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Meet the best writers in American fiction during New Fiction Confab

Austin New Fiction Confab
The New Fiction Confab will be held on April 19. New Fiction Confab/ Austin Public Library Friends Foundation

A trio of fresh, young and über-talented writers is coming to town this weekend as part of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation's New Fiction Confab. This one-day forum is a unique opportunity for participants to learn about — and celebrate — contemporary American fiction.

The first writer, Anthony Marra published his first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, last May when he was only 28 years old. Since then, he has won three major writing awards and his book, a raw but hopeful story of love and survival in wartime Chechnya, had been named on the long list of nominees for a National Book Award. "It is my favorite book of the year," says best-selling author Ann Patchett. "If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go."

Also joining the New Fiction Confab is Molly Antopol, whose first book, The UnAmericans, was released last month. In a review, The New York Times compared her writing to Grace Paley, saying it was "fresh and offbeat." A collection of absorbing short stories that weave complex threads of history and family in Israel, Eastern Europe and the United States, The UnAmericans is "poised to be this year’s sensation," says Esquire. Antopol was also a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s "5 under 35" award last year. (She has since turned 36.)

The third writer, Peruvian-born Daniel Alarcón was named one The New Yorker’s "20 Under 40" emerging writers. Alarcón wrote his acclaimed debut novel, Lost City Radio, when he was only 30. His most recent book, At Night We Walk in Circles, was a finalist for the 2014 Pen Faulkner Awards. The New York Times says that in it "Alarcón fulfills the promise of his two earlier books … delivering a vibrant, ambitiously political story that derives its power from the personal."

 This one-day forum is a unique opportunity for participants to learn about — and celebrate — contemporary American fiction. 

Geographic diversity — the mystery, history and darkness of foreign places, many of them stained by war — is a potent theme in many of these emerging writers' work. "It's exciting to think that these American writers, who are some of the most talented writers being published today, are grabbing readers' attention with stories that are set far from America," says Clay Smith, editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews.

"There is belief among a number of people in the publishing industry that American readers don't flock to foreign writers or stories that don't take place in America. Alarcón's novel is set in Latin America; Antopol's stories (some of them) take place in Israel and Eastern Europe ... Our new fiction is looking outward, and that's a great thing."

Taking place at five different Austin Public Library locations, the Confab is a full day of literary offerings on Saturday, April 19. The APLFF’s intention is to connect writers in the local literary community with the biggest new talents from New York, California, and the major MFA writing programs, placing Austin in the midst of the national conversation.

In addition to meeting these fresh faces, participants will take part in conversations with renowned Texas-based writers Elizabeth McCracken, Merritt Tierce, Mary Miller and Bill Cotter, hear author readings and attend a writing workshop. 

"One of the ideas behind the Confab has always been to bring in writers from around the country to engage in a conversation of national interest with both Austin writers and readers," says Tim Staley, director of the APLFF, a nonprofit founded in 1996 to enhance the Austin Public Library’s programming.

Local literary celebs like Smith will moderate conversations between visiting authors. Austin-based McCracken, the James Michener Chair in Fiction at UT’s prestigious Michener Center, will read her works alongside Anthony Marra.

A significant part of the Confab, now in its fifth year, is the Austin Lit Fair, which showcases local publishers who are shaping our very own literary community. "We recognize that the library can — and frankly should — play a role in cultivating a readership of Austin writers and to promote local literary activity whenever we can," says Staley.

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For a full list of activities and to sign up for a workshop, head the New Fiction Confab website. There will also be an author’s party on Friday, April 18, from 8 - 10 pm at Lenoir. Tickets can be purchased here.

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