’s top editors and four prominent literary agents will address these questions and answer you own. Want to build a career in literary publishing? Your journey begins here.
Panel Participants: Jim Donovan Jim Hornfischer John Parsley David Patterson BJ Robbins Bonnie Nadell
This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration.
Cash bar open (Austin Ranch)
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Southwest Soiree – Reception and Dinner for Speakers and Conferees (Austin Ranch)
Meet up with everyone at Austin Ranch and enjoy Tex-Mex. Sue Mayborn, honorary publisher of the conference, will welcome our writers and guests.
5:45 p.m. Buffet dinner opens 6:45 p.m. Program begins
7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Keynote Address: Susan Orlean (Austin Ranch)
“A Master Storyteller Hits the Road to Unravel the Past” Susan Orlean has spent the better part of three decades exploring the subcultures of America and abroad: traipsing after female matadors in Spain and girl surfers in Maui, traveling the back roads of the U.S. to hang out in dance halls and bowling alleys, writing about the darnedest subjects. She’s followed a monk in Bhutan, discovered a woman who keeps tigers in suburban New Jersey, and gotten inside the mind of a 10-year-old boy. She claims his childlike wonder as her own key to great storytelling – that is to look at our weird world with excitement and awe. For her most recent book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Orlean struck out for Europe alone to find the birthplace of the German Shepherd dog who became the famous TV star of the 1950s. She ended up wandering through a cemetery in France, where she unearthed the heart of her story: an orphan boy who found friendship in an orphan dog born on a battlefield. Now the nationally acclaimed staff writer for The New Yorker is turning her love of books into yet another historical narrative, this time about the Los Angeles Central Public Library, a place she hopes to turn into a page turner. Writing stories about living, breathing people is hard enough. But when everybody’s dead, who do you call to interview? How do you turn the legend of a dead dog into a compelling narrative? Where and how do you begin to unearth the mysteries of a public library? Orlean will explore these questions and more.
8:30 – 8:50 p.m.
Q&A with Susan Orlean
8:55 – 9:40 p.m.
Book signing with Susan Orlean, Kathryn Hulings and Ten Spurs authors (Austin Ranch)
9:45 p.m. and on
Spend the remainder of the evening socializing with writers and conferees at the hotel patio bar.
Late Night Mayborn Movie – Bernie We are proud to offer a screening of Skip Hollandsworth’s first film project, Bernie. Co-written by Hollandsworth with Richard Linklater, who also directs, Bernie is laugh-out-loud funny and stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Make sure to join Hollandsworth for his keynote address on Sunday to find out how the narrative writer turned his story into a nonfiction movie script.
All Saturday sessions will take place in Val Verde.
7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Registration (Hotel Lobby)
8 a.m. to 8:35 p.m.
Plenary Session with Alan Prendergast (Val Verde)
“The Lure of Archival Research: Solving Mysteries, Settling Bets, Revealing Character” History is too important to be left to historians, but how can a writer of historical narratives sort out fact from legend – and still tell a compelling story? Newspaper accounts from bygone eras are often riddled with slipshod reporting and made-up quotes, and even a subject’s own memoirs can be self-serving fictions. Journalist Alan Prendergast explains how archival research has helped to shape his own forays into historical topics, ranging from notorious crimes to obscure literary figures, for magazines and Denver’s weekly Westword. Primary source materials such as letters, private papers and public records are essential for clearing up disputed points, and Prendergast shows how they can also reveal long-buried secrets and motives. From the diary of an abused 7-year-old girl to the handwritten manuscript of a cult novelist’s most revered work, from the stakeout notes of a 1920s detective to the doomed petitions seeking to save an innocent man from execution, the archives have their own stories to tell.
8:35 – 8:45 a.m.
Q&A with Alan Pendergast
9 – 11 a.m.
Close Encounters of the Literary Kind, Session 1 This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration. See the ticket in your nametag for designated time and location. Bring your ticket and nametag. Important: Please arrive early for your 15-minute appointment with one of our literary agents.
8:50 – 9:25 a.m.
Plenary session with Helen Benedict (Val Verde)
“Covering the Hidden War: Military Sexual Assault” War is a dirty business. But what about the private war within the ranks of all branches of the military? The story of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment has remained under journalists’ radar screen until only recently. Now with the scandal breaking into the open, President Obama and other high-ranking politicians are demanding that predators face criminal prosecution and are barred from any form of military service. But Helen Benedict, an award-winning journalist and author, has explored the complex issues of social justice and war for three decades, and sexual assault in the military long before “the hidden war” made headlines . How deep does the problem run in the military? A 2013 study by the Defense Dept. estimates that reports of unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, rose 37 percent in 2012. Benedict will give tips on how to cover wrongdoing in the military when soldiers want to be viewed as warriors, not victims. She’ll offer ways to report on the trauma of rape responsibly. And she’ll discuss the broader issue of dealing with moral wounds and trauma inflicted by this hidden scandal.
