Plenary Session with Luis Alberto Urrea
“Wrestling Between Secrets and Exposure”
Born in Tijuana and raised in a Southern California barrio, the son of a Mexican father and American mother, Luis has always straddled two worlds -- both real and imagined. "The border is merely a physical metaphor for the countless borders that separate us as human beings," Luis says. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, poetry or memoir, Luis has carved out a literary career focusing on the literal border between Mexico and the US and the virtual borders that separate us from each other. Immigrants and Border Patrol, drug cartels and vigilantes, smugglers and fugitives, a sorrowful wife and unhappy husband: the "borders" between us are a shadow realm, filled with secrets, myths and legends. What to reveal? What to keep close? Known as "the voice of the border," Luis has been bold in his choices -- which resulted this year in several of his books being banned from Arizona classrooms. Urrea will explore how he bends genres -- journalism, essay, history, biography poetry and other forms of writing -- to create a literature of witness that strives to reach far beyond such concepts as "borders."
Plenary Session with John Nova Lomax
“The Best Place to Find Riveting Travel Narratives: In Your Backyard”
While it may lack the sex appeal of New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Miami, the city of Houston is a fascinating patchwork teeming with dozens of ethnicities, cultures, foodways, and musics. Some six million people dwell within its New Jersey-sized sprawl, from the refinery-dotted swamps on the east to the rice prairies on the west, the salt-crusted coastal plains on the south and the piney backwoods north. And the best way to see it all? On foot. Over the course of three years, Houston Press staff writer John Nova Lomax and Houston musician / current Marfa City Councilman David Beebe (and occasional guests) walked over 200 miles of Houston streets, 15 to to 20-plus miles at a time, stopping in at every dive bar they saw, from rough Mexican cantinas near the Ship Channel to Korean clip joints on infamous Telephone Road, and talked to their denizens. It might have been a fool's errand, but Lomax believes that this true-life Texas megalopolis-style reenactment of the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza has come as close as any to capturing "the Sole of Houston."
Panel Discussion with Dale Maharidge, Michael Williamson and Thorne Andersen
“Wrinkles in Time: Collaboration with the Ghosts of the Past”
Writer, Dale Maharidge, and photographer, Michael Williamson, have chronicled the struggles of ordinary and underprivileged Americans for three decades in six books together, culminating in last year's publication of Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, in which they trace the lives of families across 30 years of economic turmoil. Maharidge and Williamson’s work has echoes of James Agee and Walker Evans, who rocked the world of journalism with Evans' deadpan documentary photography and Agee's free-ranging writing style, incorporating music and poetry, first person confessions, imagined dialogue, and quasi-anthropological catalogues of artifacts. The Maharidge-Williamson collaboration served as an inspiration for this year's Mayborn magazine feature revisiting the documentary work of Life magazine photographer, Joe Clark. Learn how these Pulitzer Prize winners transform journalism and photography into the literature of the underprivileged.
Panel Discussion with Chris Vognar, Mark Birnbaum and Heather Courtney
“Derring Do: What Documentary Film Makers Can Teach Us About Experimentation in Nonfiction”
The last several years have been a golden age for documentary film, with more storytellers than ever taking advantage of widely available technology and embracing a previously marginalized format. Documentary is now the air we breathe. Two industry veterans, Mark Birnbaum and Heather Courtney, and film critic, Chris Vognar, will show clips and share some thoughts on what this visual and visceral narrative form can teach nonfiction writers about the art of storytelling.
Plenary Session with Amy Harmon
“How I Learned to Stop the Compulsive Outlining and Write My Autism Story”
In a narrative retelling of her toughest challenge as a narrative reporter, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Amy Harmon describes how she hit the wall on a story she had worked on for 18 months. Along the way, she explains how she came to look for narratives at the intersection of science and every day life, the particular struggles of turning science into story, and her secret formula for successful narrative writing.
Panel Discussion with Thomas Lake, Jeanne Marie Laskas and Ben Montgommery
"Ventriloquism: How Two Sports Writers Capture the Voices of their Characters”
With the fragmentation of popular culture and the diffusion of the media landscape, sports remain one of the most vital forces in the American conversation. Walk into any restaurant or bar or hotel lobby and you’ll see televisions tuned to superficial sports commentary on ESPN. In this panel discussion, two magazine writers will examine a deeper way to cover sports. Jeanne Marie Laskas, a correspondent for GQ and the author of five books; and Thomas Lake, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, will talk about disappearing into the worlds of compelling sports characters in sports and returning with stories that surprise and delight readers. Laskas’s sports stories include “Game Brain,” a startling examination of the brain injuries suffered by football players and the National Football League’s attempts to gloss over the issue. Lake wrote “Did This Man Really Cut Michael Jordan?,” which dispelled one of the most popular myths in sports. Ben Montgomery, a 2010 Pulitzer finalist, moderates.
