Writers Respond: What I Learned At AWP 2012 [2/3]

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 two of a three-part series. Read part one here and part three here – or better yet, subscribe via RSS or email.]

I learned how to use the Chicago subway system.

Melissa Broder, author of Meat Heart & When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother

1) literary events are more often about drinking with other writers than listening to them read; 2) if you want an audience, you have to rock the mic; 3) the most rewarding experiences tend to be the least trendy; 4) the DJ/dance part of the “Literature Party” should be subtitled “Geeks on Parade”; 5) short skirts and tall boots sell books; 6) many writers are alcoholics and it’s not glamorous; 7) you really can get laid at these things.

Jesus Angel Garcia, author of Badbadbad

“Some things I learned at AWP” by Joseph Riippi
AWP is A Wonderful Party
AWP is Always Walking Places
AWP is Always With Pals
AWP is Abundant Weighty Purchases
AWP is Alive With Penmanship
AWP is Absurd While Practical
AWP is Awkward While Poised
AWP is Amateurish While Professional
AWP is Awful While Perfect
AWP is Another Way to Procrastinate
AWP is a barbaric YAWP with no reason Y
AWP is Always Wanting Plug-ins
AWP is An other-Worldy Phenomenon
AWP is Arm Wrestling Poorly
AWP is actually AWWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs)
AWP is Awesome. Wow. Pooped.

Joseph Riippi, author of The Orange Suitcase & A Cloth House

Every time I’ve been to AWP, I’ve thrilled to the high of being around multitudes of people who share an obsession with books, words, and literary practice. This year I also got to test the theory that even top notch Facebook friends are better in real life with a cocktail in hand (I’m tipping my glass to you, Anna March), and that people don’t care how many copies of your novel sold if you’re talking about something that interests them in an interesting way.

Zoe Zolbrod, author of Currency

Walking into the bookfair, I learned my greatest fear might in fact be the case: there really may be more writers than readers.

Lance Olsen, author of Calendar of Regrets & Head in Flames

AWP (and life in general) is best when you surround yourself with amazing people who eschew the term “networking,” who believe laughing and making friends is better than schmoozing and making connections.

Christopher Newgent, author of The Fullness of Everything & founder of Vouched

“It’s hard to be a diva.”

Matthew Salesses, author of Our Island of Epidemics & The Last Repatriate

Now more than ever, it’s crucial to connect with other writers and build community. At AWP, the environment is of course rife for those very things, yet AWP is also such a manic jungle of activity and humanity that’d it be easy to fade into the maw, or either pair up with a friend and stay secluded the entire time. A lot of writers are shy and introverted, but it’s vital to take advantage of the AWP atmosphere. How often are you dropped into a netherworld of 10,000 writers? Ah…probably never.

So you have to move beyond your conform zone, show up, engage, stick out your hand. Don’t be afraid. Introduce yourself. Have a business card handy. Ask good questions. Know what good questions are for the different types of people you might meet—publishers versus writers, poets versus fiction people, print versus web. Get permission to connect once you’re home. Then do it.
I think I got to know close to a 100 people while I was AWP. That might seem like a lot, but on the other hand there were 9,900 I didn’t meet. Well, not until next year in Boston.

Len Kuntz, editor at Metazen

I learned there are many of us opting out of technology and that maybe they are even a little curmudgeonly about it. Many of us take connectedness via FB for granted, and are excited about the growth of ebooks, but academics are often slow to change. I feel like they are missing out on a source of joy and they feel like I’m excited about some fad.

John Minichillo, author of The Snow Whale

I learned that even when I say I cannot possibly carry home one more book, I don’t mean it.

Dawn Raffel, author of Further Adventures in the Restless Universe

I learned that going to a honky-tonk bar at 4am in Leland is always a good idea. Also learned that being in the absurdly intense soup of talented friends, IRL meetings, sexual encounters, substance abuse, and new crushes packed into one weekend is exhausting in the best possible way. It ends with you wanting more, but still feeling strung-out. There is something to look forward to next year, and all the slated in-betweens.

In terms of the EAR EATER reading I organized with Colin Winnette, I was really moved by the generosity of not only the readers, but the audience too. I’ve heard from a number of people it was their favorite event at AWP, which means a lot me.

