(**to listen to the audio recording of this essay, scroll DOWN to the bottom)
There was a strange noise coming from my backyard. I hadn’t heard it for over a year, so my ears had to adjust. There was a spill of chatter, then gusts of laughter. It was, I realized, the sound of contagious joy.
I went and stood at the kitchen window and looked out on my niece’s birthday celebration, a gathering of her young friends in their 20’s and 30’s on a warm spring afternoon. Every time some new guest came through the back gate, there were renewed whoops and hugs. Sometimes there was a tentative moment, a sizing up and then the oft-repeated exchange before the clasp. ”I’ve been vaxed.” “Me too.” Sometimes there was a group grab with a punctuating squeal.
Over the past year, they had lived in Zoomland. A fair number had been in graduate school with my niece—all classes online—and had just gotten their diplomas in screenwriting. The yard vibrated with their anxieties and their ambitions. Financial realities and loans had already forced some to pivot to a more practical career while COVID had caused them to hold off on marriages—even dating.
Watching them, I was filled with tenderness, remembering my own wild hopes and uncertainties at their age. They were at the relative beginning of their lives when the pandemic hit, while my contemporaries and I were at a far later point. Our reckonings haven’t been with stalled lives and careers but with mortality itself. We have had to sit with those reckonings, acknowledging the changes and vulnerabilities that come with age. There was an almost perverse relief in that, as there was in forsaking skinny jeans with their punishing grip for the elastic waists of sweatpants and pajama bottoms. Happy to see that skinny jeans are now passé anyway.
During the lockdown days, the decibel level fell, not just the external one but the internal one. I drifted a lot, daydreamed, picked up an old favorite book—Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls or So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell—and, retreating to a backyard chaise, fell asleep with the book open on top of me. Sometimes I would be awakened by loud birdsong and occasionally an avian battle between a mockingbird and a big glossy black crow. In the unusual quiet, I heard the sounds of the natural world: those birds, the squirrels in the apple tree, the wind.
Memories had their way with me: my days in this very yard as a shiny new bride almost half a century earlier, my big, handsome husband muttering and puttering in our vegetable garden in his denim overalls, straw hat on his head. He has been gone now almost nine years but was so vivid in this visitation. The same with our dogs, years gone but somehow so present, the sequential big yellow Labs leaping into our small backyard pool with splashy exuberance.
“Of Gratitude and Grief” . . . February, 2021
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We were sitting in the car at Dodger Stadium, making small talk as we awaited our vaccines. The place was bustling, orange traffic cones everywhere, keeping all of us motorists in our respective lanes. According to all reports and pictures, the previous week had been a madhouse as it ramped up to vaccinate up to 7,000 people a day, making it one of the country’s largest inoculation centers.
Of course, I grimaced looking at the photos and hearing tales from friends who had waited four to five hours for their coveted jabs of the Moderna vaccine. But a lot of the kinks had seemingly been worked out. Young volunteers, their civic pride apparent, kept the traffic moving and registered everyone as they arrived. And, post-inoculation—an efficient prick in the arm—they walked up and down the lines of cars, smiling at all of us through the windows to make sure we were OK and had no adverse reactions.
I found the whole thing moving on many levels. The speed of a vaccine in and of itself was amazing, a testament to human ingenuity and science. From lab to arm had been a matter of months. True, the original rollout had been a mess, but now it seemed to be getting on the right track. And, on a personal level, was sheer gratitude and relief. All over the country, the globe for that matter, people were desperately searching for what I had just procured.
But in swift tandem with the feeling of thankfulness and the anticipation of what a newly reopened life would feel like, there was an unmistakable sense of chagrin. I looked around at the cars (we lucky ones) and thought about all who were still unvaccinated and would be for quite a while—and more so, those without the resources to even try to get the vaccine. I had spent hours on the computer trying to secure a dose at one of the few county health sites that was offering it, pounding the desk and inventing a whole new ex-rated vocabulary until I finally nabbed one.
But inescapable was the knowledge of all those who could not do that—those who didn’t have the time or the techno-ability to score an early vaccine as my friends and I were able to do. There was something else we had: the presumption of success, the belief that with a little perseverance we would and could get that vaccine as soon as it became available to our aging age group, and underneath that presumption, of course, was privilege. We could cross the city at any given hour on any given day—and did—often venturing east and south away from our relatively safe home turf to get a precious jab in a neighborhood we rarely visited.
Driving home from Dodger Stadium on a damp, grey morning, I looked out the window at my city, a city I love, a city not always easy to love—and a city of such disparities. There were so many out there hurting. L.A. had become Surge Central, disproportionately affecting the communities of color, the people who worked in the supermarkets, restaurants, and warehouses—and who often travel across town, east to west, to clean the houses and tend the children and the seniors in the more affluent sections of this city. The choreography of inequality.
Such inequality is everywhere, but in Los Angeles, things always seem more outsized and dramatic, the poorer, denser neighborhoods—those with the least access to health care and, indeed, to early vaccines—but a freeway ride away from the houses of the rich and sometimes famous. Never more apparent than now, a land of extremes―some of us feeling so grateful while so many others are grieving.
2019: Horizon: Barry Lopez in the World
For decades, award-winning environmental writer and journalist BARRY LOPEZ has been one of our most revered literary voices about the joys and the consequences of human inhabitation of the earth. Thirty years after receiving the National Book Award for his seminal book Arctic Dreams, Lopez returns with the career-defining work Horizon, in which he immerses us in six far-flung regions of the world as he ponders humanity’s long history of quests, explorations and exploitations of nature. In conversation with ANDREW PROCTOR, Executive Director of Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon, Lopez describes his very personal search for purpose in a fractured world, taking us nearly from pole to pole—from modern megacities to some of the most remote regions on the earth—and across decades of lived experience.
(**to listen to the audio recording of this essay, scroll DOWN to the bottom)
We could hear voices from next door when we drove in the driveway. It was late—late for us anyway—after 11 p.m., and as we got out of the car and walked to the front door, the noise rose and fell, chattering followed by eruptive laughter. I have been in the same clapboard cottage in West Los Angeles for almost half a century and in all that time I have never come home to such pure merriment. Music sometimes, an unruly argument sometimes. But not this. Once inside, I went to the kitchen and opened all the windows so I could eavesdrop on their joy—which was coming from the side yard. An hour later, they were still out there and I was still in my darkened kitchen, glass of wine in hand, an aging kid in pajamas listening to the partying adults and longing to be with them.
These were new renters. After the last ones moved out, the house sat empty for months. Like mine, it’s vintage, a yellow Spanish built in the 1920s. I root for it to remain standing and not to succumb to tear-down fever so I am always hopeful when there are new tenants. We met on the street shortly after their soirée. The mom, very pregnant with a new baby, had a little blond boy by the hand, and a luminous smile.
From Australia, she and her husband had been in the country for five years, she said, and planned to stay. Coming and going from our houses, we started to look for each other, falling instantly back into conversation, probing for each other’s funny bones. I was excited; it was the beginning of something. Friendship is like love in many ways, a matter of chemistry, something ineluctable and unmistakable. I told my new beau when he visited that weekend. “I’ve met somebody,” I said. His brow furrowed. “No, no,” I said, “I’m talking about the people next door.”
They extended invitations. Come have a drink. We’re having some friends. We went over, the beau and I. We sat in the side yard under the string of lights. The stories began, the laughter. I was no longer the woman at the kitchen window; I was the girl at the party. I have friends and family in the city and am deeply close to them but this was something different. These were the next-door neighbors I had been looking for all my life without even realizing it, a house to pop in and out of. L.A. can feel big and lonesome. Not to reach too far but the country itself can seem lonely, all that rugged individualism, fear of the other, yen for privacy, all those gated communities.
Then the baby came and she came smiling. Then COVID came. The beau moved in; it was that or not see him. The mom’s out-of-town sister arrived and stayed. My thirtysomething L.A. niece became part of the tribe. We got locked down together, a multi-generational two-house confinement. We began to shop for each other, texting whenever one or the other of us made a masked foray to the market. Need anything?
We spent the sequestered summer together, swimming in my little pool, and when it was dark, we moved back to their house for supper, drinking margaritas and dancing around the kitchen island with the babies. The beau and I have become the stand-in grandparents with the others so far away in Australia.
Now come the holidays and we are in giddy prep mode, hanging wreaths and decorating our trees, wandering back and forth from our houses, making stews to share and holiday cakes. With no other family members able to visit, we are intoxicatingly grateful—double so given all the sorrow and fear abroad in the land and in our once-again shuttered city. On many a night, we marvel aloud at the serendipity that brought us all together during such strange days.
“Fathers & Daughters” . . . September, 2020
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I have been visiting with my father lately—a lot more often than I have in recent years. Something in the uncertainty of the days and the hovering virus has propelled me to reach out to him as if he might offer paternal counsel or solace.
My father has been dead for 22 years. He is buried in a lovely small cemetery in Westwood, just behind some now very dormant movie houses, about a 15-minute drive from my home in West Los Angeles. Over the years, I have visited sparingly. I loved my father, but he was a piece of patriarchal work, and he left his estate in a mess, causing family ruptures that never healed. But I had begun to miss him. Something in the pandemic loosened my heart.
On my first visit back in a number of years, I had a little trouble finding him.
An actor and director, he lies among his more famous colleagues like Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, and Jack Lemmon. I walked, looking down at the flat stones, reading name after name, until I came upon him: Donald Richie Taylor, 1920-1998. The child in me remembered his big, strong arms, his booze-abetted swagger, his cockeyed smile, industrial-sized father.
As I kneeled to sweep the fallen leaves off the bronze marker, I realized I had not come for solace at all, but rather for forgiveness—to ask for it. Over the past months, I had watched so many adult daughters grieve for their dying or deceased fathers, a sorrow compounded by the distance they had to keep. There were no deathbed touches or tendernesses. Final goodbyes and protestations of love were communicated through a cell phone pressed to the paternal ear by a ministering caregiver in layers of protective garb.
My father’s last days came back in vivid detail. Hospitalized with a host of maladies, including emphysema, cirrhosis, and prostate cancer, he tried to maintain his fatherly stature as I came and went from his room. He was sentient, almost till the very end, still reading the daily newspaper, “cheaters” on his nose, still barking orders at me from his hospital bed to get him a coveted but verboten Iced Blended Mocha from Starbuck’s. “No can do Pop, not allowed,” I said as I exited his room, his grumbles following me to the elevator. I was tempted that day, as on others, to turn back, to put my head on his chest or tell him our favorite knock-knock joke, the one with Don Ameche in it. But I did not.
