Meet our speakers for 2020

Keynote Speakers

Sarah Broom Friday - Sarah Broom
Mayborn alumna Sarah M. Broom is the author of the 2019 National Book Award Winner and instant New York Times bestseller The Yellow House, a brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East. Heralded as “one of the year’s best memoirs…an urgent meditation on the American dream” (Entertainment Weekly), “a remarkable journey” (Robin Roberts, Good Morning America), and “an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large” (cover review of the New York Times Book Review), Sarah’s debut has been dubbed a must-read book in over 15 publications including the LA Times, the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, NPR, and TIME.

Sarah’s previous work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Oxford American, and O, The Oprah Magazine among others. A native New Orleanian, she received her Masters in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She was awarded a Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant in 2016 and was a finalist for the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction in 2011. She has also been awarded fellowships at Djerassi Resident Artists Program and The MacDowell Colony. She lives in New York state.
Gene Weingarten Sunday - Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is a Washington Post journalist. He writes long-form stories as well as Below the Beltway, the weekly syndicated humor column. His previous books include I’m With Stupid: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up (with Gina Barreca); The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death; Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs; and The Fiddler in the Subway, a collection of his best-known work. Weingarten is the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, for examining the phenomenon of parents who accidentally leave their children to bake to death in hot cars, and for an experiment in which he arranged for famed violinist Joshua Bell to busk incognito outside a Metro station in Washington, to see if anyone would notice.

He lives in Washington, D.C.


