In three weeks I leave for Boston to represent Ruminate at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (table Y21). I’ve been to AWP several times—as a writer, as a fan, as a book lover who works in the book industry—but this will be the first time that I will be officially representing an organization. As I peruse the schedule in preparation for the conference, my interest is piqued by myriad sessions, and I soon realize I would need to be in four places at once in order to hit everything that calls my name.
As a writer, I love AWP for the craft talks, for the book fair—getting to meet people at literary magazines and publishers and learning about new ones—and for the networking. Writing can be a very solitary venture, so it’s great once in a while to be surrounded by your ilk. The conference is also an excellent place to light a fire in terms of your own writing life, and I have many poems that have been sparked by something said at a craft talk. Here’s what attracts me as a writer:
R205. Defining Contemporary Poetry: How Do We Know How Much is Too Much, Not Enough, or Too Little?
R252. Poetry and/as Play (with Kevin McFadden, a fellow Charlottesvillian and friend): “Four poets will discuss ways of using play to generate material, along with the value of play in their own writing.”
S162. Courting the Love Poem: Challenges of Sincerity and Sentimentality (This is a topic I have explored in a previous Ruminate blog.)
S209. Master of None: Surviving and Thriving without an MFA
As a fan at AWP, I have attended readings of some of my favorite writers, as well as some unknown to me at the time who would later make their way onto that list. I got to see fabulous books displayed at the book fair, and bump into people I admire (literally—a friend I was with brushed arms with Billy Collins in the hallway). There are so many readings by people whose work I love, but these are the ones at the top of my list:
R264. Staggered Tellings: Immediacy, Intimacy, and Ellipses in the Verse Novel (with Rita Dove and Kevin Young, two of my favorite poets)
R270B. A Tribute to Jake Adam York (1972-2012) (I met Jake several times when I lived in Colorado, and his recent passing was a great loss to the poetry community.)
F187. Pitt Poetry Series Reading (with Richard Blanco, whose poem at the Inauguration was just wonderful)
F210. A Centenary Celebration of Muriel Rukeyser (with Galway Kinnell and Sharon Olds, two other favorites of mine)
F271. Copper Canyon Press 40th Anniversary Reading (with Michael Wiegers, C.D. Wright, Jean Valentine, Bob Hicok, Dean Young—all fabulous)
S211. Video Games, Fan Fiction, and Comics: Alternative Genres as Legitimate Literature (I have written here about graphic novels and my husband is a huge fanboy, so I find this topic fascinating)
S263. Augusten Burroughs & Cheryl Strayed: A Reading & Conversation (Two literary superstars, and for good reason. I am an especially big fan of Strayed’s work and of her as a person, having hosted her for a reading for her first book when I worked at a bookstore in Minnesota. She is just tops.)
As one who works in the publishing industry, AWP also offers much food for thought. Here’s what draws me in:
R130. Hurdles and Widgets and Dishes: The State of Literary Publishing. “A panel of distinguished literary publishing professionals discusses the latest challenges, innovations, and intrigues facing literary publishing today.”
R176. Graywolf Press Reading (I love and admire the books that Graywolf produces. And I’m not just saying this to get in good with James Franco—but if he wants to email me, that’s cool, too.)
R209. University Presses: Not Just Poetry Anymore. (Not only do I work at a university press, but our director is also on the panel, so this one is doubly relevant for me.)
F240. Breaking Digital Ground: E-Books and Independent Literary Publishing. (I manage the ebook program at our press and am constantly learning new things about this quickly changing and evolving area. I think it’s important to stay engaged in the ebook conversation, and since I work with mostly academic titles, I’d love to hear how the literary side of publishing is dealing with ebooks.)
Finally, as a part of Ruminate, I am so looking forward to meeting writers who have appeared in our pages, as well as those who hope to be or who simply admire the magazine. As Poetry Editor, I first meet poets through their work, and I love getting to know them more when I read their bios in the magazine’s proofs. I am very proud of the work that Ruminate puts out and I think the magazine itself is a thing of beauty, so I can’t wait to talk to people about it and to pass along some of my excitement. Here are some sessions that tie in with Ruminate’s mission and operation:
R119. Religion and Stories: Heretics and Humanists Shift the Perspective. “These writers, though not conventionally religious, use religion to explore reality…. Join them for a frank discussion of issues (creative, cultural, moral, and legal) involved when writers use what others regard as sacred to illuminate the human condition.”
R143. Odes, Psalms, and Praise Songs: A Living Tradition. Reading and discussion.
F202. Where Marketing Meets Development: Who Said Fundraising’s Not Fun? “Representatives of renowned nonprofit literary organizations—The Writer’s Center, Lighthouse Writers, 826Boston and Grub Street—speak about the intersection of marketing and fundraising for literary organizations, and how development efforts can create community, promote an organization’s programming and services, and be innovative and fun rather than daunting.” (I think that Ruminate, as a nonprofit, does a great job of making fundraising fun while creating community, from the fabulous broadsides and other goodies it sells to the dinners and writing retreats.)
F268. The Bible, Women, and American Literature. “Five women writers who use Bible-based themes transformatively in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction will discuss their own and others’ work and invite audience discussion.”
S191. Message in a Bottle: Poetry of the Sacred and the Profane. “What poem would you cast into the sea in a bottle?” (This panel includes Tony Hoagland, whose work I love, so I guess this could fall into the “fan” category, too!)
S252. Because That’s the Way It’s Always Been Done: When Literary Journals Face Necessary Change. “Literary journals must respond to changing readerships, budgetary constraints, evolving aesthetics, and limited staffing resources.”
Fortunately, I do not have to make the tough calls about which things to attend, since I will be happily manning the Ruminate table (Y21) at the AWP Bookfair. The Bookfair will be open 8:30a.m. to 6:00p.m. Thursday, March 7 through Saturday, March 9 (open to the general public on Saturday), so if you are attending please stop by and say hello! I would love to put some faces with the work I have loved reading and the work I hope to see down the road. And if you want to put the names of two Ruminate prizewinners with their faces, come by the table for signings with Jessica Wilbanks (Friday at 2:00 p.m) and Nahal Suzanne Jamir (Saturday at 10:30 a.m).
In any of the above capacities, I would definitely attend the fabulous WordFarm Press and Ruminate reading and reception on Thursday night (7:00-8:15p.m., Room 205, Level 2). Featuring Jessie van Eerden (author of the debut novel Glorybound), Nahal Suzanne Jamir, Jessica Wilbanks, and others, this is sure to be a fun night.
Are you going, too? What sessions/readings/signings are calling your name? Which table/booth will be the first one you dash to at the Bookfair? Safe travels, and see you in Boston!