As a family, we tacitly colluded to go through my father’s final days in mock-cheery denial, not saying the obvious: my father was dying. He knew it and surely was scared, but he had no vocabulary for fear, which would have seemed unmanly in his old-school male lexicon. You could see, though—I could see—the sad and scared eyes beneath his carapace of masculinity. He had driven me mad sometimes with his posturing, but he had also evidenced great moments of tenderness at key moments in my life: when my marriage was shaky; when I struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to have the baby I so wanted and he paced my hospital room in his white windbreaker and jaunty cap trying to make me laugh as I recovered from one more surgery. In the aftermath of his dying—the very moment he flat-lined in the ICU—I was stunned by the overness of it, of a life, one that had loomed so large in my own, and by all that I had not said to him in his final hours on the earth and would not now ever say.
I visit my father now to chat with him and tell him I miss him. For a while the place was shuttered—a security guard standing on alert at the gated entrance. My father would have thought that funny. “Locked out of the cemetery, eh? Wish I were,” I could hear him say with his big laugh.
“I’ll be back, Pop,” I said, through the fence. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“The Ocean” . . . October, 2020
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It was predictably bracingly cold. I dove under a wave and came up with that exuberant yelp I remembered from childhood. “Brr,” I said, grinning into the air. How long had it been since I had done this; rather, why had it been so long? The joy was so instantaneous, that feeling of being strong of limb and lung and yet needing to surrender to the water’s rhythms at the same time―a late-summer baptism in the Pacific Ocean.
I have not been swimming for a year, not since the previous September. After that, the seasons changed, yes, even here in LA, and the normally cold ocean water turned even colder. In the intervening months, I sometimes walked along the bluffs overhanging the coastal highway. Through the autumn and into the early winter, I joined friends for an early morning stroll or took out-of-town visitors to watch the sunset. The water became a vista, a postcard.
Then COVID came, clamping down on the land and surging with the summer. Suddenly the beaches were off-limits, the parking lots shut. A fence even went up along the Palisades Park, where I took those walks. I peered through the chain-link fence, trying to see the vast blueness beyond. It was unimaginable, this sudden loss of access, something I had taken for granted all my life. How could such a thing come to pass; how could the very beach, my beach, the beach I had grown up on, be put under lock-down, along with the rest of us—during summer, no less? How could the ocean itself be sequestered? I began to yearn for it.
The fence came down, the temperatures went up, and I finally returned for my first swim of 2020. I walked barefoot across the hot sand, scrunching my toes down to find a cooler layer. Kids were building sandcastles on the shore—as kids had no doubt been doing for decades (centuries)―while the gulls circled and shrieked. I inched into the water, ankles, calves, thighs, belly, chest—the chicken’s way, body piece by body piece—until a large wave took shape and under it I went. Coming up for air, I inhaled deeply, a great big grateful lungful of air, after watching so many in so many hospitals unable to do that. I was an aging water baby, diving and frolicking and feeling free in ways I hadn’t in months. The waves washed away the years, along with all the anxiety that haunted the city streets.
This is my hometown turf, my place, my playground. I learned to swim here when I was eight or nine, then to bodysurf a little later. We had family parties here, us kids still swimming in the dark while the adults pulled more wine from their coolers and flirted with each other. I had my first sandy teenage kiss here, a lean, curly-haired boy brushing my lips with his. Later I came with my husband and stepsons and then with their kids. Later still, I brought my aging mother here, as she had once brought me, helping her navigate the sand so she could see the ocean one more time.
We all have our places of solace: churches (when they are open), museums (when they are open), parks or forest trails. The Santa Monica beach is so clearly mine, bred into the family DNA. Some I know think the broad, flat terrain of my hometown beach is too uninteresting, uneventful, no undulations or grasses waving in the wind. I have heard them say as much. I don’t argue; I don’t agree. I love the simple wide openness of it. This is where my noisy, sprawling city comes to its end, where, for that matter, the continent ends, and where I come both to remember and to forget.
2014: My Country, My Story, with Congressman John Lewis
Legendary civil rights activist and longtime U.S. congressman from Georgia, JOHN LEWIS shares his remarkable journey from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to a seat in Congress, a journey that he chronicles in his recently released graphic novel, March. One of the “Big Six” African-American leaders of the 1960s civil rights movement, Lewis has lived a life that might be regarded as a moral through line of our times. His is the voice that bridges the years between the nonviolent social justice campaigns of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the political ascension of President Barack Obama. In this talk, Lewis discusses where he has been and what he has seen, what weighs on his heart and what gives him hope.
2019: The Stories We Carry: Writing Memoir
Join DANI SHAPIRO, the author of five memoirs, including Inheritance, Hourglass, and Devotion, for a personal, informative exploration of how she practices her art and her craft. Shapiro’s books span diverse subjects: from her tumultuous upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish community, to her explorations of spirituality and the nature of our deepest relationships, to questions of family secrets and personal identity in a time of changing societal attitudes toward bioethics. A gifted and beloved teacher of writing, she is as wise and generous in articulating the process of writing about her own life as she is in practicing it.
2019: “Led By What Was Given” (W. S. Merwin): Letting Poetry Lead Us in Our Daily Lives
How does poetry serve us? How may we deepen our relationships with the poems we read or write? Award-winning poet NAOMI SHIHAB NYE will lead a passionate and insightful discussion about ways to connect, grow and change with poems in our everyday lives, focusing especially on the work of W.S. Merwin, William Stafford, and Mary Oliver.
2019: Helicopters, Snowplows, and Scandals: Why Helping Kids Too Much Harms Them, and What to Do About It
When the college admissions scandal hit the news earlier this year, the name of JULIE LYTHCOTT-HAIMS was everywhere. The former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford and the author of How To Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success, she was quoted media- wide, offering her prescient analysis of parenting gone mad. She has become the sane sage decrying an epidemic of hovering, competitive (even criminal) parenting. Bottom line: we are not fostering healthy, independent young people. She will talk about her book, about the admissions mania, and about the damage we are doing to our stressed-out children and to the society at large.
How do you make a story about the Greek gods feel so completely alive and feel so relevant? That is the gift of MADELINE MILLER in her novel Circe. It is the story of the bewitching goddess known in The Odyssey for transforming Odysseus’s men into pigs, before helping him on his journey home. Banished by Zeus to an island, Miller’s Circe finds strength in her art and her solitude, even as she longs for connection. The author in effect claims Circe back from ancient mythology and breathes new life into her as a strong, passionate and, yes, sometimes angry woman, one who speaks very much to our times. Miller will talk about the book, her research for it, and her enduring goal of adapting classical texts to modern forms.
Recent years have brought deeply disturbing developments around the globe. In the face of global disarray, American public sentiment increasingly leans toward withdrawal. However, the world remains full of dangerous actors who, left unchecked, possess the desire and ability to make things worse. In his passionate and nuanced book, The Jungle Grows Back, ROBERT KAGAN argues that the tendency to withdraw and to focus on our foreign policy failures misunderstands the essential role America has played for decades in keeping the world’s worst instability in check. He will talk about his book and about the role of the United States in upholding the liberal world order.
2019: Leadership in War
In his upcoming book, ANDREW ROBERTS will turn to a subject that continues to fascinate him: how leaders steer their nations in a time of war. The award-winning author of Churchill and Napoleon, Roberts will offer up a comparison of nine people who led their countries through the greatest wars the world has ever seen and thus shaped human history. In addition to Napoleon and Churchill, the list includes Nelson and Stalin, Hitler and de Gaulle, Marshall and Eisenhower and Thatcher. Roberts will tell us about their strengths and weaknesses and about what qualities—judgement, nimbleness, character—make for a good leader in an embattled time.
2019: What “Saturday Night Live” and “Toy Story” Have in Common
The average episode of SNL has the same running time as most Pixar films, including the all-time classic Toy Story. But despite their shared running time (roughly 90 minutes for each) they would seem to have little in common. While most Pixar films take over five years to produce, each episode of SNL is written, rehearsed and shot in less than six intense, breathless days. On the surface, SNL’s process would seem drastically different from Pixar’s, but there’s a surprisingly large amount of creative overlap, steps you can’t afford to skip, no matter how little time you have. Comedy writer SIMON RICH has written successfully for both and will give an instructive and amusing look into the creative process of these two iconic storytelling franchises.
2019: The Ninth Hour: Alice McDermott on her Most Recent Novel
In many of her novels, the writer ALICE MCDERMOTT has given us the world of Irish Catholic Americans—their place in America, their faith and longings, their secrets and shame. She returns to those themes in her most recent book, The Ninth Hour, yet it seems wholly original territory—both bleak and lovely, hopeful and melancholy. She begins in a Brooklyn tenement in the early twentieth century and you can feel the time and place in every detail. She will talk about the novel and about the interplay of historical research and the unfettered imagination in its creation.
2019: A Slice of Life: Cookbooks and the Worlds They Reveal
The memoirist Laurie Colwin once wrote that to understand a culture, you must read its cookbooks. Good cookbooks conjure worlds, evoking the senses, the drama and comedy of putting a meal on the table, the histories of families, cities, and countries. The celebrated host of The Splendid Table and former New York Times Magazine columnist FRANCIS LAM will be interviewed by award-winning food writer ALEKSANDRA CRAPANZANO (Eat. Cook. LA.) about his favorite cookbooks—the ones that have inspired trips to foreign lands (or just to the kitchen cupboard), the tried and true that he keeps nearby at all times, and those that have sparked a deep love and curiosity for a world he had not previously known.
2019: The Two Commanding Generals
The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian RICK ATKINSON has spent the better part of 20 years researching, thinking and writing about the two most important American commanding generals: George Washington and Dwight David Eisenhower. For his award-winning Liberation Trilogy about World War II, he acquainted himself with every facet of Eisenhower’s life and leadership. He is now deep into the American Revolution, having recently published The British Are Coming: The War for America, the first volume of a new trilogy. Here, we get Washington’s every thought and move, his steep learning curve on the battlefield. In conversation with VAN GORDON SAUTER, the former head of CBS News, Atkinson will talk about what makes for a successful commander general, the qualities of heart and mind that distinguished these two men.
For a dose of high, morally inflected fun, many of us turn every Sunday to The New York Times Magazine to read the wit and wisdom of The Ethicist, aka KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH, eminent philosopher, author, and former president of PEN/America. People send Appiah their questions—from the lighthearted to the most painful—to elicit his calm and reasoned advice on ethical quandaries, such as “I detest the NRA. What should I do with my gun?” and “Is it OK for a Chinese restaurant to favor Chinese patrons?” to name just two. In this session, you will have the opportunity, at last, to present your own ethical conundrums to The Ethicist in person, and, perhaps, to marvel at his Solomonic replies.