Oh, and doing shots of Hpnotiq, and Blake Butler closing by reading lyrics from DMX’s “What’s My Name?” What more could you ask for?

Cassandra Troyan, author of The Things We Embody Are The Things We Destroy

1) If you aren’t sharing a hotel room you’re less likely to leave it when you feel like shit. 2) Sometimes the stupidest things you do becomes the best things you did, but the stupidest shit you didn’t do can’t become anything.

Brian Allen Carr, author of Short Bus

There are a few things I learned at AWP. First off, that Open Letter and the Three Percent podcast have actual living, breathing, thinking fans. I mean, I always knew, but it’s different when people come breathless to your table to buy stuff and sing praises. I also learned that the worst possible time to get the stomach flu is during AWP, but that the good people of AWP will help you out. Oh, and that dancing is nothing but collapsing and then not collapsing and calling it rhythm.

Chad Post, publisher at Open Letter Books

Wind farms make me think, “We are in the future.” Renting a condo in a skyscraper makes me think, “People live more life than me.” Eyeglasses are significant to writers. Satchels are significant to writers. Smiles are crazy. Fourteen minutes of the book fair and you will stagger, flux-out, drop to your knees and vomit on a writer’s hipster tennis shoes. Where are the black writers? Readings are amazing when they make you want to sleep with the reader—those are words. Working. Readings are amazing, except when they suck the glow from my lungs and keep the room thinking, “Yep. This is a reading.” Text messages causes personal chaos. AWP panels smell like television. Why do people always hand me drugs? Ah, responsibility. How much did you write? Or say? Or listen? The way to avoid a hangover is to drink.

Sean Lovelace, author of Fog Gorgeous Stag & How Some People Like Their Eggs

I learned that conferences don’t always have to suck, a little moderating goes a long way, and standing helps selling. I also learned that it is possible to go a week in Chicago without seeing a fresh fruit or vegetable.

James Yeh, author of 9/16/10 & editor at Gigantic

This was my fourth AWP, and while I wouldn’t say I exactly learned this there, I did have it reinforced: It’s amazing to see all the writers my age who are more than just writers. So many of us are now some combination of writer/editor/teacher/publicist/critic/activist, and that makes us so much more outward-facing than we would be anyway: I hardly ever talk to anyone there who exhibits the sort of narcissistic self-promotion we’re supposed to hate at these places. Instead I see people who are, of course, proud of their own work, but also proud of the work they’re doing for and with other people—and perhaps even more excited about that community-building and advocacy they’re involved in. Four years ago, when I first went to AWP, I worried I’d feel alone, lost in the crowd. This year I was once again reminded that—with a community like the one I have around me, that we all have around us—I might never be again.

Matt Bell, author of How They Were Found & Cataclysm Baby

I learned that sitting behind a bookfair table talking to whoever strolls by is much less overwhelming than wandering around that great, noisy labyrinth myself. Also, I learned that Barry Graham is a man with a powerful grip.

Steve Himmer, author of The Bee-Loud Glade & The Second Most Dangerous Job in America

Mike Kitchell is always going to make me laugh. Screaming SHUT IT DOWN at everything that happens for five days straight is a good move. Crispin Best doesn’t know how to order a soda at an American bar. Handing out 500 Caketrain pins is a quick way to make friends. Lindsay Hunter, Christian TeBordo and Amelia Gray are always going to destroy a microphone. Farren Stanley is my life partner. Ordering a triple gin and tonic for $2 is a bad move. Adam Robinson’s beard is magic. Melissa Broder is a fucking unicorn. Roxane Gay is a dream. Even though I haven’t seen half of these people for a year, they’re still my friends. I need to finish my next book. Wearing an adult penguin costume is always necessary.

Sarah Rose Etter, author of Tongue Party

I think I learned how to survive AWP, but barely. I had no idea really what to expect so it was a trip of just figuring out what it is, what people do, and how to make the most of it.

Robert Kloss, author of How The Days of Love & Diphtheria

Editors are writers who are publishers who are friends who are drinkers who are huggers who are lovely people, of which most of them are rooting for you on your search for capturing something fantastic.

Brian Oliu, author of So You Know It’s Me

You just read part 2. Don’t forget to read part 1 and part 3.

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