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Where Are They Now?

Updates from 2014 Mayborn Speakers

In the 11 years since The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference made its debut, we’ve seen quite a few faces come and go. Some used the Mayborn to launch their careers; others come year after year to inspire a new generation of storytellers. Here’s what some of the members of “the tribe” have been up to since they last graced our summer stage:


Lawrence Wright, author, screenwriter, playwright and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, has moved on from his bestselling book about Scientology to delve into the 1978 Camp David peace accords – the subject of his new novel, “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David.” (A play on the subject, which he was commissioned to write, opened in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2014.) Joe Klein in a recent New York Times story noted that Wright’s book provides a minute-by-minute account of the talks with “a concise history of Egyptian-Israeli relations dating from the story of Exodus.”

In an interview with Joanna Cattanach for the 2014 Mayborn magazine, Wright talks about his Pulitzer-winning process and how writing across various genres, from books to plays, help him. He just finished his new play, Cleo, about the making of the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie, Cleopatra. He is writer and producer on a new HBO series, “God Save Texas,” about an idealistic cowboy rancher who tries to get elected to the Texas Legislature.

Wright’s last nonfiction book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief,” was among five finalists in the nonfiction category for the National Book Critics Circle Awards. The critics praised the book as a “long overdue work of reportage” on the usually secretive religion. Wright says he did extensive research, conducting more than 200 interviews with current and former Scientologists. The book also was a finalist for the 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize.

Wright’s play Camp David” tells how Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, and Anwar Sadat came together to forge a treaty between Israel and Egypt that has endured long after they left office. The play opened in April 2014 in Washington, with former President Carter and his wife attending on opening night.


From Ebola to Hanta, viruses are at the center of a new series, “Virus Hunters,” for The Weather Channel based on David Quammen’s latest book “Spillover.” Weather.com says the show “explores some of the deadliest diseases on our planet, and the medical professionals on the front lines trying to stop them.”

“Spillover” was a finalist for seven awards and won two – the National Association of Science Writers’ Science and Society Book Award and the Society of Biology (UK) Book Award in General Biology. The book looks at what might cause the next major pandemic. The author says it might just be a virus that will “spill over into humans from a nonhuman animal.”

Quammen, a science writer and author of 12 books, followed scientists into the field around the globe, including Africa where he tracked the birthplace of AIDS and today’s scourge, the Ebola virus. He reports on the rising alarm among public health officials about diseases jumping from animal to man.

You can read about his current adventures in Yellowstone on his blog at www.davidquammen.com. He’s been assigned to write an entire edition of National Geographic in 2014 delving into the nation’s park. Last year, he was in the Russian Arctic. Never a dull moment, according to writer Jaimie Siegle who wrote about Quammen in the 2014 Mayborn magazine.


National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist in the fiction category for “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” – which marked his return to novel writing after 20 years. In September, his book won a Dayton Literary Peace Prize, which recognizes works that promote social justice and peaceful conflict resolution.

National Public Radio called the novel, about a troubled American heroine, “reckless, raucous, brilliant.”  We’d call it downright sobering. Shachochis, after all, grew up in McLean, Virginia, in the shadow of Langley and the spymasters. He knows the political context of his story.

The novel opens in Haiti, which Bob covered during the 1994 U.S. “intervention” there, but he sweeps wide to cover Turkey, Croatia and Sarajevo as well, documenting an imperialist United States as it plays out between a spy father and his daughter – the woman who lost her soul.

Shacochis, a contributing editor to Outside magazine, has been a GQ columnist and writer for numerous other national publications.


Sheri Fink’s recent narrative nonfiction work investigating what happened at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina continues to garner awards. “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” won the National Book Critics Circle Award and took home the Ridenhour Book Prize at the National Press Club in Washington.

The Ridenhour Book Prize honors outstanding work of social significance and recognizes investigative and reportorial distinction. It took Fink six years of reporting to reconstruct the five days when the waters rose, power failed, and caregivers had to pick which sick patients would leave first and last. The Ridenhour awards committee said the book is “a harrowing addition to the growing canon of Katrina literature.”

In April, Fink, a journalist and physician, also won the 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize for the Current Interest category for the book. She currently writes for The New York Times.


Tim Elfrink won a 2013 George Polk Award for Sports Reporting in April 2014 for his reporting in the Miami New Times about an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida, that supplied some of baseball’s biggest stars with performance-enhancing drugs.

“His explosive stories led to the suspension of 13 players, created a sea change in how baseball owners and players approach drug use and explained how Florida Governor Rick Scott’s laissez-faire approach to regulation allowed clinics like Biogenesis to operate with little or no oversight,” Long Island University said in announcing the award.

After the newspaper revelations, Elfrink, managing editor of the Miami New Times, co-authored “Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End the Steroid Era.”


Nationally acclaimed literary journalist Stephen Fried will co-write with former U.S. Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy a book about Kennedy’s personal and political struggle with mental health illness and addiction. “A Common Struggle: A Very Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction” is due out in late 2015 from Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group.

Fried is also the author of “Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs,” a look into medication safety and big pharma. Fried, a two-time National Magazine Award winner, is currently writing about Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of our nation’s little-known founding fathers.


Sam Kean’s newest book, “The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons,” explores the history of the human brain through the lens of “trauma, madness, affliction, and recovery.” Writer Kathy Floyd journeyed to Washington to interview Sam about his books for the 2014 Mayborn magazine. Kean, a freelance writer in Washington, also authored The New York Times bestsellers “The Disappearing Spoon” and “The Violinist’s Thumb.”

In each of his three books, says Kathy, he draws from personal experience: his quicksilver fascination with mercury, his wayward thumbs, and his own sleep paralysis. He populates his books with crazy interesting characters to explain the periodic table (yes, that one), the genetic code and the brain.


Dennis Overbye’s seven years of work chronicling the discovery of “the God particle” landed him a spot on the list of Pulitzer Prize finalists this year – an honor he never expected to receive, he told Mayborn magazine writer Amelia Jaycen during an interview at The New York Times.

Overbye was named a finalist in the explanatory reporting category for his March 2013 piece, “Chasing the Higgs.” The multimedia package explained how two competing teams of 3,000 scientists and technicians at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, discovered a new elementary particle known as the Higgs boson, aka “the God particle,” in 2012, and what that discovery meant.


Mimi Swartz, executive editor of Texas Monthly, took home a City and Regional Magazine Association Award in the Reporting category for her article, “Failure is Not an Option.” The October 2013 story centered on Beverly Kearney, a revered track and field head coach at the University of Texas at Austin who was forced to resign because of an illicit affair.

“Mimi Swartz took on a tough, explosive topic with perfect balance and tone,” said the judges in announcing the award. “Through extensive sourcing, Swartz revealed a much more nuanced story that gave readers deep insight into a complex case that touches on many of the hot-button topics dominating media today.”


Updates from 2014 Mayborn Speakers
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