Featured Speakers

Cary Aspinwall Julián Aguilar
Julián Aguilar reports on politics and border affairs from the Texas-Mexico border. His focuses include immigration reform and enforcement, voter ID, international trade, border security, and the drug trade. His political coverage has included local, legislative and congressional races in Texas, as well as local and national elections in Mexico. Before joining The Texas Tribune, he was a freelance writer for the Fort Worth Weekly, a government and crime reporter for the Laredo Morning Times, and a political writer for the Rio Grande Guardian. A native of El Paso, he has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas and a master's degree in journalism from the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas.
Cary Aspinwall Cary Aspinwall
Cary Aspinwall is a Dallas-based staff writer for The Marshall Project. Previously, she was an investigative reporter at The Dallas Morning News, where she reported on the impact of pre-trial incarceration and money bail on women and children in Texas and deaths in police custody involving excessive force and medical negligence. She won the Gerald Loeb Award for reporting on a Texas company's history of deadly natural gas explosions and is a past Pulitzer finalist for her work exposing flaws in Oklahoma's execution process. She is a co-founder of The Frontier, a nonprofit devoted to investigative journalism in Oklahoma.
Cary Aspinwall Peter Baker
New York Times reporter Peter Baker has authored four books and covered the past four presidents. He and The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser served in the Moscow Bureau for the Washington Post.
James Barragán James Barragán
James Barragán is an Austin correspondent for The Dallas Morning News and covers politics, elections and policing. Prior to joining The News he worked at the Austin American-Statesman and The Los Angeles Times.
Nora Benavidez Nora Benavidez
Nora Benavidez is the director of U.S. Free Expression Programs, where she guides PEN America’s national advocacy agenda on First Amendment and free expression issues. Benavidez is a lawyer by training and, prior to joining PEN America, she worked in private practice as a civil and human rights litigator in Atlanta, Georgia. She has represented victims of unconstitutional police practices, First Amendment infringements, discrimination in public schools, and voting rights violations. In addition to her work as a litigator, Benavidez partnered with regional grassroots organizations and state and local legislative entities, advising and testifying on community-centered reforms in public safety, government transparency, criminal justice, and free speech.
Esmeralda Bermudez Esmeralda Bermudez
Esmeralda Bermudez writes narrative stories about the lives of Latinos for The Los Angeles Times. She was born in El Salvador, raised in the Los Angeles area and graduated from the University of Southern California. Before joining The Times in 2008, Bermudez worked at the Oregonian in Portland, covering city government and immigration. She has reported from Mexico and Guatemala where her coverage in 2006 won her the Guillermo Martinez-Marquez Award for Latin American Reporting. Bermudez was also a finalist for Livingston Award for International Reporting. In 2016, she was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
Stella M. Chávez Stella M. Chávez
Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter. Her journalism roots run deep. She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas.
Alfredo Corchado Alfredo Corchado
Alfredo Corchado is the Mexico Border correspondent for The Dallas Morning News and author of Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness. Born in Durango, Mexico, he was raised in California and Texas. He worked the fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley alongside his parents who were members of the United Farm Workers union led by Cesar Chavez. Corchado began his career in journalism at the El Paso Herald-Post, before working for the Wall Street Journal in 1987. He is a 2009 Nieman at Harvard and also a fellow at Woodrow Wilson, Rockefeller, Lannan, USMEX and IOP. He is a recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University in 2007.
Michael A. Fletcher Michael A. Fletcher
Michael Fletcher is a senior writer with ESPN’s enterprise/investigative team. Before that, he wrote for ESPN’s The Undefeated, focusing on politics, criminal justice and social issues. He spent 21 years at The Washington Post, where his beats included the national economy, the White House, and race relations. He is co-author of “Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas,” a critically acclaimed biography published by Doubleday in 2007. His work also has appeared as chapters in the books “Being a Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril,” “Sex, Race and Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment,” as well as “The Wire: Truth be Told,” a collection of essays based on the celebrated television series.
Leticia Gomez Leticia Gomez
Leticia Gomez serves as President of the Entertainment Division for Ascendant Group, one of the leading branding and marketing firms in the nation. She has distinguished herself as a prominent literary/film/television agent who has helped her clients secure deals with the largest publishers in the world and has seen several of her projects successfully optioned for TV and film rights. Leticia has worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades where she has published her own newspaper, authored and published three books, and edited numerous fiction and nonfiction manuscripts written in both English and Spanish that have gone on to publication. As a literary agent, she has placed close to 200 books with independent and mainstream traditional publishers. In January of 2007, Leticia launched Savvy Literary Services, becoming one of a highly select group of agencies in the world that specializes in bringing diverse voices to the forefront. Savvy Literary is now an industry leader specializing in Self-help, Narrative Non-fiction, Memoir, True Crime, Spiritual/Inspirational, Political/Current Affairs, Suspense/Thriller, Family Drama, and the Young Adult market. Championing the work of minority writers continues to be a top priority for the agency. She is currently serving as a Producer on the upcoming feature film “Bridges” starring Chris Routhe. Blending her experience as an author, literary/film/television agent and acquisition editor, she is now truly excited to spearhead her very own Hispanic book imprint Café con Leche Books (
Syeda Hasan Syeda Hasan
Syeda Hasan covers mental health for KERA News. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas. Before joining KERA, Syeda covered development and affordability at KUT News in Austin. She also worked as a general assignment reporter for Houston Public Media. Her work has been heard nationally on shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, PBS Newshour and Marketplace. She has won multiple Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association awards for her coverage of the Houston Rodeo food scene and barriers to housing for people with criminal backgrounds. Syeda got her start in public radio as an intern at KUT while earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a minor in French, at the University of Texas at Austin.
Jenny Herrera Jenny Herrera
Jennifer Herrera joined the David Black Agency in 2015 after working at Fletcher & Company and Europa Editions, where she was an early advocate of Elena Ferrante. She went to college in Ohio, where she studied Philosophy, French, and Russian, and has master’s degrees in Philosophy and Social Sciences.
She loves reading nonfiction books about big ideas and is particularly drawn to smart, issue-driven books, especially those with a social justice angle, as well as science, biography, psychology, philosophy, economics, prescriptive, lifestyle, and the stories of underrepresented groups.
Tom Huang Tom Huang
