Monday, March 11, 2013

AWP 2013

I went to my first Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in snowy Boston last week, and had a real blast.  It was bigger than I could have imagined, with over 10,000 people in attendance.  The bookfair, with more than 600 booths, was a reader's dream, and all the panels I went to were excellent.  Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by it all!  Sadly, back-pain kept me from attending most of the offsite and late-night events, but I met some fantastic people, got some great new books, and am feeling so inspired and excited about writing.

Seamus Heaney

I figure I should share a bit of my AWP love, and call out the panels and events I attended that I especially enjoyed.  I can't call out everyone at the bookfair, because that's just too much, but rest assured, I now have plenty of great books sitting on my bedside table.  Here are some of the best panels I attended:
  • Understanding Narrative Medicine: Healing the Medical Profession through Literature (Jan Freeman, Chris Adrian, Janlori Goldman, Suzy Becker): I currently work as a Goldwater Fellow, teaching creative writing at a hospital on Roosevelt Island, so I've been interested in narrative medicine since I first heard about it.  The panel on it was especially interesting because it approached the topic from a variety of perspectives, including a doctor's, a patient's, and a teacher's.  It also made me want to run out and buy On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf right away.
  • The Dark Room Collective Reunion Reading (Thomas Sayers Ellis, Sharan Strange, Tisa Bryant, John Keene, Nehassaiu deGannes, Kevin Young, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey) The Dark Room Collective was founded in 1987 and honors a black literary tradition.  Some of its members also happen to be some of my favorite poets, and this reunion reading was just electric. 
  • Keynote Presentation (Rosanna Warren, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott): Seamus Heaney has long been one of my favorite poets, and I feel a very strong connection to his work.  I was heartbroken to learn he was reading at the 92nd Street Y last year after tickets had already sold out, and so being able to see him read this weekend, even in a enormous room, was a real highlight of the conference for me.
  • A Tribute to Seamus Heaney (Elise Paschen, Frank Bidart, Askold Melnyczuk, Tom Sleigh, Tracy K. Smith): Much more intimate than the event I mentioned earlier, this tribute was really moving.  Several of Heaney's students and friends (all of whom are incredible poets themselves) spoke about his work and his influence in their lives.  From what they say, he is as generous in his life as he is in his work.  (The image above is from this event.)
  • A Reading & Conversation (Noreen Tomassi, Don DeLillo, Dana Spiotta): This was the only fiction-based event I attended, and it was really interesting to see how it differed from the keynote speech.  For one thing, the discussion focused quite a bit more on the process of writing and the "writing life."  Both are fascinating topics to me, so I rather enjoyed seeing it.  Plus, Don DeLillo is hilarious, so that made it all the better.
  • Language at the Breaking Point (Kwame Dawes, Jorie Graham, Terrance Hayes): Terrance Hayes was a powerhouse and Jorie Graham's work just opened up on the stage.  Perhaps most interesting of all is that their work had some real similarities for me, both tonally and topic-wise, but their answers to the Q&A at the end could not have been more different.
  • We Are Homer, A Reading of Collaborative Poetry & Prose (Ryan Teitman, Traci Brimhall, Laura Eve Engel, Adam Peterson, Brynn Saito): I really think this was my favorite panel from the conference.  Collaboration in poetry is something close to my heart, and it's also an art form that these three pairs have really mastered.  The readings were fantastic, and each pair had something new to bring to the table in their discussion.  I was late getting there, so I missed Traci and Brynn's reading, but I just cannot wait to read their chapbook.
  • In Between, The Art of Lyric Transitions (David Roderick, Katie Peterson, Mike Peterson, Nick Lantz, Shara Lessley): A discussion of the mid-parts of poems, this panel was the closest to what I was expecting all the panels to be like, and for that, I loved it.  Close readings of works from Marianne Moore, Keats, Frost, and others showed us how poets move from beginning to end, from shadows to revelations.  It reminded me exactly why I love reading and writing, and I left this panel convinced I needed to be more mindful of close-readings, something I loved doing in college, but often feel I don't have time for anymore.  It was the last panel I attended, and absolutely brilliant.
I'm not sure if I'll attend next year's conference.  Since it's in Seattle, I don't think it's likely, but if you're on the west coast and a writer, I would definitely recommend attending.