Writers Respond: What I Learned At AWP 2012 [1/3]

As anyone involved in the lit world knows, this past weekend was the annual AWP conference. Unfortunately, I was unable to find my way to Chicago for the event. Luckily, many gracious writers, editors, and publishers did go, and I asked them one question:

“What did you learn at AWP 2012?”

They gave me some great responses, which you can read below.

[Note: This is part one of a three-part series. Read part 2 here and part3 here. – or better yet, subscribe via RSS or email.]

It’s easy to give in to the belief that everyone in the small press / indie lit / AWP writing scene are all on some fake ass, circle jerk, social bullshit, then you arrive at AWP and remember that people are amazing, full of love and life and talent and energy and creativity and goodness and you forget how / why / when you ever even forgot that in the first place.

Barry Graham, author of Nothing Or Next To Nothing & The National Virginity Pledge

I learned that social media, despite its many problems, is oddly good at indicating what someone will be like in person. I met a lot of people whom I had previously known by only their avatar photos and status updates. And there were no surprises. And no bad apples, either. Writers are good bunch. Underrated, even.

Brad Listi, author of Attention. Deficit. Disorder. & founder of The Nervous Breakdown

I learned that Vanessa Place has major transfixing powers and that Kevin Sampsell’s new book is going to be incredible. Good things to know, both.

Amelia Gray, author of Threats & Museum of the Weird

What did I learn at AWP 2012? Not a lot of learning, actually, though I’ll take responsibility for that. AWP is mostly about confirmation at this point, that the work is where it needs to be, is headed in the right direction. For me, AWP is also about putting faces to names, meeting editors and contributors I’ve only interacted with via email. I suppose that’s learning, eh?

M. Bartley Seigel, founding editor of [PANK]

It is worth every penny to attend – meeting people, touching books, cramming into readings – seriously, unparalleled.

J. A. Tyler, author of Girl With Oars & Man Dying & founding editor of Mud Luscious Press

What was made clear to me, more than ever during this AWP, was that the new model of publishing is akin to community organizing with the roles of writer, reader, editor, publisher, book designer all expanding and shared in the medium of new media, and this was wonderfully performed on the book floor, the panel rooms, and all over the city of Chicago.

Michael Martone, author of Four for a Quarter & Michael Martone

The poet Hannah Gamble; the new issue of Beecher’s (#1.5), a great magazine out of Lawrence, KS; the new Eileen Myles book “Snowflake/These Streets”, which is actually two collections in one spine; Paper Darts, who make a gorgeous magazine and books and design blog; “Dear Jenny, We Are All Find” by Jenny Zhang, brand-new from Octopus; “MERCURY” by Ariana Reines, which I already knew about but “learned” about in the sense that I finally saw a physical copy and bought it and got it signed. So people and things for the most part, though I did acquire a new skill: the lady at the Penguin table taught me how to request desk copies of books I’m considering teaching. I immediately put my new skill to use.

Justin Taylor, author of The Gospel of Anarchy & Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever

I learned that a lot of the folks whom I regularly see in the cafes in my Chicago neighborhood (Logan Square) are also writers.

A. D. Jameson, author of Amazing Adult Fantasy & Giant Slugs

Put a hard rock band, like Chicago locals Mutts, in the middle of a reading at The Empty Bottle, and writers will stand around awkwardly, but within two songs they’ll be thrashing across the dance floor.

Ryan W. Bradley
, author of Code For Failure & Prize Winners

Unfortunately for me, this year was the first year that I felt some of the negative things that people complain about AWP. That’s saying something, since the first AWP I attended was in 2003. I’ve always had a good time, was excited to be there, and was happy to meet new people and see old friends. The good part is that the old friends part still rang true this year (although I feel like I see everyone so fleetingly). But I felt a little dirty walking around. Some of the desperation really got to me. A writer I’ve spoken with electronically–but never met before in real life–turned out to be badly transparent in efforts to “get the work out there.” I was uncomfortable with people trying too hard to sell to me on the book fair floor. Some dude was cruising around in a costume that looked like a cross between a tree and a creature from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and he screeched something incoherent somewhat in my direction as I passed him. What I wish was that people were simply nice to one another and eager to meet each other because we have a love of words in common. I am a lot more likely to buy your book if you’re cool. The best, or most awkward and weird, part of the conference though was on Thursday night when I came back to the Hilton after dinner and stepped out of the cab. A woman was approaching me, looking me very intensely from head to toe, so I was looking back at her, trying to figure out if I recognized her, which I did not. Finally she said, “Oh you don’t work here,” and turned away abruptly. Weird. That’s AWP for you.

Jamie Iredell, author of The Book of Freaks

I learned how good Matt Bell’s new novella Cataclysm Baby is. It was hard to put it down long enough to attend readings and panels

Kyle Minor, author of In The Devil’s Territory

I learned that it probably wasn’t the best idea to rent a car when I could have saved money on cabs. Besides the cost of the rental car for three days, the parking downtown was ridiculous ($6.50 an hour was cheap. $40 for a couple of hours at the hotel lots) and the GPS continually got us lost whenever there was a detour, which there often was. So, yeah, I may have looked cool driving in my white 2011 Charger, but I was getting thin in my wallet by the end of it all.

Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography & founding editor of Future Tense Books.

I went to excellent readings every night and tried to draw every reader I saw, although I often sucked at it. I learned that every line you draw on someone’s face adds a year to their age, and that the way a writer holds a sheet of paper or a book in their hand is just as characteristic as the words coming out of their word-hole. If a person has a book, a beard and horn rim glasses, you only have to draw those parts and you’re done!

Mykle Hansen, author of HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! & Hooray for Death!

You just read part 1. Read part 2 here and part3 here.

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