Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference celebrates 10 years

Even after 10 years, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference continues to attract the country’s top writers, and long-time attendees say the quality of the program still keeps them interested.

 “I guess the literary gods smile on us because every year we’ve managed to bring together a gathering of the nations finest writers,” Conference Director George Getschow said.

More than 300 attendees and more than 20 published science nonfiction writers, as well as Getschow, gathered for the 10th anniversary of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, July 18-20. They are all a part of one tribe, the Mayborn tribe.

The idea of the conference was sparked by Dr. Mitchell Land, the former dean of the Mayborn School of Journalism, and Frances Brannen Vick, former director and co-founder of the University of North Texas Press, who later requested that Getschow join the team.

In 2005, the conference was born with the sole purpose of highlighting nonfiction writing and creating a community of factual storytellers.

“It’s intense immersion into the minds of the best writers in America — year after year after year,” Bob Shacochis, contributing editor for Outside and conference attendee, said. “The quality of it never gives.”

Each year, the conference focuses on specific topics and issues. This year’s topic was science and opened up by David Quammen, journalist and author of 12 books, including “Spillover,” a work on emerging diseases.

The conference speakers have impressed award-winning Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth throughout the 10 years he’s attended the conference.

“Like the guy tonight, for a minute I thought, this is the best speaker I have ever heard in 10 years…,” Hollandsworth said of Quammen. “And last year when Rick Atkinson spoke, I went, that is the finest speaker I’ve ever heard talk about writing.”

The conference provides an array of workshops for students, biographers, authors, manuscript writers. Attendees don’t have to pick and choose what sessions they would like to attend because none are at the same time.

“Usually at a writers conference it is set up like a buffet … but here, it’s set up to where nothing is in competition with each other,” Shacochis said.

“Tribal mentality” is part of what sets the conference a part from others. There’s no hierarchy among this tribe, Getschow said.

 “A tribe is a word, a symbol, for unity, for caring, for looking out after one another, and that’s what this tribe does,” Getschow said.

 Having diversity within the conference keeps the attendees active and always learning.

 “I’ve sat through 10 years of speeches, and I’ve never been bored,” Hollandsworth said.

 Being apart of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference also means you’re a part of one big family.

 “We have a lot of people who are serious, but we also have a lot of fun,” Getschow said.

 Lauren Levine, UNT graduate student was excited for the conference. Previously earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental science and currently working on her master’s degree in journalism at the University of North Texas, she hopes to incorporate environmental science with her journalism degree. Levine finds the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference helpful.

 “We’re learning from the best in the business,” she said.

 After 10 years of directing the conference, Getschow knows what it takes to keep the conference thriving and successful.

 “As long as there’s a thirst and hunger for storytelling, the conference will continue to grow,” Getschow said. “As long as that exists, the conference will exist.”

Markus Smith, Rachel Whitaker, Madisen Reid, and Molly Sullivan collaborated on this piece.

MHSJW students hit the ground running on the first day, mingling with the best storytellers in the country, blogging and tweeting reports from the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. They were taught college-level writing, photography and editing from Mayborn journalism professors, then used those skills storytelling on multilevel platforms. Then they moved over to UNT, stayed in a dorm and covered cutting-edge stories on campus. For these young, aspiring journalists, the future is now.

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