Tom Huang is Assistant Managing Editor for Journalism Initiatives at The Dallas Morning News, where he is leading an initiative to raise philanthropic funding to support public service journalism. As an adjunct faculty member of The Poynter Institute, he organizes seminars on writing, reporting and editing, and coaches in the Local News Innovation Program, which helps newsrooms make the transition to sustainable digital publishing. As an editor with the American Press Institute, he helps newsrooms present their best practices in digital transformation. In 2013, he was a Sulzberger fellow at Columbia University, where he studied executive leadership and journalism innovation. In 2016, he worked on the editing team of The Dallas Morning News’ coverage of the July 7 police ambush, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and engineering.
Tom Huang Cassandra Jarramillo
Cassandra Jaramillo is the Dallas Police Department reporter and joined The Dallas Morning News in 2016. She grew up in Southeast Texas and loves calling Dallas home now. She likes to write about public safety, criminal justice, and mental health.
Gromer Jeffers Gromer Jeffers
Gromer Jeffers is the political writer for The Dallas Morning News. A graduate of Howard University and native of Chicago, he came to The News as its City Hall reporter, where he covered the second term of Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. During his time at the newspaper, he has written about the administrations of mayors Laura Miller, Tom Leppert and Mike Rawlings. As The News’ political reporter, Gromer has covered national and local politics, including the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. He has also written extensively about Texas government and politics, including the administrations of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott. Before joining The News, he was a political reporter at The Kansas City Star and The Chicago Defender. You can catch Gromer every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on NBC-5’s Lone Star Politics.
Cynthia Koons Cynthia Koons
Cynthia Koons is a senior reporter based in New York writing features for Bloomberg News and Businessweek. She's written long-form stories on the women's libido pill, the security apparatus that protects Botox and the development of a drug to treat suicidal thinking. Cynthia covered the pharmaceutical industry for Bloomberg for six years, exploring in depth how drug makers maintain monopolies on some of the world's highest-priced drugs. Prior to this, Cynthia was a foreign correspondent in Hong Kong and Sydney for The Wall Street Journal and a Heard on the Street columnist. Cynthia covered the credit crisis in New York in her first business journalism assignment and covered crime and politics in Queens and New Jersey. She's won Front Page Awards for beat reporting, magazine feature writing and medical writing as well as honors from the Association of Health Care Journalists and National Press Club.
Anna Kuchment Anna Kuchment
Anna Kuchment is a staff science writer at The Dallas Morning News and a contributing editor at Scientific American. Previously, she spent 14 years as a reporter, writer and editor at Newsweek magazine. Her work has been recognized by the National Association of Science Writers, the Society for Features Journalism and the American Geophysical Union and is included in the 2018 volume of “The Best American Newspaper Narratives.” She is co-author of “Shaky Ground: The Untold Story of the Largest Earthquake Surge in Modern History” (The University of Chicago Press, 2021) about earthquakes linked to oil and gas production.
Kevin Merida Kevin Merida
Kevin Merida is a senior vice president at ESPN and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, a multimedia platform that explores the intersections of race, sports and culture. During his time at ESPN, Merida has overseen the Investigative/News Enterprise group and the television shows “Outside the Lines” and “E:60.” Before coming to ESPN in 2015, Merida spent 22 years at The Washington Post as a congressional correspondent, national political reporter, feature writer, magazine columnist, national editor and managing editor. 
He is the co-author of “Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas,” and “Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs.” He also is a contributor to and editor of “Being A Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril,” an anthology based on an award-winning Washington Post series.
Soroya Nadia McDonald Soroya Nadia McDonald
Soraya Nadia McDonald is the award-winning cultural critic for The Undefeated, ESPN’s premiere platform covering race, sports, and culture. She writes about film, television, and the arts. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism, and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on black life. Soraya is a contributing editor for Film Comment and has contributed criticism to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Her essay “‘Believe Me’ Means Believing That Black Women Are People” was published in the 2020 anthology Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World. Soraya was a 2018 Eugene O’Neill National Critics Institute fellow and she is a member of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Television Critics Association.
Ayesha Pande Ayesha Pande
Before launching her boutique agency, Ayesha was a senior editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux. She has also held editorial positions at HarperCollins and Crown Publishers. She is a member of AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives), PEN, the Asian American Writer’s Workshop and the Women’s Media Group. She has attended numerous writing conferences and has taught college level courses in editing. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University. Among her many wonderful clients are National Book Award Winner Ibram X. Kendi, PEN/Bingham Prize winner Danielle Evans, PEN/Bellwether Prize winner Lisa Ko, New York Times Bestseller Shilpi Somaya Gowda and PEN/Hemingway finalist Patricia Engel. Her interests are wide-ranging and include literary as well as popular fiction, young adult, women’s, African-American and international fiction. She is also seeking authors of nonfiction, including biography, history, popular culture, cultural commentary, and memoir. She is particularly drawn to distinctive, original voices. @agent_ayesha
John Parsley John Parsley
John Parsley oversees the editorial department of Dutton/Penguin and its imprints Plume, Caliber, and Tiny Reparations, while acquiring a focused list of nonfiction and fiction titles. Authors John has worked with have won or been finalists for the Books for a Better Life award, Edgar Award, Kirkus Prize, LA Times Book Prize, Lukas Prize, NBCC Award, NYT Notables, Orion Book Award, PEN Awards, Pulitzer Prize, and TIME 100, and appeared on Slate’s list of the last 25 years’ top nonfiction books.
Forthcoming titles include Annie Jacobsen’s First Platoon; Denise Kiernan’s We Gather Together; Ken Mack’s Obama biography; Anaïs Mitchell’s story of creating Hadestown, Working on a Song; and Jason Mott and Jonathan Evison’s next novels. Recent titles include Timothy Winegard’s bestselling history The Mosquito; Andre Iguodala’s bestselling memoir The Sixth Man, one of President Obama’s “favorite books”; and Gene Weingarten’s One Day, “one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the last 25 years” (Slate).
John serves on the Mayborn conference advisory board, was a Distinguished Guest of the Toronto Festival of Authors, and has presented on panels at the Asian American Writers Workshop, Franklin & Marshall’s Writers House and Women’s Center, and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.
Bill Rhoden Bill Rhoden
William C. Rhoden is a columnist and Editor-at-Large for The Undefeated, ESPN’s news site about sports, race and culture. He is curator of the Rhoden Fellows and is also the author of several books, including 40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete. Before joining The Undefeated, Rhoden wrote an award-winning sports column for the New York Times and appeared as a guest on ESPN’s Sports Reporters for nearly 30 years. Rhoden began his journalism his career as a news reporter at the Baltimore Afro American Newspaper. He was a senior editor with Ebony Magazine and then a columnist and jazz critic for the Baltimore Sun.

