Perhaps the greatest movie ever made…

Yes, a movie about… Trains. And Steel. And Acting. So Much Acting. And Greed. And Shiny Floors. And Come Hither Glances. And Acting. And Personal Philosophy. And Ayn Rand. What? How’d she get in there? No one knows. But she did. She’s there, people! Bigger than life! And it’s only Part One! People! There will be a sequel! Or two! And then it’s off to the Fountainhead! The possiblities are endless!

A Final Entry Concerning AWP 2011

So, it comes down to this.

I won’t be writing about AWP anymore. Until next year, at least. And then only if I decide to trek to the windy city for four days in February.

For anyone who has been following my AWP round-up, I wanted to leave you with one last post. While I was there, I pretty much blew any book budget I have for the year. Maybe a few more (I somehow missed Jessica DuLong’s My River Chronicles at the conference, so there’s one…) will be snuck in here or there. But mostly, I’m set. I thought I’d post some pictures of the books I bought. If you are interested, the books can be ordered through websites and bought at your local bookstore. I’ll do my best to provide linking/author/publisher info with each photo. Something about each of the following books caught my eye, and although I’ve not read them all (what am I, superman?) I’ve read enough to know that the authors are most excellent and deserving of your reading attentions:

1. Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg and Objects for a Fog Death, by Julie Doxsee, both published by Black Ocean. The folks at the Black Ocean table loved their authors. All of their books are lovingly (and arrestingly) crafted. Plus, they look as though they’d be just as comfortable at a Motorhead concert as they would at AWP, and that’s a plus in my book. Here’s a link to the Black Ocean website:

2. Death-Defying Acts, New Poems by Erin Keane, published by WordFarm. As I walked by the WordFarm table, I looked down at this book and someone (who turned out to be the author, Erin) said, “it’s about the circus.” And I think I was hooked at that moment. Perhaps it was the subject matter, or the author’s cheerful voicing of the book’s topic that caught my attention, but it is the careful, compact lines that are keeping it: She is giving it her all,/teeth bared straight/at the lens. Write this/her eyes throw back/at us. Here’s a link to the WordFarm site:

3. The New Guard, Vol. 1. Not a book, but a literary review edited by the talented Shanna Miller McNair. It is Maine’s only independent literary review and is really quite wonderful. Check out the “Fan Letters to the Dead” that open the volume, writers writing to the dead. Lovely, haunting, hopeful. If you’d like to get involved supporting writing at the most basic level, The New Guard is funding itself through Kickstarter. It’s a very worthy cause and every little bit helps. Here’s a link:

4. Fortune Teller Miracle Fish by Cathryn Hankla, published by Michigan State University Press. Lovely collection of short stories from a very nice person. The stories are surprisingly lyric, often quite brief. From what I’ve read so far, it’s easy to see that there are no wasted words here. Nothing left in for the sake of leaving in. They all count. Here’s a link to Cathryn Hankla’s website:

5. One Story. A wonderful and aesthetically pleasing journal. Every three weeks you get a short story nicely bound in the mail. Just one story, hence the name. One of the cool things about going to the One Story table was getting to talk with Editor-in-chief, Hannah Tinti, a fine, luminous author (The Good Thief) who presides over a staff of folks that bring good words into many homes. Although I’ve read a number of volumes of One Story, this year, I subscribed. With all the great journals out there, it’s often hard to choose which to subscribe to. This one turned out to be an easy choice. Here’s a link:

6. Pank. A nicely put together journal edited by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay, each fine and accomplished writers. They do an online version throughout the year, and one printed version. It’s a wonderful book full of stories/poems both strange and moving. Plus, I’m in this one, page forty-four, if you’re looking. It’s a wonderful collection, though, with or without me. Link:

7. And last, but certainly not least, is this fascinating book: Everything Sings; Maps for a Narrative Atlas, by Denis Wood, put out by Siglio Press. The books at this table were as much art as book. They demanded to be picked up. In a world where more and more folks are turning to the digital for reading needs, Siglio reminded me that the book as an object is a far different thing than some pixels. Everything Sings is a book about maps, but not the sort of maps  you’d expect. The author, a noted cartographer, mapped everything about his hometown, including the trees that had been disfigured (for power lines, for instance) and the paper boy routes. The maps are exquisite. Here’s a link to Siglio:

Okay! Enough! I have reading to do! Please support these authors and presses. They’ve done the hard work of drafting and revision so that their writing seems like it never had to be revised at all. The world is a better place for these volumes. Good reading!

Other Things of Note from AWP

A list:

Great reading by Colson Whitehead. He opened by saying, “Normally on Fridays, I spend the afternoon weeping over my failures and regrets, so this is a nice change.” He then read a segment of his novel Sag Harbor, which he claimed was s book where absolutely nothing happened. Colson is a noted fan of the critically lauded but short lived show, Hello Larry, from the late seventies, early eighties. After the reading, he spent several hours reading through scripts from the show with conference members at the edge of the stage. Much laughter was heard throughout the hall.

