Top Session Picks for SXSW Interactive: The Written Word

Written by Kimberly MacArthur Graham on March 13, 2015

When I lived in Austin, Texas, to attend university, I was a late-night hipster who swilled caffeine and puffed a pack a day. These were my salad days, giddy with anticipation and heady with the blossoming, physical and mental, that perfumes a college campus.

I was also really, REALLY into the live music scene and that included the nascent South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival. This was 1991-ish, just 4 years after it began. You purchased a (very) reasonably priced wristband that got you into most venues; some shows might have cost extra at the door.

SXSW delivered an amazing, immersive experience. I couldn’t get enough; none of us could. And it wasn’t just the music, or even being around the demi-god musicians, but being around so many fellow enthusiasts that made it so fantastic.

Much like all those college students, SXSW was blossoming. Today, 23 years in, the home-grown music festival has grown into a multi-day conference on music, film, and interactive topics. People from around the globe attend to learn, to share, to pitch, and to . . . . interact. Competition among vendors and presenters is fierce.

Every year, my husband and I talk about “going back” to SXSW. Maybe next year we’ll manage, but this year it’s virtual attendance again. With a focus on the SXSW Interactive, here my top three session picks (today), in no particular order.

The Story of Creative Icons: Failure to Mastery – Based on her book “The Rise,” Sarah Lewis’ talk on “what really drives iconic, transformational change on both a personal and an organizational level” promises a tasty combination of fascinating history and self-improvement.  How can a business owner and creative NOT love a session devoted to the comforting idea trend that achievement actually requires failure? This is a book I need to read!

Cracking Cuisine: Breaking a Few Rules (and Eggs) –  Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft CTO whose six-volume “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” won awards and got people talking about the role of technology and science in cooking. If you read my recent blog on the confluence of art + science,you’ll know this is right up my alley!  As a bonus, he will talk about “how innovation in the kitchen requires a healthy attitude about failure.” Seeing this session reminded me I’ve been wanting to tackle this book.

A Curious Mind: Inspiration for a Creative Life – For pure intellectual candy, I’m all over the presentation by filmmaker and Imagine Entertainment co-founder Brian Grazer. His boundless curiosity and the lovely movies that result – A Beautiful Mind is an all-time favorite story of  – make this sound like an hour of inspirational bliss. I am marginally consoled by the fact that I can read the book the presentation is based on, Grazer’s “A Curious Mind.”

There seems to be a theme here. All my top picks are authors presenting the ideas in their non-fiction books. This is probably not a coincidence. As a reader and a writer, I’m comforted that, even in the digital age, written language continues to play a critical role in communicating important ideas.

If you’re interested in knowing more about SXSW’s history, here’s a great timeline:


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