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Oldies but still Goodies

Returning Home…

Gertrude, Sprout and I just got back from our first big trip. The good news was that Sprout swept the gold in the Quiet Baby on an Airplane Olympic Games on the way out. The bad news was that on the way back, she looked at us and said, “Are you people nuts? I’m two months old! One city maybe, but three cities in two countries? You’re lunatics and I am going to make you feel my small but potent wrath.”

We embarked on an itinerary that I don’t believe has ever been explored by man (or sprout) before: Florida for Gertrude’s family and for Aurelia (Sprout’s real name) to meet her grandpa and great grandpa for the first time; then Idaho where I returned to my hometown and participated in a local Writers’ Conference, and then Edinburgh Scotland where I took part in the Bookfest and Book Fringe. More on Florida and Scotland later.

The Sun Valley Writers’ Conference is nothing short of a miracle of a writers’ event. It’s taken place every summer for the last 17 years in the heart of the Idaho mountains in a tiny town you’ve either never heard of, or always wanted to visit. There have been luminary names each year. This year, because of the day job, I was extraordinarily excited to listen to the keynote speaker, Walter Isaacson who talked about the vision and legacy of Steve Jobs. On the Saturday night, the voice of my childhood who each night told us what the flavour of the universe was, Tom Brokaw, spoke compellingly about his faith in our future as Democrats and Republicans, as Americans, and as Humans. It was inspiring.

But on a personal level, this was also a very powerful homecoming. During the summers of 1998, 1999, and 2000, I had been a volunteer at this conference. For the duration of the event, I worked as an Ambassador driving around writers so that they never wanted for transport during their stays. The first writer I drove around was journalist David Halberstam. I’d been particularly keen because he’d written one of the bibles of rowing literature that everyone on my rowing team read at University, “The Amateurs” a story of 4 young men’s quests to represent the US at the 1980 Olympics. I also drove around Peter Matthiessen, author of “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and “In the Spirit of Crazyhorse.” I gave picked Dave Eggers up at the airport, and gave Frank McCourt a ride home from dinner one night. And though I never gave him a ride, I enjoyed meeting Mark Salzman, the fellow Yale grad whose first book, “Iron and Silk”, a memoir about his time studying martial arts and teaching English in China I had used in a long final thesis paper I wrote in high school. I even picked up at the airport a very talented novelist named Jennifer Van Der Bes who is turns out was one of my classmates at Yale. We didn’t figure this out until we plowed the through requisite small talk on the drive into town.

The reward was free access to the conference events and a thoroughly filled creative battery. But this year, after the publication of “Things to do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park”, I returned as an author. There was something almost deliciously illicit about staying in a hotel in my hometown!

The great fun of the conference came in the little things: taking a ride up the new gondola to a mountain top restaurant I used to take refuge in on midwinter mornings with cocoa and brownies when I was 10. This was on the opening day of the conference where attendees were encouraged to go play and take advantage of the lovely mountain town, a town that I left 20 years ago because the valley walls had felt like barriers against creativity, but which now felt like levees working to keep the swirling eddy of my nostalgia roiling around in my heart and beckoning me back home.

As the conference had never hosted a graphic novelist, I gave a talk on Saturday morning about “What is a Graphic Novel? Why should you read Graphic Novels? And why should you read my Graphic Novel?” I had home court advantage, people who wanted me to do well, and my mom! But it did seem to go down well. But the talk, though the official reason I was there, was the smallest part of the conference for me. That’s because:

I got to meet Sam Gwynne, author of “Empire of the Summer Moon,” John Vaillant, author of “The Tiger,”, author of “The Art of Fielding“, Deborah Kogan, author of “Shutterbabe” and “Hell is Other Parents“, But the most fun I had was in attending the other talks, listen to the other writers and harassing them with my sketchbook.

I’ll post more about the other authors I got to know and the sketches I drew later. And Scotland, quite necessarily, will get its own post later!

Until then,

Nye (AKA George…)

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