Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sun Valley hosts successful conference

Writers welcomed by enthusiastic readers


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Writers' Conference listen raptly, with amusement to Amy Bloom's talk on Sunday in the new Sun Valley Pavilion.

Committed bookworms, the majority of the attendees at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference over the weekend, were treated to the insights, humor and inside scoop of many of the country's premier authors.

Writers who participated included such award-winning authors as Timothy Egan, Carl Hiaasen, former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Alberto Manguel, Kati Marton, Frank McCourt, Harriet Scott Chessman, Ethan Canin, Ann Taylor and Karl Fleming, Jonathon Burnham Schwartz, Mark Salzman and a host of others. After a year's hiatus to pull the conference forward into the future, Program Director John Hockenberry, the conference's staff and many volunteers presented an impressively run four-day event.

The keynote address was delivered by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert A. Caro, whose lecture was on "Writing About Power (Power and Personality)."

Among the festival's highlights was a screening of "David Halberstam: The Coldest Winter," a documentary on the career of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, followed by a panel discussion on war reporting. Halberstam was a frequent participant at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference in the past.

Also screened was Oscar-winning director Terry Sanders' latest documentary, "Fighting for Life," at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke delivered a speech on the confrontation between Georgia and Russia. He had recently been a guest of President Mikheil Saakashvili to observe the Russian invasion and its consequences.

Smaller tents used for "break-out" sessions, a food tent, gift shop and the Iconoclast bookstore tent were laid out on the Sun Valley lawn. Several of the larger events were held in the Sun Valley Pavilion, allowing more people to attend and better acoustics for all.

On Sunday, the crowd in the Pavillion listened as Amy Bloom spoke with John Hockenberry on the 19th-century novel and its continuing appeal.

"We like the 1800s as we wish it had been," she said. "The great writers, as they do now, had great empathy. People didn't have other forms of entertainment. They had music and took walks and grinding poverty to keep them occupied. As long as you were literate there was something for you."

Hockenberry asked her who among the great 19th-century authors she would want to spend time with.

"Though I know it wouldn't be good for me, I'd love to spend time with Oscar Wilde," she said to laughter.

Bloom has a soft spot for immigrant stories, which she covers in the best-selling "Away," a novel that sketches out her own immigrant family's story.

"Most of writing is an attempt to fill in the blanks," she said. "I had an opportunity to make it up."

Exactly.




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