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WLA 2007: David Maraniss keynote

Posted by on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 in WLA Blog Archive
I discovered as I was about to blog my first event of the conference that a) my laptop battery is dead, so I need to keep it plugged in to type; and b) wireless access is password-protected in the conference rooms. I couldn't do anything about the former situation, but was happily able to get the login info from conference center staff later in the day.

I've missed all of David Maraniss' speaking engagements in Madison since *They Marched into Sunlight* was published, so I was pleased to see that he'd be the keynote speaker at this year's WLA conference. He didn't disappoint!

On libraries and his family... "My dad always said his church was the public library."

On a writer's life... "50% is boring - you have to sit in a chair and write. The other half is exciting!"

Maraniss recounted his visits to about a dozen formal libraries and archives, plus informal collections held by individuals, in the course of conducting research for his books on Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, Roberto Clemente, the 1960 Olympics, and the October 1967 anti-war protest and Vietnam War battle which are the focus of *They Marched into Sunlight*.

This is a man who understands the value of preserving access to historical materials. In particular, he lauded recently-retired James Danky of the Wisconsin Historical Society, for his invaluable collection of local/alternative press newspapers. As a grad student, I was lucky to have Danky speak in my classes about the importance of libraries collecting locally-produced publications, especially the controversial ones.

The role of both in-person visits and serendipity in the research process came up several times, as Maraniss mentioned a trip to Arkansas where he met Bill Clinton's great-aunt, who happened to possess the personal effects of Clinton's grandmother, including the letters he'd written her over the years; an interview with a lawyer who had secretly maintained the only records of the legal case related to Roberto Clemente's fatal air crash; and a visit to a meeting room in Rome which had just undergone a renovation entailing the removal of wallcoverings that revealed Fascist-era murals, that would have surrounded the 1960 Olympic planning committee. I do wonder about the future of such serendipitous discoveries and contextual understandings, in the digital age.

When asked what in libraries he has found to be most useful, and what has been lacking, he replied, "Not many criticisms... Just want them to stay open and have the money they need to keep doing what they’re doing."

I bought four copies of *They Marched into Sunlight* and had them signed :)

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