It is 1883, and America is at a crossroads. At a tiny college in Upstate New York, an idealistic young professor has managed to convince Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Confederate memoirist Forrest Taylor, and romance novelist Lucy Comstock to participate in the first (and last) Auburn Writers’ Conference for a public discussion about the future of the nation. By turns brilliantly comic and startlingly prescient, The Auburn Conference vibrates with questions as alive and urgent today as they were in 1883—the chronic American conundrums of race, class, and gender, and the fate of the democratic ideal.

The mother of all writers’ conferences. Piazza doesn't force anything, and he doesn't miss a trick.”—Roy Blount Jr.

The Auburn Conference is a brilliant imagining of an 1883 writers’ conference with Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, and other luminaries as characters. This august round table in Upstate New York grapples with the fate of American democracy and what constitutes literature. The dialogue imagined by Piazza—especially his treatment of Harriet Beecher Stowe—is dazzling. Piazza conjures a distant era that eerily translates to our own broken and troubled times. This is an epic novel by one of America’s greatest writers.”—Douglas Brinkley

“Who wouldn’t want to go to this conference?”—Greil Marcus

An unexpected combination of wit, passion, and intellect that lands with tremendous relevance.”—Mary Gaitskill

“Tom Piazza has gathered the nation’s most renowned writers in response to a provocative question: ‘What is an American?’ These four words posed by a character in the aftermath of the Civil War, resound today with such perfect timing. Through this tantalizing dialogue, the past interrogates the present and future, and we cannot play innocent or uninformed. To read The Auburn Conference is to be there, listening, raising one’s hand, nodding one’s head, or even rising to one’s feet in protest or applause.”—Yusef Komunyakaa

“What do Frederick Douglass and Mark Twain discuss over brandy and cigars? What gets Emily Dickinson out of the house? The Auburn Conference is an ebullient work of loving homage, pitch-perfect ventriloquism, and drawing-room farce that unfolds into an examination of grand American questions: What, finally, is America? And does it deserve to be saved?”—Nathaniel Rich

“The Auburn Conference is a display of intellectual pyrotechnics, a fictional nineteenth-century writers’ conference in which modern and historical observations abound on literature, celebrity, and ego, culminating in a grand debate over slavery, women’s suffrage, and the American ideal. Both witty and intellectually acute, this is a powerful novel.”—Roxana Robinson

"An 1883 writers' conference raises questions still roiling 21st-century America. . . . [an] intriguing mix of humor and underlying seriousness. . . . Readable and entertaining.”—Kirkus

“Lauded novelist and music writer Piazza’s bravura satire and fluent literary ventriloquism are razor-sharp and hilarious, while the feuds he orchestrates over freedom, the Constitution, race, women’s rights, democracy, art, and the predominance of lies over truth are all too timely.”—Booklist, starred review

“. . . there is much richness and enjoyment to be found in the conversations that Piazza imagines between these great authors as they drink and debate. . . . There is a great deal of thinking going on in The Auburn Conference, yet Piazza still makes all this thinking exciting to read, and he deftly paints the areas of gray in the life of the writer, particularly the nonconformist one."—Southern Review of Books

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Publication Details

Publication Date
199 pages
Trim size
5 1/2 x 8 inches