The University will host a mystery-themed literary conference on Saturday, Oct. 8, sponsored by the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing and the English Department. The conference, “Mysterium,” will draw in authors, literary agents, and fans of the genre from across the country and will feature over 20 speakers involved in the business of mystery, detective, or crime fiction.
“[We’ll have] a really nice range of writers and editors and agents,” Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and chief organizer of the conference, said. “I thought, ‘This will be a good party, to celebrate the mystery.’”
Planning for Mysterium began last year, with Bloom and Zenzele Price ’18, the Senior Fellow at the Shapiro Center, researching and contacting mystery writers who resided in the New England area.
“We combed through a lot of names,” Price said. “And it’s just been really cool seeing the response to it. Seeing how each writer has an individual expertise, and figuring out how panels could work with that.”
The program for the conference lists several panels that focus on subgenres of mystery or genres that often overlap with it, such as historical mystery, thrillers, female detective novels, and noir literature.
Hirsh Sawhney, Assistant Professor of English and one of the panelists on noir fiction, emphasized the importance of the genre in bridging the gap between accessible prose for a wide audience and provocative political commentary.
“[Noir novels are] plot-intensive, they’re voice-intensive, and these are things that kind of pull readers in,” said Sawhney. “And yet they have some serious things to say about politics, which is something that’s very important to me in literature, to be stylistically appealing and politically relevant.”
He added that studying the mystery genre can be beneficial to all writers.
“[The mystery genre] really teaches us how to seduce our reader, and entrap our reader, lure our reader,” he said.
In addition to genre-oriented panels, Mysterium will feature several master classes on the craft of writing mystery stories, as well as the process of getting those stories published. Yale Law professor and novelist Stephen Carter will teach an entire master class on the art of writing the first paragraph.
Other speakers and panelists include Susan MacNeal, the New York Times bestselling author of the “Maggie Hope” Mystery Series; Johnny Temple ’88, editor-in-chief of Akashic Books; Bob Blesdoe, Director of the Indiana University Writers’ Conference and of the Creative Writing Program; and Gary Chute, a private investigator based in Connecticut.
The speaker who has garnered the most buzz, however, is Laura Lippman, the award-winning author of detective novels such as “What the Dead Know,” “Hardly Knew Her,” and the “Tess Monaghan” series. Lippman will be interviewed by Bloom, followed by a book signing and an appearance on a panel of women authors and editors.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing [her],” Bloom said.
The conference is geared toward professional writers and members of the publishing industry, with tickets including all sessions and lunch amounting to $100 a person. According to Price, however, a cost-free way for University students to get the most out of Mysterium would be to volunteer.
“If you can volunteer the entire day on October 8, you would be paired with a writer, publisher, P.I.,” said Price. “You would be their go-to person, making sure they get everywhere they need to go, and getting to talk to some writers.”
Price is hoping for 30 to 40 volunteers to shadow the visiting speakers and assist in running the conference.
In regards to the motivation for hosting a mystery conference at the University, Bloom explained that she is a big fan of the genre and saw Mysterium as a way of bringing it to the forefront.
“Every writer I know likes to read mysteries,” she said. “And so I thought, ‘What a wonderful opportunity.’ I think [crime novelist] Mickey Spillane said, ‘Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. You read because you want to know what happens.’”
She added that mysteries provide an opportunity for writers to create a set of morals in their own fictional universe.
“There’s something comforting about the fact that catastrophes are fictional,” Bloom said.
Price also saw the appeal of mysteries as being universal.
“Everything needs mystery in it,” she said. “Mystery is at the heart of so many stories, even if they’re not necessarily genre-defined as ‘mystery.’ But I do [also] feel like it’s apt for a campus with, what, two cemeteries?”