Monday, July 30, 2012

Wordcraft -- To bear witness

Today’s guest writer is Julianne McCullagh, with reflections from this month’s 2012 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, sponsored by the Mayborn School of Journalism, at the University of North Texas.


If you are at a writer’s conference and the first speaker of the weekend shares with you his ‘moment of grace’ where he received his commission in life, you should sit a little straighter, lean forward and tune up your hearing.

Luis Alberto Urrea went on a mission trip as a young man; he came back a writer.

What was this ‘moment of grace’, as he called it? He and his pastor were working among the most forgotten, the world’s cast-offs who lived and died in an actual garbage dump. Young Luis, notebook in hand, was writing his observations, thoughts, scenes, scribbling words on paper that he would turn into story. A resident of the dump asked what he was doing. Writing. About this place? This dump. About me? Yes, about this place and about you. “Tell someone that I was here.”

Now, Mr. Urrea did not say that the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him. But novice writer Luis knew that this moment, standing in a cathedral of trash, was his commission, his anointing, his sending forth. He was tuned in to the energy of the moment; he was paying attention.

That is what we, as writers, are asked to do. Pay attention, and as my friend, the writer Bill Marvel, likes to say, bear witness.

We are to bear witness to history in its small moments and its large moments. Bear witness to people, to changes in the atmosphere, to changes in attitude. Pay attention to the new and to the ancient that threads through the now. Be an instrument of history, a commentator, a sense maker, a question raiser.

Writers sift through the materials of life and choose a bit of this to expand on, a bit of that to explore. We churn and tumble and wrestle with the stuff of life long after they have moved into silent history and then we snatch them back and give them a place on the page.

“Tell them I was here”’ is our common plea.

It is also our job.


Julianne McCullagh’s work has appeared in Volumes 1 & 2 of Ten Spurs, Best of the Best, and was the winner of The Mayborn Conference’s 2007 Nonfiction Prize for Literary Excellence. She has taught writing at The Writer’s Garret in Dallas, has a series of articles for Loyola Press and has recently completed a novel. Excerpts from the novel have been published in Rose and Thorn Literary Journal. You can read more of her work at


First Texas author Larry McMurtry’s Archer City bookstore, Booked Up, announced it
First Texas author Larry McMurtry’s Archer City bookstore, Booked Up, announced it was holding “the last book sale.” Now it says it’s selling about three-fourths of its massive inventory at auction August 10-11 but will continue to operate in its main building on the Archer City courthouse square. Per an email from Khristal R. Collins at Booked Up, the shops will be open for browsing August 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9. However, purchases can only be made currently and during the preview days at Building One. For more information go to

The heat doesn’t stop literary events in Texas. In connection with Richardson’s “One Book Event”, registration is in progress for the August 25 “The Write Stuff” writers’ workshop with C. J. Critt, writer for Radio Disney. Contact the Richardson Public Library at 972-744-4376. For more information, see

And there’s still room in the FenCon writers’ workshop led by science fiction author Karl Schroeder. The deadline for the con’s separate short story contest has been extended to August 1. For details on workshop and contest, see

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