My Ideal Book Conference Panel | Discussion

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Hello, everyone! I hope you’re having a fantastic day! Recently I was contacted by Eventbrite, the largest self-service ticketing platform in the world, to write a post as part of their effort to promote local event-planning. Eventbrite works with people to find and plan successful, fun, and exciting events in their areas. If you would like to check out their services, you can do so by visiting their conference management page.

I ultimately agreed to write this post because I love the prompt that I was given: What would my dream book conference panel look like? Who would speak and what would they discuss?

At first thought a few obvious names popped into my head, such as J.K. Rowling, John Green, and Maggie Stiefvater. However, after some thought I realized what would be even more incredible than speaking with these contemporary authors: hearing from those writers who can no longer voice their opinions. In particular, I would be interested to know what fueled their writing, how often they drew on their own personal experiences, and perhaps what their views would be on a few contentions modern-day issues.

Another aspect I’ve thought about when constructing my ideal panel is representation; in other words, whose voices haven’t been heard as loudly or clearly as those of others throughout history? With this in mind I’ve decided to create a panel of women writers in an effort to gain a clearer, fuller, uncensored understanding of their perspectives. There are many women writers whose views would be fascinating to hear more about, but for the sake of this post I have only chosen two:

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Born in 1873 in Virginia, Willa Cather led a life of remarkable independence and achievement. Not only was she a gifted writer (as her novel My Ántonia can surely attest) but she was also a very interesting person in the way that she bent gender norms of the time period. Defying the traditional role of women as dutiful wives, Cather never married and managed to financially support herself through teaching, editing, and the publication of her own writing. Even more intriguing was the way she adopted masculine dress and hairstyles as well as a masculine point of view in much of her fictional work. The majority of her close friends were women and it was rumored that she had sexual relations with Edith Lewis, with whom she lived for nearly forty years.

mte5ndg0mdu0ote3ndq5mjmxThough I wouldn’t want to pry too pointedly into her personal life, I would love to hear her answers to the following questions:

  • Did you purposefully set out to play with gender norms and identities in your writing or was it something that was incorporated naturally as your characters developed?
  • What was it like to live so independently during a time when women were viewed as always being dependent on men?
  • Any advice for modern women trying to do the same?
  • What are your thoughts on current debates surrounding sexuality and gender?

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Since reading Gone with the Wind over the summer I’ve been eager to learn more about the author of this hefty tome. Born in 1900 in Georgia, Margaret Mitchell (also known by her pseudonym Peggy Mitchell) wrote primarily as a journalist and published only a single novel during her lifetime. Largely inspired and influenced by the Civil War stories of her older family members, Mitchell turned to this tumultuous time period when she decided to write a novel while recovering from an ankle injury. However, despite its immense popularity among readers of the general public, the novel has been frequently criticized for perpetuating issues involving race relations through its portrayal of African Americans and the Civil War South.

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Needless to say, I’d be ecstatic to have the opportunity to ask this influential writer the following questions:

  • Did you draw on your own life experiences and those of your relatives a lot while writing Gone with the Wind? 
  • In what ways, if any, is the character Scarlett O’Hara a reflection of yourself?
  • Did you ever want to write another novel?
  • What is your response to the criticism your novel has received?
  • Was your intent to entertain? Educate? Both? Neither?
  • What are your thoughts on current race relations issues in the United States?

That concludes my bookish panel! It may seem short, but I would much rather have time to go in-depth with these two women than only be able to hear a few words from a large group of authors. Big thanks to Everbrite for sparking this fun and interesting discussion!

What would your dream book conference panel look like? Who would speak and what questions would you ask? What do you think of my bookish panel? Have you ever been to a book conference panel in real life? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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8 thoughts on “My Ideal Book Conference Panel | Discussion

  1. Very cool topic and concept! I like your choices, as I’m also interested in hearing about Cather’s perspective on how her stories are studied in school. I personally would also choose L, M, Montgomery (childhood favorite, and also led quite a different life from a lot of women at that time), and Agatha Christie, because I want to know how she thought up some of her mysteries! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ooooh, those are such good ideas for speakers! I’ve never read anything by L.M. Montgomery, but I would definitely love to hear what Agatha Christie would have to say. Why is mystery her genre of choice? What is her inspiration for all of her unique stories? I bet she would be fascinating to talk to!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Mary Rubio wrote an EXCELLENT biography on Montgomery (The Gift of Wings), & has edited Montgomery’s journals. You might love both. I’ve read the biography and one volume of the five-volume set of journals — the ones written from 1910-1921. Taught me A LOT. 🙂

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  2. I can try to answer your Peggy questions! These answers are all drawn from my brain as I type, & I’m not taking much time to reflect. Just typing what U’d say in conversation face-to-face, drawing on my knowledge. I’m not citing any sources as I type, but I’ve read a lot of her letters, her 1920s journals, and the biographies about her. Clearly, such sources offer only a fragmented portrait of a real-life woman, but I may be able to answer a few of these from memory and personal assessment on the big picture I’ve developed so far. Your last question is the hardest because I have no way of knowing.