9:25 – 9:35 a.m.
Q&A with Helen Benedict
9:40 – 10:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Evan Ratliff of Atavist, Mark Bryant of Byliner and their writers David Dobbs and Susan Orlean (Val Verde)
“Rejoice! There is a place for long-form journalism online – and it pays.” Great long nonfiction was once the province of magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s and Esquire. No more. A host of publications are now looking to grab readers with longer works published digitally. What had started to feel like a relic in the online world – stories more than 3,000 words long! – now suddenly feels almost like a trend. Since 2009, the universe of “long-form” journalism has undergone a transformation, with online publishers jumping on the sell-by-the-piece approach, whether it’s Atavist or Byliner or, for that matter, Amazon itself with its original Kindle Singles. Websites from BuzzFeed to Grantland to The Verge are pushing further into longer stories and “serious” journalism. Longreads and Longform gather up the best of the growing flood of longer stories, and Byliner itself is launching a subscription reading service. The idea of integrating multimedia directly into a long-form story, meanwhile, has been adopted and transformed online by the likes of ESPN.com, Pitchfork and The New York Times. They and others are creating elaborate long-form layouts with cascading images and embedded video. Listen to Evan Ratliff, co-founder of Atavist, Mark Bryant, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Byliner and their writers David Dobbs and Susan Orlean discuss the new digital frontier and how to go about making your literary mark in the digital age.
10:15 – 10:25 a.m.
Q&A with Evan Ratliff, Mark Bryant, David Dobbs and Susan Orlean
10:25 – 10:40 a.m.
Break (outside Val Verde)
10:40 – 11:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Paul Hendrickson and Larry Snider (Val Verde)
“The Hungry Eye: Telling Stories Out of Photographs” Not that Paul Hendrickson understood it completely at the time, but it seems clear now that almost all of his five nonfiction books have been photographically driven –that true storytelling compulsions derive primarily from the visual. This was literally true in the case of his 2003 National Book Critics Circle winning Sons of Mississippi, whose whole narrative is driven by and derives from a single, searing, black and white image of the civil rights movement. He stumbled on the photograph in a west coast bookstore and spent something like five years “walking back” into it, to investigate the lives inside, both the ones you could plainly see, and those hiding at the margins. Prior and subsequent books have greatly depended on photographs as vehicles for carrying the story. Hendrickson will explain how photographs can help a writer achieve memorable, full-bodied stories. How? By locating the strange, evocative, storytelling universes that are sealed inside the four rectangular walls of a photograph. “They are always there,” Hendrickson says, “if you know how to look. It’s about the quality of your noticing, the intensity of your seeing.” Hendrickson will describe how he used photographs to launch several of his writing projects over the years, including an old Smithsonian magazine article that was used as the text for photographer Larry Snider’s recent work, Pie Town: 70 Years after Russell Lee. Of course, Hendrickson, as one of America’s most acclaimed literary nonfiction writers, and Snider, whose photography of place has been exhibited in museums across America, both filter stories through a different lens, but with the same powerful results. The writer and the photographer will offer lessons in visual storytelling that will change the way you actually see a story from now on.
11:15 – 11:25 a.m.
Q&A with Paul Hendrickson and Larry Snider
11:30 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
The Bloomberg Lecture Series in Narrative Business Journalism Plenary Session with Amanda Bennett (Val Verde)
“The Stories We Tell Ourselves: How a Hard-hitting Journalist Used Storytelling to Face Her Husband’s Death, Become the Subject of Her Own Love Story and Figure Out What it All Means for the Rest of Us” When two-time Pulitzer winner and Bloomberg executive editor Amanda Bennett’s husband, Terence Bryan Foley, was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer in 2000, she was convinced that they could beat it. They were smart, diligent and resourceful. He wouldn’t – couldn’t – die. For the next seven years, the couple raised their two young children, moved all around the United States and fought Terence’s cancer with painful surgeries, risky drug trials and piles of research. But in 2007, at the age of 67, he did die. And Bennett, left to make sense of the last several years, dealt with her loss the only way she knew how – through writing. What started as a first-of-its-kind article in Bloomberg News, “End-of-Life Warning at $618,616 Makes Me Wonder Was It Worth It,” soon became her first memoir/reported narrative. The Cost of Hope – The Story of a Marriage, a Family, and the Quest for Life tells the story of pushing medical science to the absolute limits in the context of a deep love – one filled with fights over Christmas trees and morning routines, laughter and wise cracks over the phone (the couples’ form of making up) and promises to always say I love you. Learn how Bennett juggled objective reporting and personal memoir to tell the story of a flawed healthcare system with no real end-of-life plan in place through the eyes of a wife, mother and widow. See how the moral force of storytelling, so important to Bennett, gave her permission to share her experience, her quest, her love story.