Plenary Session with Mark Sundeen
“Innovations and Experimentation in Literary Nonfiction”
In the Sixties, New Journalists like Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson scrapped the objective triangular news story and rebuilt it with the voice, characters and structure of a novel. In the Nineties, stylists like Mary Karr and Tobias Wolff injected those same elements into the moribund genre of autobiography, launching the era of memoir. About the same time, three historical giants of American fiction—GQ, Esquire, and The Atlantic—discontinued monthly short stories, and a new hybrid emerged, a seven-legged essay that announced its big ideas in the voice and narrative of fiction, depicted its crises with the vulnerable revelations of memoir, and gathered evidence with the actual legwork of reporting. Without formal training as journalists, writers like David Foster Wallace, Elizabeth Gilbert, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and Sarah Vowell pioneered a deeply personal literature of fact that rang true to a generation weaned on the pervasive falsehoods of government and media. With his newest book, The Man Who Quite Money, Mark Sundeen has earned recognition as another master of the hybrid genre. Kirkus calls his his book “modern picaresque…a sophisticated blend of memoir, biography, romantic travelogue, history and psychology, creating a marketable modern myth about a pseudo-saintly survivalist.” Sundeen will explore how and why he and other nonfiction writers are adapting the genre-bending form to tell multi-layered stories beyond the reach of conventional storytelling techniques.
Panel Discussion with Brian Sweany, John Spong, Elizabeth Hudson, Michael Graff and Kim Cross
“Regional Identity: Why Tantalizing Narratives in Texas Would Wither in North Carolina”
One state’s Willie Nelson is another’s Doc Watson. Both are legends with a guitar, both say “y’all,” and both are revered in their home states. But they're not the same. Like Willie, Texas feels a little bigger, a little edgier, and a little more open to a controversial story. Like Doc, North Carolina feels a little sweeter, a little more down-home, and a little more restrained. The magazines covering life in these states recognize the identity of their audiences, and the writers who want to write for them ought to know it, too. This panel discussion includes five editors and writers from three of the South’s most successful magazines -– Texas Monthly, Our State, and Southern Living -- magazines that connect because they understand what their readers want. We all wish we could write only the stories that satisfy our personal interests and beliefs, but this panel will explain how to tune writing and story selection to suit different magazines and audiences. Because while you couldn’t feed Texas Monthly to North Carolinians, and while Doc Watson couldn’t have been born in Abbott, good words are still good words, everywhere.
Plenary Session with Donovan Hohn
“Quests, Questions, and the Uses of Doubt: Why In the Name of Neptune Did This Writer Spend Years Chasing Plastic Ducks All Over the Northern Hemisphere?”
All writers of nonfiction are detectives of sorts, interrogating sources, searching for clues—and for good material. But the mysteries that most fascinate are often those most difficult to illuminate. Without the fiction writer’s liberty to invent, what can you do when the facts are uncertain, or when testimonies conflict, or when the record is incomplete, or when questions don’t lead to answers but to more questions? How do you narrate the uncertain or the unknown? One strategy: turn the search itself into the story. The author of Moby-Duck will discuss ways to shape and structure the nonfiction quest and do his best to explain why it is he spent a few years of his life on the trail of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea.
Panel Discussion with Biographers Debby Applegate, Jack El-Hai and James McGrath Morris
“Drawing on Fiction to Write an Engaging Biography”
Writers of fiction and nonfiction know that one thing is vital— get the reader to turn the page. In other words, the feeling of engagement with the people, events, and places on the page has to run so deep that the reader has a sense of entering another landscape. But nonfiction writers face an additional challenge: they can't create crosses that never were, or introduce imaginary characters to keep the narrative lively. Join biographers Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: the Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, and Jack El-Hai, author of The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, as they are interviewed by James McGrath Morris, author of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. These nationally acclaimed biographers will discuss the techniques they have used to infuse energy into their story-like, nonfiction narratives of major American lives. Shields will explain structuring nonfiction like fiction by using a narrative arc, decision points, reversals, and climax. Applegate will emphasize the importance of engaging readers through their senses to recreate the experience of long ago. Their practical advice will benefit all writers of literary nonfiction, journalism, biography, and history – offering valuable strategies for writing narratives that keep readers reading.
Panel Discussion with Chris Jones, Tom Junod and Ben Montgomery
“Writing for Esquire: Keeping It New at the Place Where New Journalism Started”
Esquire has always been known for its legacy of innovation -- for being the place where Frank Sinatra always has a cold, and Junior Johnson is always an American hero. But there's an argument to be made that the magazine is more innovative than it's ever been, as it translates the New Journalism practiced by Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese into the digital age. In this panel discussion, Chris Jones and Tom Junod talk with Ben Montgomery about writing the New New Journalism at a place where the Old New Journalism still throws long shadows.
Plenary Session with Richard Rhodes
“Making Verity: Writing as Craft and Vocation”
“Verity” is Richard Rhodes nomination for a word to replace the antitypal term “nonfiction,” coined by a librarian in the late 19th century to deal with the problem of categorizing long-form factual narrative. Today verity—the literature of truth, as opposed to fiction—commands equal shelf space with the novel and is arguably its equal as a literary form. Richard Rhodes believes that verity is the novel’s equal today in a marketplace hungry for information delivered in palatable depth. Writing verity is a hybrid craft; it draws on the skills of journalism, but also the techniques of fiction: plot, character, language, point of view, narrative voice and more. As with fiction, writing verity can be a vocation as well as a craft, a way to convey information but a way as well to penetrate to the heart of the world. Rhodes says that since the world is fractal—equally complex at every level—and thus limitless, a life of passionately engaged writing will be and has been for him a “life of ongoing, profoundly satisfying investigation, with discoveries, mysteries, resistances and breakthroughs along the way.” Where do you begin, how do you progress, and what depths do you draw on? Rhodes will explore these questions and more.
Plenary session with Richard Howorth
“Between Writer and Reader: Exploring the Sacred Bond between Them”
When was the last time you thought about the almost sacred relationship between writer and the reader? Richard Howorth, founder of one of America’s most renowned bookstores, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, thinks about it all the time. And that’s how he’s managed to turn Oxford (pop. 19,000) into a literary mecca on the national book circuit, drawing 150 authors a year – authors such as William Styron, George Plimpton, Allen Ginsberg, Stephen King, Pat Conroy, John Grisham and Isabel Wilkerson. In a time when even mega-bookstores are disappearing, when an ebook wins the coveted Pulitzer Prize, when Faulkner’s classics are issued only by print-on-demand, Howorth continues to pair writers with readers the old-fashioned way. As Howorth puts it, a bookseller’s role “is fundamentally and simply as a reader, a reader who passes on one's knowledge and enthusiasms to other readers.” Exactly how Howorth nurtures the sacred relationship between readers and writers is a lecture no storyteller should miss.
Panel Discussion with Marc Ramirez, Tom Huang, Jennifer Okamoto and Steve Harris
“Zach’s Journey: From Narrative Series to E-Book”
Eight-year-old Zach Thibodeaux is going blind, the result of a condition called cone-rod dystrophy, a degenerative disease for which there is no cure. In “Zach’s Journey,” staff writer Marc Ramirez has been following the Lewisville boy on his passage into darkness. In this session, a Dallas Morning News team will discuss how the series was reported and edited – and then transformed into an e-book for the Amazon Kindle.
Plenary Session with Alisa Valdes
“About Not Giving Up: Practical Tips on Reaching the Highest Summits of Storytelling”
So you came to the Mayborn because even though you haven't gotten to the top of the literary world yet, you still want to be an award-winning journalist, a best-selling author, a film producer, a screenwriter, a memoirist or maybe even a musician. But you're starting to sprout a little grey hair, and you're starting to wonder for the first time in your life if you're ever going to achieve your dreams. Alisa Valdes, an award-winning journalist, memoirist, professional saxophonist, film producer, screenwriter and best-selling novelist, has a message for you: "Don't give up." Alisa will offer practical tools to help you become more resilient, to never lose sight of your goals and dreams. Alisa will explore how her journalism has influenced her fiction and vice versa, the key differences and similarities between journalism and fiction, and the challenges of writing both. And for our wannabe novelists, she'll offer tips on how to break into fiction. For example, if you can write one well-crafted, thoroughly entertaining ebook novella a month (as Alisa is doing now), you can probably succeed as a fiction writer. One other tip: Certain kinds of music can help you write better and faster. Alisa will explain how.
Plenary Session with Roy Peter Clark
"The Insecure Border Between Fact and Fiction"
When a part of a work of nonfiction is exposed as fake, readers come to doubt everything in the work. When an entire work turns out to be a fraud, it calls into question all works of non-fiction. It's time to secure our border. No, not that one. The one between fact and fiction. It may even be time for nonfiction writers to "take the pledge," to state clearly for readers what they will and will not do in creating truthful and compelling narratives."
Plenary Session with Isabel Wilkerson
“The Search for Protagonists: The Art and Importance of Finding People for Narrative Nonfiction”
Isabel Wilkerson, the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting, will explore the challenges and barriers to finding protagonists for narrative nonfiction and the methodology she used to overcome those challenges. Wilkerson spent almost two years interviewing more than 1,200 people to find the three protagonists to tell her epic migration narrative, The Warmth of Other Suns. The book brings to life one of the greatest underreported stories of the 20th Century, a migration that reshaped modern America.