Monday, April 4, 2016


I slept until 10:00 a.m. today, but I suspect it will take weeks to regain the energy drained from me by the 2016 edition of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference (#AWP16), which was held just across the Mojave in Los Angeles, California. I don't mean to be unduly negative--the conference was fantastic. I've attended for the past three years, and it might be my favorite so far (though 2014 in Seattle gives it a run for its money). Even so, going to panels and readings all day and parties and readings all night can really take it out of a person. It's a good sort of exhaustion, I suppose.

I road-tripped out to California with Olivia and Austin on Wednesday morning. The drive is through the desert is always beautiful, if desolate--hazy blue mountains, twisted shrubs, dilapidated ruins of rest stops. After checking in at the hotel, I took the Metro up to Los Feliz, where Katie was kind enough to host me--not that I had much time to spend with Katie, or any of my other L.A. friends (sorry Mackenzie & Alex!), as the conference ate up most of my weekend. I don't know why people disparage L.A.'s public transit so much. I found the Metro to be quick and efficient. Mostly clean, too. Maybe the buses are worse.

When I hopped on the Metro that first day, wearing a pink shirt and with my purple suitcase in tow, a very stoned man leaned over to me and said, "you must be going to Hollywood." Cracked me up. I probably did look like a wide-eyed Midwestern girl coming to the big city to break into acting. 

On Thursday I got a little too ambitious with the panels--it left me feeling somewhat panel-averse for the rest of the weekend, which was a shame. If you ever go to AWP, remember to pace yourself. I left Katie's bright and early so I could get to the conference center by 9 to see Olivia's reading. The panel was called "The New South: A Reading in Three Genres." All the writers were good, but Olivia was my favorite. I'm slightly biased, of course. Then I headed to a panel called "Coming-Out Narratives: Beyond Queer 101," featuring Charlie Jane Anders, Lucy Corin, James Hannaham, and Justin Torres. I wanted to go because I love Justin Torres and Lucy Corin, and I've been intrigued by Hannaham ever since I read an excerpt of his most recent novel in The Offing, but I also thought it might be helpful for my own book, which has several prominent queer characters. Their discussion, which centered around the usefulness of coming out narratives and whether or not they're cliché in today's queer fiction, was really interesting. When you get your hopes up for a panel, it's easy to be disappointed, but this one was even better than I thought it would be. I took pages and pages of notes.

Other panels I attended that day: Graywolf Press' "Emerging Authors: On Publishing First and Second Books," where various Graywolf authors discussed the different paths they took to eventual publication, and "Revolutionary Voices: The Queering of Young Adult/Teen Literature," where three YA authors talked about the obstacles they've faced (and the benefits they've experienced) writing queer characters. After the conference, a bunch of us walked to Barcito to attend a party hosted by L.A. Review of Books & The Common & Ecotone & The Library Foundation of Los Angeles & Santa Monica Review. The venue was a tad too small for an AWP-size crowd--I spent most of the party chatting with a woman who works at the PEN Center while we were both shoved to one small corner of the patio--but at least the sangria was free. Then we went to another party at Monty Bar hosted by Tumblr & Nouvella & Catapult & WWLA & Unnamed Press which had a PHOTO BOOTH! We're so cute it hurts.

Friday I spent most of my time at the book fair. The book fair is simultaneously the most glorious thing about AWP and the most overwhelming thing about AWP. Hundreds of publishers (from big names to small presses), literary journals, nonprofits, bookstores, and writing programs set up tables and try to sell you their wares. In many ways it's a good resource for up-and-coming writers, as you can learn all about new opportunities and new places to submit your work. On the other hand, it's also a good way to go broke. I never let myself buy anything until the last day of the conference, so I mostly browsed. I had some good conversations, though: with the women at VIDA, who do the important work of counting the representation of women and minorities in prominent literary venues, with some of the editors of The Offing, which I've been reading religiously since its launch, with my former boss  & current friend Andrew Wessels, who flew all the way back from Turkey (!) to help at the Les Figues table. I went to one panel that day, "From MFA to JOB: Making a Living, Making a Difference." It was mostly information I've heard before, but it's still nice to hear some of it reinforced, and to know that I'm not the only one trying to figure out my life right now. Plus, I got to personally thank the Academy of American Poets' Jen Benka for creating their weekly "Jobs for Poets" listing, which is tremendously useful for those of us on the hunt.

That night I did not go to any offsite events. I took a nap, and then I got some pizza with Katie & friends, and then I went to sleep. It was all I could muster.

And I was awfully glad that I did sleep, because Saturday was just as packed. There were two UNLV-related panels that day: "Las Vegas Writes: Black Mountain Institute Alumni Fiction Reading," which featured PhD alums Vu Tran, Dan Josefson, Alissa Nutting, Maile Chapman, and David Armstrong, and "A Tribute to Donald Revell," which was exactly what it sounds like--a tribute to our dear poetry professor Don. To be honest, I felt obligated to attend both these panels, but in the end I was very glad I went. They were both great. The alumni reading was fun--I especially loved Alissa and Maile's stories--and the tribute to Don was so touching that I legitimately teared up. And I'm not normally one for tears in public.

That afternoon I swept the book fair and made my purchases. I know I'm not supposed to be buying books, but the deals were just so sweet. Open Letter Books was selling three for $10. Three for $10. How was I supposed to resist that? My haul also included Graywolf Press, Kaya Press, Saturnalia Books, and Les Figues Press. It is pictured below for you to salivate over.

For the grand finale, Maile, Cindi, and I took a cab to The Last Bookstore for a party hosted by Graywolf and Riverhead Books. I'd been there before, on one of my recent trips to L.A. It is a bibliophile's paradise, full of words and whimsy. However, we didn't so much attend the party as help Maile sort through and carry her giant selection of used books from the Occult and Paranormal sections of the store. Which was a blast, actually. I dare you to not laugh while reading excerpts aloud from Brock Brower's 1971 National Book Award nominee The Late Great Creature. I dare you.

We made our way back to the hotel, where we ran into pretty much everyone else we knew in the lobby bar. It was nice to wind down with friends. Then I saw Saeed Jones getting a drink, and I thought to myself, is that Saeed Jones, and then, oh my god, it's Saeed Jones, and then I somehow worked up the courage to talk to him, and to tell him that he's one of my favorite people on Twitter, and he hugged me and said he loved my tattoos. I was painfully starstruck. Definitely a major #AWP16 highlight for me.

I drove back with Olivia and Austin yesterday, and after some delicious Indian food at Mint, I crawled into my bed, grateful for my own pillows and sheets. Nevertheless, it's sad that I have to wait another year to attend AWP again--and I'm not entirely sure that I'll be able to, as I'll no longer have funding from the program. Ah, the perils of graduation. But I'm a crafty woman. Don't be too surprised if you see me in D.C.

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