12:05 – 12:15 p.m.
Q&A with Amanda Bennett
12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
2 – 4 p.m.
Close Encounters of the Literary Kind, Session 2 This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration. See the ticket in your nametag for designated time and location. Bring your ticket and nametag. Important: Please arrive early for your 15-minute appointment with one of our literary agents.
1:30 – 2:05 p.m.
Plenary Session with John Vaillant (Val Verde)
“A Murderous Tiger, a Murdered Tree: John Vaillant on Writing Tales of Adventure and Nature” John Vaillant didn’t start writing professionally until 35. While his creative writing buddies were beavering away at their first novels and glossy magazine articles, he was hitchhiking to Alaska and working on fishing boats. But his nonfiction books – about a vengeful tiger in Russia’s Far East and a logger-turned-environmentalist who chops down a unique and revered tree in North America’s last great rainforest – benefit from his waiting and his wisdom. His books are filled with derring-do backed up by painstaking research. But they are more than tales of adventure. They are real-life parables about man’s vexed relationship to nature in which Vaillant recreates desperate struggles for survival (a man’s, a tree’s, a tiger’s) that reveal haunting insights about our world. Vaillant will share how he maneuvers the fault line between creating a one-dimensional thriller and a “Mitchener-esque doorstop.” (Skip the potty training of your main character, his editor advised.) Nonfiction writers, says Vaillant, must perform like magicians or comedians, continually producing novelty and stimulation from the thin air of fact.
2:05 – 2:15 p.m.
Q&A with John Vaillant
2:20 – 3 p.m.
Panel Discussion with Hugh Aynesworth, Ben Fountain, Tom Huang and Dave Tarrant (Val Verde)
“JFK 50 Years Later: Storytelling Around a Nation’s Trauma” The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, had a profound and lingering impact on the city of Dallas. The tragedy shaped the city’s identity and, in some important ways, propelled the city to become what it is today. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination, it’s worth considering the power of storytelling around the nation’s trauma, then and now.
3 – 3:10 p.m.
Q&A with Hugh Aynesworth, Ben Fountain, Tom Huang and Dave Tarrant
3:15 – 3:50 p.m.
A Conversation between Kelley Benham and Tom French (Val Verde)
“Learning How to Dance Between the Personal and the Outward” When Kelley Benham set out to write the story she wasn’t at all sure she should write – about a baby born four months too soon, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces, unlikely to live – she promised her editors that the story would not be overly personal. She envisioned a deeply reported medical story exploring the science and ethics of saving babies born too soon. She even had a title, “The Zero Zone.” Catchy, but lacking intimacy. To write this story about Juniper – her fragile, bruised bird of a baby with a flickering heart – Benham believed she had to separate her emotions from her journalism. “I didn’t want the story to read like my diary,” she wrote in her proposal. But when Benham turned in Part One, her editor told her the piece was not personal enough. Benham realized then that she would have to put in things she’d rather block out, and that she had no idea what the story was really about. Was it about Juniper? Or was it about her mother, who couldn’t conceive her, carry her or even feed her? Benham sketched one God-awful outline after another on legal pads, trying to figure out the story. One day, feeling lost, she spoke to her husband, Tom French, a Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative writer who said something startling. It changed everything. In this presentation, you’ll learn to mentally step in and out of your own character, check your faulty memory, maintain a critical distance from your main character (yourself) and use humor to give readers some relief from your agonizing saga. You’ll also learn that no matter how comprehensive and compelling your narrative series might be, it’s not a book until you can go beyond the boundaries of your series and say something much, much deeper.
3:50 – 4 p.m.
Q&A with Kelley Benham and Tom French
4 – 4:10 p.m.
Break (outside Val Verde)
4:15 – 4:55 p.m.