2019: The Field of Blood: How America Tears Itself Apart
There are shelves full of books about the Civil War era. It is rare for someone to dig deep and find something new to say about that perilous and divisive time. But that is precisely what Yale historian JOANNE FREEMAN achieves in her recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. In her meticulously researched and cautionary tale, she tells how the vitriolic debates on the floor of the U.S. Congress led to actual brawls and death threats and helped push the country towards war. A tale of extreme polarization, conspiracy theories in the press, splintering political parties, and a new technology that scrambled American politics—the telegraph—it reveals much about America’s past and present.
The word went around. It bounced from reader to reader, critic to critic, on the internet and in book reviews. A stunning new voice had been raised, one full of originality and outrage, profanity and humor. That voice belongs to TOMMY ORANGE, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and winner of the 2018 Pen/Hemingway Award for his debut novel, There There. If you want to understand your country, its aches and wounds and urban core—specifically the Native Americans’ struggle to make lives here—then read it you must. In conversation with ANDREW PROCTOR, Executive Director of Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon, Tommy Orange will talk about his book, its indelible characters, and about his own literary path and passions.
2019: Reporting in the Age of President Donald Trump
These are complicated times to be a journalist. No one knows this better than MARK LEIBOVICH, the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. In his book, This Town, he wittily dissected the symbiotic relationship between the politicians and the press in the nation’s capital. Then came the election of Donald Trump and that relationship took on a kind of enlivening animosity. So how does it feel to be a reporter on the ground now? Should the rest of us be cynical about the media or optimistic? Leibovich will tell us what it’s like to be in the center of the D.C. storm and talk about the perils and pleasures, the difficulties and responsibilities, of the profession he practices with such skill and infectious glee.
Spend some time with the person Dave Barry calls “one of South Florida’s most vital natural resources.” CARL HIAASEN will answer questions about writing the characters in his novels, his powerful convictions about society and the environment, and his career as a columnist for The Miami Herald in what is sure to be an entertaining and utterly hilarious session.
We are living in a time in which authoritarianism is definitely on the rise and liberalism seems under siege everywhere. Daily there is another story from another part of the planet where an autocrat or tough guy is solidifying power and curtailing freedoms. No one can speak to this trend better than ROBERT KAGAN, a senior fellow at Brookings and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. The author of seven books and one of the most original commentators on this perilous time for liberal democratic values, Kagan will talk about the confluence of events that have led to the resurgence of anti- democratic sentiment around the globe and about what can and should be done to counteract it.
2019: Martin Amis and the Rub of Time
As an internationally renowned journalist, critic, and novelist (The Rachel Papers, Money, Times Arrow to name but three), MARTIN AMIS has always turned his keen intellect and unrivaled prose loose on an astonishing range of topics—politics, sports, celebrity, America, his own life (he is the son of the novelist Kingsley Amis), and, of course, literature (especially his “twin peaks” of the art, Bellow and Nabokov). Amis has never shied away from being provocative, but he has also never been dull. Join him as, with his customary razor-sharp wit and kinetic language, he discusses his extraordinary literary life, his literary loves and hates, and his book The Rub of Time—a scintillating collection of his best nonfiction work over the past two decades— with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright AYAD AKHTAR.
**We apologize for the technical issues in this recording.**
2017: I’m Not Making This Up: I’m 70
Pulitzer Prize-winning humor writer DAVE BARRY talks about his latest book, Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, in which he explains why Florida is the way it is, and why it probably should not be expelled from the union. He also discusses getting old, which he is in the process of doing, as well as other pertinent topics, assuming he can remember what they are.
It’s 1985. Robert Merkin, the resident genius of the upstart investment firm Sacker Lowell has just landed on the cover
of TIME magazine. Hailed as “America’s Alchemist,” his proclamation that “debt is an asset” has propelled him to dizzying heights. Zealously promoting his belief in the near- sacred infallibility of markets, he is trying to reshape the world. What Merkin sets in motion is nothing less than a financial civil war, pitting magnates against workers, lawyers against journalists, and ultimately, pitting everyone against themselves. AYAD AKHTAR’s play, which opened on Broadway in fall 2017, takes us back to the hotbed of the ‘80s and offers us an origin story for the world and a tale of how, while most of us weren’t watching, money became the only thing of real value. He takes us behind the scenes not only of an era, but of his creative process as well.
2017: World War I and America: Told by the Americans who Lived It
To open the 2017 Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, we turned to Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer A. SCOTT BERG, the editor of a new Library of America anthology of writings by American observers and participants in World War I. Timed to coincide with the centenary of America’s entry into that war, the collection features the work and voices of 88 men and women, from nurses and soldiers to such well-known authors as Edith Wharton, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Searing, poignant, and evocative, the pieces taken together highlight many of the issues we are wrestling with today. When should America intervene in conflicts around the world? How does racial injustice here in the U.S. compromise our moral leadership? With music and readings from the anthology, Berg brings that pivotal time—and those themes—to vivid life.
2017: Muslims in America: A Playwright’s Compendium of Characters
No playwright has challenged our perceptions of Muslims in America as boldly, and with such dramatic vigor, as has AYAD AKHTAR, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Disgraced, the most produced play of the 2015-2016 season. Join Akhtar for an exciting evening of theater as characters from three of his recent plays grapple with themselves and with each other, and with the very idea of character. In this hour, Akhtar stages monologues from his plays Disgraced and The Invisible Hand, followed by a scene from The Who & The What, all framed by the playwright’s narration and reflections on his craft and themes. He is joined by two actors steeped in his work, RAJESH BOSE and NADINE MALOUF.
2017: Far and Away: How Traveling to 87 Countries Made Me Who I Am
At a time when the value of internationalism, along with its ethic of the common good, has been forcefully thrown into question, National Book Award-winning author ANDREW SOLOMON believes that learning about cultures other than our own is more essential than ever as a “necessary remedy to our perilously frightening times.” For the past twenty-five years, Solomon has been traveling to far-off places, many of them in the midst of seismic political, cultural and spiritual shifts. The literary result, as novelist Salman Rushdie has said, is much more than travel writing; it is “a portrait of our world.” Travels to countries like Myanmar, Afghanistan and South Africa have opened Solomon’s eyes and burnished his compassion and his courage. Join him as he takes us far and away, introducing us to the friends he has made along the way and reminding us that we are citizens not just of nations, but of the world.
2017: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War continues to exert both a tragic and romantic pull on our imaginations. It is the conflict at the heart of Ernest Hemingway’s novel for Whom the Bell tolls, and is the subject of a book by journalist and historian ADAM HOCHSCHILD. The war, which lasted from 1936-1939, drew some 3,000 American volunteers who joined the fight against the fascist forces led by the ultimately victorious Francisco Franco. Hochschild focuses on a dozen of those Americans, weaving their stories together in a compelling, almost novelistic narrative. He takes us to Spain and back to those heady, heartbreaking days.
2017: How to Write History
How do historians do their work? How do they find their stories, their source material? Journalist and historian ADAM HOCHSCHILD, award-winning author of eight books, including Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, talks about the process of writing history. Where does he start? How does he do his research? How does he find his way in, identify the characters to focus on, and keep their stories vivid and alive, and still truthful? Learn about the historian’s craft.
2017: The Royals
If you loved The Crown, you will want to hear author SALLY BEDELL SMITH share the real stories of the British royal family in all its quirks and complexities. Author of the book, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of An Improbable Life, and of an earlier volume on his mother, Elizabeth the Queen, Smith’s work aims to humanize the often misperceived duo. She tells us about the strange, privileged lives of the Queen and the Prince, about the ties that bind them, but also about their striking differences.
2017: Amazon and the Book Business
Remember when Amazon was a newcomer on the business and cultural landscape and its main business was selling books? Remember when the Kindle seemed like a newfangled gizmo that nobody needed or wanted? In his award-winning book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, author BRAD STONE gave readers the first in-depth, fly-on- the-wall account of life at Amazon. Listen into his discussion of Amazon’s influence on publishing companies and readers alike, and what he makes of Bezos’ business moves, including his 2013 purchase of The Washington Post.
It is probably fair to say that the United States of America has never seemed less united, certainly in recent memory. How did it become this way? What are the political, economic, racial and psychological factors at the heart of the divide? We asked two of our most respected cultural commentators, sociology professor ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD and New York Times columnist DAVID BROOKS, to explore these questions in a wide-ranging conversation. Hochschild is the author of the much-discussed book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, in which she profiles voters in deepest Louisiana, a stronghold of the conservative right. Like Hochschild, Brooks is an investigator of the human heart and of what motivates all Americans, whatever their political affiliations, at the deepest level.
2017: New Voices
This session is one of our perennial favorites. This 2017 panel offered us a chance to introduce you to a group of new young writers you might not have been familiar with–yet. In a literary celebration filled with recognizable and established authors, our focus here is to highlight those at an earlier stage of their creative lives. So listen to DREW CALVERT, MAYA HLAVACEK, IMBOLO MBUE and CALLAN WINK as they read from their fiction and talk about their ambitions and their fears and about what they see, and hope for, ahead.
2017: How British Food Went From Worst to Best
After centuries of bearing its reputation for notoriously dreadful food, London has undergone a complete culinary transformation and is now widely considered to be one of the most vibrant restaurant cities in the world. Award-winning food writer ALEKSANDRA CRAPANZANO, author of The London Cookbook, will look at the who, why, where and how behind this sea change, while also profiling some of the chefs who have spearheaded this tasty revolution. Much great food will be discussed. So too will Los Angeles, where Crapanzano sees a parallel food renaissance emerging.
2017: Writing and the Moon
Join award-winning novelist LAUREN GROFF on a luminous literary tour of the moon as it figures in some of our most beloved artistic works, from the plays of William Shakespeare to the fables of Italo Calvino and beyond. Through history, the moon has tugged at many a writer’s imagination, serving not just as subject, but as muse. Groff will tell us why that is and how the moon has exerted its pull on her.
Born in 1775 London, Louisa Adams was raised as many wealthy English girls were raised: to be married. Her marriage to John Quincy Adams, however, took her on a journey that she never could have expected. She experienced life in palaces and on farms and, in the White House, as the wife of the sixth president of the United States. That literal journey was matched by the journey of her mind. The love story of Louisa and John Quincy Adams was complicated, one that is brought to vivid life by historian and journalist LOUISA THOMAS. She traces the extraordinary and unexpected path of a shy, ambivalent, and sometimes contrary woman, who became not just a savvy partner to her husband, but also a strong human being in her own right.
In his most recent book, Being Nixon, author EVAN THOMAS gives us a portrait of one of the most compelling, driven, and flawed men ever to occupy the White House, a man who, like the current president, thrived on conflict. He is, in Thomas’s telling, a Shakespearean character, so hungry and gifted in so many ways, and yet ultimately doomed by his own lack of self-awareness. Thomas, the author of nine books, says the example of Nixon is more relevant than ever. He will tell us why that is true and why the 37th president continues to haunt the national imagination.
