#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with Thomas Mallon

AWP | December 2016

Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Marlon James and Thomas Mallon
Description: Join us for a reading and conversation with Marlon James and Thomas Mallon, two writers whose work explores historical events and figures to tell larger stories about a time and place. James’s most recent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is centered on an attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976, and it won many prestigious awards. Mallon has written nine novels, in addition to nonfiction, letters, and essays, and he is the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships and his novel Watergate was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. His most recent book, Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years is a New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2015. The moderator of this discussion, Maureen Corrigan, is NPR’s Fresh Air book critic, as well as critic in residence and lecturer at Georgetown University.
Participants: Thomas Mallon and Marlon James
Location: Ballroom A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three
Date & Time: Saturday, February 11, 3:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.

Q: What are some of the conference events or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I'm hoping to hear the keynote address from my friend and Washington neighbor Azar Nafisi, and to see Margot Livesey, another featured presenter, whose inventive and always-changing work I've long admired.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Mercury, the new novel by Margot Livesey; The Dream Life of Astronauts, an excellent new story collection from Patrick Ryan; and The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931-1965, a wonderful mid-century American novelist who experienced a revival about twenty years ago and who I now fear may be dropping back into obscurity.

Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs. Now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: What's changed most are the English departments in which creative writing programs are typically housed. Fifty years ago, a CW program was often regarded with suspicion, seen as the least intellectually rigorous component of a department whose mission was literary scholarship. Today, when the scholarly activity of most English departments is a ridiculous hash of cultural studies, agitprop, and pop-cultural nonsense, creative-writing programs are often the only serious component of the department. They offer to undergraduates the handful of courses in which they can explore the craft and aesthetics of literary works, courses in which fiction and poetry can be read as things unto themselves and not dreary "signifiers" of a culture being misperceived and obfuscated—all at once—by professors of literature. 

Q: If you’ve been to Washington, DC, what places do you recommend our attendees visit?
A: Washington is where I live, and the first book I set here was a novel called Henry and Clara, about the couple who shared the Lincolns' box at Ford's Theatre on the night of the President's assassination. If you want to experience a couple of blocks that retain much of the city Lincoln lived in, stroll down F Street between 7th and 9th. On one side you'll find the National Portrait Gallery (once the Patent Office and the site of Lincoln's second inaugural ball) and on the other (what's now the Hotel Monaco) the building that housed the city's post office during the Civil War.  

Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP17, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: I'd hope to run into George Orwell, to hear what he had to say about all the rubbish and cant talked in this country on both the left and the right. But before we got started I'd ask him to join me in search of Christopher Hitchens, so that the three of us could sit down and talk over drinks.


Thomas Mallon Thomas Mallon’s nine books of fiction include Henry and Clara, Fellow Travelers, Watergate (a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award), and most recently, Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years. He has also written volumes of nonfiction about plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever), and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two books of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact). His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Vursell Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for distinguished prose style.

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