Rhoden attended Morgan State University in Baltimore where he majored in English.

Tom Rosenstiel Tom Rosenstiel
One of the most recognized thinkers in the country on the future of news, Tom Rosenstiel is the author of 10 books, including three novels. Before joining the American Press Institute in January 2013, he was founder and for 16 years director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, one of the five original projects of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. He was co-founder and vices chair of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His first novel, Shining City (2017), about a supreme court nomination, was an NPR Book of the Year. His second, The Good Lie (2019), about a terrorist incident, was a Washington Post best seller. His third, Oppo, about a presidential campaign, was published in December 2019.
Elena Schneider Elena Schneider
Elena Schneider is a national political reporter at POLITICO, where she covers the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and general election. Before jumping to presidential politics, Schneider reported on House, Senate and gubernatorial races during the 2018 and 2016 cycles at POLITICO. She also worked as a news assistant and a freelancer for the New York Times' DC bureau. Her work has also appeared in The Texas Tribune and Texas Monthly. She earned a master's and a bachelor's in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Schneider is a North Carolina native.
Doug J. Swanson Doug J. Swanson
Doug J. Swanson was for many years an investigative reporter and editor at The Dallas Morning News. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing, and was twice named the top reporter in Texas. He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and was a John S. Knight fellow in journalism at Stanford University. Cult of Glory is his seventh book. Swanson teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jamie Thompson Jamie Thompson
Jamie Thompson is the author of Standoff, a nonfiction account of the deadly Dallas police shooting of 2016. Her work has appeared in D Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, Tampa Bay Times, Texas Monthly and the Washington Post. She lives in Bethesda with her husband and two children.
Andrea Valdez Andrea Valdez
Andrea Valdez is the editor-in-chief of The 19th. Previously she served as editor-in-chief of the Texas Observer, editor of and editor of Texas Monthly's website. She wrote the book How to be a Texan: The Manual. She lives in Austin.
Mike Wilson Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson started his career at the Miami Herald, then worked for 18 years at the Tampa Bay Times, where he rose through the editing ranks to become managing editor. His staff won two Pulitzer prizes during his tenure. In 2013 he moved to ESPN in New York to become managing editor of Nate Silver’s data journalism website, FiveThirtyEight. In 2015 he was named editor of The Dallas Morning News, which has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times under his leadership. He is the author of two books, Right on the Edge of Crazy and The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison. He and his wife, Alisa, live in Dallas and have three grown children.