2017: Freedom of the Press in the World Today
For the last 25 years, KATI MARTON—herself the daughter of two Hungarian journalists who were jailed for their writings— has been traveling the globe on behalf of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. Marton, who recently returned from a CPJ mission to Ukraine and Brussels, will discuss what has changed and what has not during this past quarter century, where the greatest threats to press freedom exist today, and what we as citizens (and writers) can do to help protect this most vital of institutions.
2017: Big Money in American Politics
New Yorker staff writer JANE MAYER spent five years writing the book Dark Money, her investigation into Charles and David Koch and a handful of allied billionaires, who have reshaped U.S. politics through the decades-long construction of what Mayer calls an “integrated political network” fueled by donations from hundreds of wealthy conservatives. In what is certain to be a lively and fascinating question-and-answer session with SVWC Board member and Pulitzer Prize-winning author LIAQUAT AHAMED, Mayer will talk about her journalistic methods—the public records, newly unearthed documents, and hundreds of interviews she relied on in reporting her story—and what she believes her conclusions reveal about and mean for the American political system.
Come hear IMBOLO MBUE talk about the books that helped shape her as a writer. In her beguiling debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, winner of the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award, she tells the story of a young Cameroonian couple starting a new life in New York just as the Great Recession arrives. She writes with wit and tenderness not only about these struggling immigrants, but also about the family of the Lehman Brothers executive who hires them, in a book The New York Times called “savage and compassionate in all the right places.” Mbue says that empathy is at the base of her drive to be a writer, a quality she learned from the books of Frank McCourt, Toni Morrison, Andrew Solomon and others. She will talk about their work, and her own, in a conversation with JEFFREY BROWN of the PBS NewsHour.
BJ MILLER has emerged as one of the country’s leading authorities on humane and emotionally attuned end-of-life care, and KATHY HULL founded the first freestanding pediatric palliative care center in the U.S. In this intimate Q&A session, they will use the audience’s own questions as their guide in discussing how our manner of dying can inform the meaning we are able to take, finally, from the lives we have lived.
At a time when Russia is known to have attempted manipulation of the recent U.S. Presidential elections, KATI MARTON will tell us a remarkable true story of past intervention by Moscow at the highest reaches of Washington politics. Marton will unravel the mysterious life of Noel Field, the man at the center of her latest book, True Believer, an Ivy League-educated State Department official who, however deeply rooted in the culture and history of the United States, spied for Joseph Stalin. While the book is set largely from the 1920s to the 1970s, this story of the power of fanaticism and demagoguery and its profound effects on American life could not be more relevant than it is today.
2017: The Media and the Presidency
A natural tension always exists between the media and those in power. They need each other and resent each other. That’s been true back to the time of the Founders. But the relationship between the current occupant of the White House and those charged with reporting on him has escalated to a full-tilt battle. What has brought us to this turn? What are the implications for the country and its democracy? We have invited two longtime journalists to discuss these issues: EVAN THOMAS, a writer and editor for 33 years at TIME and Newsweek (much of that time in Washington, D.C.) and JANE MAYER, New Yorker staff writer and former White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Their conversation will be moderated and joined by JEFFREY BROWN, senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
2017: Like Father Like Daughter
Where does the desire to be a writer come from? EVAN THOMAS and LOUISA THOMAS are father and daughter authors, both well-regarded journalists and biographers. He was a longtime reporter and editor for TIME and Newsweek and has written nine books, including biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Kennedy. His daughter is also a widely published journalist and biographer with two books to her name, including her most recent about Louisa Adams. How did Louisa Thomas’s father pass on to her his love of words? How do they talk about their works in progress? And what have they learned from each other along the way?
2017: The Upstarts: How the New Silicon Valley is Changing the World
The 2008 economic crash left Silicon Valley reeling and, as always, in search of the “next big thing.” Journalist BRAD STONE, author of the recent book The Upstarts, offers a close look at this moment and the entrepreneurial masterminds who managed to capitalize on it. At the intersection of business and culture, Stone will give us an insider’s perspective on major players such as Travis Kalanick of Uber, Brian Chesky of Airbnb, and other smart, driven, and yet often tragicomically flawed people who are upending industries and changing our world.
Join two of today’s most talented and engaging novelists, LAUREN GROFF and MARIA SEMPLE, for a wide-ranging, free-wheeling, anything-goes conversation between good literary chums. They will discuss their writing lives, the pushes and pulls of success, and how they nurture their narratives and bring their characters to life. As we can see in their most recent books—Groff’s Fates and Furies and Semple’s Today Will Be Different—these very different writers share a love of the complex and absurd in human behavior.
In researching her latest book on the American right wing over five years, ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD tried to turn off her own political and moral alarm system and to feel, instead, a great curiosity about Tea Party Trump voters in Louisiana, who seemed to her on the other side of an “empathy wall.” On fishing trips, at gumbo cook-offs and meetings of Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana, she encountered a wide range of reactions to her presence from the right. She was also surprised by reactions from the left, among whom some told her, “I’d be so mad, it would be hard to listen” or “why aren’t they curious about us?” Hochschild was led to reflect on how to encourage relaxed encounters with “the other,” and on the paralinguistic ideas we hold about communication when we say what we say to the other.
2017: What Really Matters at the End of Life
The 2017 Sun Valley Writers’ Conference concludes with a discussion between two of America’s most empathic physicians, both of whom are ardently engaged with questions about the relationship between how we live and how we die. What is a good death? How do we judge? At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? What truly matters? BJ MILLER is a renowned hospice and palliative medicine physician whose own near-death experience and personal journey has deeply informed his thinking about how to create a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. Miller will be in conversation with ABRAHAM VERGHESE, distinguished writer and professor in the Department of Medicine, Stanford University.
Novelist and former television comedy writer MARIA SEMPLE, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will Be Different, will freely and happily discuss one of her very favorite things about her job—namely, writing stories built around unlikeable autobiographical heroines. Why on earth does she do this, and what’s her secret to doing it with such great success? Come and find out for yourselves.
How hard is it to watch a book you have written become a movie? Do you ache for lost nuance, the beauty of your words, the characters you carefully brought to life on the page?
These are some of the questions for A. SCOTT BERG, whose 1978 National Book Award-winner, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, became a 2016 film starring Colin Firth as the legendary editor of such major American writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. Using film clips to illustrate, Berg will talk about how his biographical book finally made it to the screen and about his work as consulting producer on the upcoming Amazon series based on Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon.
2017: Longmire, or How Many People Can You Kill in a Town of 25?
CRAIG JOHNSON’s New York Times best-selling Walt Longmire novels form the basis for the hit TV drama series Longmire. Johnson will talk about the ways his life has, and has not, changed from the days when he was just a northern Wyoming rancher in a town of 25.
What is it about birds of prey that stirs the human soul? Hawks, eagles, and falcons have held special meaning for us for millennia; they’ve been viewed as gods, hunting partners, diplomatic counters, vermin, conservation icons, and even weapons of war. In a talk rich with anecdote and humor, based on years of historical research, fieldwork, and the practice of falconry, author HELEN MACDONALD reflects on the nature of birds of prey, and what their rich and surprising history can tell us about our problematic relationship to the natural world.
Author and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry ANDREW SOLOMON won the National Book Award for his seminal volume The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Drawing on his own experiences with depression and interviews with fellow sufferers, doctors and scientists, policymakers and politicians, drug designers and philosophers, Solomon reveals the subtleties, the complexities, and the agony of the disease. Join Solomon for a talk about this most cruel and pervasive mental illness—a talk that promises to be as intimate as it is profound.
Who gets to decide when and how America wages war? The Commander-in-Chief? The U.S. Congress? In his forthcoming book, DAVID BARRON, a federal appellate judge and longtime Harvard law professor, explicates the often fraught relationship between these two branches of government during wartime. Concerns over the executive’s imperial reach threatened to scuttle the Constitution before it was even ratified. Since that time, whether Lincoln’s tenure during the Civil War, FDR’s during World War II, or Obama’s during the War on Terror, presidents have had to accommodate or find ways to maneuver around Congress while simultaneously striving to prevail on the battlefield.
2016: How Dogs Love Us
Losing his beloved pet pug Newton sent Emory University neuroeconomics professor GREGORY BERNS on a search into the workings of the canine brain. He knew what he had felt for Newton, but he wanted to know what Newton had felt for him. Thus the question: Do dogs love us, and can it be scientifically proven? Berns spent months training dogs, including his remarkable pound-pup Callie, to tolerate MRI brain scans so that he and his colleagues could observe which parts of the dogs’ brains light up in response to various smells and hand signals. The result: his book How Dogs Love Us. If you have ever looked into your dog’s eyes and wondered what he or she is thinking, you will not want to miss this.
Full of surprises and woven together from over a hundred original interviews, CLARA BINGHAM’s oral history of the end of the Sixties provides a firsthand narrative about the moment America turned on, tuned in and dropped out, at the same time it was careening to the brink of a civil war at home and fighting a long, futile conflict abroad. Bingham will reveal the wild depths of a truly extraordinary time in history, one that appears more relevant than ever, now that the country is once again entangled in racial turmoil, extended wars overseas, and a pervasive distrust of government, the Establishment, and the entire status quo.
In his bold and timely new book, Supreme Court Justice STEPHEN BREYER examines American law and its relationship to an increasingly interconnected world. Globalization has made it impossible, he says, for this country to remain aloof from knowledge of foreign laws. After all, Americans are daily engaged in cross-border issues – matters of security, trade, human rights, even child custody battles. In a conversation with STROBE TALBOTT, Justice Breyer will roam the world and enlighten us about new realities facing not only American jurists but all of us.
2016: Why the Great Gatsby Still Captivates
In her exhilarating recent book, So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why it Endures, Fresh Air critic MAUREEN CORRIGAN revisits Fitzgerald’s American classic. She says it is both the greatest American (and the greatest un-American) novel, largely for the way it places class issues in the foreground, something that was lost on many of us when we read the novel in high school primarily as a tragic love story. Here Corrigan offers a corrective and tells a fascinating story about how Fitzgerald’s masterpiece came back from oblivion to captivate readers around the world.
2016: The Brain: The Story of You
What is reality? Who are “you”? How do you make decisions? Why does your brain need other people? How is technology poised to change what it means to be human? In considering these and other questions, neuroscientist and author DAVID EAGLEMAN will guide us through the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and the search for immortality, all the while offering us a clearer picture of how our brains shape our lives and how our lives, in turn, shape our brains.
