Although there were panels during the first session that looked interesting, I opted instead to staff the Shenandoah table. The book fair was quiet then, but a number of people did stop by, mostly people looking for R.T. Smith, but also some friends of mine, and others who just wanted to talk about the magazine. I worked until about 10:15 and then headed off in search of enlightenment.
So, the first actual panel I attended was “In Conclusion: A Few Opening Thoughts About Endings in Fiction” with Amber Dermont, Mark Jude Poirier, Holiday Reinhorn, Michelle Wildgen, Andrew Porter and Jonathan Blum. The presentations ranged from the serious and specific, to the light and flip, but over all it gave me some things to think about for the endings of my own stories.
At noon I went to “On Moral Fiction: Writing, Publishing, and Promoting Socially and Politically Engaged Literature” with Charles Baxter, Fenton Johnson, Martha Southgate and Martha Cooley. All of the speakers were good, although they all came at the question from different angles. My own impression is that the writer’s ultimate responsibility is to present the truth (not to be confused with facts) without necessarily being political, and that telling truth is what makes fiction moral. But I know it’s not as simple as that.
For the 1:30 slot I attended “Prize Stories: Reading of the Year’s Best” with Kevin Moffett, Jim Tomlinson, Greg Downs, Todd James Pierce, Randy Nelson, all winners last year of important book prizes. Jim and Greg I knew well from Sewanee and I knew of the others. It was a terrific reading of some excellent work.
After 3 panels in a row I decided I needed a break, but at 4:30 I went to “What Really Happened: Research and the Novel” with Justin Cronin, Tom Franklin, Jennifer Vanderbes and Mark Winegardner. There were no real surprises here, but it was interesting to hear each of the writers describe how they’ve approached research for the novels, both historical and contemporary works. There was even some disagreement on how important it is to stick to verified facts—Justin seemed willing to be flexible, while Mark wanted to get things exactly right, down to whether or not it really rained on given date in history.
At 7:00, my Sewanee friend Jamie Poissant was reading at the Berry College reception so I went to that, and that was followed at 8:30 by an amazing event: a reading with Michael Martone and John Barth. They were both fantastic. Martone read a number of short things and Barth read a new story called “Us/Them” that will be in his new book.
And then, although I was exhausted, I went to the party hosted by Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Sarah Browning had invited me and I saw a number of other people there I knew. It’s a worthy cause and definitely will be a major event in 2008.
That was definitely enough for one day, but on the way out I stopped by the bar to see if anyone was there (Hah!) and managed to get into a few new conversations with Queens folks, among others. Okay, then that, finally, was that.