Friday, July 22, 2011

The View from Grapevine

By R.B. Moreno

Above: Thursday's sunset over Dallas, Texas, where temperatures are climbing into triple digits this week. The 2011 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference heats up in nearby Grapevine on Saturday and Sunday with lectures from long-form journalist Ted Conover and The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten.

Tonight's opening remarks at the DFW Hilton, below, came from essayist Diane Ackerman who contends that she would rewrite every book she's authored, given the chance. "It's hard to stop working," Ackerman explained.

I asked her about the recent wave of memoir criticism in editorial circles, which she rejected. (See this dispatch for more background.) Ackerman said she happily borrows techniques from fiction and enjoys testing boundaries, but can't consider one genre exclusive of another.

Then how, someone else followed up, do we avoid tiresome memoirs?

"I'm a firm believer in being as specific and detailed as possible," was Ackerman's reply. "Just that alone will create something universal. Having it be interesting enough? There's the rub."

Remarks from Paul Theroux at the same venue a couple of years ago finished with this advice, which has been hard to ignore: "Leave home, tell the truth, you'll be all right."

Ready for the rest of the Mayborn lineup, over the years? It's become something of a nonfiction grocery list: Mary Karr, Mark Bowden, and Gary Smith; Ira Glass and Alma Guillermoprieto; N. Scott Momaday, Bob Shacochis, and Candice Millard; Mary Roach, Allison Hedge Coke, and Joyce Carol Oates; Hampton Sides, Melissa Fay Greene, and Gay Talese; and Susan Orlean and Norman Pearlstine, among others.

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