UNT Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism announces biography fellowship recipient

Best-selling author and journalist Julia Flynn Siler will be mentored by biographer James McGrath Morris after winning the 2017 Mayborn Fellowship in Biography. She will be honored at the University of North Texas' Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference July 22.
Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 09:20

DENTON (UNT), Texas — Best-selling author and journalist Julia Flynn Siler has been awarded the 2017 Mayborn Fellowship in Biography from University of North Texas' Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism.

The fellowship is co-sponsored by James McGrath Morris, a founder and president of Biographers International Organization and author of four biographies. Awarded since 2011, the fellowship provides a biographer who has started researching or writing a manuscript with a two-to three-week residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and mentoring from Morris. The residency is intended to provide a concentrated period of uninterrupted time to work, solitude and inspiration.

The winner of the Mayborn Fellowship in Biography is announced prior to the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which is hosted each July by the Graduate Institute of Journalism, part of UNT's Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism. The conference brings together approximately 300 participants who are interested in writing narrative nonfiction to learn from renowned journalists and storytellers in different genres.

Siler will be recgnized with her fellowship July 22 at the conference's Literary Lights Dinner, which will feature Sebastian Junger, most famous for his best-selling book "The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea," as a keynote speaker. In addition to the residency in Santa Fe, Siler will receive a stipend for the residency and free registration to this year's Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which she will attend for the first time.

"I am so honored to be awarded this fellowship and am looking forward to attending the conference," Siler said. She added that she has enormous respect for Junger and the conference's two other keynote speakers, The New Yorker staff writer Katherine Boo and "Middle Passage" author Charles Johnson

Siler will use her fellowship for work on "Daughters of Joy: America's Other Slaves and Their Flight for Freedom," which she began writing several years ago. Set in the underworld of San Francisco's Chinatown during the early 20th century, "Daughters of Joy" tells of two women's friendship and their effort to fight sexual slavery. Dolly Cameron, a Presbyterian missionary, and Tien Wu, who was rescued from slavery as a child and became Cameron’s longtime aide and closest friend, are buried next to each other in a Los Angeles cemetery.

"The book is a dual biography, and I am seeking guidance to how to best tell their stories. The fellowship was a terrific opportunity to receive that guidance. As writers, we always look for teachers who can help us improve our craft," Siler said.

Siler said she became interested in the important roles that Christian missionaries played during the late 19th and early 20th centuries while writing her second book, "Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure."  The book, a history of Hawaii dating to 200 A.D, centers on Lili'uokalani, the last queen of Hawaii, and was a New York Times bestseller.

Missionaries, Siler said, also figure in the history of San Francisco's Chinatown. They were among the few people who fought for rights Chinese Americans during the 19th and early 20th centuries, she said.

"There have been several biographies written about Dolly Cameron, but when I started researching archives about her, it became apparent that Tien Wu was crucial to the story. The friendship between these two very different women intrigued me, as did their decades-long effort to fight human trafficking," she said.  

A resident of Ross, California, Siler is a veteran correspondent for "BusinessWeek "magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She has reported from more than a dozen European nations in addition to the United States. She began her career as a staff correspondent for "BusinessWeek," working in the magazine's Chicago and Los Angeles bureaus. Her first book, "The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Industry," was published in 2007. The book was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for both a James Beard Award and a Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished reporting.

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference will take place for a 13th year July 21-23 (Friday-Sunday) at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, 1800 Highway 26 East in Grapevine, Texas. This year's conference has the theme of "The Power of Words." Registration is currently available online.




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