The Center for Fiction was pleased to welcome novelist and screenwriter Tom Piazza (Treme, A Free State) for the launch of his striking new book, The Auburn Conference. Set in 1883, Piazza’s narrative follows an idealistic young professor at an upstate New York college who has convinced Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Confederate memoirist Forrest Taylor, and romance novelist Lucy Comstock to participate in the first (and last) Auburn Conference for a discussion about the future of the nation examining race, class, gender, and democracy. Author David Gates joined Piazza in unpacking serious issues that are as pertinent today as they were in 1883 through a comic, poetic, lens.
Photos by Macy Castañeda Lee
The Auburn Conference
By Tom Piazza
Published by University of Iowa Press
It is 1883, and America is at a crossroads. At a tiny college in Upstate New York, an idealistic young professor has managed to convince Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Confederate memoirist Forrest Taylor, and romance novelist Lucy Comstock to participate in the first (and last) Auburn Writers’ Conference for a public discussion about the future of the nation. By turns brilliantly comic and startlingly prescient, The Auburn Conference vibrates with questions as alive and urgent today as they were in 1883—the chronic American conundrums of race, class, and gender, and the fate of the democratic ideal.
Tom Piazza is celebrated both as a novelist and as a writer on American music. His twelve books include the novels The Auburn Conference and City Of Refuge, the short-story collection Blues and Trouble, the post-Katrina manifesto Why New Orleans Matters, and the essay collection Devil Sent The Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America. He was a principal writer for the innovative New Orleans-based HBO drama series Treme, and the winner of a Grammy Award for his album notes to Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey. He lives in New Orleans.
David Gates is the author of the novels Jernigan and Preston Falls, and two story collections, The Wonders of the Invisible World and A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me. His fiction has appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Granta, Esquire, Tin House, GQ, and The Best American Short Stories. He’s published nonfiction in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times magazine, (the late, lamented) Bookforum, Rolling Stone, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Oxford American, and the Journal of Country Music, as well as Newsweek, where he was a longtime Senior Writer.