Like about 12,000 other writer-types, I’m back from a week in sunny (well, sort of sunny) Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I had the opportunity to spend some time in and around the creative writing community. Like any conference, this AWP had moments that ranged, for me, from fabulous to head-scratching, and today I’m rounding them up:
The opening night’s reception featured music by The Pink Tuxedos, a powerhouse group featuring Marilyn Nelson and Rita Dove, among others. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the living greats of American poetry sing “Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God” to the tune of “La Bamba.”
Book fair booth 403, the home of Tahoma Literary Review for the duration of the conference. One of my favorite parts of any AWP conference is meeting my wonderful contributors in person, and this year, we had a bumper crop of fine writers who stop by to see us. Meeting these wonderful folks reminds me that it’s a huge privilege to get to edit a journal like TLR; I’m proud to call our contributors part of my literary community.
The Women Writing Darkness panel on Friday morning. As a woman who sure enjoys writing some dark material, I appreciate the fact that this group of writers spoke to a standing-room-only audience about topics that reached far beyond the played-out question of “gee, can we have unlikable characters?” I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a writer’s work as quickly as I did with Sabina Murray’s. Let’s hear it for tough women writing the creepy and the dark, and telling the rest of us how to make it salable.
The greatest offsite reading of all time with Peter Gloviczki (Kicking Gravity), Devon Moore (Apology of a Girl Who is Told She is Going to Hell, which, while not out yet, does have a pretty slick press kit, if I may toot my own kit-making horn*), and Prartho Serano (Elephant Raga). I typically avoid offsite readings at the conference, mostly because they tend to be in smoky, loud, overcrowded bars where I get claustrophobic, sweaty, and generally crabby. But this reading was perfect—we spoke to a lovely book club in Minneapolis, got to sit in some fabulously cushy chairs while we did so, then enjoyed a great chat afterward with some wonderful writers including Tamara Linse. I’ll sign up for offsites like this one any time.
*I should mention here that I’ve got room in my end-of-April lineup for one more PR client. If you’re a poet or writer and need a press kit, I’m your woman.
A weird guy in a salamander suit gave me a long, somewhat painful, undesired, full-body, totally squicky hug in the book fair. Assuming whomever was in the salamander suit must be someone I knew who was playing a bizarre joke, I asked, “uh, who’s in there?” “I could be anyone,” weird salamander said. Please imagine my grossed-out recoil. “So you go around touching strange women without asking?” I said. “Only you,” weird salamander said, then ran off. Talk about an unappealing, borderline illegal marketing move, creepy salamander guy. To whom it may concern, let’s nix masked men in the book fair next year.
Eating only one meal per day because I didn’t want to miss a moment of the conference. Okay, this one was totally worth it. Given the choice between important bodily nourishment and walking the book fair, staffing the booth, and hearing readings and panels, the latter three won each time.
The fact that my feet are roughly spherical from so many hours spent standing and walking on concrete surfaces. But hey, this was worth it, too. (She said as she iced her alarmingly swollen toes.) The AWP book fair is the greatest bookstore on earth for three days out of every year, and I wanted to see it all.
Overall, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and am already looking forward to next year’s conference in L.A. But just because it was a great week for me doesn’t mean that everyone had a positive experience in Minneapolis; I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you each to take the time to read this piece at Side B Magazine; it’s a difficult article that recounts an incident that should never have taken place, whether at AWP or elsewhere.
While I was deeply disappointed in the reactions of the people who saw this member of our writing community in serious medical trouble and did nothing to assist, I’m not entirely surprised. After my own experience, in 2014, of being hit from behind and knocked to the ground by a strange man, then being offered no assistance, defense, or even a simple kind word from any of the onlookers who saw the unknown man clock me or saw me go flying, I can’t say I depend on the kindness of strangers, even in my writing community. That shouldn’t be the case. We can all, individually and collectively, do far better. And doing better isn’t asking the world of us; there is no excuse for ignoring a person in need of assistance. We do not step over bodies of people who are lying defenselessly before us—we offer help or call for help. This is what human beings do.