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Writing Class in McMurtry’s Archer City Inspires Students

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June 1 – June 8, 2006 Edition

Writing Class
in McMurtry’s Archer
City Inspires Students

DENTON (UNT), TX/5/29/2006—In the tiny Texas town of Archer City, where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry grew up and later opened a bookstore, University of North Texas student Paul Knight found the inspiration to revive his love of journalism.

“It’s almost a cliché, but it’s a treasure chest of material,” Knight said of Archer City. “The characters there and the landscape —it lends itself perfectly to storytelling.”

Knight will return to Archer City this summer for the Creative Nonfiction course—a three-week intensive writing class offered July 10 (Monday) through July 27 (Thursday) in Archer City’s historic Spur Hotel. The course is offered as part of the 2nd annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest, sponsored by the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at UNT.

Cut off from cell phone signals and the bustle of city life, students will practice their craft and study the works of top literary nonfiction writers in the former hometown of McMurtry, a 1958 graduate of North Texas State College (now UNT). Works to be studied include McMurtry’s “In a Narrow Grave,” “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen” and “Lonesome Dove.”

The course is primarily aimed toward graduate and undergraduate students studying journalism and English, but is available to all students with an interest in storytelling. One week after the class begins, students will attend the Mayborn conference from July 14 to July 16 (Friday through Sunday afternoon) at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas (about five minutes from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport). Admission to the conference is included in the course.

“It’s the land of Larry McMurtry and his great vision, his great imagination,” said George Getschow, conference writer-in-residence and instructor of the course.

McMurtry’s sister, Sue Deen, will join the class this year both as student and a resource on McMurtry’s work. A rancher who was a barrel racer and rodeo queen in her youth, Deen opened and operated her brother’s first bookstore in Archer City for several years.

“I think it’s good for the town, good for the hotel and the bookstores and for me personally to see different people who have different ideas,” she said. “It’s a peaceful place where they can write.”

At the conference, students will have the chance to talk with top literary agents, publishers, authors and editors. Legendary writer Gay Talese—author of such nonfiction bestsellers as “The Kingdom and the Power” and “Honor Thy Father”—will speak at 6 p.m. July 15 (Saturday).

Other speakers include: Hampton Sides, author of the nonfiction best-seller “Ghost Soldiers,” a book recently made into a motion picture, “The Great Raid;” Melissa Fay Greene, author of “Praying for Sheetrock,” a National Book Award finalist, and “Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster;” Ron Powers, author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” which has been developed as a movie by Steven Spielberg with Clint Eastwood directing; and Kurt Eichenwald, a senior writer for The New York Times and author of “Conspiracy of Fools,” a bestseller about the Enron scandal. Eichenwald’s previous book, “The Informant,” is in development as a major motion picture directed by Steven Soderbergh. His New York Times investigative report about a 13-year-old boy who sold images of himself on a Webcam has also received international attention.

Located about 140 miles northwest of Dallas, Archer City resembles the fictional one-stoplight town of Thalia, Texas, in McMurtry’s book, “The Last Picture Show.” While sitting on the steps of the iconic Royal Theater, UNT student Brantley Hargrove was inspired to write during last year’s class.

“This class opened my eyes to another discipline of journalism with more long-form narrative type writing. It set me on fire for writing,” Hargrove said. “You live in the city, in a college town, and you almost forget places like this exist. It’s very inspirational.”

Motivated by the course, Hargrove plans to work as a ranch hand in Uvalde County, southwest of San Antonio, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism in May. He plans to gather material for a book.

Knight, the other UNT student, has delayed his graduation from UNT with a bachelor’s degree in news-editorial journalism just to attend the class for a second time. He returned to Archer City several times after last year’s class ended and even got a chance to hold McMurtry’s Oscar statue and Golden Globe award. After graduation, Knight plans to move to Archer City to write a book.

“I think everyone in the course had some sort of self-discovery experience,” Knight said. “I would suggest this to anyone who wants to be a writer.”

Others speaking at the conference include: H.W. Brands, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin,” a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “Lone Star Nation” and “The Age of Gold;” and Sonia Nazario, a Los Angeles Times reporter and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her series titled “Enrique’s Journey,” about a Honduran boy’s search for his mother in the United States. Random House recently released her book by the same name, and HBO is producing the miniseries.

For more information, visit mayborninstitute.unt.edu, e-mail MaybornConferenceInfo@unt.edu or call (940) 565-4564.

The Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at UNT was founded in 1999 through a gift from the Frank W. and Sue Mayborn Foundation Advise and Consult Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas, Inc. Through this gift, the Mayborn Institute is able to offer $200,000 in scholarships every year. The institute is named for longtime newspaper publisher and civic leader Frank W. Mayborn, who owned the Temple Daily Telegram, Killeen Daily Herald and KCEN-TV, Temple’s NBC affiliate, before his death in 1987.

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