Literary nonfiction conference sponsored by UNT to offer unknown authors book contract, cash prizes

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Texans wishing to write the next true crime book, biography, memoir or other literary nonfiction book that will be noticed by publishers may have their dreams come true by submitting their work to the second annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest.

The conference, sponsored by the University of North Texas Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism, will be held the weekend of July 14-16 at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, located at 1800 Highway 26 East in Grapevine near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The conference will include two categories of workshops -- one for book-length manuscripts and one for narrative nonfiction articles and essays -- on Friday, July 14. Writers may submit their writing samples and be chosen to attend one of the workshops and their work judged by literary agents, authors and editors.

The cost of entering a manuscript, which must include a single chapter and synopsis of the book, is $60, while the cost of entering an article or essay is $30. Entries must postmarked no later than Thursday, June 1.

Judges will select 50 writers of articles and essays to participate in the workshop for that category and be eligible to win cash prizes of $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000. The winning narratives submitted to the articles/essay workshop will be published in "Spurs of Inspiration," a literary journal published by Hearst Newspapers and the Mayborn Institute and will be reviewed for possible publication in The Dallas Morning News and the San Antonio Express-News. The three winning narratives from last year's conferences were published in The Dallas Morning News' Sunday Lifestyle section and are online at

Judges will also select 20 writers of manuscripts to participate in the manuscript workshop.

The writer of the winning manuscript will win a provisional book contract with UNT Press, while three others will win cash prizes of up to $3,000.

"Writers dream all their lives about trying to get a book contract," said George Getschow,

UNT writer-in-residence and a conference organizer. "That writers can come to the Mayborn Conference, submit a manuscript, have it critiqued by extraordinarily talented editors and authors, and have a shot at winning a book contract is really about as good as it gets."

Last year's book contract winner, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe of Argyle, won for her entry about her son's first four years before being diagnosed with autism. Heinkel-Wolfe, formerly a UNT web marketing specialist, is now a reporter with the Denton Record-Chronicle.

The manuscript workshops will be led by Deanne Stillman, a narrative nonfiction writing instructor in the University of California, Los Angeles Writers' Program and author of "Twentynine Palms," which Hunter Thompson called "a strange and brilliant story by an important American writer."

Luke Dempsey, senior editor at Crown Publishers, a division of Random House; Ken Wells, editor of The Wall Street Journal's book publishing division; and Ron Chrisman, director of UNT Press, will lead a publishers' panel that will offer valuable insight on important issues such as contracts, royalty payments and the direction and editing writers can expect from their editors.

James Hornfischer, president of Hornfischer Literary Management in Austin, a literary nonfiction author and a former book editor, will team up with another literary nonfiction author and agent, Jim Donovan, president of Jim Donovan Literary, to talk about the author-agent relationship and how it can determine the success or failure of a literary career.

Gay Talese, author of such nonfiction bestsellers as "The Kingdom and the Power," about the history and influence of The New York Times; and "Honor Thy Father," the inside story of a Mafia family, will give the conference's keynote address.

Talese's address, "The Origins of a Nonfiction Writer Who Has Mastered the Art of Hanging Out," is part of a dinner that begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 15. After his lecture, he will read from his new book, "A Writer's Life," which will be published in April. He will also answer questions from the audience and sign copies of his books.

Getschow called Talese "the Michelangelo of literary journalism" and "someone who can weave fact and detail into a piece of poetry."

"Talese's reputation, and what will one day be his legacy, is that he makes the ordinary extraordinary. He is first and foremost a consummate reporter, and accuracy, he will tell you, is his highest goal. But he is also an artist, " Getschow said.

He pointed out that Talese started off his career in writing "with very little promise."

"In ‘A Writer's Life,' he says English was his worst subject, that he was rejected by two dozen colleges he applied to, and that his early writing was marked by an embarrassing flair for the florid and the verbose. Yet Talese somehow managed to become one of literary nonfiction's finest. And that ought to give all of us hope," he said.

Other guest authors and editors scheduled to speak at the conference include:

  • Hampton Sides, author of the nonfiction best-seller "Ghost Soldiers," a book recently made into a motion picture, "The Great Raid;"
  • Melissa Fay Greene, author of "Praying for Sheetrock," a National Book Award finalist, and "Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster;"
  • Ron Powers, author of "Flags of Our Fathers," which has been developed as a movie by Steven Spielberg with Clint Eastwood directing;
  • Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer for The New York Times and author of "Conspiracy of Fools," a bestseller about the Enron scandal; and "The Informant, " which is being developed into a motion picture directed by Steven Soderbergh;
  • University of Texas Professor of History H.W. Brands, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for "The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," and author of "Lone Star Nation" and "The Age of Gold;"
  • Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News and author of "Trail of Feathers: Searching for Philip True;"
  • Texas Monthly executive editor Skip Hollandsworth, winner of a National Headliners Award and the national John Hancock Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism, and author of a soon-to-be-released account of the murders of seven women in Austin;
  • Robert Kaiser, first writing coach for the San Antonio Express-News, former senior Metro reporter at the Chicago Tribune, and writer of a four-part narrative series for the Tribune on the shooting death of a Chicago cop that was anthologized in Best Newspaper Writing 2000;
  • Kevin Helliker, a senior editor from The Wall Street Journal who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for a series of stories he wrote after being diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm;
  • Karen Thomas, a longtime feature writer for The Dallas Morning News who specializes in family issues and narrative writing;
  • Macarena Hernandez, editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News, who has covered the Texas-Mexican border, co-produced a documentary on PBS/Frontline World and was named a "Trendsetter" by Hispanic Magazine in 2004;
  • Michael Granberry, an award-winning writer for The Dallas Morning News who specializes in personal essays and humor writing, such as his comical frustrations with a 12-year-old son who eats only chicken nuggets and fries.
  • Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer-Prize winning Los Angeles Times reporter, is returning this year to talk about her recently published book, "Enrique's Journey," now being made into an HBO miniseries.

"We have gathered a group of writers, editors and agents who all have something different to say about literary nonfiction," Getschow said. "They will provide our conferees with insight, understanding and a broad view of the literary nonfiction world that I think will be extremely instructive for all of our attendees. I can't imagine one place that is going to gather together so many extraordinary voices of literary nonfiction."

The early registration cost of the conference is $250 before March 15, and $275 after that date. Educators pay $200 before March 15 and $225 afterwards. Students pay $130 before March 15 and $150 afterwards.

The price includes all lectures, panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, readings, keynote address and meals. For more information, visit, e-mail or call (940) 565-4564.

The Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at UNT was founded in 1999 through a gift from the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn Foundation Advise and Consult Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas, Inc. Through this gift, the Mayborn Institute is able to offer $200,000 in scholarships every year. The institute is named for longtime newspaper publisher and civic leader Frank W. Mayborn, who owned the Temple Daily Telegram, Killeen Daily Herald and KCEN-TV, Temple's NBC affiliate, before his death in 1987.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108