The stage in the Pavilion at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference
The theme of this year's Sun Valley Writers' Conference was "Can Literature Bring Us Together"? As I listened to the many writers that were featured at this year's conference, I decided that the answer is yes. Because whether these writers are talking about social issues, military history, the migration of African-Americans from the south to the north, leaving one's home in Ireland, or 'Dixie' -- then and now, the essence of their message always boils down to great stories. And the feeling I took away from this experience was the pleasure and exhilaration we derive from our story tellers, our narrators, and our communicators who tell us stories that help us make sense of our lives, of our experiences, and of the chaotic world we live in.
David Brooks, the op-ed writer for the New York Times talked about his book "The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character And Achievement." He told us stories about what makes us tick as people and what makes us successful. His conclusions were surprising -- that emotion and intuition guide our most profound decisions and it is our unconscious brain that is really driving us.
Colum McCann, who wrote the brilliant novel, "Let The Great World Spin," told us about his discovery that getting lost helps one get home. His illustration was a tale of a bike ride he took across the United States without a map and the feeling of getting through the difficulty and coming out the other end with a new found confidence and truth. Along the way he was helped by extraordinary people who told him about themselves through stories. His concluded that you have to get lost to find a home, experience difficulty and sadness to find the truth, and experience storytelling to understand people.
Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote "The Warmth Of Other Suns" The Epic Story of America's Great Migration," told us amazing stories of African-American families from the south who migrated to the north and the consequences of this Great Migration. Her own personal story involves her own parents' experiences leaving the rural South. Her book tells stories of migration that eventually included more than six million African-Americans who left behind all they had known in the hope of better lives outside the South. This book has been described as a deeply moving work of nonfiction that reads like a novel.
As the Israeli author David Grossman told us the basic storyline for his novel "To The End of the Land" I was riveted by this tale. I felt I was listening to a master storyteller who had all of my attention. There was a comfort in sitting back and becoming immersed in this very intriguing and emotional tale about a mother's love for her son who is going off to war. I cannot wait to read this book.
Kathryn Stockett told us stories of why she loves the south, where she grew up, and what it still means to her today. At the same time she acknowledged the past sins of this region which she vividly depicted in her bestselling novel "The Help." I enjoyed hearing her tales of the contradictions and eccentricities of the Dixie she grew up in, and how her relationship with her own maid, who helped raised her, was the genesis for her novel.
As I stood in front of the pavilion in between lectures I was truly exhilarated by the beautiful words I heard that weekend, words that were chosen, polished, and used carefully by some of the most talented writers that are working today. These writers are the ones who make our lives come together by telling the stories that inspire, educate, scare, and delight us. They provide a literary road map for navigating our lives and discovering the essence of who we are. Don't we all wish we had more time to read?
Me in front of the Pavilion at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference