Tuesday, February 8, 2011

AWP Wrap-Up

Whew…I’m still not recovered from the big conference, but if I don’t write this up now, I probably never will, especially since I have a ton of work ahead and am on the edge of getting sick, the denial stage. (Those dang germy writers! Still, better this than bedbugs, right?)

So, some random highlights of my AWP experience. (I’m going to use quotation marks, but it’s all sort of a paraphrase, based on my scribbled notes, so I apologize in advance for any errors.)—

Maybe I’m getting good at this, because I didn’t go to a single dud panel! Nothing was endured, only enjoyed, and here are a few snippets from my notebook:

--in a panel about the nonfiction writer’s persona, Sherry Simpson discussed refraction, “what is the thing outside myself that I can use to tell the story…speak to that, that passion, not the passion about the self.”

--as Michael Downs put it, in a panel about shaping memoir, the challenge is “trying to write about a problem in my life without writing about me.”

--alas, several of the planned readers in the discussion about Moby-Dick (was this organized for me?!!) were absent due to weather, but I was so impressed with Dan Beachy-Quick that I had to race down to the bookfair to buy his book, A Whaler’s Dictionary. His experience with Moby-Dick was transformative: “Every question I know how to ask, this book has shown me how to ask.” His defense of Moby-Dick as a book that ultimately does address race was eloquent and convincing, and he reminded us that “the only way to judge something is to step into the squall.” Sigh. I could have listened to him talk about Moby-Dick all day long.

--Speaking of obsession…the panel on obsession was also interesting. Though, again, someone I really wanted to hear was snowed in (Lan Samantha Chang), I really enjoyed Peter Turchi’s take on obsession related to process: “resist the temptation to reach the end, to through, rather than to deliberately dwell” within the work. And C.J. Hrbal spoke about form and obsession, alluding to the artist Eugene Delacroix who said, “What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” All very inspiring.

--But the prize for inspiration goes to Richard Bausch, my former teacher at Bread Loaf, who simply was his own fabulous self, in conversation with Jennifer Haigh, who wisely held the reins loosely. We were treated to Barry Hannah anecdotes, jokes, stories, and enough writing wisdom to fill a castle: “if you’re confused, it’s normal…if you don’t have that doubt, you probably don’t have talent”; on spending a year reading everything by Dickens—“don’t read books, read writers”; on writers—"you are not different in kind than anyone who ever sat down to write…you are the same kind of person that Shakespeare was.” He suggested watching Cool Hand Luke for great dialogue, and reminded us that “the movies are trying to do what we [fiction writers] do every day.” And finally, the only question the writer ever has to ask him/herself: “Did I write today?” Doesn’t matter if the output was good or crap…as long as the answer to that question was “yes.” Again, sigh. I could listen to him all day!

It’s different having a conference like this in my own town, as the food situation didn’t end up being as intense as it often is. Still, some good meals:

--I must confess that it was a treat to eat at McDonald’s, something I would never do in my real life unless I were on a road trip. Hard to beat those fries!

--Speaking of fries, I had AMAZING fries at a humble little diner-type restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, Woodley Café. (Boy, these reviews are mean! Maybe I didn’t have very high expectations, as it’s just a modest place and it was swamped by writers, so the service was a bit slow but well-meaning. Anyway, the fries were great and the tomato-basil soup and reuben sandwich were excellent.)

--Lamb shank special at Perry’s…yum! And we were lucky enough to get to sit at a table with couches, which felt very decadent.

--Tapas at Jaleo were as expected: stunning. This is one of my favorite places in DC, and always a crowd-pleaser and a good value. But it was sort of creepy that our server had lost her voice so had to whisper and smelled of cough drops.

--And the only thing that could get me to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant was the chance to spend more time with the fabulous editors/writers of The Sun Magazine…but I actually enjoyed the spicy food at Etete restaurant. (The honey wine, less so.) I had been planning on an early night, but found a way to rally.

--I escaped the conference to meet up with my husband and some friends at The Gibson, a craft cocktail place that had a line of 25 people at 6pm. Worth it!

Journals & Bookfair & Random Events
The bookfair was overwhelming, as always, so I tried to focus on publications that I might not know as well as some of the biggies, so, among others, I ended up with copies of Upstreet, Camera Obscura, Sycamore Review, Fairy Tale Review, The Los Angeles Review, and PMS. Very nice not to have to worry about shoving everything into a suitcase and dealing with an airport.

I would have to say that if I were a poet, I would submit to Autumn Hill Press, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and Carolina Wren Press, the editors of which were all incredibly nice to me. (Okay, my sister was working at the Carolina Wren Press table, so I may have had an in. But they have beautiful books and clearly do a great job of taking care of their writers.)

Sad lesson learned: No matter how comfortable you think those heels are, you just have to go flat shoes for any significant time in the bookfair.

Bought a Gatsby T-shirt from Hamline University and a coffee mug from The Rumpus: Write Like a Mother-F~ker, which my husband promptly claimed for his own.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, I didn’t know that Melville House published an edition of his 1920 novella, May Day: “a tale of the brutalities of the American class system.”

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to The Sun Magazine for inviting me to participate in such a wonderful and moving reading…and for having such a loyal readership who packed the house on a rainy night. Thanks to all who attended.

Oh, there’s so much more...but I don’t remember it now! Anyway, here I am, inspired and exhausted, eager for next year’s gathering in Chicago! And if you want more, here are two great wrap-ups:
Sandra Beasley
Kristin Berkey-Abbott


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.