Panel Discussion with Kevin Merida and Donna Britt. Moderated by Dave Tarrant. (Val Verde)
“Hard Targets: Public Figures and Private Lives” If writing an historical narrative sounds tough, try cracking open a complex public figure who won’t talk to you and discourages others from doing so as well. How do you get close to a subject who won’t cooperate and write a tale that’s more truthful and compelling than the person’s own account of his life? Kevin Merida, the managing editor of The Washington Post, faced these challenges in his quest to write a definitive biography of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Merida will offer suggestions on how to go about tackling hard targets, subjects who slam doors in your face. Merida’s wife, Donna Britt, an award-winning former syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, will explore an equally tough task: how to undertake a wrenching introspective examination to unmask the real you. For starters, that requires asking questions that probe and penetrate deep below your public persona. Both writers agree that whether you’re probing from the outside, as Merida does, or probing from the inside, as Britt does, the quest is the same: to offer insight and understanding of the human condition, and universal truths that connect us to each other in both subtle and profound ways.
4:55 – 5:05 p.m.
Q&A with Kevin Merida, Donna Britt and Dave Tarrant
5:10 – 5:55 p.m.
Panel Discussion with Caroline Alexander, Kevin Fedarko and Hampton Sides. Moderated by James McGrath Morris. (Val Verde)
“Shipwrecks, Survival, and Tales of Expedition Woe: The Art and Artifice of Crafting the Epic Adventure Narrative” Scurvy. Sharks. Killer rapids. Cannibalism. Good times! Few genres of nonfiction can be as gripping or inspiring as the wilderness adventure narrative – two-fisted tales of men and women struggling against the elements, moving over sea, ice, jungles, or rivers, fighting for their lives. What makes these classic adventure stories so effective and, when they’re done right, so unforgettable? National Geographic contributor Caroline Alexander is the author of The Endurance and The Bounty. Kevin Fedarko, a regular writer for Outside, is the author of the recently released Grand Canyon saga, The Emerald Mile. Hampton Sides has written about the Bataan Death March, the conquest of the American West, and the first American-led attempt on the North Pole. Alexander, Fedarko and Sides will discuss the structural challenges and thematic problems of the epic endurance narrative – questionable diets, horrible disease, the role of luck and the peculiar demands of leadership in extreme wilderness settings. Pop your quinine tablets, bring your pemmican jerky, strap on your life vests and enjoy a revealing hour of armchair adventure.
5:55 – 6:05 p.m.
Q&A with Caroline Alexander, Kevin Fedarko, Hampton Sides and James McGrath Morris.
Cash bar open (International Foyer)
The evening will reconvene in the International Ballroom.
7 – 7:20 p.m.
Literary Lights Award Presentations begin – Emceed by John McCaa, award-winning journalist and news anchor at WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth (International Ballroom)
7:20 – 8 p.m.
Literary Lights Dinner
7:40 – 8 p.m.
Best American Newspaper Narrative Award Presentation
8 – 8:45 p.m.
Keynote Address: Rick Atkinson
“Bringing Back the Dead: History, Memory, and Writing About War” Rick Atkinson believes the narrative historian’s true calling is resurrecting the dead from the trenches of history. And that’s what he’s done on every page of his “Liberation Trilogy” totaling roughly 750,000 words. The first volume, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, received the Pulitzer Prize and was acclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as “the best World War II battle narrative since Cornelius Ryan’s classics, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far.” The second volume, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, was proclaimed by The New York Times as “a triumph of narrative history, elegantly written…and rooted in the sight and sounds of battle.” Now, with The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, the last volume in Atkinson’s trilogy, The Washington Post praises the author’s narrative, reconstructed from “a multitude of tiny details into a tapestry of achingly sublime prose” covering the last year of the European war. Did you know, for example, that Allied planners worried about German planes dropping rats infected with bubonic plague over English cities? Or that a shortage of soldiers had become so severe that by 1944 a man missing his teeth, an eye, both external ears, a thumb, a great toe, or three fingers on either hand, including his trigger finger, could be drafted? Beyond these telling details, Atkinson’s eye is always drawn to the small, particular catastrophe or the flaws of character that illuminate the larger tragedy. On the eve of the Bulge, the master storyteller unmasks the pettiness, back-biting, and insecurity of certain commanders struggling with the lesser angels of their nature. “War, that merciless revealer of character,” Atkinson writes, “uncloaked these men as precisely as a prism flays open a beam of light to reveal the spectrum.” Atkinson will discuss how he came up with the idea for the Liberation Trilogy in 1998, refined the concept into a book proposal, and then set out to write his epic tale while wading through dozens of archives and teaching himself historiography. The author, acclaimed as “an absolute master of his material” by The Wall Street Journal, will explore his methods of research, organization, outlining, and writing. Need help organizing your material, do you? Then you won’t want to miss these lessons offered by one of America’s great journalist historians.
