A Session from the Mayborn

The Mayborn refers to The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference that was held last weekend in Grapevine, Texas, a city situated between Dallas and Ft. Worth just north of the DFW International Airport. I spent the entire weekend at this literary event hosted by the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas (which also happens to be my undergraduate alma mater). I attended every session (but no workshops as I had not submitted any writings) because I did not want to miss anything over the course of the weekend and have decided to write about one of my favorite sessions from the conference. This particular session was entitled “The Journalist as Historian: The Semi-Permeable Membrane.” Moderated by James McGrath Morris and featuring David Grann and Hampton Sides, these two “new historians” discussed their recently published historical narratives.

Mr. Grann, a New Yorker staff writer, has just authored The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. His book is about Percy Harrison Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925 on his quest to find a mysterious ancient city. Mr. Grann met with Fawcett’s granddaughter, obtaining access to a chest of books containing secret diaries and other documents. He also talked about traveling to South America, following the trail of Fawcett these 85 years later. Mr. Grann also traveled to England to the Royal Geographical Society to further research Fawcett. Mr. Grann wrote his book in the genre of an adventure story, including the dangers of the rain forest, always providing tension from one scene to the next to keep the reader interested. Click HERE to read an interview in the Dallas newspaper about Mr. Grann’s trip to the Amazon.

Mr. Sides is the editor-at-large of Outside magazine. He has written books previously such as Blood and Thunder about Kit Carson, and Ghost Soldiers, about the Bataan death march of World War II in the Phillipines. His current book is Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, about King assassin James Earl Ray. Mr. Sides presented some interesting information about Ray such as the fact that Ray had 30-plus aliases at the time of King’s assassination. Click HERE to read an essay by Mr. Sides from The Dallas Morning News on the connection between Dallas and Memphis due to assassinations.

For this discussion at the Mayborn, Mr. Morris asked prepared questions of the two authors and then they answered questions from the conferees. Each session such as this one lasted approximately 50 minutes with 10 minutes for questions. Some plenary sessions were slightly shorter. Other sessions consisted of authors reading from their works and discussing and/or addressing a specific topic in the realm of nonfiction, such as memoir writing. Photojournalists showed examples of their work and how stories can be told via pictures and video. The first session of the conference was emotional as a writer for an Oklahoma newspaper talked about his experience following a fellow writer as he battled cancer. One of my favorite discussions was by a profile writer whose subject (a sports talk radio host) was not pleased with the outcome of her shadowing him for a time.

Two dinners were attended by conferees of the Mayborn. One was a Texas-themed barbecue where Mary Karr spoke about her memoir writing and the other was entitled “Literary Lights” where Mark Bowden, a prolific author, journalist, and screenwriter spoke about transtioning between the mediums. Mr. Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War and many other books and writings. At this dinner, awards were given to winners of the writing submissions to the workshops. Next year, all of this year’s winners will be presented in the conference’s publication, Ten Spurs.

Personally, I learned a great deal from all of the sessions and enjoyed getting to see and meet some of the writers. The authors’ books were all for sale and there were signings each day as well. I also met and made friends with different conferees from places such as Nashville, Boston, Mexico City, and also from the DFW metroplex. I will definitely attend and support the Mayborn next year.

  4 comments for “A Session from the Mayborn

  1. jAcK c.
    August 2, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Must have been fun . Those Outside writers are usually very interesting.

  2. August 3, 2010 at 1:00 AM

    Hampton Sides seemed like a cool dude. D

  3. August 4, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    sounds like an interesting weekend, denise. right up your alley! pam

  4. August 4, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    I can’t say it was relaxing, Pam, but it was right up my alley!

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