An exciting development to report: Last month at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference in Texas I was awarded this year’s Mayborn Fellowship in Biography. It provides an “emerging biographer” with writing time during a short-term residency in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, north of Santa Fe, N.M. I’ll be working on my biography of Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.
What excites me most is that the fellowship includes mentoring by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer James McGrath Morris. Besides this fellowship he inaugurated a program at Mayborn to coach high schools students in the skills of writing biography. Read Jamie’s delightful account of how, for his monumental biography on the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, he tracked down a long-lost diary of Pulitzer’s brother, Albert, then flew off to Paris to meet with Albert’s 85-year-old granddaughter Muriel, a sculptor with a rooftop atelier at Saint-Sulpice church.
The Mayborn Conference, held in Grapevine, Tex., is affiliated with the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism of the University of North Texas. It features a packed two days of presentations on storytelling techniques and the craft of nonfiction writing.
I’d vaguely heard about the Mayborn Conference because Steve Weinberg, one of my journalism school professors, has been a panelist. Steve wrote a biography of muckraker Ida Tarbell and how her reporting brought down John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil trust. (I’ve discovered that Eliza Scidmore and Ida Tarbell overlapped on the masthead of National Geographic Magazine for a short time when both served as associate editors.)
When possible I try to attend at least one writers conference a year—different ones. This year I picked Mayborn because it had several activities that interested me, including an essay critique workshop, an agent pitch session and a lineup of three impressive keynote speakers: Pulitzer Prize winners Luis Alberto Urrea, Richard Rhodes and Isabel Wilkerson.
The Mayborn Conference also sponsors a writing competition that awards $15,000 in cash prizes and publication of the best essays, reported narratives and book manuscripts submitted by those attending the event. The vibe is really energetic. A great conference overall.