April 13, 2010

AWP, Part 2, Highlights

Following up on yesterday’s entry on the social mecca of AWP, I thought I’d talk about the things that really stuck with me. (Though you might check out great recaps here, here, and here.)

Facebook. Facebook (and other online social media) seemed to be the buzzword of the conference. I felt like I had a letter of introduction to a lot of people, that I’d bypassed that awkward first connection moment, by having friended people on Facebook beforehand. I knew a little about them and could recognize their faces and sometimes even recall what they wrote (hehe). Everyone I talked to had Facebook connection stories.

Connections. Along the Facebook lines, many of the people I ran into I knew from workshops, virtual or otherwise. Often, I’d know people from a number of different venues ~ I’d been with them in an online writers workshop and then friended them on Facebook and then seen them at other conferences and I’d read their published work and maybe even been runnerup on a contest they won. Heck, we already had history.

A Small World. Which brings me to my final point about this, which is that writing like anything else is a small world, and the further up you go, the smaller it gets. I suppose some people think this is a bad thing, but I think it’s excellent.

Impromptu Dinners. I loved the fluidity of it all. I’d run into a great friend and we’d say, “Let’s go grab some lunch,” and we’d find a great breakfast place or a great Italian place for lunch and we’d just hang out and talk and eat and have a blast. One night, after the Tin House reception, one of my friends had just flown in and was hungry and some of my other friends said, hey, we’re hungry too, and then some of them had friends, and then we ran into another friend in the lobby. Seven of us ended up going to Maggianos and having absolutely the best time. You know how you can plan and plan an event and it turns out so-so, but sometimes things just happen and you just have the best time. Serendipity.

Michael Chabon’s Keynote. What can I say other than Wow! Being the geek that I am, I wish I’d had my notebook with me to take notes. It was wonderful. He said that his favorite part of doing readings was the Q&A and that night’s venue did not allow for it, so he asked the questions himself and then answered them. They were all the usual questions: why do you write, where do you get your ideas, do you recommend an MFA, and all that. But, oh, his fabulous funny rambling answers. He even read from his application to grad school at 22 and then his application to something else when he was fourteen. I think his talk was long ~ an hour and a half or maybe two hours ~ but it didn’t feel that way. I’ve written the directors to ask (see, beg) them to post a podcast of it online because I was so mesmerized I don’t actually remember much of what he said.

The Sun reading. At 1:30 on Saturday, the Sun had their reading, which included Sy Safransky, Steve Almond, Krista Bremer, Alison Luterman, Ellen Bass, and Frances Lefkowitz. They were all so out-of-the-park good! Alison read her poetry that was at the same time clear and fresh and down to earth but also wonderful and moving. Frances read from a fabulous essay about language ~ it sounds boring when I talk about it, but it was so far from boring. Krista read from a touching personal essay about her husband’s celebration of Ramadan. Sy read from what he called notes. They were cogitations on his life, like very short wonderful poems. (Sy, please please publish them so we can read them in full!) Finally, Steve Almond (though he read first). I make no secret of the fact that I am a Steve groupie. He rocks. His readings are invariably funny and moving and wonderful, and I’ve worked with him in a number of settings. But his reading for the Sun was the most moving one I’ve been to, and it was because he was so moved. (He has a few self-published books of fiction and craft essays. Corner him to buy them all if you get a chance.)

The Bookfair. As I said in my previous post, the bookfair in the ballroom had such energy, such motion, such emotion, such opportunity. It was all there and so wonderful. I think you have bring a certain optimism to these things, an openness, a friendliness, a willingness to forgive social awkwardness. Someone isn’t always staring at your nametag because you’re a nobody and they’re trying to figure out if you’re important enough to get to know. Don’t take it personally. Often, it’s that they’re trying to fix your name in their brain or they are wondering where they’ve seen you or your name before or they’re just dazed with ballroom overstimulation. Let your kid out to play, and bring your best social graces.

What I’m Reading Today: The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970. I am so stoked! (Thanks, Rashena, for the tip.) This promises to be as fabulous as the Anchor anthology (though I immediately found two typos in the table of contents, which took me aback).

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