8:45 – 9:05 p.m.
Q&A with Rick Atkinson
9:10 – 9:40 p.m.
Book Signing with Rick Atkinson and all Conference Authors (International Foyer)
All Sunday sessions will take place in Val Verde.
8 – 8:35 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario, her agent Bonnie Nadell and executive editor at Little, Brown, John Parsley. (Val Verde)
“Agent, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” Agents – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Today’s trade publishing environment seems to require that writers aren’t just solid on their craft but that they are connected, too. So what are agents all about? How do we get them, why do we have to, and most importantly, what do they do? Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Enrique’s Journey and her literary agent, Bonnie Nadell, take us “into the bedroom” of what the writer-agent relationship is really all about. Besides negotiating a contract, what does Nadell really do for Nazario? Like many agents, Nadell serves as a first reader, sometimes as a first editor, a mentor, psychologist, rabbi, sounding board, and, when necessary, disciplinarian. Tailor, soldier, and if necessary, spy! Offering valuable insight into the importance of a solid relationship between agent and writer, Nazario and Nadell’s panel is moderated by Little, Brown’s executive editor John Parsley, who also knows how crucial a good agent is to the entire process of publishing well.
8:35 – 8:45 a.m.
Q&A with Sonia Nazario, Bonnie Nadell and John Parsley
8:50 – 9:25 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Alfredo Corchado and Reyna Grande. Moderated by Sonia Nazario. (Val Verde)
“Cutting the Umbilical Cord and Getting Emotionally Naked with Narrative Memoir” Writing memoir can be a wrenching challenge for journalists and fiction writers. Journalists are much happier digging up someone else’s dirt than delving deep into their own. After all, they are browbeaten with one mantra: You are not the story! Fiction writers struggle with forming narrative arcs out of their own lives and wrestling with events and relationships that remain too raw and painful to truly process. So how did Alfredo Corchado, Mexico bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News, and Reyna Grande, fiction writer, learn to get naked writing about themselves? The answer: a lot of pain. And prodding. After rejecting the first draft of his memoir, Corchado’s book editor told him plainly: it’s time to “get personal.” Corchardo attended a workshop to learn how to emotionally disrobe. For a year, Grande’s writers group hammered home that her father, an abusive alcoholic, and mother, who repeatedly abandoned Grande, had to be more than cardboard villains. Their complexity had to come to life to understand the wound at the heart of Grande’s story of abuse and redemption. Both Corchado, with Midnight in Mexico, and Grande with The Distance Between Us, tell us about how their parents buried their umbilical cords in Mexico and how they surmounted many roadblocks to write deeply about themselves and pen powerful memoirs.
9:25 – 9:35 a.m.
Q&A with Alfredo Corchado, Reyna Grande and Sonia Nazario.
9:40 – 10:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Stephen Rodrick, Tony Schwalm and James Hornfischer. Moderated by Ben Fountain. (Val Verde)
“Rumors of Wars: The Challenge of Military Narratives and Memoirs” The war-related narrative – be it personal, historical or a hybrid of the two – is a varied and challenging art form unto itself. Writers who don’t intimately know the experience of war struggle to touch its reality. Eyewitnesses who lived through its vortex struggle to step outside of it and bring it to those who weren’t there. In this panel, three authors with distinct perspectives discuss the special challenges the war story presents in terms of witness, research and craft. Stephen Rodrick is the author of a just-published book that’s part memoir, part reported narrative: A Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life. Tony Schwalm, a retired Army Green Beret, is the author of a more traditional memoir: The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers. And Jim Hornfischer is the author of several historical narratives, including his most recent Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal.
10:15 – 10:25 a.m.
Q&A with Stephen Rodrick, Tony Schwalm, James Hornfischer and Ben Fountain
10:30 – 11:05 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Jeff Guinn and Gregg Jones. Moderated by Doug Swanson. (Val Verde)
“From Tombstone to Khe Sanh: Bringing Historical Nonfiction Alive” Historical nonfiction is more popular than it’s ever been, but without the human element – characters that come alive on the page – the result can read like a history textbook…and no one buys or reads that for entertainment. Two master practitioners of the craft, Jeff Guinn, author of Go Down Together, The Last Gunfight, and the forthcoming Manson, and Gregg Jones, author of Honor in the Dust and the forthcoming Last Stand at Khe Sanh, discuss the challenges of writing successful narrative nonfiction when applied to a historical subject: how to choose the right subject; how to structure and pace the story; what kinds of research to employ; how to balance the use of novelistic techniques with the strict tenets of accurate history; and even how to determine what really happened – a dilemma that occurs much more often than readers might think. And in writing historical narratives, getting readers to care about characters long-gone from the front pages, and what happened to them, is a particular challenge. With some help from Doug Swanson, journalist historians Guinn and Jones will show you how it’s done.
