Writing for a monthly magazine can be a bitch. Stuff happens, and you want to write about that stuff, but if it’s a certain type of stuff, you risk feeling dated in print, given our long lead times. The challenge, then, is to write about that stuff in a way that extends its “use before” freshness date. Peter Simek did a great job of describing July’s Mayborn conference right after it ended. Here’s how I tackled it in our September issue, which published last week. (Not every story in the magazine automatically makes it online; this is one such story.)
It’s unfair to characterize the Mayborn as a literary bacchanal. But let’s do it anyway.
The bar at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine is called Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout. On Saturday nights, it closes at 1 am, which, given the murderous crime spree that made its eponyms famous, seems temperate. Surely any good hideout would serve drinks till 2.
That seemed to be the sentiment of the two dozen or so magazine writers, newspapermen, and maybe even students who gathered outside the bar, in the hotel’s lobby, on the second night of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which concluded July 22. It was late, and the group had been asked kindly to leave the hideout. But it wasn’t that late.
George Getschow, a professor at UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism and the director of the conference, stood on a chair to address the group. He held a pint of beer and raised a toast to the “tribe of storytellers,” as he is fond of referring to Mayborn conferees.
Getschow is rightly proud of the conference. In its eight years, despite being held in a remote, aging hotel that smells like a widow’s basement, it has established a national reputation by attracting literary giants such as Gay Talese and Joyce Carol Oates. Or maybe, in part, because it is held in that hotel.
“I know this place is close to the airport,” one editor said to another, “but they’ve got to move this thing someplace a little hipper. Even the Omni would be better.”
“No,” another replied. “If this were downtown, people would all wander off on their own at night. This place is an island. People have to hang out.”
After Getschow stepped down, Thomas Lake, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, took his turn on the chair and read James Joyce. Then, at length, came Tom Junod, former traveling handbag salesman and current Esquire writer at large with two National Magazine Awards to his credit. Under his blazer, he wore a shirt unbuttoned at the neck, and his conference ID lanyard still dangled at his chest. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” spilled through the bar’s open doors.
“It’s just been fantastic and really down to the bare bones of what it should be, hanging around, talking about writing with writers who really care about it,” Junod said. “I mean, what could be better? I look at everybody here, and it looks like we’ll be friends. This is the shit.” He raised a highball glass containing an unidentified liquid. There was cheering, whistling, and Junod elaborated on his point: “This is the motherfucking shit.”
Eventually, the party dwindled in number but not enthusiasm and moved upstairs to someone’s room before hotel security–again kindly–brought day two of the Mayborn conference to a close.
On the third and final day, there were some bleary eyes as Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson talked about her book The Warmth of Other Suns, for which she interviewed 1,200 people before finding the three ideal subjects to tell the story of the great African-American migration to the North.
Junod himself was still pushing limits. With just three characters to spare, he tweeted: “#Mayborn has reminded me how much I don’t know and how much I haven’t done. The great thing is that it has made those deficits inspiring.”