UNT Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference announces theme, dates, contests, and speakers

Hidden Figures author, Dr. Death host and Pulitzer Prize winners among the highlights


Photo: Download pictures from last year’s event.

DENTON (UNT), Texas — An annual event for journalists, writers and lovers of great storytelling has big plans for 2019: tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the United States today.

Justice in America” has been announced as the theme for the 15th annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which will be held July 19 – 21, 2019, in Grapevine, Texas. The conference is hosted by the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism and its Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. Each year, conference attendees hear from some of the nation’s top narrative nonfiction voices and learn ways that journalists, writers, students and educators alike can grow in their craft. Registration is underway athttps://www.themayborn.com/registration. The $400 early bird price for general admission ends March 31, 2019.


Along with the theme, conference organizers have announced the first wave of speakers. Among this year’s highlights:

  • Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter and a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow known for her role in “reshaping national conversations around education reform” and for her reporting on racial re-segregation in schools and racial injustice.
  • Taylor Branch, an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, “America in the King Years.” The trilogy’s first book, “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63,” won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: “Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65,” and “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.”
  • Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” which was later turned into an Oscar-nominated film.
  • Walter Kirn, an American true crime novelist, literary critic and essayist, most notably author of “Up in the Air,” which was made into a movie starring George Clooney.
  • Hampton Sides, an acclaimed journalist known for bestselling histories and gripping nonfiction adventures set in war zones or depicting epic expeditions, including “Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission.”
  • Laura Beil, a freelance medical journalist for the “New York Times,” “Texas Monthly” and others, as well as host of the Death podcast, which tells the story of a Dallas neurosurgeon and a medical system that failed to protect his patients. The podcast was downloaded more than 25 million times.
  • Pamela Colloff, an award-winning “ProPublica” senior writer and the “New York Times Magazine” writer-at-large. Her 2010 story, “Innocence Lost,” featured a wrongly convicted death row inmate and helped win the man, Anthony Graves, his freedom after 18 years behind bars.
  • Ben Fountain, Dallas-based author of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which was adapted into a feature film. Most recently, the fiction novelist crossed over into nonfiction for “Beautiful Country Burn Again: Democracy, Rebellion and Revolution,” a book that recounts a “surreal year of politics and an exploration of the third American existential crisis.”
  • Sonia Nazario, award-winning journalist and author of “Enrique’s Journey,” a powerful piece that recounts the quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mom 11 years after she leaves her starving family to find work in the U.S.
  • Additional speaker names and schedule will be updated regularly on the Mayborn Conference website, themayborn.com.


The conference also hosts opportunities for writers to publish their work or win cash awards and trophies. Learn more about the competitions at https://www.themayborn.com/contests. Among the contest opportunities available:

  • Reported Narrative, Personal Essay and Book Manuscript Writing Contests: Each contest awards $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 to the first, second and third place winners respectively. The Book Manuscript competition also awards a provisional book contract by UNT Press to the first-place winner. Deadline to enter is May 1, 2019.
  • Mayborn Fellowship in Biography: In partnership with Biographers International, the contest provides a unique opportunity for an emerging biographer to hone their work during a period of uninterrupted time and mentorship from distinguished biographer James McGrath Morris during a two- to three-week creative residency with him in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Deadline to enter is April 1, 2019.
  • Young Spurs Writing Contest: Designed for high school and community college students, winners receive complimentary registration to the conference and accommodations. Deadline to enter is March 24, 2019. 

Mayborn School of Journalism Multimedia High School Workshop

This five-day residential workshop gives high school students hands-on experience in multimedia storytelling and the art of journalism. Students spend the first few days chronicling the conference in Grapevine and then the remaining time on the UNT campus reporting on those stories. The fee is $250. Deadline to enroll is March 1, 2019.