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by Zachary Benavidez

I can’t believe it’s already over.  The 16th Annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference has come and gone, and what a whirlwind kind of day it was!  The students arrived bright and early, ready to staff registration, put up signs, and walk conference attendees to their workshops.  At midday, Maureen Corrigan, the Georgetown English professor best known for her role as an NPR book critic, gave a stellar keynote on why The Great Gatsby remains influential to this day.  She said, “People reach for The Great Gatsby to explain America, especially today, considering we’re on the verge of falling into something and we don’t know what that is.”

The magic moment came when Maxine Hong Kingston was honored with this year’s Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.  She spoke, too, of Gatsby, of how she found the book on her own – unlike most of us who were “forced” to read it in high school – and how she marveled at the language.  She also read from her book, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, which is a memoir in free-verse, and a funny one too!  In the book, Kingston (now 70), reflects on turning 65, and she does so with mirrors, the literal and the figurative kind.

The highlight for 15 Montgomery College students was a master class with Kingston.  She began the class with silence – stressing the importance of honoring the moment before writing, before work – and she ended in silence.  She also reminded the class that there are so many stereotypical images of writers, especially that of the disturbed or troubled writer, or the writer who eventually commits suicide.  She said, “You do not have to kill yourself to be a good poet…. A healthy person can still be a good artist.”  She pointed to herself as an example.

The highlight for me was walking Ms. Kingston to the campus TV studio for her taped interview; on the way, we talked about her growing up in California – she’s a Cali Girl – and about life after teaching (she considers conferences to be teaching experiences).  Before I knew it, the interview was over, and I had walked her back to her waiting husband, and I started my own journey home.  Like I said, a whirlwind day, a fantastic one.  Let’s do it again!

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