After a long hiatus from the blog (because the poets I queried for interviews did not respond), I thought that it would be good to make my first post of 2011 about my time at AWP.
I was unable to attend the New York (2009) and Denver (2010) conferences, so Washington, D.C. was my first experience with all that is AWP. After a lovely four hour nap on the Bolt Bus, I arrived and was immediately overwhelmed. AWP is like SXSW on a smaller, self-contained scale minus a few decibels and free liquor before noon. I counted just under 500 exhibitors at the book fair alone, not to mention the dozens of concurrent panels running at the Marriott Wardman Park and the Omni Shoreham.
I possess neither a clone nor a Time Turner, so I only got to see a few panels and I was surprised to come away from AWP disliking more than I liked. One big problem is that so many “panels” are actually readings. Friday’s “Reading and Discussion on Transracial Adoption” was 90% reading and 10% author musings. The authors told the audience about their work; however, they did not have a discussion, did not exchange thoughts, ideas, approaches to craft, or commentary about each other’s work. Later that day, I walked out of “Beyond Ekphrasis: The Endless Possibilities in Collaboration” because 1) one of the presenters was in attendance at AWP but was late to his own panel and 2) the woman who opened the presentation began by reading a very tedious essay.
The best panel I listened to was “One Word Please: Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe” presented by Sarabande Books and MC’ed by Sarabande President and Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gorham. The presentation was a clever event to promote Sarabande’s One Word: Contemporary Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe, edited by Molly McQuade, who could not make it to AWP due to weather. The panel was lively and featured eight authors who contributed their loved/loathed word and musings on it for the anthology. This well-attended presentation kept the reading to a minimum (eight authors read eight essays in under a half hour) and the rest of the time was devoted to discussion in which the authors entertained questions from the crowd and spoke to each other. To be fair, the Transracial Adoption presenters left about ten minutes for questions, though no one seemed invested enough to ask. I do not know Sarah Gorham personally, but when she deftly handled an irritating (likely) MFA student who asked not one, but two idiotic questions, she became my AWP hero. I only wish that all of the events I attended were that entertaining and interesting.
Unlike many of my MFA colleagues, I did not attend the big events–the Jhumpa Lahiri keynote, Junot Diaz’s appearance–because I don’t find those kind of large scale events to be personal. I like the panels because they are more intimate. I gave Mary Gaitskill and Sapphire’s joint reading a try but left early because 1) I was not a fan of Gaitskill’s Veronica and wasn’t taken by the reading from her work-in-progress and 2) I did not care to hear Sapphire read from Push, a book that was published fifteen years ago.
Though it was overwhelming, my favorite part of the conference was the book fair because I really enjoyed meeting new people and meeting authors who, like me, might have made their first trip to AWP as an MFA student with a partial manuscript.