Some of my favorite things of this years conference:
1. Taking the train. Seriously. I canceled my flights and took the train there and back and I’m sold. The ride was longer, but I arrived more relaxed than I do from a short trip by air. No lines. No waiting around. No full body scans. Lots of space to move around. Less impact on the environment. What’s not to like? Plus, everything is blurry:
2. Getting to see my dad and stepmother the night before. Also very cool. Rushed out of New England to beat the snow and spent the night in Manassas. The train stopped about a quarter mile from their house. An unexpected bonus. Plus, I got to check out their new flat screen. He used to think he’d never need a HDTV, but all that has changed. Next, he’ll be texting.
3. Getting to meet Tod Goldberg. Tod gave me money once, so it was nice to finally meet him. Actually, he picked a story of mine as the winner in a contest that he judged years ago. Money was involved. The check came in time to help with a mortgage payment. Plus, he said nice things about my story. He’s a talented writer and a fine person. Plus, we’re pretty sure we saw one of the actors from Twilight walking through the Book Fair. How often does that happen? Not often enough. Tod’s magnetism pulled the famous, and the odd, in our direction.
4. Speaking of the famous. BOWIE sighting! At AWP! Very excited to see the chameleon rocker back to his Aladdin Sane character (seen in the Book Fair):
5. Breakfast. This one happened because I wasn’t ready for it. As I walked across the lobby of the hotel, my former teacher Jill McCorkle called out to me. Jill is a fantastic writer and teacher and simply a lovely person, and I was happy to see her and chat a bit. As we were talking, Richard Bausch texted her and said he was coming down. Richard Bausch was the very first fiction writing instructor I had, nearly twenty-four years ago. Not only is he one of our country’s best writers, he’s also one of the warmest, enthusiastic, encouraging teachers one could hope to have. I’d seen him the day before, but lost him in the crowd before I could say hello. I told this to Jill and she said, “Well, just wait with me, he’ll be right here.” And while we were waiting, Pulitzer Prize winner and all around American writer big-wig Richard Ford came over. Jill introduced me to him and he said, “Hi, I’m Richard Ford.” Inside, I was saying, “Dude, I know who you are.” But I did not say this aloud. Before I knew it, Richard Bausch was there with Jon Peede (NEA Director of Literature) and all of us were off to breakfast. While at breakfast, author Pam Houston dropped by. It was writing royalty (although I highly doubt they would think of themselves in such terms) and me. Most amazingly, really, is the fact that my very first fiction writing teacher (Bausch) and my very last teacher (McCorkle) were at the same table. I didn’t realize it that morning, but having them both at the table closed some vast circle, connected two very distinct part of my life. Having Richard Ford and Pam Houston and Jon Peede was simply a bonus. A good way to start the day. Thanks to Jon Peede for taking the picture. I wish I’d thought to get someone else to act as photographer, so he could be in the photo as well.
6. Seeing friends. One of my favorite people is Elise Juska–an extraordinary writer and close friend. We worked together at an old theater, went to grad school together, shared an office as TA’s, and have pretty much read everything each other has written. We get to see each other and chat about the writing life once or twice a year. On Friday night, we went to eat at the Indian place across the street and ran into a AWP rookie, Heather Severson. We all ended up having dinner together and talking about writing, the conference, and all the rest. Writers tend to spend much time alone. It’s nice to know that everyone else is feeling nearly as awkward and bumbly as you are. Cheers Ellie (right) and Heather (left)!
6. Helping at a Book Fair Table. Last year, I answered some questions for Lori May about Low Residency MFA programs (of which I am a graduate, from Bennington College). Some of my answers, along with dozens of other interviewees, are now in Lori May’s book: The Low Residency MFA Handbook. I sat with Lori at her table a couple times and she sold every single copy of the book that she brought! Wa-hoo! She’s a super person and if you have any questions about what to expect from a Lo-Res writing program, her book has the answers. Snatch one up while you can.
Okay, that’s probably the longest post I’ve ever written on this blog. And I haven’t even got to the readings and other events that constitute most of the conference. I’ll add part three to this list tomorrow.