Texas Book Festival 2017:
Writers and Their Dogs
Oh yes, there were pictures, and loads of love for canines
By Melany Jean,
1:30PM, Sun. Nov. 5, 2017
Everyone loves to gush about their pets, but writers may do so with a particular descriptive and storytelling panache. The panel “Writers and Their Dogs: There Will Be Pictures” put this to a test, staging just such a conversation before an audience. True to the titular promise, there were pictures.
The panel included Eileen Myles, part-time Texas resident and superstar poet whose latest project explores their relationship with the world as filtered through their relationship with their now-deceased dog Rosie; Kristen Arnett, a fiction writer and essayist whose Instagram serves as a proud photo display of her pups Lola and Jack; and Manuel Gonzales, whose uncanny characters sometimes accrue the tics of his pets. Author and panel moderator Jami Attenberg drew on the instant camaraderie that dog ownership lends to guide a conversation that kept panelists and audiences alike laughing and nodding along in recognition.
The authors agreed that parenting a dog is good mental relief for writers, with Myles joking, “The dog airs out the writer!” The panelists varied on their dog’s role in their writing process, with Gonzales saying his pet was a separate part of his non-writing life processes and Arnett bestowing something of a first-reader role on her dog Lola – apparently a tough critic.
Throughout the panel, a slide show ran of writers with their dogs. All of the panelists were included, and as pictures shuffled by, they were accompanied with relatable anecdotes about dogs eating lipstick or becoming utterly confounded upon finally catching an evasive squirrel. The slide show also included a charming collection of photos of writers throughout history with their doggy loves. A favorite: the very-serious-looking Donna Tartt holding up a comically rotund bulldog.
After reading from Afterglow: a dog memoir, Myles concluded that, “The dog question is really the art question.” They remembered the experience of getting another dog after the passing of Rosie, how an intimate experience with one dog can lead to the false conclusion of an understanding of all dogs, until you get to know another and realize the vast potential for varied, observable personalities. “Like with books or relationships,” Myles said.