Ireland is a country made of stories. Its move to independence was led by writers, poets, and playwrights, who imagined a nation and fought for it; ever since, Irish artists have both shaped and dissented from the country’s idea of itself. What does it feel like to grow up in a place so steeped in literature’s glory and actually become a celebrated writer? Not to mention, a celebrated woman writer? What territories, histories, myths, languages, feuds, families and stories make up the fabric that one is cloaked in by mere dint of one’s birth? Join Man Booker Prize-winning author ANNE ENRIGHT as she takes the multi-generational story at the center of her latest novel, The Green Road, and uses it as the springboard for a literary investigation into her own life as a writer in the “disputed territory” she calls home.
2016: The Latter Days
JUDITH FREEMAN has written about Western and Mormon themes in her novels Red Water and The Chinchilla Farm. But until now, with the recent publication of her memoir The Latter Days, she has never dealt directly or explicitly with her own personal story. Join her as she discusses the path she took – sometimes unwittingly, always bravely – from her Mormon upbringing in Utah through a thicket of profound personal challenges to become the writer and the person she is today.
CNN security analyst and former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security JULIETTE KAYYEM has been front and center in the fight against terrorism. She will address ongoing threats in Europe and the threats we face here at home. Kayyem will take a hard look at our strengths and vulnerabilities and share with us the practical advice she offers in her new book Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home. A mother of three, Kayyem will talk about how we can protect our families without yielding to irrational fears.
2016: Climate Change as a National Security Threat
Join Harvard professor, homeland security official, and CNN analyst JULIETTE KAYYEM in a timely conversation about how climate change is affecting our world. Many people think of the warming planet as only an environmental issue. But there is a growing sense in national security circles that climate change is a threat to our global stability because a world affected by water shortages, rising sea levels, mass migrations, and conflicts over limited resources can only be a more volatile and dangerous place.
Writer ALEXANDER MAKSIK, whose first two novels, You Deserve Nothing and A Marker to Measure Drift, garnered a great deal of praise, as well as their share of controversy and criticism, knows well the gauntlet of publication. His third novel, Shelter in Place, will be published this September. Join him for an intimate talk about writing in the face of fear: fear of critics, professional and amateur; fear of publishers and editors; fear of failure; and the importance of getting through those feelings and the necessity of doing so in order to do the work one believes in.
2016: Once in a Great City: A Reporter’s Ode to His Hometown
In his elegiac and richly detailed book about Detroit, reporter DAVID MARANISS evokes a rollicking American metropolis in its exuberant heyday. It is 1963, the year the auto industry invented the Mustang, Martha and the Vandellas had their first Motown hit, and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the city’s Great March. We meet the visionary leaders Henry Ford II and labor leader Walter Reuther, Motown founder Berry Gordy and the Reverend C. L. Franklin and his daughter Aretha. Maraniss will talk about the once-great city and about the kind of dogged research and reporting a nonfiction writer must employ in his search for the truth.
Pulitzer prize-winning reporter DAVID MARANISS has written books on Presidents Obama and Clinton and, more recently, on his hometown of Detroit. He also loves sports. In his biographies of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, and of baseball great Roberto Clemente, Clemente: The Passions and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, Maraniss offers rich, complex portraits of two sports legends. He will talk about the place of sports in American life, and in his own life, including insights into the current controversies dogging professional football.
Marine biologist JAMES B. MCCLINTOCK is a passionate fisherman as well as one of the world’s leading experts on climate change in the Antarctic. Join him as he tells stories about his fishing adventures in some of the world’s most breathtaking waters, from the Gulf of Mexico to New Zealand – stories that not only entertain, but also illustrate how sea-level rise, land erosion, pollution, water acidification, and overfishing are all affecting the present and future of our planet.
2016: McGuane’s Montana
TOM MCGUANE is the prose laureate of the West and specifically of Montana, his home base for many years. His new collection of stories, Crow Fair, is an elegantly spare but big-hearted and often humorous look at the land he loves. He writes of disaffected wives and devoted sons, fishing buddies and cattle breeders, trying to get by and to make peace with one another (or not) against the beauty of Big Sky Country. The author of ten novels, as well as three books of stories and six collections of essays, McGuane will talk about his work, his love of fishing, and the long arc of his writing life. Perhaps he can answer this: does the writing, not the fishing, get easier or harder with the years? He will be joined in conversation by poet ARLO HASKELL, executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar.
2019: Why I Talk to Americans About Food
When he was a young writer for Gourmet magazine, FRANCIS LAM—now the host of American Public Media’s award- winning radio show The Splendid Table—told stories about how chefs become obsessed with cooking omelets; about being a bumbling intern at a superb restaurant; and about spending a cross-country train ride in the café car. But over time, Lam began to believe that food writing must be about more than deliciousness and obsessions. True food stories are always about people, about longing, identity, belonging, politics, and the complicated life of emotions. Lam will recall some of the people he’s met, talked to, and argued with, and tell us how he came to realize something fundamental not just about himself, but about the universality of hunger.
2019: Alexander Hamilton: The Man, The Myth and the Musical
Before we all became obsessed with Hamilton, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical, JOANNE FREEMAN was fascinated by the man she calls the most impulsive and difficult of the Founding Fathers. Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, Freeman was in high school when she first discovered his writings—and his influence—going on to become one of the country’s foremost Hamilton scholars. Featured in the PBS documentary about Broadway’s Hamilton, she will tell us about the man behind the myth, someone who could be prone to rigid and reactionary views, but who was ultimately driven, she argues, by fear for the very survival of the new nation.
2019: The Red Daughter: The Remarkable Life of Stalin’s Daughter
In his sixth novel, The Red Daughter, JOHN BURNHAM SCHWARTZ imaginatively inhabits the life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (1926-2011), the only daughter of Joseph Stalin, who, in his three decades as the tyrannical ruler of the Soviet Union, was responsible for the deaths of more than twenty million people. Fourteen years after her father’s death, at the height of the Cold War, Svetlana became the most important Soviet citizen ever to defect to the West, arriving in New York to throngs of reporters and a nation hungry to hear her story. By her side was a young lawyer sent by the CIA to smuggle her into America. That lawyer was John Burnham Schwartz’s father. Drawing upon private papers and years of extensive research, Schwartz will recreate for us the story of an extraordinary, troubled woman’s search for a new life and a place to belong.
Novelist MADELINE MILLER has lived much of her past years in the company of the Greeks. Her first novel, The Song of Achilles, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a moving and original retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. It astonishes all these centuries later to have your eyes opened and your heart broken as if reading this story for the first time. Miller is a writer passionate about bringing Homer’s epic poems into modern prose, so we can marvel again at their beauty and depth. She will talk about Achilles and Patroclus, the folly of gods and men, and about empathy, which is one of literature’s most important gifts.
If there is a perfect match between writer and subject, then MARK LEIBOVICH and the National Football League are indeed that match. Author of the fascinating book, Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, and an admitted lifelong New England Patriots fan, Leibovich has an instinct for both the telling anecdote and the tart takedown. He will take us behind the NFL iron curtain for an unvarnished view of the highly paid, sometimes swaggering players and the big-name millionaires who own the teams. He can call the games with the best of them, but he is mindful of the serious headwinds— from the domestic abuse scandals to the concussion problems— facing the sport that, in spite of everything, he still loves.
2019: A Novelist Talks About Her Craft and Her Country
In her fiction, Korean-American author MIN JIN LEE explores what it means to be an immigrant, and all that falls from that one seemingly simple word. The author of the novels Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires, Lee has written about Korean immigrants in Japan and first-generation Koreans in Queens, New York, where she grew up. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee came to the United States in 1976 when she was seven. She will talk with MITCHELL KAPLAN, cofounder of the Miami Book Fair, about race and identity, and what it means to be at once an American writer and a Korean- American writer in these complicated and contentious times.
2019: Pachinko: How a Historical Novel about Koreans in Japan Captivated the World
Every now and again a book comes out of nowhere and captures the imaginations of readers (and critics) because it speaks to a moment of time in an uncanny and moving way. Such is the case of MIN JIN LEE’s 2017 novel Pachinko, which was ultimately translated into 29 languages. The story of four generations of a poor immigrant Korean family trying to make new lives in twentieth-century Japan, the book touches on big themes— immigration, identity, homesickness, discrimination—not in a grand way, but through the characters. Lee, who is Korean- American, will talk with JEFFREY BROWN of the PBS NewsHour about where the idea came from, about all the interviews and research she did for the book, and about its amazing global reception.
2019: In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History
There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for it. When Mayor MITCH LANDRIEU addressed the people of New Orleans in May 2017 about his decision to take down four Confederate monuments, including the statue of Robert E. Lee, he struck a nerve nationally, and his speech has now been heard or seen by millions across the country. Join Landrieu as he discusses the key lessons from his book, the history of racism that has shaped our society, and the ways America can reckon with its past.
Join three celebrated American novelists as they talk about their work, their passion for the form, and their commitment to telling the truth in fiction. TOMMY ORANGE is the author of There There, a propulsive, wholly original story of urban Native Americans that won the 2018 Pen/Hemingway Award, among many honors. DANZY SENNA is the author of five books of fiction and nonfiction, including her most recent, New People, a sharp-eyed take on race and class in today’s America. VENDELA VIDA has written four novels, her most recent being The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, a literary thriller deemed by critics to be her best. Despite the overt differences in their work, their books share an underlying theme, that of identity. They will talk about that and about why novels matter in our turbulent, current events-obsessed times.
2019: First Novels, Magical Writers
Come hear three young authors talk about their novels, about keeping the faith and keeping their heads down while they were struggling to write (and then publish) their first works of fiction. They come from very different worlds: EMILY RUSKOVICH, raised in the Idaho panhandle on Hoodoo Mountain, is the author of the novel, Idaho, a haunting and mysterious love story; BRANDO SKYHORSE’s novel The Madonnas of Echo Park, winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award, braids together the captivating stories of eight Mexican-American residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood where the author grew up; and MADHURI VIJAY, born in Bangalore, India, follows a privileged and restless young Indian woman on her odyssey into the strife-ridden mountains of Kashmir in the much-praised first novel, The Far Field. The three will talk about their books, their writing lives, and about what’s ahead.
2019: A Hollywood Writer Divulges the Secret(s) of His Craft
If you want to know how to be a successful writer in Hollywood, here’s the hot tip: every story that makes it to the screen more or less adheres to the same three-act formula, be it a gritty crime procedural or a cartoon about pigs. Such is the wisdom of SIMON RICH, the creator and showrunner of the comedic TV series Man Seeking Woman and Miracle Workers. Join him in a witty dissection of two seemingly disparate films, Home Alone and The Fly. What does a heartwarming Christmas comedy about an eight-year-old boy have in common with a violent science fiction thriller about a deformed mutant? Everything!
