AWP Conference Roundup Pt. II

Posted Fri, 4/08/2016 - 7:32am by  |  Category:

While I sat at Hugo House’s table at AWP’s bookfair on Friday with the wondrous Sonya Lea, I learned that I missed an amazing reading of the Hugo House Literary Series All-Stars. Droves of conference attendees came by to find out what was going on at the Hugo House to produce such work, clamoring for Jess Walter’s story “Cheston,” rooting around for Natalie Diaz’s book, When My Brother Was an Aztec, gushing about Jennine Capó Crucet, and arguing about who loved Roxane Gay more. They wore a visible afterglow. The good news is Jess Walter has a podcast with Sherman Alexie where you can listen to him read the short story he read at AWP. These two hilarious writers share works in progress and discuss their process. Listening to it is like taking a writing course from them, as Lea described the podcast to me. Seattle author Wendy Call came by the table and sang praises for Pricilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, with a few other strangers gathered around.

Hanging around the bookfair is stimulating and overwhelming. The florescent lights and the cavernous conference center architecture of bland lends a green tinge to us all, some of whom are feeling a little green anyway – with envy, yes; also, perhaps the after-effects of last night’s social (over)lubricant. There are so many beautiful books to touch, such an array of eyeglasses glinting, and then there are all the readings and conversations I am probably missing out on by reading this book.

I wish I was a subatomic particle and could be two places at once! Since I am not, yet, I checked in with a more few writers about their AWP Choose-Your-Own-Adventure paths through the conference.


author of 26, Hugo House Writer-In-Residence

This year for my AWP experience I purposely went to more readings/social justice talks/dialogs/discussions as opposed to craft talks.

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

One interesting piece of subconscious advice I received this year was to tell “our” stories. If we don’t tell our stories (in any kind of way: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction) other people telling them will get them all wrong and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. I also learned that a popular writer’s “talk” or “speech” can make or break their future and that brave writers usually make the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writers.
What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

Muzzle books, Black Radish Press

What or who blew your mind?

Too many things/people to name but here goes: Douglas Kearney, Jericho Brown, Mahogany Brown, Khadijah Queen, Betinna Judd, Tropics reading, Jamaal May, Willie Perdomo, Christian Campbel, Patrick Rosenthal, VONA reading and, Cave Canem reading, African Women reading with Warsan Shire, Juliet P. Howard.


panel talk about the concept of Duende in their writing/real world.

Wish I could have…

gone to  more readings offsite & onsite

made a plan first to see where I was going first in terms of panels

talked to more presses at the book fair

made more space for reflection

slept in at least one day 

ebradfield-interpElizabeth Bradfield

author of three books of poetry—most recently Once Removed—and founder of Broadsided Press

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

I didn’t get to many panels because I was mostly at the bookfair’s Broadsided Press table, but I think what inspired me was the generous spirit that seemed to be in the air—and outward-looking perspective from poets writing, eager to engage with the world, to lift their passion up from the page and share it—and to share and celebrate the work of other writers they love.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths asked, in her panel with Naomi Shihab Nye and Luis Rodriguez, “What are you pretending you don’t know?” This, I think, is a vital question. She urged us to write into this. I vow to.

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

I went home with a lot of University of Pittsburgh Press books this year—partly because I love the books they make and always want to know what they’re publishing, partly because they sell their paperbacks for $5 at the bookfair!  Can’t beat that.  Worth the weight and then some and then some more.

[At Broadsided] we decided to just give things away and make it fun with our Viewmaster “Elemental Getaways.” They were something I came up with as an antidote to the over-stimulus. An overstimulation anti-venom. Narrow vision (in the viewmaster) + soundscape (ambient noise in headphones) = relief!

What or who blew your mind?

The Persea Books, Bull City Press, Four Way Books offsite reading blew my mind.  And the tribute to Eloise Klein Healy, who started Arktoi Books. I couldn’t go to the AWP panel because I had a panel at the same time, but the offsite was so full of love and admiration for her.  For her poems, for the spirit she brings to world (back to that generosity), for the determination she had to make sure that lesbian writers were and are given a voice in the conversation.

Daemond_ArrindellDaemond Arrindell

poet, performer, and teaching artist

A favorite quote

Douglas Kearney: “I would rather there be blood than beauty.”
Robin Coste-Lewis: “I think blood and beauty are the same thing. Beauty is not pretty, it is very dark.”

Also, I loved that the following events took place, bringing attention to the ongoing need for visibility and representation and diversity, but not diversity for diversity’s sake:

  • Calling White Allies: What White Writers Can Do to Foster Inclusion and Support People of Color.
  • We Need Diverse Books: Shifting the Narrative Lens.
  • #BlackPoetsSpeakOut: From Hashtag to Social Justice Movement.
  • Social Justice in Speculative and Fantastical Fiction for Young Readers.
  • The Unbearable Too-Whiteness of Workshop
  • Publishing Poets of Color: The Power of Diversity and the Literary Landscape.
  • Non-White Authors Also Worry About Getting It Wrong: Creating Diverse Characters in Children’s Literature.
  • Counting Its Presence: Race and Creative Writing Syllabi. How many white writers is one asked to read in order to be a creative writing professional? This panel presents its analysis of the data (more than 3,000 texts).

originalAriana Kelly

author of Phone Booth

Three panels really stood out to me:

One was about poetry infusing nonfiction, another was about exploring the reasons for hybrid forms, and another was about Writing in the Anthropocene. I’m really interested in hybridity in my own writing, so the first two were really just giving language to why I’m drawn to it, and why hybridity is the bomb. The one aphoristic statement that stands out (and I forget who said it) is that in his best writing he is always “trying to condense without becoming dense.” That seemed right. Someone on the poetry and nonfiction panel read an excerpt from his memoir Track Conditions that blew my mind.

