"It was a perfect choice for us," says Rosemary James, co-founder of the Faulkner Society and a director of the group's Big Read project. 'The novel is about life, jazz and hope " destroyed hopes and new hopes."
The novel about Jay Gatsby's aspirations, pursuit of wealth, dreams and eventual disillusionment is a classic American tale, and it seems to resonate in a city rebuilding from disaster in a country buoyed by election-year talk of change and hope. The 2008 Words & Music festival examines the "American Dream" in fiction, nonfiction, memoir, music and popular culture. The literary conference brings local and national writers, aspiring writers, critics, editors and musicians together for a long weekend of seminars, discussions, readings, parties and more.
"The American dream is so important to so many people," says James, who organizes the festival. "It gives them hope, something we need during these tough times."
One discussion panel features writers who have realized success through the Faulkner Society's activities. "The American Dream: Making it Big with a Debut Novel" features Julia Glass and Stewart O'Nan, both former winners of Faulkner Society writing contests. Glass won the gold medal for best novella for her manuscript "Collies," which she later incorporated into Three Junes, her debut novel, which earned the National Book Award (2002). In 1993, Stewart O'Nan won the society's first gold medal for best novel, which helped him advance. "It helped me find an agent and finally get that novel, Snow Angels, published," he says. "Without Joe (DeSalvo) and Rosemary (James) and the conference, that would have never happened, so I'm grateful."
Guest author Tony O'Neill struggled to get published, but came to writing from a different perspective. O'Neill was a successful musician, playing keyboards with Marc Almond, Kenicke and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, but heroin addiction forced him off track and into a rehabilitation clinic. While in rehab, he started writing as a medium for catharsis. The result was his first novel Digging the Vein.
"The American Dream: How We've Lost Our Way" is a workshop led by Jack Fuller, former CEO of the Tribune Corporation. He will discuss his new novel Abbeville, which chronicles three generations of a family that succumbs to ambitions and sacrifices its identity in search of success.
Real-life entrepreneur Ted Turner became a household name through his media empire and other enterprises. Turner will attend the festival and discuss his memoir Call Me Ted with interviewer Roy Blount Jr., a humorist and longtime friend of Turner. 'One thing about Ted Turner, he's never been about the money for its own sake," Blount says about Turner's ability to turn ideas into reality. "He's pulled off all sorts of substantial innovations, and would have done more if it hadn't been for number-crunchers' resistance."
Festival panels cover everything from fiction, nonfiction and critical writing to how to work with agents, publishers, Hollywood and other industries. There is even a workshop for creative writing in French. Featured speakers include Amanda Boyden (Babylon Rolling), Tom Piazza (City of Refuge), James Nolan (Perpetual Care), Julia Reed (The House on First Street), journalist Ken Wells (The Good Pirates of Forgotten Bayous), jazz critic Stanley Crouch, poet Gordon Walmsley (Double Paint) and others. See the Web site for a full schedule of events and associated writing programs and contests.