    Take my responses for what they are. 🙂

    Did you draw on your own life experiences and those of your relatives a lot while writing Gone with the Wind? – For the history of the war, details of the war, etc, she drew on the Confederate history told to her when she was a little girl by survivors of the war who were still living. After the book was accepted for publication, she scoured newspapers to verify her facts — most of which were spot-on. She also read A LOT, and has cited in letters several books she read, including Grant’s and Sherman’s memoirs and journals of girls in Georgia during the war, and the America Civil War novels of Mary Johnston. Prissy was apparently based on a real person she knew (I strongly feel I’m correct on this point — I read it in some letter, but obviously I may be misremembering — also, Prissy is the character she’d have wanted to play if she was in the film), but everyone else in the book was drawn from imagination. However, her maternal grandmother Annie Fitzgerald lived in Atlanta during Sherman’s March & was reportedly a very keen business mind… and a bully to the end of her life. 🙂

    Tara is reportedly like the Fitzgerald mansion where this grandmother “Annie” was raised. THE CHIMNEY SURVIVES AND I HAVE TOUCHED IT. It’s in current-day Clayton Country. In which I walked right by it and had no idea it was the almost chimney of the real Tara! 🙂 Rhett may have been inspired by a college friend, Allen Edee, as well as her first husband Red, and her paternal grandfather (a lumber man who made LOTS of money in Atlanta.)

    Her own mother died of Spanish Influenza when she was in college in Massachusetts. She’d only just received word her fiance had died in the war in France. She raced home to be with her mother, but was too late. I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but you can imagine where I assume this inspired the novel.

    Her first husband, Red, was violent after they married. He was a bootlegger and beat her and raped her not long after they married, then abandoned her. She was terrified of him and slept with a gun under her pillow for the rest of her life.

    In what ways, if any, is the character Scarlett O’Hara a reflection of yourself? Mitchell wasn’t all that much like Scarlett. Mitchell was far more like Rhett, imho. She did date two men simultaneously in Atlanta in the 1920s, just to irritate her father and her grandmother Annie Fitzgerald, with whom she fought often, after her mother died. But that was more, I think, teenage/early twenties rebellion than a personality trait. She was actually extremely shy. She just covered it up because she had to to get on in the world. She was extremely bookish — more like Ashley and Melanie. She adored reading. Her brother said she’d read most of the English novels before she was twelve. She was quite blunt and frank, like Scarlett, but never in a cold way. People remembered her as gentle, soft-spoken, and simultaneously hysterical. She loved to tell ghost stories. She said that her favorite thing in the whole world was to listen to people talk about something they cared about: especially older people who had lived in history. She believed in being courteous and polite and honest. I say she was more like Rhett, because I believe she was extremely, extremely intelligent, and observant, and she held a cynical view of people, though she wouldn’t have told them she held one. Not people who were kind, but people who manipulated or tried to cheat through life. She would wryly observe them, sort of in the same way as Rhett. If you met her, you’d probably just think she was small, and funny, and lively. That’s how most people remembered her (from what I’ve read.)

    Here she is camping on Stone Mountain in Georgia, early 1920s.

    Also, she looks like Scarlett in her pictures (dark hair.) In reality she had blue eyes and auburn hair. Her heritage (and Vivien Leigh’s, and Scarlett’s) was French and Irish.

    PLEASE note that her great grandparents who lived in the Fitzgerald home in Clayton County, Georgia near the Jonesboro station were Philip FitzGERALD (Gerald O’Hara) and ELEanor McGhann (Ellen O’Hara). He came over from Ireland and married her in the 1830s when he was forty and she was twenty, and their daughter Annie moved to Atlanta when she was older and lived through Sherman’s March, and became an owner of businesses and bullied people out of money and was cold and strong when her daughter gave birth to a little girl named Margaret Mitchell in 1900. I KNOW.

