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Sun Valley Writers’ Conference Unveiled
The annual Writers’ Conference is the premier literary event in the Valley. If you love to read or write it’s a “must see.” The SVM staff interviewed a few stars of last year’s conference.
Despite being a native New Englander, S.C. “Sam” Gwynne has really made a name for himself as a Texan. The award-winning journalist spoke about his Pulitzer Prize-nominated, historical book, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History to a packed Sun Valley Pavilion last summer. Gwynne jokingly entitled his talk about the brutal opening of the American West: “Connecticut Yankee too dumb to know any better stumbles upon Old Western frontier.”
MM: Did you enjoy speaking at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference?
SCG: It was a phenomenal experience. Everyone was so helpful and friendly and organized. Great crowds, great facilities, beautiful location. You can’t beat the atmosphere or the peer group as a writer.
MM: My dad actually gave me a copy of the book while we were visiting him on Cape Cod, which seems like a long way away to be reading about the bloody history of West Texas. What inspired you to write this story and why do think it has done so well?
SCG: I thought it was a good story that very few people outside of Texas seemed to know about. It’s gone beyond everything I expected (spending more than 80 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list). Even though it’s a “blood and guts” Western book, half of the readers are women. I think it’s because it has a solid two-part structure. No matter where you are in the large back story about the Comanches, you’re never far from the intimate front story of the Parkers.
MM: Is part of the appeal of the book because the Parkers (a family that still has descendents in Texas) is a story about the ultimate Western pioneers?
SCG: The Parkers are the ultimate pioneer family, the essence of what an American pioneer was all about. They are the reason why so many Americans moved West. They were hard-nosed people who were able to carve out an existence for themselves.
MM: Had you been to Idaho before and would you like to return?
SCG: Yes, once in 1980, and, yes, I definitely would. -Mike McKenna
This is not the first time producer Elise Pearlstein (Oscar-nominee for “Food, Inc.”) and director Jessica Yu have teamed up to cause a political stir through documentary filmmaking. Working together for 10 years on projects like “Protagonist” and “The Living Museum,” they joined together to focus on “the most pressing issue of our time and our future”—the water crisis. During the 2012 summer Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, where “Last Call at the Oasis” was screened, Pearlstein shared her thoughts with Sun Valley Magazine about the film, and what the water crisis means for future generations.
KE: Why did you want to make a film about water?
EP: I hope that it will be a wake-up call because there’s nothing we depend on more than water. Everybody is ultimately affected by the fact that you need water to grow food and, right now, we’re in the worst drought that we’ve had since the Dust Bowl.
KE: You focus on four different regions in the film—Australia, Singapore, the Middle East and the United States. Why are those particular areas significant?
EP: When we were filming, Australia was going through one of the worst droughts they’d ever faced and all the issues that Australian farmers were facing, California farmers will face in 15 years. So it’s a bit of a cautionary tale—what will happen if we do nothing?
Contrarily, Singapore is one of the most proactive and advanced places in the world with its water policy. They now are literally the leaders of water technology in desalinization, recycled water and recycled sewage water. They even harvest their rain. So we look to Singapore as a way to be proactive. In the Middle East, we found an organization of Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians who are all collaborating to improve the quality of the Jordan River, because it is a shared water source. We were inspired by what they were doing—taking tension as an opportunity to cooperate rather than create more conflict. And in the United States, we have a lot to learn. We consume a lot of water without really taking water issues into account.- Kate Elgee
Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, Abraham Verghese, MD, MACP, is Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. Few have combined with such skill and precision a career as physician and that as author. Verghese has had success with both non-fiction and his most recent title, Cutting for Stone, a work of fiction that has sold over a million copies and has been on The New York Times Paperback Fiction list for more than two years.
LS: You are a doctor, what prompted you to begin a writing career?
AV: The initial impulse was from living through the extraordinary experience in Tennessee in the mid 80s with HIV and the sense that I was living through “A Great American Story.” I felt this great desire to tell the story. I wrote a scientific paper describing this phenomenon of having so many men with HIV in this small town in Tennessee, and even as I wrote it, I felt that the cold and unimaginative language of science didn’t begin to explain the heartache that was going on in that small town in Tennessee. And that was really the moment that I became a writer seriously.
LS: How is science changing the practice of medicine?
AV:Technology is advancing medicine. Absolutely. We have all these biologicals for treating cancers now that require us to understand them at a molecular level. But I think the great danger is that it is hard for that to be delivered by anything other than a big institution and a team of people. In the process, the patient-physician relationship, which has a sacredness around it, is greatly jeopardized.
LS: What is your definition of healing?
AV: It’s easy for science to deal with the disease in an abstract fashion. But the disease is always occurring in an individual, which immediately changes everything. It’s not enough to deal with the disease and treat the disease; you have to also understand and treat the patient. And I think that distinction is the distinction between healing and curing. … In other words, there are many diseases that you can fix, but just by fixing them you haven’t satisfied the patient. And conversely, there are many diseases that you can’t fix, but you can still do something to satisfy the patient and to make them feel better. -Laurie Sammis