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July 25 2011


Tidbits from this year’s Mayborn Conference: how deep is too deep?

Hanging out at orgies with people who smuggle lizards in their pants. Befriending a convict with an Anne Frank tattoo. Doing drugs with a source. You never know what you’ll hear about – or which writers will surprise you – when you go to Texas for the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.

Immersion journalism was the theme of this year’s Mayborn. Attendees heard accounts of journalists being pushed, falling or jumping into stories, courting the unexpected consequences that make immersion narratives riveting – and sometimes problematic. We’ll be writing up several of the sessions in the coming days and weeks, but here are a few highlights:

Gene Weingarten presented the audience with real-world ethical case studies, using moments from two stories in his own career. In one he said he was offered (and took, and smoked) a source’s hash pipe, which he knew constituted a firing offense. In the other, he extracted evidence of corruption and bribery from a delusional patient in the hospital, a man who believed Weingarten was a doctor even after he had explained that he was a reporter.

Joshua Foer entered a memory competition for a story he was working on – and unexpectedly won the contest. “I had been approaching it thinking I was writing about this bizarre subculture of weirdos,” he said. “And now I was their king.”

Mandalit del Barco played an NPR piece that rose out of her carrying letters and gifts between Haitian and Los Angeles County schoolchildren after the 2010 earthquake. Using storytelling soundscapes, she showed how audio paired with a story script can carry listeners into another world. “If you close your eyes now, what can you hear?”

Ted Conover talked about traveling an unpredictable path from observer to participant: riding the rails with hobos, crossing the border with coyotes, and getting slugged by an inmate during an undercover stint as a prison guard. “This doesn’t require an advanced degree,” he said, “just the willingness to do something crazy.”

We think the subtitle for this year’s conference should have been “When Things Get Messy.” Stay tuned for in-depth posts on these presentations and more.

January 20 2011


Robert Caro, Stacy Schiff, Diane Ackerman and more: narrative conferences and workshops in 2011

Was one of your resolutions in 2011 to become a better storyteller? If so, here are a few conferences and workshops slated for the coming months that can probably teach you a thing or two. These sessions range from one-day conferences to week-long writing intensives, and none of them are free (they range from less than $100 to $1,100). But if you can pony up the pennies (or the big bills), you can hone your mad scribbling skillz with some of the best nonfiction writers working today.

Boston University Narrative Conference – April 29-30 at the Photonics Center in Boston. Speakers TBA. Last year’s group included New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, Gay Talese and Adam Hochschild, among other notables.

The Muse and the Marketplace – April 30-May 1 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. Grub Street, Inc., offers up New York Times contributor Pauline Chen, nonfiction writer Alexandra Johnson and “Hiroshima in the Morning” author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, among many others. (Actor and short story writer James Franco will be there, too, so we’re half expecting him to announce the start of his new career as a narrative journalist.)

Biographers International Organization Conference – May 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. For writers limning the lives of the famous and infamous, Robert Caro (“The Power Broker”) and Stacy Schiff  (“Cleopatra”) headline the speakers at BIO’s one-day affair.

Great Storytelling Every Day – July 17-22 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom French leads this Poynter Institute week-long workshop on conceiving and framing deadline narratives for print and online. Some scholarships available.

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference – July 22-24 in Grapevine, Texas (outside Dallas). The Mayborn 2011 roster includes poet and essayist Diane Ackerman, two-time Pulitzer winner Gene Weingarten, “The Good Soldiers” author David Finkel, and NPR commentator Frank Deford, among many others.

We’ll post information on other upcoming conferences and workshops as we get details on them. If there’s an event you think Storyboard readers should know about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us at contact_us@niemanstoryboard.org.

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