GRAPEVINE — The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference not only examined the theme of The Great Divides in American society but also was a place to mingle, network and make ideas known.
From Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon, a cast of characters took the stage to comment on different aspect of nonfiction writing and society.
Acclaimed author Barbara Ehrenreich was the keynote speaker Saturday evening at the international ballroom of the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center.
Author of “Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America” and “Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream,” Ehrenreich and editor Tom Huang conversed about her views and work.
Ehrenreich, whose books champion the American poor, passionately expressed her frustration with the status quo in American society and its effects on the working class.
“Since when is writing about poverty a privilege of those who have the (monetary) access to do it?” she said. “This nation is full of people who have been silenced by economic censorship.
“The poor have become invisible to us,” Ehrenreich added. “The poor are mixed up in places you wouldn’t expect to find them.”
Paint a landscape with words
George Getschow, writer-in-residence at the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism and conference director since its inception 11 years ago, took the stage for the first time Sunday morning as a speaker.
“I never felt I could measure up to other speakers, so I am only speaking now,” he said.
As a working author, Getschow discussed how to make the setting and landscape of an article or book a living, breathing character.
During the discussion, Getschow embodied the spirit behind his upcoming book about a giant cattle baronry in South Texas. A lean man dressed in a black western shirt with snap pockets, tight jeans and black cowboy boots without shine, Getschow read a passage about the Rio Grande River from his new book, imbuing it with the character of a restless reptile as it snaked through the Texas terrain.
“In Texas, land means everything,” he said.
He said the best writers have “landscape and place inextricably bound up” in their stories, making the story come alive.
“Pretend you’ve been dropped out of an airplane and you have to orient your readers to where they are,” he said.
Alex Tizon, author of “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self,” gave the final keynote address on the challenges and risks involved in writing a memoir wherein the main character is the author.
After 20 years as a journalist, Tizon said he did not set out to write a memoir, but found that “exploring and describing the world is part of the process of discovering yourself.”
“I had to come to the conclusion that sometimes the most truthful, compelling story you can tell is your own,” he said.
Tizon advised writers interested in penning their own memoir to identify an angle or unique lens by which to focus their story instead of attempting to write their entire life history in one book.
“Identify the 'prism' early,” he said. “The sooner the better it will be for you.”
The “prism” turned out to be a defining metaphor for conference speakers and attendees.
In listening to the cumulative wisdom of literary wunderkinds, attendees beamed with their own light. Journalists who’d won Pulitzers shared lunch with housewives writing memoirs and authors seeking agents. Each lit up when describing their own story, bright in the telling of their tale.