By Katie Lothrop
GRAPEVINE, Texas, U.S.A. – At the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, young writers meet authors of their favorite books, listen to them as they tell their stories, share their methods and answers questions about themselves or their work.
This year, writer Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael S. Williamson, the authors of Someplace Like America, a book about personal experiences during the “new Great Depression,” led one of my favorite sessions.
Williamson took some of the most amazing photos I've seen in my life – with an iPhone.
During their speech, Williamson displayed pictures that captured the spirit of the people and their feelings during the faction of a second he took to snap the shutter. I’d never seen any photography like that.
Together, the men had gone on one incredible journey to get their story. They rode freight trains and met people with extremely interesting stories along the way. Most notably, they met a group of homeless people whose freight car they had just happened to climb into. They also met other people riding the trains seeking work in other parts of the country. It was a riveting lecture.
Later in the weekend, the conference held book signings where I met authors and chatted with them about their books.
My mom and I were about to head back when I saw Maharidge and Williamson sitting at one of the tables talking. Before I left, I just knew I had to at least compliment Williamson on his photos, even if I couldn’t talk with them about their writing and photography. So I went for it.
Slapping my hands down on the table I said, “Your photos are beautiful.”
That’s all I had planned to say before leaving, since Williamson had been in the middle of a conversation. Instead, after thanking me, he started an engrossing discussion about how he had been able to take the photos.
One time while working at the The Washington Post, Williamson was able to get pictures of a horse stuck in a swimming pool by going to a neighbor and borrowing their ladder to look over the fence. The police had barricaded the only entrance and would not let any reporters or photographers through, yet still Michael got an amazing photo for the newspaper.
After leaving to go check out the books in the book store, I couldn’t help coming back with their book, Someplace Like America, to get their signatures. Both the authors joked and talked as they signed, but what I treasure most was what Maharidge wrote to me in the book:
“Follow your passion with your writing career – we can tell you have it.”
That’s the kind of inspiration I find at Mayborn, which is put on by the University of North Texas. I attended last year and enjoyed it so much, I wanted to come back again this year as a Young Spur.
The Young Spurs are a group of 10 high school and community college students selected based on the biographies they submitted to the Mayborn. Those chosen attend the conference for free and take part in a writing workshop with author James McGrath Morris, whose newest work is a biography of Joseph Pulitzer.
Katie Lothrop with biographer James
When all 10 of the Young Spurs gather in a small conference room it’s a little nerve-racking, because we don’t know anyone. Even I, as a second year, didn’t know any of the new Young Spurs.
But as everyone started talking, we discovered we got along really well, and each of us had our own opinions over the different biographies – ways to improve our works and refine our writing skills.
Biographer James McGrath Morris works with the Young Spurs at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference in Grapevine, Texas last month.
One Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Isabel Wilkerson, traveled across the country interviewing hundreds of people to find the three perfect individuals whose stories would describe the three massive migrations in the 1900s in her book The Warmth of Other Suns.
As a teenager, I have no idea where
my future lies. All I know is what I enjoy. I have goals, and dream colleges,
but it’s impossible to know whether I’ll achieve them or not.
Shirley Hammond, director of education at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is a sponsor of the Mayborn Conference, addresses the crowd at the opening banquet.
I’m sure that as I’m reading Someplace Like America, and in two years when I go on to college, and after college as I start my writing career, I will look back to what Maharidge wrote for encouragement.
Maharidge gave me something no one else could have. He inspired me to dare to do big things, and dare to challenge the world.