Monday, June 18, 2007

9th Great reports from near and far

I'm taking the easy route to reporting on the 9th Great Obituary Writers Conference, which was held at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., June 14-16, 2007. I'm letting others do the reporting. The links to some of those reports appear below.

From a personal perspective, I can tell you that I had a marvelous time in Alfred. I always do when I hang out with my fellow grimsters. It's like a family or class reunion. Plus we get to meet new folks and make new friends. And the little college town and the Alfredians I met were charming.

Three of our colleagues were mentioned or quoted in most reports on the conference so far.

1. Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News, who won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing last year. (They don't have a category for obit writing. Otherwise, he'd most likely get that too. He's such an awesome writer.) Jim has a newly released anthology of obits titled "Obit: Inspiring stories of ordinary people who led extraordinary lives." Go to Jim's Web site for more info. (By the way, Jim also is a co-author along with Stephen Miller and me, Alana Baranick, of "Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers."

2. Marilyn Johnson, author of "The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries," who was cited by numerous newbies at the 9th as the reason they traveled from as far away as Puerto Rico to attend the conference.

3. Andrew McKie, obits editor at the Daily Telegraph of London, who is an international superstar among obituary writers.

Andrew M. blogged several reports during the conference. In his blog titled "Who deserves an obituary?", Andrew shares some good advice offered by the BBC's Bob Chaundy, who recently had to deal with clueless young producers, who didn't want to run a TV obit for a guy named Boris Yeltsin. They didn't recognize the significance of the late Russian leader.

The advice: The internet is a potentially useful tool in overcoming such resistance. On the rare occasions when the name of someone whom we have decided deserves a big obituary doesn’t register with other reporters, it is quite helpful to be able to go to something like Technorati, and point out that there has been a lot of blog posting about someone’s death.

Dave Snyder, who co-hosted the event with International Association of Obituarists founder Carolyn Gilbert, apparently set up a conference blog back in March and didn't bother telling us about it. In it he says something we heard a lot of from proud Alfredians:
While Alfred is not the "end of the world," you can see it from here.

Alfred University put out an advance report on the conference, which was republished in Dave's newspaper, the Alfred Sun. As with many of the reports, it's not entirely accurate, but that which is not on the money is not important in the big scheme of things.

John F. Bonfatti of the Buffalo News provided one of the first published accounts of the first day of the conference - "Odd conference draws a crowd" - on June 16.

The tip-off that this was not just another conference was a black casket just outside the meeting room. “Welcome to Alfred,” read a sign on its side. “We’ve been dying for you to come."

During a conference break, Carolyn Gilbert gave an interview for an NPR segment called "The Obit Lady".

Jim Daggy, who runs the "Dead Pool" for Google Groups' alt.obituaries, put pictures from the last day of the conference on his Dead Pool site.

Krishna Andavolu's report for Obit Magazine includes my favorite obit-writing tip from Jim Sheeler for going beyond the cliché.

Whenever someone says, he would've given the shirt off of his back, Sheeler asks, "well, did you ever see him do that?"

Andrew Losowsky, a British writer who lives in Spain, read an excerpt from one of his nonfiction works at the conference. In it, he forecast some fascinating post-mortem Internet services to offer folks while they're still alive.

Andrew L. also blogged about the 9th Great. Hopefully, you'll find his blog here.

The Hornell (N.Y.) Evening Tribune and the Olean (N.Y.) Times Herald, newspapers from towns near Alfred, were supposed to be publishing stories on the 9th Great, but I haven't seen them yet.

I'm sure there will be others. Please share published reports and blogs associated with the 9th Great and Alfred with us.

We welcome personal reports and comments from those who attended, from those who only wish they'd attended and from those who are looking forward to the 10th Great Obituary Writers Conference in Toronto, Ontario, in 2008.

Monday, June 11, 2007