AWP 2013

I traveled down to Boston for the AWP Conference, the first time I'd been to AWP in 5 years. It's always a busy, frenetic, overwhelming, and generally wonderful experience, made all the more wonderful this time by the presence of quite a few friends I only occasionally get to see in person these days. On Thursday, I moderated a discussion between Samuel R. Delany and Kit Reed that was one of the featured events of the conference, and on Friday and Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Rain Taxi Review of Books table, something I enjoyed very much because it meant I got to stand in one spot and talk to lots of people instead of having to move all around to talk to lots of people (which is what I spent most of the rest of the conference doing). It was a great delight to catch up with folks like Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan of Omnidawn, Dustin Kurz of Melville House, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link of Small Beer Press, Hannah Tinti of One Story, Lawrence Schimel of Midsummer Night's Press, Parker Smathers and Stephanie Elliott of Wesleyan University Press, various folks from Unstuck, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting (sorry! you are so closely woven into my life that I take you for granted!). (Also, everyone who worked the Coffee House Press booth, because each time I walked by, I couldn't help saying, "I love your books!") I had a great conversation with someone at the Copper Canyon Press table about how they handle poetry lineation in ebooks by offering a sample line from which to calibrate, kind of like color bars on a tv. This allows the reader the flexibility to read the lines as the writer intended them, or to not. It also gave me a great excuse to buy an ebook (Laura Kasischke's Space, In Chains).

I went to panels and discussions and readings. Highlights were the joint reading/discussion by Dana Spiotta and Don DeLillo, moderated by Nan Graham, publisher and senior VP of Scribner. It was a highlight mostly because I haven't yet read anything by Spiotta, so it was a nice introduction to her, and because I've often wondered what DeLillo is like in person. He seemed pleasant enough, not particularly uncomfortable on stage, and in discussion his comments were often accompanied by a marvelously dry wit. I'm not a DeLillo fanboy — I like Underworld very much, but haven't ever warmed to the other books of his that I've read or sampled, and I positively hated White Noise. But hey, it's Don DeLillo. And it was an especially DeLilloesque moment because there were lots of warnings about taking pictures, making recordings, etc. We must abjure the age of digito-mechanical reproduction. (It was okay, they said, to use Twitter, though!) Meanwhile, because the event was in a giant auditorium, there was a massive screen up above that broadcast faces to us all. It was difficult not to look at the screen rather than the actual people.

Another great event in the same giant auditorium (indeed, immediately following the Spiotta/DeLillo event) was supposed to be a reading/discussion between Jeanette Winterson and Alison Bechdel, but Bechdel was trapped by snowfall in Cleveland, so it was Winterson alone. And if anybody can hold the attention of a giant auditorium full of writers, it's Jeanette Winterson. But still, I thought the pairing of Winterson and Bechdel was genius, and I desperately looked forward to seeing their interaction. Nonetheless, Winterson was awesome (for a somewhat similar version of the performance she gave us, see this video of her at the Sydney Opera House). I'm not quite in agreement with her Modernist self-help shtick, but I could watch her for hours, because she's a marvelous performer and a great reader of her own work. And I'm looking forward to reading Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal very much, because I'm a total sucker for her writing — reading Art & Lies at 20 was a revelatory experience, and I went on to devour just about everything else she wrote.

But the best event I saw at AWP may have been the discussion of the VIDA Count with various writers and editors. In fact, I have so many thoughts about it that I'm going to make it a separate post. [Which is now available here.]

Of course, I bought some books. Quite a few poetry books, in fact, because I've had a lack of poetry in life over the last few years, and it's a genre I love.

It was especially fun to see my friend and colleague Ivy Page sell out of her hot-off-the-press first poetry collection, Any Other Branch. And Lesley Wheeler very kindly gave me a copy of her new book from Aqueduct, The Receptionist and Other Tales, because Lawrence Schimel said nice things about me (haha! I fooled him!).

Overall, and as always, the greatest joy of AWP was getting time with great people. Eric Lorberer, Rudi Dornemann, Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, Richard Larson, Nick Mamatas, and so many others (Laird Hunt! Who I don't think I'd seen since my first AWP back in 2006!). I came home exhausted and with a cold, but it was completely worth it.

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