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AWP Musings

It's the last day of AWP (the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) and I'm exhausted, sick, and totally invigorated. I'm sitting in one of the cafe areas of the Bookfair, sipping hot Earl Grey tea for my sore throat, listening to the melodic drone of a reading just beyond my range of hearing words. If I look past the round cafe tables, I can see the Red Hen Press sign. I'm happy.

Every year, friends ask why I come to AWP, even those years when I'm not on a panel or promoting a book. I'm not an academic writer. No university pays my way. It's hard to explain why I love it so much.

Partly, it's the programs. But honestly, some panels are terrific and some, not so much. This year, I attended panels on writing the other, on eco-fiction, on writing as witness and writing for social justice. I learned some things about the DIY book tour and writing with vulnerable populations. My nasty cough made me leave a few others early; I wished I could have stayed.

Partly, it's the books. I always leave with a few new ones, despite the impossibility of fitting them in my suitcase. I'm particularly thrilled to now own new poetry collections by Lesle Lewis and Kate Gale. I also return home with a list of books I've got to buy and read: Harbor by Lorraine Adams and The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway are high on the list.

And it's the book fair - it's crowded and noisy and overwhelming. But it's strong evidence that small presses and lit mags and MFA programs and community writing projects are many and varied, alive and well. I love that.

Mostly, it's the people. The planned meetings and the surprises. The writers and teachers who have been critically important in my writing life (Manette Ansay and Lee Hope) and my
publishing life (Mary Bisbee-Beek and Kate Gale and Mark Cull and Billy Goldstein). And then all the friends and acquaintances I love seeing Naomi Benaron and Julie Wu and Christine Byl and Robin Talbot and Candace Nadon and Ruthe Rohle and Pearl Abraham). It's getting to hear and meet my writing heroes, like Ann Pancake.

What it all comes down to is this: I come every year to be part of this writing world. I am so very grateful to be here. Read More 
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Why I love AWP

I’ve been thinking about why I love AWP so much. I mean, it’s too big and too loud, with far too many choices and inevitable conflicts. Actually, I find it totally overwhelming. But I love being stuffed with 12,000 writers and editors and small press publishers into a conference center with recycled air and never enough bathrooms.  Read More 
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Reflecting on AWP 2012 and literary sisterhood

I’ve been home two days now from the AWP annual conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). For me, the conference started slow this year. The panels I attended on Thursday and Friday weren’t very useful and I didn’t feel inspired. I started to wonder if the panels were just an excuse for writers to get together with far-flung writer friends. I loved hanging out with Janice and Jean and Rosellen and Carol and Marie and Margaret and Jeanne, and with folks from Red Hen Press and Stonecoast MFA. I bought and started reading fellow Red Hen author Michael Quadland’s brand new novel, Offspring. (It’s a wonderful read; check it out). But the chaos and noise of 10,000 writers was overwhelming. And not in a good way.

Saturday, day three, didn’t start well either. First of all, I didn’t sleep well Friday night – insomnia and bad dreams chased me into dawn. And several of my friends had to leave early. So I was looking forward to my political fiction panel with Rosellen Brown and Tracy Daughterty (assigned the last slot of the three day conference) but not much else.

My attitude changed in the ladies’ bathroom at 8:30 a.m., when the woman drying her hands at the sink said hello and we began a conversation. Turns out she is Edith Pearlman, whose recent story collection Binocular Vision, I’ve read twice, and loved. We were both en route to her panel – Women of a Certain Age. The panel was totally delightful, inspiring even, as five elegant and eloquent women writers opened their hearts. I was not the only person in the audience with tears in my eyes and a catch in my throat. This was because the panelists embraced the audience as sisters rather than passive listeners, and because of the truth of their observations and the beauty of their prose. The panelists, all with long and successful careers, also embraced those in the audience who are – like me – literary late bloomers, and welcomed us into their literary sisterhood.

Enjoying the brisk air and occasional snowflakes on Michigan Avenue afterwards, I realized that it took a while, but I finally hit my AWP stride. Once again I felt a profound gratitude to be part of a community of people for whom words are magic and books still live.  Read More 
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