I found the third panel, about Writing in the Anthropocene, really moving. Liz Bradfield was a panelist. The general message was: All the information that proves climate change is real and happening and happening faster than we know it is out there, but information is not enough. For people to actually change their behavior, they have to feel the information, and the only way to feel information is to humanize it, convey it in a way that makes it go to the heart. It’s a simple point I guess, but it got to the heart of writing with purpose, writing for something larger than any one individual in mind.

Nelson SnipSierra Nelson

author of I Take Back the Sponge Cake


  • renewing my excitement for small presses that embrace hybrid genre work, like DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press (chapbook deadline coming up April 29th), and the always lovely Rose Metal Press (full disclosure, they published my book, I Take Back the Sponge Cake) with a new anthology of essays about eight literary hybrid genres called Family Resemblance.
  • finding the lactation room with encouraging flyers for the Sustainable Arts Foundation ( and Pen Parentis.
  • “the thing that occurs inside the fruit” —poet Hannah Sanghee Park, describing how she tried to ask for seedless grapes in a Korean market, the poetics of invention across languages on a panel of young Korean-American writers
  • “Somehow you never turn out to be the writer you thought you would be.” – Borges, as quoted by Francisco Goldner, on why he loves reading authors who write in styles quite different than his own (Writing the Personal panel)
  • Liz Bradfield naturalist and poet on the panel Writing in the Anthropocene: “What isn’t a science narrative? We are nature. We are science.”
  • using historical subjects in our writing as “potholders for hot topics” — a way to approach difficult subjects in the present, by entering first with a cooler/ more distant historical perspective
  • on why we need poetry about things we may already know as facts, quoting Jorie Graham, “They know it but they are not feeling it. Help them know it. Help them feel it.”
  • poetry about science speaks to “the Scientist and the Wonderer in each of us”
  • from Bradfield’s own poem, with many amazing images, this one strayed into my notebook “poor blushing copepods … watermelon scent” (poem called ” Historic Number of Right Whales Skim Feeding off Cape Cod “)
  • From that same panel, a moving eulogy and tribute to Eva Saulitis (poet and author of nonfiction book Into Great Silence, about the devastation from oil spill on the genetically distinct pod of orcas she studied that lived mostly in Prince William sound) (eulogy presented by Peggy Shoemaker), Eva was also supposed to be on the panel but she passed away in January. Saulitis has forthcoming book of essays called Becoming Earth, from Royal Press — writing about the earth and her own imminent death. Shoemaker read from a Saulitis piece, I think called “Prayer in Wind” — “I died. The words pop out on the page. I died and the mountain remained. I died and baby birch leaves on the birch trees broke through their waxy casks in what was once my yard. I died and nettles push up through layers of fallen birch leaves…” — and towards the end, “There is a future and it is not us. It is beyond us.”

545128_10100533674748336_612168737_nKatie Ogle

poet, educator, associate editor of Poetry Northwest

Celebrity Gossip

  • Roxane Gay lost her badge and was denied entry into the conference until someone bought her a new badge
  • I had a heart flutter spotting the following people “in the wild” (i.e., not on a panel or at a reading): Cheryl Strayed on a coffee run, Natasha Trethewey grabbing a table at the Marriott Bar, Jess Walter getting run down by a fan, D. A. Powell making way for a group of literary babes headed to the bar at The Last Bookstore, Maggie Nelson putting her hair into a ponytail and then taking it out again in the Convention Center hallway, Maggie Nelson picking up a pen for someone who’d dropped it.
  • There was an hours-long underwear hot-tub party that followed Copper Canyon’s Neruda event at the Ace Hotel

Favorite small-press moments:

  • Two Sylvias Press: literary tarot badge swag (I got John Berryman, who is featured upside down, which I found a little macabre until someone said, “Two Sylvias tells it like it is.”)
  • receiving Nicelle Davis’s The Walled Wife as a gift during Red Hen Press’s $5 flash sale


  • Collier Nogues interactive erasure website, a companion to her book The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground. (description better rendered by the author herself here: The Ground I Stand On Is Not My Ground, winner of the 2014 Drunken Boat Poetry Book Contest, the book is a hybrid of poetry and digital art whose poems erase historical documents related to the development and aftermath of the Pacific War, especially on the island of Okinawa. Erased into poems, these texts become spare narratives of how individual soldiers’ and civilians’ daily lives were transformed by the war. The book’s companion website features each poem as an interactive erasure. Taken together, the poems and their original texts tell a larger story about the ways we imagine war, and the ways language can be used to record, justify, memorialize, or resist it. )
  • Kevin Young reading “Prayer for Black-Eyed Peas” in a panel called INTENTION v. INTUITION and the woman next to me saying “oh!” like she’d been bit, or goosed, or otherwise viscerally and profoundly surprised.

Ringing in my ears:

Last line of Mark Doty’s “Deep Lane [June 23rd, evening of the first fireflies]” — in the poem, the speaker’s dog Ned has taken off with a grave marker. The speaker is horrified, thinking seriously of the deceased whose marker is now missing, and her family who depends on the boundaries of her grave in order to locate & place their grief … but in the final moment of the poem, watches the dog running off and says

You run darling, you tear up that hill. 

cody-walkerCody Walker

author of The Self-Styled No-Child and Shuffle and Breakdown:

The best advice I heard from the few panels I popped in on came from Laura Kasischke (who was part of a Copper Canyon panel on fables and fibs): “If Adele calls and says Hello, hang up immediately.”