    Did you ever want to write another novel? Mitchell said she hated writing and would never write again because the whole process was exhausting. However, she may have been working on another American Civil War novel when she died. This one was through the point of view of the soldiers in the battle. All of her work was destroyed at her request at her death. She said until the day she died that there was to be no sequel to Gone with the Wind The ending was the way it ended, and there was nothing else to say.

    What is your response to the criticism your novel has received? Mitchell always appreciated frank criticism of her style and work. She never complained when she got a harsh review, unless it was blatantly mistaken (accusing her of wrong facts, etc. Then she’d hunt up proof of the facts and demand a retraction.) She was accused of racism in her own time and was always completely stunned. She said Mammy is the wisest, most honorable, most intelligent character in the book. She couldn’t wrap her mind around criticism of her

    Was your intent to entertain? Educate? Both? Neither? To entertain. She always said that people read to much into Gone with the Wind when they started talking of Old and New South in the characters, and such. She just wanted “to tell a good yarn.” She disliked the new modernist style which was all style and no story, according to her. She worked hard to remove all that from her book and leave behind the most important part — the story.

    What are your thoughts on current race relations issues in the United States? Obviously this is really tough to answer, since she died in 1949. I can say that she was very, very uncomfortable with the way things were in Jim Crow Atlanta. She funded the education of black medical students in Georgia. She also tended to vote conservative, I think, so it’s really hard to gauge this. My personal feeling is that she would have grown along with the rest of the South. (My people were Confederates in Atlanta in the American Civil War, & I turned out mighty fine!) 🙂

    She was very socially aware. Her second husband was a feminist sort (from what I’ve read) and they were two peas in a pod. He believed, alongside her, in equality. Apparently they would hold discussions on various topics in their apartment in the 1920s, and sometimes the topic was race relations in Atlanta. These were debates of a sort. The point? She was thinking, & reassessing. She didn’t like FD Roosevelt. (She didn’t believe in big government.)

    I believe that at first she liked Eugene Talmadge (governor of Georgia — yuk.) But I believe as he governed Georgia, she grew disenchanted with him. I haven’t read why, or if I have, I’ve forgotten. He was, to say the very least, backward in his ideas of equality. This may have been how he soured for her.

    I hope my answers are of some use, since we cannot simply ask our friend Peggy. Meanwhile, CAN I COME To THIS DINNER TOO? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry, I mean can I come to the book conference panel too, if you have Mitchell there. But honestly, I think we should invite her to dinner too!! 😀 Pardon typos above. SO did not proofread. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me again. My goodness I say a lot above. I wanted to add: when she was dating two men at once in the 1920s, this was an issue because she was a debutante, so everything she did was reported in the society pages in Atlanta and reflected on her family. She was mad because she found the whole “debutante” thing stupid. She didn’t want to be out on display, I think — sold like a mare! Her father and grandmother insisted she do it, and she found it so last century. So she decided to do shocking things that would embarrass them. If they were going to make her do it, she might as well make her time as a debutante maddening for them all. So she took on two roommates (best friends): John and Red. She told them she was mighty fond of both, but she couldn’t decide which she preferred, so she would often go out with one in the first half of the evening, and then switch off to the second one later that night. Atlanta was horrified. TWO BOYFRIENDS. She was very blatant about it. One time she went out to the movies, as I recall, with both at the same time. Everyone knew she was dating them both and no one could guess which she’d pick. Finally she picked Red. John was the best man. Then Red turned sour, so she divorced him and married John. 🙂

        She also had the nickname “the company fiance” while she was in her twenties. Once she was in the hospital for an operation, and the nurses were astonished when about eight men showed up at once to ask her to marry them. She always bluntly told them she’d never marry any of them, but if they wanted to keep trying, she liked their company. They all kissed her before the nurse’s eyes and astonished everyone. 😉

        Hard to believe she was shy, but she was! It just didn’t pay to be shy, so she pretended she wasn’t, and eventually it wore off.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. WHOA. I’m SO impressed by all of your incredible Peggy knowledge!!!!

      I think it’s really interesting that she was actually more like Rhett than Scarlett, but that makes sense given what you’ve shared. I also love learning about all of the little personal detail that she has worked into the story, like the connection between the names of her great grandparents and those of Scarlett’s parents.

      I also think it’s fascinating that she wrote to entertain, not strictly to educate her readers on the Civil War. Often times, especially in literature classes, we get so caught up in closely reading and analyzing the text that we forget that perhaps it was never meant to be read that way. I don’t think the author’s initial intention necessarily dictates whether or not we should be analyzing and interpreting texts, but it’s something to think about, anyways.

      And you can DEFINITELY come to this book panel! Thanks so much for your answers to my questions! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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