The short story is having another of its moments. Many of our finest writers have offered up recent collections, none more compelling than TOM MCGUANE‘s Crow Fair and CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS‘ debut collection Battleborn. These two friends, separated by decades in age, will converse about the form, about what makes a great short story, about all that must be left out to make it work, and about the Western landscape with its lonesome highways and weather-beaten towns in which their writing is so firmly rooted.
Just who is Vladimir Putin, that poker-faced, sometimes bare-chested Russian leader? Where did he come from? And, after his push into Ukraine and Syria, where will he go next? New York Times correspondent STEVEN LEE MYERS, based for seven years in Moscow and author of the gripping biography The New Tsar, will trace Putin’s trajectory from his impoverished Leningrad childhood up through the ranks of the KBG to the presidency. To help explain why Putin has turned back the clock in Russian behavior, Myers will be joined in conversation by Brookings Institution President STROBE TALBOTT.
2016: The State of American Journalism
WALTER ROBINSON has worked as a reporter and editor at The Boston Globe since 1972. Robinson led The Globe’s coverage of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, for which the newspaper won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and which was the subject of the Academy Award-winning Best Picture Spotlight. Join him for his analysis, informed by decades-long experience, of the current state of American journalism. He will talk about where it has been and where it is going, online and otherwise, and why threats to its vitality and independence are threats to the effective functioning of our democratic institutions in a world that has never been more complex, more secretive, and perhaps, paradoxically, more wide open.
2016: Salman Rushdie: Public Events, Private Lives
Join SALMAN RUSHDIE, one of the world’s most widely celebrated writers, as he speaks to PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER about his memoir Joseph Anton, about freedom of speech and the role of novelists in the public sphere, and about storytelling and his most recent novel, published fall of 2015, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.
Let Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist HÉCTOR TOBAR take you down into the Chilean mine where, in the summer of 2010, 33 men were trapped for 69 days. It was a moment when the world became a collective audience, all of us tethered by news coverage to the men below and those waiting above. When the miners were finally rescued, Tobar was given exclusive access to their stories, and his book Deep Down Dark, the basis for last year’s feature film The 33, offers us riveting human portraits of these men and their families.
2016: The Beauty, Mystery, and Terror of Giant Waves
For her book The Wave, author SUSAN CASEY traveled the globe, as she says, “in pursuit of rogues, freaks and giants of the ocean.” Her companions were surfers and scientists looking to conquer and understand the most massive and powerful oceanic forces in the world. Join Casey as she shares extraordinary portraits of human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.
2016: Television and the Art of Storytelling: Game of Thrones
Since its HBO debut in 2011, Game of Thrones has grown to be one of the most popular and critically acclaimed series on television. Join its Emmy Award-winning co-creators and showrunners DAVID BENIOFF and D. B. WEISS as they talk to PBS Newshour‘s JEFFREY BROWN about the extraordinary challenges of adapting George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novels and about what the process has taught them about writing, storytelling… and, yes, dragons.
2016: Rwanda: Writing in the Aftermath
In 1994, close to a million Rwandans were murdered by their fellow citizens, and the world refused to bring the killing to a stop. More than two decades after the genocide, killers and survivors live again as neighbors, grappling with the burdens of memory and forgetting. Now with a new book nearing completion, his second on the subject, PHILIP GOUREVITCH will share with us a deeply informed reckoning of humanity betrayed, as well as his thoughts about the hard bargains of personal and political forgiveness.
2016: Strangers Drowning: The Price of Idealism
There are individuals in the world who devote their lives, at great personal cost, to helping strangers. As she does in her brilliant new book Strangers Drowning, New Yorker staff writers LARISSA MACFARQUHAR will investigate stories of extreme altruism to ask: How far is too far? We honor high ideals, but when we call people “do-gooders,” there is skepticism in it, even hostility. How much should we help others, and how much can we help? Should we focus on helping people locally or those in often-more-deeply-impoverished far-off lands? The answers to these and other questions may change not just how you see the world but how you live in it.
2018: Living (And Thriving) in the Age of Accelerations
As he did in his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN will identify and discuss the tectonic movements that he believes are reshaping the world today, and how we as a society might get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts. His thesis: to understand the twenty-first century, we must understand that the planet’s three largest forces—Moore’s law (technology), the Market (globalization), and Mother Nature (climate change and biodiversity loss)—are accelerating all at once, radically transforming the workplace, politics, international relations, ethics, and community.
2018: The Curious Travails of the Writing Life
Over the last half-century, celebrated British-American journalist and author SIMON WINCHESTER has roamed the globe. From Northern Ireland to Southeast Asia, from the Arctic to the Tropics, he has gathered material for his books on everything from Krakatoa to the Oxford English Dictionary. But along the way, he has had various scrapes and perilous encounters. With the sharp-eyed wit and charm of a born raconteur, Winchester will share tales of his travails from his imprisonment on Tierra del Fuego in 1984 to the saga of the King of Tonga’s shoes—and more.
2018: The Center Will Not Hold: A Political Discussion
At a time in politics—not only in America, but in Europe and across the globe—when tribalism is aggressively on the rise, the idea of a moderate “center” in government would seem to be an anachronism. Is it, in fact, a thing of the past? How do we define the political “center” these days in America? The UK? Germany? Italy? Join JAMES FALLOWS, national correspondent for The Atlantic, SAM TANENHAUS, author of The Death of Conservatism and a forthcoming biography of William F. Buckley, Jr., and NADER MOUSAVIZADEH, author and co-founder/co-CEO of the global advisory firm Macro Advisory Partners, for a roundtable discussion on these and other urgent questions.
2018: Literary Immigration: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
In one way or another, from the moment she left Haiti to settle in Brooklyn, New York, at age 12, EDWIDGE DANTICAT
has been writing stories (prize-winning novels, memoirs, and essays) about the experience and effects of immigration. In conversation with JEFFREY BROWN of the PBS NewsHour, she will talk about the ways that first seismic journey in her life has shaped all the journeys she has lived and written since.
2018: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
How is it possible that America is still engaged in seemingly interminable conflicts in South Asia? What happened?
What went wrong? There is no better person to explain this than STEVE COLL, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars and, most recently, Directorate S, the story of America’s intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11. Coll, the very best kind of old-school journalist, will tell us about this epic story of intrigue and ineptness.
2018: Portraying North Korea
“In North Korea,” novelist ADAM JOHNSON has said, “I think the people know everything they are being told is a lie, but they have no idea what the truth may be.” This would not be the case if they had read Johnson’s remarkable The Orphan Master’s Son, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Johnson spent seven years researching and writing the novel and journeyed to North Korea to see the country with his own eyes. Using his fierce imagination, he did what only great fiction writers can do—brought to light fundamental truths of North Korean society that go far beyond any literal accumulation of facts, and indelibly humanized the people he wrote about. Join him for a talk about how he did it and what the experience was like.
2018: Dissecting Cadavers: Where Suspense Novelist Tess Gerritsen Finds Her Ideas
Before becoming a best-selling author, TESS GERRITSEN was a physician. On maternity leave, she began to write fiction and never stopped. Over the past 30 years, she has written dozens of thrillers, including the novels featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles that inspired the TNT television series Rizzoli & Isles.
A typical admiring review of one of her books reads: “A top- grade thriller. . .Sharp characters stitch your eye to the page. An all-nighter.” Gerritsen will tell us about where her ideas come from, about how she constructs her plots, and about how to commit the perfect literary murder.
2018: Disruption or Detour: Globalization’s Moment of Reckoning
In this session, New York Times columnist and author THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN and author and global strategist NADER MOUSAVIZADEH will engage in a conversation about the way in which global politics and economics are on a collision course leading to new risks of conflict and new opportunities for reform, from China to the Middle East, Europe and America.
2018: Terrance Hayes: A Poetry Reading
Join National Book Award-winner TERRANCE HAYES, author of the collections How to be Drawn and Lighthead, among others, for a reading of his beautiful, compelling, electric poetry. As fellow poet Cornelius Eady has said of Hayes, “First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.”
2018: Into the Silence: The Men Who Conquered Everest
It is hard to remember a time when Mount Everest was unknown terrain, when no one had yet reached the summit. The story of those who first attempted that feat is the subject of anthropologist WADE DAVIS’s monumental and magical history and adventure, Into the Silence. It was the early 1920s and the men were veterans of World War I. They had seen and survived unimaginable carnage and, in exhilarating defiance, turned themselves into adventuring—and sometimes tragic—heroes for a country shell-shocked by war. With words and photos, Davis will take us back to that time and that place and that mountain.
2018: Anxious, Frightened Media Companies in New York, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley: The Future of the Entertainment Industry
When Rupert Murdoch sells much of the media empire he built, when Netflix spends four times as much as the networks on programming, when viewers abandon expensive cable bundles, and Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook stare at even bigger, more threatening giants—governments— we have entered a new era. KEN AULETTA, whose 12 books have primarily focused on disruption of one kind or another, will explain these profound changes in the industry, and where things may be heading.
2018: The Epic Disruption of the Advertising Business (and Everything Else)
With the introduction of the Internet and the digital onslaught, we’ve witnessed the disruption and often the destruction of traditional media businesses, from music to newspapers to magazines to book publishing to radio and television. But the industry that funds much of media—advertising—stood up to the onslaught. Until now. Almost suddenly, $2 trillion of global advertising and marketing business is under assault, with profound consequences. By applying the familiar Watergate maxim “follow the money” in his new book, Frenemies, KEN AULETTA, the “Annals of Communications” writer for The New Yorker for almost three decades, explores what is happening to the industry that is the “free” ATM machine for much of the old and new media.
In her wise and compassionate book, pediatric psychologist JOANNA BREYER writes about how parents can navigate the fierce challenges of caring for a child who has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Arguably, no time on earth is harder and scarier and often more isolating. During her two decades at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Dr. Breyer provided counseling for dozens of young patients and their families. She will share vignettes about actual cases and their outcomes and talk about the times of joy and the times of grief along this bewildering road.
2018: The Norwich Model: How A Tiny Vermont Town Makes Happy, Successful Kids
In her first book, Norwich, New York Times reporter KAREN CROUSE unearths the secrets of Norwich, a small town that has likely produced more Olympians per capita than any other place in the country. The surprising secret: an emphasis not on competition, but on community; on relationships, not championships. Kids engage in all sports, and no one is cut from a team. Their success is fostered in joy, not fear. Crouse’s book is being heralded as a welcome antidote to the heavy- handed parenting we read so much about. She will tell us about this remarkable town and the athletes it has fostered.