11:05 – 11:15 a.m.
Q&A with Jeff Guinn, Gregg Jones and Doug Swanson
11:15 – 11:30 a.m.
Break (outside Val Verde)
11:30 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Plenary Session with Ron Powers (Val Verde)
“Mark Twain Put Me Up To It: How a ‘Cradle’ Nonfiction Writer Got Seduced Into ‘Telling ‘Stretchers’ (For a While, Anyway) and How It Was His Hannibal, Mo., Homeboy That Done the Seducin’” A reverence for nonfiction is in Ron Powers’ DNA. His early years in newspaper journalism cemented his reverence for facts. The work of James Agee and his fellow “documentarians” of the 1930s, and later, of stylists such as Susan Orlean, convinced him that nonfiction could rise to the level of literature, using the same narrative tools – metaphor, description, dialogue and the rising tension, then resolution – available to novelists. In his 750-page Mark Twain: a Life, Powers determined that he would not speculate about Twain’s motives or engage in theoretical musings about his famously suggestive psyche. But toward the end of his research at the Mark Twain Project at Berkeley, something happened: he read a letter from those files about an extraordinary episode of personal revelation that took place in 1925. It detailed an evening the letter-writer had spent in a Los Angeles speakeasy with an 80-year-old woman named Laura Wright. At age 14, three years before the Civil War, Wright experienced a three-day romance with the young Sam Clemens on the New Orleans riverfront. Between the lines of this letter, and in a few scattered sentences from Mark Twain’s work, there lay half-hidden a spellbinding story: one of lifelong yearning, towering imagination, Victorian morality and mysticism. Mark Twain believed for the rest of his life that Wright visited him in his dreams, helped to heal his many bereavements and infused his literature. This was not a story that could be written as fact; too many essential facts were missing. Powers decided to treat it as a two-act play. Four years, some 40 performances nationwide, and upwards of seventy revisions later, Sam and Laura continues to fascinate him both for its unfamiliar form and its seemingly infinite layers of meaning. In his talk, the author of Mark Twain, A Life; Dangerous Water: A Biography Of The Boy Who Became Mark Twain; Tom and Huck Don’t Live Here Anymore and other nationally acclaimed works about Twain and his hometown, will explore how Sam Clemens coaxed him into crossing the border from nonfiction literature into playwriting, without ever losing sight of the truth.
12:05 – 12:15 p.m.
Q&A with Ron Powers
12:20 – 1 p.m.
Keynote Address: Skip Hollandsworth (Val Verde)
“The Making of Bernie: How to Turn a Nonfiction Narrative into a Nonfiction Movie” The 2011 movie Bernie, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, was based on a 1998 story in Texas Monthly, written by Skip Hollandsworth, about Bernie Tiede, the beloved assistant director of a funeral home in the East Texas town of Carthage who shoots the town’s 81-year-old grande dame, Marjorie Nugent, four times in the back. When the Austin film director Richard Linklater approached Hollandsworth about co-authoring a script, he made it clear he wanted the movie to be based as closely as possible on the facts, using Hollandsworth’s original research. Linklater went so far as to hire real-life East Texans with no acting experience whatsoever to play townspeople in the movie. The result was a comic romp that received rave reviews from critics who were astounded that what they had seen on the screen actually had happened in real life. Hollandsworth will talk about his experience writing as a journalist about Bernie and his murder of Mrs. Nugent, and he’ll also talk about his even more surreal experience as a screenwriter watching A-list Hollywood actors working alongside the country folk of East Texas.
1 – 1:10 p.m.
Q&A with Skip Hollandsworth
1:15 – 1:20 p.m.
Farewell: Dean Dorothy Bland
1:25 – 2 p.m.
Book signing with Sonia Nazario, Alfredo Corchado, Reyna Grande, Stephen Rodrick, Tony Schwalm, James Hornfischer, Ben Fountain, Jeff Guinn, Gregg Jones and Ron Powers (Conference Bookstore)