This from Richard Bausch, during a panel: “Writers who don’t have doubt probably don’t have much talent.” A huge collective sigh rippled through the audience, every member relieved to know that their own crippling doubt was not an isolated incident.

This heard from Juno Diaz: “Every writer who finishes a novel is either full of self-loathing, or thinking, ‘this is the shit.'” Later, someone asked Diaz why he felt the need to swear so much and Diaz spoke about “taking off the mask when talking about art.” The culture of respectability, he explained, kept people trapped behind language/decorum that covered the real truths. The same culture of respectability, he said, that kept people from swearing in front of large groups because it was wrong/not respectable was the same culture that kept generations of people from acknowledging far uglier truths, such as “daddy is out back raping the slaves.” When one is forced by ceremony to speak in a way unnatural to themselves, they become protectors not only of “polite society” but also of the underbelly of things. To get at the truth, he said, one must remove the masks. Then he read a story of Alma, who had a beautiful ass. Then he told us to fuck off, but lovingly.

Jennifer Egan read a chapter from her latest book A Visit From the Goon Squad. There’s no joke here. It was just fantastic. It was wonderful to see her read and to get to meet her. Whenever I read Egan, I want to write more. I’d like to write something that affects a reader the way Egan’s last two books have affected me. She writes so good I feel like I’m coming unglued.

I spoke to dozens of independent presses and editors of literary reviews. These are people that keep our literary world alive. Walking through the book fair, I couldn’t help but think that the people gathered there were most likely not only the largest group of writers one could hope to find in this country, but also the largest group of readers. With fewer and fewer people reading things of literary quality each day, I felt encouraged by the sheer scope and enthusiasm of the crowd. People walking around with armfuls of books. Poets shouting drunkenly across the aisles. Fiction writers like Tod Goldberg dressed in black and pondering the existential loss of losing. Everyone seriously interested in BOOKS. WORDS. SENTENCES. STANZAS. ART.

For my last post, tomorrow, I’ll scan the covers of some of the books I bought while there. They deserve recognition.

The New Guard

Interested in supporting the literary arts? Check out this Kickstater proposal. If you are a reader or writer, you’d have to agree that the rapid decline in independent journals is alarming. Here’s an amazing opportunity to help fund Maine’s only independent literary review. It’s run by excellent people and is packed with superb writing. I’d love to see this thing succeed:

More from AWP

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.

Letting it Happen

The AWP 2011 Conference has come and gone. Many thousands of writers descended upon the nation’s capital for three (or four, or five in some cases) days of intensive and often exhausting conversations, panels, readings, meetings, greetings, wanderings, searchings, tweetings, and browsing hundreds of tables in the annual book fair (to be fair, not all the tables had books–reviews, journals, art, and informational displays from universities and the like also filled the acres and acres of conference center space).

Writers spend a lot of time alone. It’s hard not to put a lot of thought into my expectations of what AWP should be. A friend of mine always suggests that I should attend the conference with a mind of what I can bring to the gathering, not what I can get from it. Good advice, but not always easy to enact. Still, I went this year with two goals: 1). To talk to people I did not know. Specifically, to introduce myself to people. And 2). To not mention my own writing/manuscripts/publishing dreams to any table in the Book Fair. I’ve heard that running a table is mostly waiting for people to ask you how to publish with whatever particular press/review/magazine you happen to be working for. I didn’t want to be that guy: “Hey, how do I get published with you guys.” Instead, I went looking for interesting tables with interesting products and people selling those products. I totally blew any book budget I might have had. I talked to many, many people. I will not remember any of their names and they are unlikely to remember mine (after this week, I’m sort of unlikely to remember my own name) but the names don’t seem to matter. Despite some of the strangeness of the event, it was evident that I was involved in the larger activities of the writing world, a world that seems to be taking place more and more outside the traditional publishing houses.

Because of the snow, I canceled my plane rides and took the train to and from D.C. I’m now a train convert. A very pleasant experience all around. I read on the way down and slept most of the way back (except for the time I spent watching The Bourne Identity, which was a nice antidote to a literary week). Now, I’m trying to make sense of what I just went through. The one thing I learned about this sort of event is that I can’t make anything happen. Events of this scope require participation, but not direction. I had to let the days unfold as they would. The more I tried to wrangle a “good” AWP conference into being, the more strangled the whole thing felt. So, I dropped the oars and let the currents take me. In my next post, I’ll list my favorite moments from the conference, and then I’ll write a bit about the books I found, in hopes that some folks reading this blog might think about buying them too. Part two later tonight.