I so admire the bloggers who are able to put together a coherent write-up of the overwhelming blur that is the AWP conference. Here are two good ones:
In contrast, here is my disorganized snapshot of some memories and impressions* from a weekend that lasted several years:
*Words in quotation marks are direct quotes to the best of my lame note-taking abilities.
--Muriel Rukeyser as quoted by Cathryn Hankla in the excellent point of view panel: “The world is made of stories, not atoms.” Someone else quoted this at another point in the conference, though God knows who or when it was, but it seemed like a good theme for the weekend.
--Cathryn Hankla also made me eager to look up James Agee’s story “A Mother’s Tale,” which is from the point of view of a cow and is about genocide.
--That (so excellent!) point of view panel also reminded us that the choice of an unusual POV should illuminate the meaning of the work, that it should not merely be a gimmick…that the POV should emerge from the demands of the story.
--I can’t remember which one, but a literary journal in New Hampshire was giving out samples of the most amazing fudge, shipped to Chicago from New Hampshire. I signed up to possibly win a month of free fudge, but alas, no such luck.
--I loved the (also so excellent!) panel on the ethics of writing non-fiction. Organized by The Sun magazine, each of the participants had a lot of good stuff to say: Krista Bremer (“assume that everyone will read it, and what will trigger people is surprising”; it could be something very simple that you view as innocuous); Stephen Elliott (the writer “must be fair, not just morally but for the writing” and that people tend to think it’s okay if you write about them and show their good side, or maybe even their bad side…it’s when you show a side they didn’t know they had that causes them distress); Lee Martin (press on to that place of discomfort; admit more than you want to); Cheryl Strayed (write fearlessly, and “what I mean to imply is that you’re going to be very afraid”; write about others only what is necessary to tell the story you’re telling, to illuminate the self); Poe Ballantine (who revealed that he ended up writing memoir because The Sun paid more for that than for the fiction he’d been submitting!).
--Another smart panel was the one called “Novel Anxiety” which explored the (never-ending) “death of the novel” and offered a dazzling reading list that challenged the speed of my note-taking and my spelling skills; the insights about writing were equally dazzling and provocative, from thinking about the inescapable reality of being an American writer in this time (Bob Shacochis) to the attractions of “extreme novels” (Wendy Rawlings) to Laird Hunt’s tour of contemporary world literature to Martha Cooley’s list of “opportunities” for the contemporary novel, including cities as character and the music of language. From the beginning, we were sent in a good direction when Margot Singer quoted Ezra Pound: “The artist is always beginning.”
--The reading organized by The Sun magazine was also amazing, featuring Krista Bremer (whose piece made me teary); Poe Ballantine (whose piece made me laugh); Frances Lefkowitz (who left me teary again); and Sun editor Sy Safransky, who read from his notebook about writing in an intimate voice that—I’m sure—made each person in the ballroom feel as though he was whispering secrets to them alone. A new collection of his notebook writing will be out soon, and I can’t wait!
--I had some whiskey made in Chicago at the West Town Tavern. I also had some Irish whiskey in the “Irish” bar in the Hilton and then immediately plunged into the crush of the bookfair, which was a very good idea and took the edge off all the writerly angst. At another time, I embarrassed myself in front of a trio sitting at the The Missouri Review table—oops! not that I wanted to be published there anyway, haha; okay, yes, I do!—but that was a different day than the whiskey day. See…nothing embarrassing happened when one is fortified by Jameson’s! (Or, perhaps you simply don’t notice.)
--One can skip lunch if one eats enough candy in the bookfair. Note to self: Take the saltwater taffy, but don’t eat it during the bookfair because that will be at least an aisle’s worth of people you’ll miss talking to because you’re still chewing. Side note: the “chewy marshmallow treats” at Starbucks count as breakfast because they’re made of Rice Krispies.
--Russian Tea Time will tempt even non-drinkers into having a shot of vodka. Secret confession: If I weren’t under the watchful eye of a group of tattletale writers, I totally would have ordered a second platter of dumplings.
--Perfect Miller’s Pub lunch: the Templeton highball (rye from Iowa—yes, IOWA!—and ginger ale) and a patty melt. Best booth: one of the big ones at the end of the bar.
--The auditorium at Roosevelt University is gorgeous, as are all of the ballrooms at the Palmer House. If you’re planning a wedding, check them out! The sexy red Lacquer Room was my favorite.
--Two other panels that I thought were smart were about how to pull off surprises in short stories and how to organize a story collection (Laura van den Berg made a list of all the first and last lines of her stories).
--Snow flurries are the best way to experience snow in Chicago: pretty coming down and no worries about slush stains on shoes.
--Here are some of the journals that caught my eye at the bookfair and that I lugged home on the plane:
Camera Obscura (this journal also features photography and is stunningly gorgeous)
Ruminate (writing about faith)
Barrelhouse (“pop flotsam ~ cultural jetsam”)
Midwestern Gothic (I think this one is obvious)
Bull (men’s fiction)
Wake (Great Lakes thought & culture; online)
--I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, inspired, sugared up (still!), and have way too much work to catch up on…but I’m ready for Boston 2013!
P.S. God, I wish I’d won that New Hampshire fudge! I could eat a lot in a month. Maybe they sensed that and trashed my entry?