The AWP 2013 Thoughts Post

I’m sure there will be a jillion of these as the 11,000 writers and writing teachers head home from the conference in Boston, but I wanted to collect mine as well. As I said in an email to my girl gang before we all headed up into the wintery wonderland:

An Introvert’s Conference Survival Strategies:

  • Find one morning thing and one afternoon thing I Definitely Want To Go To. Have 2-3 backups in case the event is crowded or in the moment I feel impulsive.
  • Have doodle supplies. Obvi. I will bring extra markers and little foldy books if you guys want them 🙂
  • The advantage of only having a morning/afternoon itinerary: Mid-day naps.
  • This is not a make-or-break-our-future type opportunity. This is, like our classes, a chance to go hear smart people say smart things that will, we hope, send us away bursting with inspiration. Or just entertained and out of NYC for a long weekend with our ladyfriends.

These would be those aforementioned lady friends:

From left to right - Meg, Jaime, Me, Becca

From left to right – Meg, Jaime, Me, Becca

And that’s what we did. We all started off together in a multiple-narrative panel, which was helpful and uplifting. Then we splintered; I bailed on whatever panel I’d selected next and went to the book fairs and promptly discovered an amazing book artist  who gave me that painfully exquisite experience of finding someone who does EXACTLY what you want to do. YAY, KINDRED SPIRIT. OH NO SOMEONE GOT THERE FIRST. But just as there can be multiple threads in a narrative there can totally be more than one person tearing pages out of old books and illustrating them, or doing other cool desecrative stuff to their outsides. I hope. I spent time visiting booths of journals that accept creative nonfiction, that accept stand-along graphic pieces, and that looked cool and/or weird.

After lunch I went to a panel on “The Post-memoir memoir” with Jaime which was dolefully led by a 3Q who began by apologizing for how misleading the panel description was; his panelists were then tasked with trying to pump some air back into the room. Hope Edelman in particular has written a flavor of memoir punctuated with outside source materials that I hope to replicate (that’s more for futureMKP’s reference than y’alls 🙂

And then I was exhausted. I went upstairs to rest, when the rest of my quartet came up I went for a swim (solo quiet time AND some exercise!), then Becca and I….we practiced some self care and went to the mall. The Hynes convention center is CREEPILY networked into an infinite series of retail centers. We got chair massage at Brookstone, and touched up our manicures at Barneys and generally connected with our tweet selves. Then we all reunited for dinner at PF Changs and I felt again that contented warmth of finding three other people who are smart, funny, and care about writing like I do. File $100K friends under “things to get out of your MFA program”.


Saturday I woke up with A Plan. While everyone else took a lazy morning, I started with a panel on the illustrated memoir (because OBVIOUSLY) and really enjoyed the presentations from Ron Tanner, Mira Bartok, Reif Larson, Josh Weil, and Stan Mack. Go buy all of their books. It was refreshing and reassuring to see that there are other writers hedging about calling themselves artists, and again with the “OH GREAT, I WANT TO DO THAT! DAMMIT! SOMEONE IS DOING IT ALREADY” that must be universal to creative people.

Then I powered on to “The Art and Craft of Short-Form Nonfiction” led by the seriously delightful Sarah Einstein (who in addition to winning Best Name also managing-edits Brevity where I will soon be submitting ALL THE THINGS). The contributors to the panel read excerpts and talked about the philosophy of short form nonfiction (regard it as a formal constraint like metered verse for poetry, and then go NUTS), and then Einstein gave one of the best pep talks for aspiring writers I’ve heard, describing how excited and honored she is to read all of the eleventy hundred submissions she gets every day and reassuring us that nobody in ironic plastic glasses smirks at our babies when they show up in Submittable’s inbox.

All of us but Becca reconvened for a panel on Memoir Beyond the Self, which involved using outside material/subjects (like say….the Brontes) to sneakily talk about ones self. Maybe because of the way Memoir is so inherantly naval-gazey, plus the crowd was well populated with 3Qs who were irritated so much discussion of the personal essay had gone down, but it was a fatiguing panel. I took a break for lunch, then tuned into hear one of my professor aquaintances, Elissa Schappell, and one of my twitter heroines, Meg Wolitzer, read from their work and talk more about the Vida Count, moderated by Cheryl Strayed. That was awesome. It was a soothing brain massage and an affirmation that the recollections and feelings of adolescent girls ARE worth talking about and man oh man am I not a fiction writer.

The last panel I hit before dinner (which was followed by crashing in the hotel room, too worn out to hear Cheryl Strayed read at the keynote, alas) was “Hating Your Writing: A Love Story,” which filled me with such a sense of familiar bitterness and warmth that I’m still humming a little. My favorite moment was when curmudgeonly Richard Bausch told us briefly how when he was working at NoVA and people asked him “how’s that little novel coming” he would walk outside, look at the stars in the parking lot and say

“Goddamit I am a writer, and some day you bastards are going to know it.”

That and, “When you get stuck, lower your standards and keep pushing ahead.”


I have lots of other thoughts about what a freelance life might or can or should look like, or how to balance teaching demands with my own writing, or what my plan for freelance attack will be. Mostly I got up today, bleary eyed and cracking jointed, and made a calendar for the rest of the semester’s work, and a list of all my projects-in-progress and the tasks that remain to them. Engine’s on, meter’s running, irons in the fire, writerly cliche generator humming in the corner like a Rube Goldberg pancake maker.

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2 Responses to The AWP 2013 Thoughts Post

  1. mbfbword says:

    “…reassuring us that nobody in ironic plastic glasses smirks at our babies when they show up in Submittable’s inbox.” I don’t. believe. you.

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