2018: The Sportswriter
KAREN CROUSE has covered it all: football, golf, tennis, swimming. She has been in NFL locker rooms and Olympic stadiums around the world. A competitive college swimmer and a sportswriter for The New York Times since 2005, she has brought unusual empathy and insight into coverage of major athletes such as Michael Phelps (she was in Beijing in 2008 to cover his epic eight-gold-medal performance), Tiger Woods, and all the women athletes trying to fit motherhood into their prime competitive years. Crouse will share anecdotes from the road and talk about the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated field.
2018: Our Towns Pt. 1
For the last five years, DEBORAH and JAMES FALLOWS, writers for The Atlantic, have been crisscrossing America in a single-engine prop airplane, visiting dozens of towns and meeting with hundreds of people to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign. They’ve talked with civic leaders and public servants, workers and business people, immigrants, entrepreneurs, artists, city planners, environmentalists, educators, librarians, and students. Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, is the story of their journey—and an account of a country busy remaking itself, despite the challenges and paralysis of national politics. They will tell us what they found out there.
For the last five years, DEBORAH and JAMES FALLOWS, writers for The Atlantic, have been crisscrossing America in a single-engine prop airplane, visiting dozens of towns and meeting with hundreds of people to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign. They’ve talked with civic leaders and public servants, workers and business people, immigrants, entrepreneurs, artists, city planners, environmentalists, educators, librarians, and students. Our Towns: a 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, is the story of their journey—and an account of a country busy remaking itself, despite the challenges and paralysis of national politics. They will tell us what they found out there.
What turns a small-town mom into an environmental activist and whistle-blower? That’s the question at the heart of Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, the troubling and evocative new book by poet and investigative journalist ELIZA GRISWOLD. When fracking first came to Amity, Pennsylvania, lifelong resident Stacey Haney was on board. But as she watched the energy companies deface the land and as mysterious illnesses infected her family, she became an outspoken critic. Griswold will talk about Haney, her town, and the polarizing forces at work in twenty-first-century rural America.
2018: Every Secret Thing: The Impact of a South African’s Childhood on a Life of Writing
In her beautiful and bracing memoir about her childhood, the South African-born novelist and playwright GILLIAN SLOVO evokes a time of violent historical upheaval in her homeland. Her parents, Ruth First and Joe Slovo, were South Africa’s best- known white opponents of apartheid. Often in jail or hiding, they were heroes, but their children also endured the cost of their parents’ commitment, including the assassination of First in 1982. The pain is palpable in Slovo’s pages, but so too is her commitment to the power of activism and of words. This ongoing commitment is reflected in her most recent novel, Ten Days, and in her highly topical play, Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State. She will talk about her parents and about her passion for getting at the truth in her fiction.
2018: Switching Horses
With dexterity and literary grace, celebrated writer MAILE MELOY moves between forms, shifting between short stories, (Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It) and novels (Do Not Become Alarmed), between fiction and nonfiction, and between writing for adults and writing for young readers (The Apothecary series). She is now writing for television and has written a picture book for young children. She will talk about the risks and vulnerability of working in different forms, and about how they inform each other and stretch the imagination.
Join AMANDA “BINKY” URBAN, one of the best-known agents in the literary world, for an hour of stories, observations, predictions, and lessons about publishing’s past and future. In a remarkable decades-long career with clients including Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Doris Kearns Goodwin among many others, there is little Urban hasn’t experienced in this business about which she is passionate.
2018: The Making of a Great Graphic Novel
In 2013, MacArthur Fellow, cartoonist, and graphic novelist GENE LUEN YANG published Boxers & Saints, a two- volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion in China in the nineteenth century. Illustrating with his amazing drawings, Yang will discuss how the Boxer Rebellion was a turning point in world history—the first truly global conflict and deadly harbinger of the two world wars. For Yang, the book touches on something very personal: “When I first began my research,” he said, “I realized that it embodied a tension between East and West that I’ve lived in for my entire life.” Join this remarkable artist and cartooning evangelist as he talks about how he developed this project and what he learned along the way.
2018: Garden of the Lost and Abandoned: One Woman in Uganda
What makes an ordinary person step up to help the children of strangers? In Uganda, poverty, illness, and conflict have
left many families devastated and children stranded. Gladys Kalibbala, a woman of great heart but little means, has saved hundreds of these children through scrappy persistence. For over three years, JESSICA YU followed Gladys’s cases, each a poignant tale with dramatic twists. The Academy Award- winning filmmaker tells uplifting stories from her nonfiction account, Garden of the Lost and Abandoned, and explains why, after 20 years of making films, she felt compelled to write her first book.
Privacy is one of today’s hottest topics, a subject being wrestled with at the highest legal levels and around our dining room tables. Who does protect our privacy, if anyone, or is it indeed up for grabs or for sale? Put another way, who owns our communications? The government? The social media companies? These questions have been intensely debated since revelations of hacking incidents and possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Please join Associate Supreme Court Justice STEPHEN BREYER and Facebook Vice President and Chief Counsel COLIN STRETCH and UC Berkeley Assistant Clinical Professor of Law CATHERINE CRUMP in a wide-ranging and provocative discussion about privacy and security. Their conversation will be moderated by KIT RACHLIS, senior editor of The California Sunday Magazine.
2018: Sun Valley Suite
Join cellist/writer MARK SALZMAN and a few special guests as they perform musical selections from Bach to Schubert
to Simon & Garfunkel. In the spirit of this year’s conference theme, Mark will also read personal essays from young writing students around the world, including Chinese medical students in the 1980s, juvenile hall inmates in the 1990s, and seventh graders in Los Angeles today.
2018: A Journey Through Poetry
Join National Book Award-winner TERRANCE HAYES for an intimate journey through some of the great poets and poems that continue to inspire and nourish him along his own path as a writer and teacher of poetry.
What is “fake news,” exactly, and how can it be combatted? How do we train journalists in the myriad new technologies required to identify such false reports that are often seamlessly disguised? How does this environment of pervasive uncertainty change the terms by which our best journalists must judge their work and their mission? Join STEVE COLL, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, for
a fascinating discussion of these essential questions.
2018: Writing the Final Story
“Writing has been the primary way I have tried to make sense of my losses,” EDWIDGE DANTICAT says in her recent book The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story. “I have been writing about death for as long as I have been writing.” Join this celebrated author for a talk and reading that is at once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that she and other writers have approached death in their literary work.
2018: The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World
Join author and anthropologist WADE DAVIS as he takes us on a thrilling trip around the world and introduces us to the wisdom of indigenous cultures, as he did in his book, The Wayfinders. In Polynesia, we will set sail with navigators whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ, while in Australia we will experience Dreamtime, the all- embracing philosophy of the first humans. Though we might tend to be oblivious of the fact, Davis reminds us that we all share the same ancestors, and in the stories and memories of these indigenous people we get our own story, too, of what it means to be human and alive and custodians of the planet.
Join best-selling suspense novelist TESS GERRITSEN as she tells us how to commit murder on the page. How do you get started? How do you find the voice? How much of the plot do you have to know before you begin? Gerritsen practiced medicine before turning to fiction, and one of her hallmarks is turning her scientific knowledge into exciting drama without sacrificing character. She will talk to us about the art and craft of the thriller, about the trick of sustaining suspense, and about whether she’s ever gotten halfway through a book and discovered she had the wrong bad guy.
2018: The Life and Legacy of William F. Buckley, Jr.
William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of modern conservatism, was also one of the most dynamic figures in American public and intellectual life. Author, magazine editor, columnist, and television debater, he embodied an idea of public-spirited debate that scarcely seems conceivable today in the age of social media. What became of the conservatism Buckley helped create? Would he recognize it today? Before his death in 2008, Buckley designated author SAM TANENHAUS to write his comprehensive biography. Join Tanenhaus for a discussion of Buckley’s remarkable life and career and for an assessment of his legacy in the age of Donald Trump.
2018: Planet Word
As a longtime literacy advocate and a former reading and writing teacher in the Montgomery County Public Schools, ANN B. FRIEDMAN has pursued a lifelong calling to help Americans of all backgrounds and ages forge a strong relationship with language as a means not only of expression, but also of social empowerment. After years of planning and fundraising, her ultimate goal—to create a museum where words will be honored and surprise and delight—will finally be realized: Planet Word will open its doors in Washington, D.C., in the winter of 2019. Join her for an hour of surprising stories about the challenges and pleasures of curating the world’s first museum of words and language.
2018: The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World
With his usual graceful prose and dogged research, SIMON WINCHESTER has given us another revelatory book on
an unexpected topic: precision. In his latest work, The Perfectionists, he traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age, reminding us at every turn that precision and precise measurements are at the base of all progress. Winchester will discuss how he honed in on this topic, and talk about the engineers who have created our modern world, and how our obsession with precision might be distancing us from an appreciation of handmade things and natural beauty.
In his profoundly original and timely book, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, the moral philosopher KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH urges us to rethink the very nature of identity and, indeed, how identity politics in this country and around the world are in danger of tearing people apart. Gender, religion, race, nationality, class, culture—these are the categories by which we identify ourselves; yet often, in fact, they are riddled with contradictions and falsehoods and not what they seem. Join Appiah, the eminent Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University and the author of several prize-winning books, for a talk that challenges our assumptions about how identities work at both the public and private levels in the anxious, conflict- ridden twenty-first century that we call home.
Anyone who has read a book by RICK ATKINSON knows the range of gifts and moral passion he brings to the writing of history, particularly military history. As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Liberation Trilogy” about World War II, he makes battlefields come alive with riveting detail while never losing sight of the carnage involved and the cost in lives. Now, in the initial volume of a new trilogy, The British Are Coming: The War for America, he turns to the American Revolution, beginning with the battles at Lexington and Concord. Join this master historian as he shows us, with fresh and vivid urgency, just how long the odds were for American success, and what an amazing story this is.
2019: The Case Against Intelligent Design: True Stories from Florida
Called “America’s finest satirical novelist,” CARL HIAASEN has made a literary sport out of writing about the odd folks and crazy happenings in South Florida, his home turf. He has written, as he himself describes it, “the first (and possibly only) novel ever written about sex, murder and corruption on the professional bass fishing tour.” Join this longtime columnist for The Miami Herald—where his column at one time or another has ticked off “just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses”—for a deep dive into the bizarro world of his favorite state.
2019: E Pluribus Unum: How a Divided America Can Win the Future by Finding Common Ground
An inspiring, no-nonsense leader and social justice champion, MITCH LANDRIEU stepped up at a time when New Orleans was struggling. Mayor from 2010 to 2018, he shares stories about this once-descending city and his efforts to put NOLA on the map as a great American comeback story. It is a story of people coming together across the lines that typically divide us to find common ground. Using one of our nation’s founding mottos, E Pluribus Unum, as a rallying cry, Landrieu also discusses his recent experiences in helping chart a path forward for the country in today’s environment in which we find ourselves divided by race, class, and politics.
