A(wesome)W(riting)P(eople) Conference Redux

Hello from OxMag!

Last week we were at the AWP Conference in Chicago with our friends MU Press. You may have seen us giving out these awesome buttons. Our editors of both fiction and poetry are here to give you the 411 on their conference highlights.

Poetry

This was my second time at AWP, and I definitely feel like I learned a couple lessons from my first experience that served me well this time around. Lesson number one: carry a bunch of cash with you to buy books! So many of my favorite small presses were at AWP this year selling books on the cheap. While some presses don’t massively discount their titles on the last day, most still offer considerable deals that make it seem crazy not to buy every book you want. Both Wave Books and Fence Books were selling books 3 for $30, so naturally I picked up 3 from each, including Eileen Myles’ brand brand brand new double-book, Snowflake / different streets from Wave and Ariana Reines’ Mercury from Fence.

Fence was part of table conglomeration Table X/Y again this year, which proved, again, to be one of my favorite things about the conference. Table X/Y includes some of the best of the best (in my book) like Coach HouseForklift, Ohio, Futurepoem, Octopus, Slope Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, and more more more.

One of the best things about these tables (and the conference in general!) is having a lot of the writers being published by these presses and magazines hanging out and chatting with people who come by and buy their books. Matt Hart, Matt Bell (whose new book Cataclysm Baby is available for pre-order from Mud-Luscious Press through SPD), Ariana Reines (who I got to chat with briefly about our almost-matching glasses and crazy wavy hair), Nick Demske (everyone’s best friend and my favorite email-tag interview failure to date, sorry Nick!), and other fantastic poets, fiction writers, and human beings were just hanging out around the tables, signing books, and saying hey. The sheer amount of talent wandering around the place (and these tables especially, for me anyway) is just amazing. You can’t throw a copy of POETRY at AWP without hitting somebody whose work you love in the face.

Speaking of which, let’s move on to see lesson two I learned last year in action! Last year, I went to approximately… uh… one panel. And one official reading. This year, I (brilliantly) looked at the schedule ahead of time and used AWP’s online schedule-building tool (a big step up from last year, when I just flipped through the giant book of events each day, woof) to make sure I got to the things that really interested me. The first panel I went to was organized by So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, featuring (moderator) Arielle Greenberg, Cate Marvin (founder of VIDA), M. Mack, Eloise Healy, and Ru Freeman called “Troubling the Label: When Does a Text Become Feminist?” The panel was framed as a conversation among those present, and that is what it truly was. We talked as a group about issues surrounding feminism (what it means, who’s a part of it, what we’re trying to “accomplish” through feminism, etc.) and seemed to open up a real conversation on gender issues, femininity, inclusion, and why talking about these things matters. Here’s a link to So to Speak‘s wrap-up of the panel. Basically, it was a wonderful experience with some enlightening ideas shared about feminism as something other than the stigmatized, “anti-man” movement that it is often misrepresented as. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out The 2011 Count VIDA has compiled. Still looking pretty grim.

These issues recurred in the conversation following the reading I attended on Saturday by Eileen Myles and Monica Youn (sponsored/organized by VIDA). The reading was AMAZING, with Youn reading from her series Ignatz and current work written from the viewpoint of hanged men, and Myles reading from her newest book, Snowflake / different streets. After they read, the floor was opened up for questions (moderated by Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, co-founders of VIDA). A lovely time was had by all (as far as I could tell!).

My other favorite event of my AWP experience was the reading by Alice Notley on Thursday sponsored by Wesleyan Press (who just published Notley’s newest book, Songs and Stories of The Ghouls). Notley is one of my favorite poets (and biggest influences. And name-twin) and her reading from Culture of One brought me to tears (although a couple of my compatriots, ehem, were having some trouble staying awake after a late night @ Buddy Guy’s Legends and an early morning waiting in line at registration). Notley is one of the best writers of our time and I am happy to have gotten the opportunity to hear her read twice this year.

Alright, no more AWP lessons for now, though of course and as always, the best thing about AWP for me was having fun in a place that’s not Oxford, OH for a little while with some great and talented people. While you’re there, do everything you can’t do at home, but don’t get too caught up in being “productive” and “intellectual.” AWP can be a great experience, but it can also be somewhat soul-crushing as a young writer, so having fun should definitely be a priority.

Fiction

In keeping with our esteemed poetry editor’s “lessons” theme, I’d like to add a quick “here’s what I learned from AWP the hard way because I was so overwhelmed by the books and the writers (I made eye contact with Amelia Gray at the Propaganda Reading and saw my future, my spirit animal, the physical manifestation of my survival sound, etc…) lesson.” Oh my good god people, drink water. DRINK WATER.

I should note: this was my first AWP. I did not know the water rule.

The lovely folks at AWP provide little water stations with fancy hard plastic cups that feel kind of like the cups your friend Stacy might have at her NYE party. She’ll serve Asti Spumante in these cups. She’ll pass out drunk by 10:30. Did you really even like Stacy? Does anyone?

Don’t learn the hard way. Don’t fizzle out next to a giant dry wall column in the basement of the Chicago Hilton around 2 pm flaccidly urging your friends to go on without you. Bring a bottle to refill. No one will judge you next year if you bring a camelbak because let’s face it, Whiskey Island totally sucked you in with their free shots of Jameson. You had two. You felt warm and lazy by 11 am. And while it seemed like a fabulous idea at the time, you paid for it later somewhere in section J.. or was it C? Was it even in that room?

Camelbak-it in Boston next year. You will be admired. Own your hydration, friends.

Here’s a less urgent lesson (or maybe it’s more urgent): Find bars that serve good beer or suffer through three Blue Moons. Pop a Tums. Wear the complimentary orange slices in your teeth and make faces at a stranger. ‘sfun.

Speaking of beer. Offsite readings.

I went to two (and a half?).

On Wednesday night there was a reading at Murphy’s Bleachers put on by Michael Czyzniejewski, who will be running Miami’s graduate fiction sprint workshop next week. Unfortunately, our van didn’t touch Chicago concrete until nearly 8:30, so we arrived at the reading just as the last reader was wrapping up. A Three Floyds’ Gumball Head quickly allayed my frustrations.

The next night I made it to two fabulous readings, FC2‘s Flash Reading and Propaganda: A Reading. Both were great fun and chock full of talented writers. Alexandra Chasin was at both!

At FC2 Flash, the lovely Rachel Levy MC-ed and Vanessa Place was a book. You can’t know the impossible beauty of an ISBN number. You just can’t.

At the Propaganda reading Lindsay Hunter made time stop and Molly Gaundry made everyone lean close and drink in her perfect words. Everyone was sublime.

And Amelia. Go buy THREATS and you’ll know what I mean.

I also went to a couple panels (I put my AWP bible to good use). The most fabulous one was on Thursday morning, “Flash Points: Publishing Flash Fiction in an Evolving Landscape” with Glenn Shaheen, Roxanne Gay, Nancy Stebbins, Edward Mullany and Adam Peterson. They had loads of insightful things to say about getting flash published and Roxanne Gay issued a serrated Franco-Slam that made me love her more than I already do.

I’ll end my little wrap-up with this final lesson: The dance party is scary.

Is that a lesson? Is that a warning? Does it matter?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

See y’all biscuit-heads next year in America’s Walking City!

Awkwardly waving, Alice Ladrick & Annie Bilancini

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