What I did last summer, and why I’m talking about it now


Some of you know that back in July of last year, I spent a week in Archer City taking a class called Literary Journalism through the University of North Texas. I received the Bess Whitehead Scott Scribes Scholarship for Older Adults that made that possible, and I’ll be forever grateful to them. I can’t do anything about the ‘older adults’ part of that. That’s just the way it is. It’s the week I want to focus on.

With George Getschow, the writer-in-residence at UNT, and a talented group of writers, we roamed Archer County watching, listening and taking in the atmosphere that inspired Larry McMurtry and others to write. By the way, McMurtry isn’t the only writer from Archer City. Archer native Jim Black writes books and plays. His book River Season was required reading at Midwestern State University last semester so freshmen could get a taste of local flavor.

George invites writers to Archer City for the week to share their insights with the students. During my week there, Ron Powers, Eric Calonius and Bill Marvel joined us. Powers is a Pulitzer and Emmy-winning author. He co-wrote the book Flags of our Fathers that Clint Eastwood made into a movie. Eric Calonius has been a writer and editor at Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Bill Marvel has been writing for 50 years, and his experience and editing advice is sought after by even writers who have “made it.” And George, well, he was a judge for the 2013 Pulitzer Prizes, if that tells you anything about his reputation as a writer and a judge of writing. George directs the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, the top gathering for nonfiction writers. In the world of narrative nonfiction, George is the man.

We were given writing exercises, and the freedom to go out and hunt for stories. We were treated like real writers by those people above who are real writers. We were treated like writers by Archer City people who would introduce us to others as “the writers,” and who would sit and listen as you read your writing aloud. Things like that go a long way to making you feel like a real writer.

After our week in Archer City, George, some alumni of past classes and the current group had the thought to develop a Web site to showcase some of the works that came out of the class and that of some of the writers who have visited during the class. CenterandMain.org went live in October. It’s named for the intersection in Archer City with the town’s one stoplight. On CenterandMain, there are works by AC writing class alumni Mike Mooney, Paul Knight, J.K. Nickell and Brantley Hargrove, who have all gone on to successful writing careers. Tom Junod, who has been nominated for a National Magazine Award (that’s the big one for magazine writers) more times than anyone and has won twice, wrote a story about his trip to AC in 2012.

Storytelling is what this is about — the class, the people, the teachers, the site, my little blog. Telling a story about real things is the force that drives us. I’ve written a story about an Archer City woman whose large collection of birds has rated her the nickname “Bird Lady,” and who has overcome a rough past. George thought enough of the story to put it up on the site, and I’m proud to have something of mine there in the same place as not only the other writers I’ve talked about above, but other class alumni and the writers who were in the class with me. And please notice Eric Nishimoto’s illustration. I love that because it captures so many things about our Archer City week. Eric is talented both as an illustrator and a writer.

If you know me well, you know how hard this is for me, to call attention to something I’ve done. I’m shaking now. Good thing this isn’t handwritten. So not just for my story, but for all the writing at CenterandMain, I wish you would visit the site and if something there speaks to you, post a comment. Pros, cons, we accept them all.

Thank you for your support.


Photo — Char Burton and Beauty

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