Nan Talese is the best thing that ever happened to the Mayborn Conference. The publicity about her remarks dissing Oprah is all over the place, most notably at the Time magazine website. Head on over there and check it out. You can easily find it because last time I checked, it was the number one most emailed story. Apparently the Oprah and James Frey story has legs.
Okay, now that you are caught up on all the good gossip I can tell you about the conference. I’m going to do somewhat of an overview today, and then post on individual lectures and events over the next few days.
I think I already mentioned that the conference is held at the Grapevine Hilton in Grapevine, Texas, just a little bit away from DFW airport. It began for a few select attendees on Friday. These attendees were select because they submitted their manuscripts to be workshopped and got in. There were five essay workshops and two book manuscript workshops, of ten participants each.
I had the pleasure and honor of leading one of the book manuscript workshops. We had such a great group. We rocked. We honored and supported and held the energy through some pretty intimate readings and discussions. I love my group. It was such a powerful experience that I’m going to devote a whole post to it.
Friday night was the Texas Barbecue night, though they had some fancy name for it that I can’t remember. Let me tell you, those Texas boys can make a fine barbecue. Good stuff. That night, the delightful Mary Roach, author of Stiff, and Spook, spoke. I loved hearing her story about how her very first piece was published in the crappy shopper section of some random newspaper. I always think fabulously successful writers like her are sprung into the world fully formed, so it was nice to hear about the humble beginnings of her writing career.
All day Saturday and half the day Sunday, were the panels and lectures. George packs them in. I mean, sometimes there is barely ten minutes for a bathroom break. But I like that–lots of bang for the buck.
One of the highlights of Saturday for me was a VIP reception for Joyce Carol Oates and other bigwigs. They poured wine and beer liberally, of course.
Ahem. Not a good idea to send me to an event where they pour wine liberally. I chatted with the managing editor of the Fort Worth paper, is it the Star Telegram? We talked about why it is that most newspapers cannot regularly handle writing narrative journalism. Not only is it an issue of having writers who can write literary non-fiction, it also takes a certain kind of editor.
Since I live in Portland, I’m lucky, as the Oregonian is one of the few newspapers with a huge commitment to the form.
It’s really interesting to me to attend a conference full of journalists. I’m usually off in cyberspace, the blogosphere, or writing fiction. I love hanging out with newspaper types, as I find it very grounding. It is so established and historic and traditional. That said, the most wonderful person I met at the reception was a novelist. Her name is Jane Roberts Wood, and I think once again its one of those "I came late to the party" type things. Oh lord, we had fun talking and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because we were both happily drinking red wine. I’m ordering her books from Amazon today, and if they are even half as wonderful as she is, I’m going to be desperately in love with them. Jane rocks, that’s all there is to it. Here’s a photo of her:
I wandered up to the dinner, sloshing wine merrily all the way and sat with Stephen Eric Levine, who is, get this, a storm chaser. He was the only male in my workshop and he’s got a good manuscript going about birthing your dream. He has a tour company which takes people off in search of tornados and the like. I am terrified of tornados beyond all reason but I still think its really cool.
And, well, the rest of the night there was a wee bit more drinking. Certain people plied poor innocent me with more wine. Not that I was the only one drinking too much, oh no. The group from the Mayborn closed down the bar and then we all moved out to the lobby to hang out more. Those journalists, damn they know how to drink. (Okay, there may have been an attorney involved also, but I’m witholding his name to protect the un-innocent.)
And may I just remind everyone how awful it is to have a hangover? Especially when you have to get up early the next morning to listen to the lecture of one of the people you were drinking with? (Though he was smart enough to quit drinking himself and go to bed at a decent hour.) And then when you later have to attempt to navigate two airports through a weather crisis that delayed half the flights in the southwest? And when you end up having to stay at a hotel in Albuquerque and getting up at 4 AM the next morning? Ouch is all I can say. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
But, damn, it was all worth it. Lest you think it was only worth it for the good time, that is an evil rumor that is simply not true. I learned so much and most of all I was completely inspired, both by the lecturers and by the wonderful people in my workshop. And to prove it, I’ll be writing more about the meat of it in the days to come.