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How many people know that F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in our backyard? Colonel John Moser does! The head of Rockville’s annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, Moser—who has helmed the organization for the past 15 years—announced that this would be his last year running the conference, which is held in October.
Originally from Rochester, Moser attended Georgetown and has been living in Rockville since 1953. The octogenarian, who was in the U.S. Air Force, volunteered to head the Conference in 1996 when Rockville inaugurated the festival to honor the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s birth. The writer, who is buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, often visited family there.
The inaugural conference included a play, exhibits and other activities associated with Fitzgerald. Then Moser decided to make it a yearly event. The first two years were planned with the city’s input, and the organization became independent in 1998.
“The first few years we brought in family members of the Fitzgeralds, or people who worked for them,” Moser says. “After a few years we ran out of our Fitzgerald connections, so we tried to schedule something that had to do with him. Nowadays, the honoree talks about Fitzgerald before beginning his or her talk.”
Each year, organizers honor one contemporary writer for his or her achievements; recent honorees have included Julia Alvarez of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Azar Nafisi of Reading Lolita in Tehran.
“We try to get someone from the mainstream of American literature who is fiction-oriented,” Moser says. “We’re trying to appeal to people, and there’s a pleasure to seeing famous authors in person.”
Besides the award, the conference includes writing workshops and seminars on publishing.
Moser says that no one has yet been tapped to succeed him.
Despite heading an organization with Fitzgerald’s name in it, Moser isn’t an ardent Fitzgerald fan.
“The Great Gatsby is a great novel, but I’m not that much of an aficionado, and I think there are better writers,” he says. “I read non-fiction primarily, but I’ve read just about everybody we have [in American literature]. I just think that everybody ought to read. It’s fine if what you like is completely different from me, just as long as you read.”