Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Here's my new bio

Photo by Jayne Taylor, Palermo Sept., 2014
In addition to a live radio interview, review of my books, a link for the ebook and on-demand editions of The Big Easy, Memphis Afternoons, World's End and The Kingdom in the Country, there's much here to read, including a lot that's new. If you want to comment directly or ask a question without going through the usual ordeal, just write to me at: conawayjim@gmail.com
Please go to the archive, right, click on years and months to see previous posts. They make up an unofficial compendium of my work going way back - excerpts from novels, nonfiction, lots of articles including my round-the-world trip, the long essay on the Tongass in Alaska, wine criticism and profiles, cultural reportage and commentary, my paintings, etc. The site has a cleaner look, I hope, though I'm still working on that. If you're wondering about the odd line spacing it's because I haven't figured out yet how to fix it, and I had nothing to do with the broken lampshade. 
       I am a former Wallace Stegner writing fellow at StanfordUniversity and an Alicia Patterson journalism fellow, the author of three novels, The Big Easy, World’s End, and Nose, eight books of nonfiction, and too many magazine articles to count. I have been writing since I was a kid and have never been able to shake the habit, which brings an essentially ruminative view of the world that can be both an asset and a hindrance.
After I left Stanford I had a new wife, Penny, and a baby, Brennan, and I badly needed a job. The Times-Picayune dangled one: general assignments reporter. I grabbed it although I never took a journalism course and didn’t know New Orleans. I arrived alone right ahead of Hurricane Betsy, drank too much Dixie beer the night before I was to report for work, and woke up surrounded by downed trees and streets full of glass. I got to the old Picayune building two hours before anyone. When the city editor arrived he asked who I was and then, because I was the only person available, told me, “Go out and write a story about the effects of the storm on New Orleans.”
It wasn’t a very good story but it was printed on page one, with a byline, because no other reporters had showed up. For the next two weeks I worked 14-hour days, learning more than I ever would have in J-school, and thereby became indentured to a great profession that would later inspire The Big Easy, one of my three novels, the others being World's End and Nose. I’m also the author of nine books of nonfiction including the best-selling, Napa: The Story of an American Eden. Frank Prial writing in the New York Times said I was "a reporter with a Saroyan-like sense of humor and a Balzac-like eye for detail," which made me very happy. That book has been in print continually since 1990 and people still tell me they enjoy and learn from it.
Napa’s sequel appeared in 2002. The Far Side of Eden: Old Land, New Money and the Battle for Napa Valley was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year and described in the New York Times Book Review as "an important story, emblematic of our time."
My other books include the memoir, Memphis Afternoons, about growing up in Memphis in the Fifties, and The Kingdom in the Country. It’s a personal journey through the public lands of the American West described by Wallace Stegner as "a very lively book... He got into places and activities that most westerners never even get close to," and by novelist Jim Harrison as "a wonderful and well-considered evocation of the New West."
Of my history of the Smithsonian Institution, Evan S. Connell wrote, "Nobody will attempt to one-up Conaway for a long time because he, like his subject, has gathered all things relevant." I’m also the author of America's Library: A History of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000, published by Yale University Press.
For four years I was the editor of Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and I took up oil painting around that time, some of it inspired by travel. Those paintings reflected landscapes, structures, and artifacts affected by accelerated change, what had developed as an on-going theme in my writing. One series was inspired by photographs of western landscapes I took from the windows of airplanes, done in both the conventional manner and by moving paint on the canvas to capture the mystery of land viewed from 35,000 feet.
Painting was another way to reflect the land and the rapidly altering face of our natural and cultural worlds.
My next book, Vanishing America: In Search of Our Elusive Landscapes, was a collection of travel essays about lost culture and landscape. Lehrer wrote that it represented my “journalistic and insightful best,” and I agree. Writer Tracy Kidder kindly described it as “an enthralling, lovely tribute to a lot of what is precious in America.”
My latest novel, Nose, from Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press), is about the wine-growing culture of northern California and described by the publisher as “Bonfire of the Vanities meets Sideways.” Jim Lehrer calls it “the novel for all seasons—and readers... a love(s) story, an under-all-the-soil good and evil saga plus a marvelous tour through and about the world of winemaking. And Jim Conaway’s prose is as gorgeous as some of the Northern California scenes he describes.”
       My most recent book is a narrative built around photographs from Look magazine in the Library of Congress, called The Forgotten Fifties. For that book I tried to develop a first-person plural voice that reflected the confusion underlying the various conflicts that arose in the Fifties and have been largely misrepresented in books about that time.
I’ve written for lots of magazines over the years, including The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Republic, Gourmet, Smithsonian and Nat Geographic Traveler. I won first place in a North American Travel Writers Association competition for my series, “Walk into America,” that appeared inTraveler, and I’ve taught creative non-fiction at the University of Pittsburgh and at Johns Hopkins and George Mason universities.
I still contribute tor Geographic’s travel blog, Intelligent Travel, as well as my own cjonwine.blogspot.com. I’m working on a prequel to Nose, about the explosion in the popularity of previously little-known California wine, the beautiful countryside of northern California that produces it, and the rise of a young British critic, Clyde Craven-Jones.
Meanwhile Penny and I divide our time between Washington, D.C., and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, with frequent trips to California. Our mutual hobbies are cooking, travel (our children live in the Midwest and on the West Coast), hiking, and some fly fishing.

To see all my posts on National Geographic Traveler's website, Intelligent Travel, where I am a featured contributor, go to:  http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/?s=james+conaway
To see the new releases of some of my books, go to: http://www.fearlessbooks.com/Conaway.htm 

      For Jeff Schechtman's radio show, "Specific Gravity"  click here: http://bit.ly/10IT7SJ

1 comment:

  1. Jim Conaway, you have accomplished a lot, even if you didn't break that lamp. I enjoyed being in the audience and hearing you tell about images from Look magazine in your Library of Congress published book, The Forgotten Fifties, on August 30 at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.