JULIE LYTHCOTT-HAIMS’ first book, How to Raise an Adult, took on the harm of helicopter parenting and turned her into a prominent cultural commentator. Now, in Real American, a luminous memoir that is both poetic and piercing (and sometimes funny), she writes about her struggles with identity and race, laying bare her own wounds and the wounds of the country. The beloved, high-achieving child of a white mother and a black father, she fought to find her place, not sure where she belonged. From her efforts to tame her hair to her conflicted feelings about the skin color of her own children, she writes about race in a wholly original and nuanced way, enumerating the slights that accrue even in an outwardly blessed life like hers. Her self-acceptance is hard-won—and thrilling—and she tells us how she finally achieved it.
2019: Democracies in Retreat, Dictatorships on the Move
Around the globe, the populists and autocrats seem to be increasing their grip. To talk about the disturbing trends and destructive alliances are friends and former diplomatic colleagues VICTORIA NULAND and STROBE TALBOTT. Nuland served under Republican and Democratic administrations as Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs and envoy to NATO, rising to the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the United States Foreign Service. Talbott was the Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, then headed the Brookings Institution for 16 years. The two talk about the current difficulties plaguing the Atlantic Community and U.S. diplomacy while Russia is pursuing predatory policies towards the West and collaborating with China.
2019: “Tell My Story:” The Power of Poetry
The award-winning poet NAOMI SHIHAB NYE is known for her luminous, inspirational spirit both on the page and off. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her extensive travels, Nye writes from her deep concern with the world’s troubling issues and deep empathy for people around the globe. She reads recent poems, by herself and others, that speak not only to her passionate engagement with the world around her, but also to the power of poetry itself to address and ameliorate what ails us. We can imagine no more fitting or resonant voice to carry with us from the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference than hers.
2019: The Browns of California
In her very readable and evocative book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist MIRIAM PAWEL gives us a dual narrative: the story of the Golden State and the history of the Brown family, notably the two governors, Pat and Jerry, who helped guide California in the last half of the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first. What a rich story it is: The Gold Rush, the Free Speech Movement, the rise of Silicon Valley—she conveys it all, not as a recitation of events, but rather through beguiling, detail-rich portraits of the two very different men who led it, the garrulous father and the more cerebral son, and also of the women in the family. Joining Pawel to share her personal reflections and memories is KATHLEEN BROWN, former California State Treasurer and an integral part of the Brown dynasty.
We think we know Winston Churchill. There have been countless books, movies and documentaries. But British historian ANDREW ROBERTS’ recent biography makes the man come alive as never before. In a book that’s been called “the best single-volume biography of Churchill yet written,” Roberts traces the arc of Churchill’s life from boyhood through military service to leadership of his country in its darkest days. With prodigious, original research and deep insight, Roberts gives us a revelatory, multi-dimensional portrait. His Churchill is ambitious, witty, emotional, stubborn and gifted with a sense of his own destiny. Roberts talks about the man and his life, and about the unique passions of the biographer.
2019: The End of Secrets: Family History in the Age of Bioethics
In the spring of 2016, DANI SHAPIRO, the author of four memoirs, received the stunning news through a genealogy website that her father was not her biological father. Her newest memoir, Inheritance, captures her urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years. It caused her to rethink everything she knew about herself, her roots, her family, the ground underneath her. Shapiro talks with author and physician ABRAHAM VERGHESE about living in a time in which science and technology are uncovering long-held secrets and about the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.
In her wholly original memoir, H IS FOR HAWK, the poet and historian HELEN MACDONALD recounts the story of how, in the wake of losing her beloved father, she withdraws from the human world. A longtime falconer, she decides to raise a young goshawk, a vicious and massive bird of prey notoriously difficult to train. Here is Macdonald’s initial description of her new charge, whom she names Mabel: “A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary.” Macdonald will tell us of the fierce, winged companion who helped tame her own wild and ragged grief.
Sun Valley interrogates CRAIG JOHNSON, the creator of Walt Longmire. Craig Johnson, in a Q&A with Sun Valley’s own VAN GORDON SAUTER, reflects on the blend of literary, western and mystery fiction that is his unique stock-in-trade. Feel free to don your cowboy hat for this one.
In 2012, public alarm sounded when The Guardian revealed that the National Security Agency had been collecting data about Americans’ communications in the United States and overseas. Congress responded by prohibiting certain kinds of collection and requiring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to appoint five amici curiae (friends of the court) to represent constitutional rights when novel questions of law arise. In her recent award-winning book, LAURA K. DONOHUE, Professor of Law at Georgetown and one of the five public advocates to FISC, argues that the approach to surveillance taken by the government amounts to a revival of the general warrant, which is precisely what the Founders tried to prohibit by enacting the Fourth Amendment. As new technologies emerge and federal power expands, at stake is the future of privacy in the United States. The program included a demonstration of drone and IT technology. No attendee’s privacy was invaded.
In this intimate literary hour, former U.S. Poet Laureate BILLY COLLINS will dig deep into his personal trove of favorite poems — his own and those of others — to illuminate, through reading aloud and discussion, how poetry works to engage and connect its readers.
Over the past few years, as partisan, political wars have been raging, The New York Times columnist DAVID BROOKS has been mining a different vein. He has been traveling around the country, talking to Americans about something beyond and deeper than politics, trying to find out what matters to them and taking the measure of their longings and loyalties and loneliness. He says people are looking for connections with each other, with their families and their communities, and trying to figure out how to live fulfilled and meaningful lives of moral worth. These are themes he explored in his two most recent books, THE ROAD TO CHARACTER and THE SOCIAL ANIMAL, and that he explores in this talk.
In 2009, WALTER ISAACSON signed on to write the authorized biography of Apple icon Steve Jobs, the man who created the most profitable company in the world and helped invent the iUniverse in which we now live. Over the next two years, as Jobs fought pancreatic cancer, Isaacson interviewed him over 40 times. He also spoke with 100 family members, friends, and foes of the legendary executive. The instant global bestseller paints a compelling portrait of the contrarian genius, with all his gifts and complexities. Isaacson talks about the man, his passions, his focus, and his ambition, all of which remained intense to the end. As a master biographer, Isaacson also offers perspective on the forces that drive great leaders and on where Steve Jobs fits in the American pantheon.
DAVID GROSSMAN, one of Israel’s preeminent writers, speaks about his novel, TO THE END OF THE LAND. A story both intimate and universal, the novel tells of a mother’s heroic and desperate effort to best fate and protect her children from the perils of conflict. In a conversation with author and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Grossman recreates his heroine’s trek along the fault line between two zones of the human condition: the home – where families thrive and life is most tender – and the nation, where the demands of patriotism can be tragically dehumanizing.
2002: If Truth DOES Matter, I am in Serious Trouble
In 2002, the theme of the Writers’ Conference was “Does Truth Matter”? During an evening talk, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist DAVE BARRY chose the title: “If Truth DOES Matter, I Am in Serious Trouble.”
Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist RICK ATKINSON talks about the art and science of writing military history – how it is done, and why, in fact, it must be done. He focuses primarily on his World War II Liberation Trilogy, which has now occupied more than a decade of his life. In this trilogy, Atkinson has always aimed, he says, “to bring a historian’s brain and storyteller’s voice to what John Updike called ‘the central myth of the 20th century.'”
2012: Valley High: Some Poems to Send Us on Our Way
Award-winning poet NAOMI SHIHAB NYE closed the 2012 Sun Valley Writers’ Conference with a reading of both her new and older poems, specifically chosen to send guests back into the world with their hearts and minds full.
FRANK MCCOURT, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ANGELA’S ASHES, and of ‘TIS and TEACHER MAN, was an extraordinary storyteller, and a gifted and generous friend to all who knew him. He was with us at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference for 12 years. This talk was the first he ever gave, in a tent on the grounds of the Community School in 1998, delivered with his trademark humor and compassion.
In a prescient talk given in 2001, Pulitzer Prize winner DAVID HALBERSTAM – America’s most prestigious journalist of the time – spoke about the encroachment and influence of celebrity culture into the media and into our daily lives. David was a much beloved friend of SVWC.
ALEXANDRA FULLER, whose two best-selling, award-winning memoirs about her parents and her childhood in southern Africa, DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT and COCKTAIL HOUR UNDER THE TREE OF FORGETFULNESS, indelibly evoking a landscape of love, loss, longing and reconciliation, will discuss both what she has found in the process of writing those books, and what she has lost.
2003: Close Encounters with the People of the Past
“To get inside the minds and hearts of people who lived long ago, it is often necessary to live inside their language in the loving and playful way that a child first learns language. If one would then retell the story of the past to people of the present, one must discover how to translate the ancient language into contemporary equivalents, so that people of the present day may meet the people of the past as living, breathing, feeling human beings.”
— THOMAS CAHILL, describing his approach to writing history in a way that engages and entertains the reader
The novelist CARL HIAASEN, celebrated writer of books for children and young adults and a Miami Herald columnist, speaks about the peculiar challenges of staying on the cutting edge of depravity in a place like Florida, which redefines the concept with each day’s headlines.
2009: The Ideals of Medicine, Unchanged Since Antiquity
Physician and author of the acclaimed novel CUTTING FOR STONE, ABRAHAM VERGHESE shares the compelling personal journey that brought him to the study of medicine. He talks about how his beliefs about medicine were shaped by its practice and informed by imaginative literature, why he views the health care crisis as a crisis of physician faith, and what it will take to regain what he believes has been lost.
ROBERT PINSKY, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, has been one of poetry’s most ardent spokesmen, showing an ever-larger public how and why poetry matters. He brings his award-winning poetic gifts, humor, and democratic spirit to a reading of his own work.
With her charming and inimitable style, ANNE LAMOTT tells us that in order to write “we don’t need the blueprint of the submarine,” we just need to tell our truth. Drawing on material shared in her widely praised BIRD BY BIRD, Anne talks about the myriad ways that writing frees and nourishes us.
In his ongoing quest to find answers to the big questions – like who is successful and why – The New York Times columnist and NewsHour commentator DAVID BROOKS ventured into new territory for his best-selling book, THE SOCIAL ANIMAL. Trying to understand what makes us tick, he found himself delving into the world of social science and neuroscience. His surprising conclusion: that emotion and intuition guide our most profound decisions – from choice of mate to choice of profession – and that far from being the rational creatures we assume ourselves to be, it is our unconscious brain that is really driving us. In ways personal, profound, and funny, Brooks will explore his adventure in this new world.