The Big Read Blog (Archive)


June 17, 2009

Minneapolis, MN

It?s about 7 a.m. and a steady stream of Big Read grantees are making their way to the Hilton?s front desk to check out and store luggage before day two of orientation. We?re going nonstop from 7:45 to about 3 with only a quick break to grab a boxed lunch and keep on moving to the next session. I?ll be staying put and moderating a panel on public relations x 5.

About 670 grantees plus staff from IMLS, NEA, and, of course, Arts Midwest gathered in the Hilton?s ballroom last night to swap strategies and talk books. After welcome remarks by Arts Midwest?s David Fraher and a shout-out ? especially for the Big Read librarians ? from IMLS?s Abby Swetz, David Kipen gave a six-degrees-of-separation tour of The Big Read writers. Louise Erdrich and Tim O?Brien are native Minnesotans, for example, while Marilynne Robinson and Tobias Wolff both had roughly two decades between their first and second novels. My favorite ?connection? ? Mark Twain and Henry James by way of Twain?s quote on James?s work, which goes something like, ?I never read a Henry James novel I couldn?t wait to put down.?

The highlight of the evening was Tim O?Brien?s humorous, poignant, utterly spellbinding keynote on the art and craft of fiction. My pen couldn?t quite keep up, but here are a few of the quotes that really struck me:

?Trust your own story. Above all that means to tell it?to conquer the fear of plunging headfirst into choices and the consequences of human choices.?

?In a story miracles happen.?

?To trust a story means, at least in this writer?s view and probably most writers on The Big Read list, to avoid editing your own imagination. You don?t edit what you want to think?Give it the freedom to be.?

And finally, this bit of advice for writers, ?Read widely. Toughen up your psyches. Ration out the booze. And don?t forget to write a little.?

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