Michael Dirda (Moderator), a Pulitzer Prize-winning book columnist for the Washington Post, is the author of the memoir An Open Book (2003) and of five collections of essays: Readings (2000), Bound to Please (2005), Book by Book (2005), Classics for Pleasure (2007), and Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books (2015). His On Conan Doyle (2011) received a 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Dirda graduated with Highest Honors in English from Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (focusing on medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement, a columnist for the online Barnes and Noble Review, and a frequent reviewer for several other literary periodicals, as well as an occasional lecturer and college teacher. His current project is a celebration of popular fiction during the late 19th and early 20th century, tentatively titled “The Great Age of Storytelling.”
Alexandra Petri, the 2014 O. Henry International Pun Champion, writes the ComPost blog for the Post, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. A native Washingtonian whose father was a congressman, she attended National Cathedral School and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University, Petri says that, in her youth, she spent hours reading (“a lot of Thurber”) and writing. At age eight, she penned a Shakespeare comic book with cat characters: “Romeow and Mewliet—and the Catpulets.” At age 11, she attempted a play: Helen of Troy’s No Good, Very Bad Day. Dave Barry calls her “the funniest person in Washington. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Congress is also located there.” In her debut book, A Field Guide To Awkward Silences (2015), Petri turns her satirical eye on her own life detailing how interesting things start to happen when you stop caring what people think.
Tom Toles is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Cartoonist and writer for the Washington Post. He has previously been the Editorial Cartoonist for US News and World Report, The New Republic, the New York Daily News, the Buffalo News, and the Buffalo Courier-Express. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize (1990), Herblock Cartooning Prize (2011), National Cartoonists’ Society Best Editorial Cartoons (2003), National Headliner Award (2005), The Week Opinion Award Best Editorial Cartoonist (2005 and 2010), The Mencken Award Best Editorial cartoon (1990), Fischetti Cartoon Prize (1986), the Overseas Press Club Thomas Nast Award (2003), The Wilderness Society Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing (2006), and the National Press Club Order of the Owl (2015). His new book on climate change with co-author Michael Mann, The Madhouse Effect, was published by Columbia University Press in September 2016.
Mary Kay Zuravleff is the author of Man Alive! (2013), which was named a Notable Book of the Year by the Washington Post, and two earlier novels, The Bowl Is Already Broken (2006) and The Frequency of Souls (2005). She is the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award, and has received six Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, most recently in 2015. She has taught writing at American University, Johns Hopkins University, and George Mason University, and she has edited extensively for the Smithsonian Institution. She serves on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a co-founder of the D.C. Women Writers Group.