Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Charmed AWP

When I was in D.C. a few weeks ago for the Women's March, I was struck by the surreal kindness of the local Washingtonians, who came out of their houses to bring us food and water, to give us high-fives. Even the police and the National Guard members were friendly, waving and wishing us good luck.

D.C. retained this magical quality when I visited over the weekend for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. Not only did I get to reconnect with dozens of friends and spend some time exploring our nation's capital, but I also got to meet and see tons of my favorite authors--many times completely by accident!

A complete list of my charmed encounters, both physical and virtual:
  • On the first day, I was hanging out with Tim at the Black Mountain Institute booth when none other than Dave Eggers walked up to us. "Hey, I'm Dave from McSweeney's," he said, and apologized for interrupting. We kept it together while we explained to him that we were not actually in charge of anything at BMI and he probably wanted to talk to someone else. But my inner dialogue was more like "YOU ARE DAVE EGGERS AND I KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND YOU CAN INTERRUPT ME WHENEVER YOU WANT." I wouldn't say that Eggers is one of my favorite authors, but I did read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius when I was in high school, and that had a big impact on me at the time. Plus, I love McSweeney's Internet Tendency, mostly because I'm a bookish white person. It's what we do.
  • Friday I went to the "Writing in the Internet Age" panel, mostly because Ashley C. Ford and Esme Weijun Wang were on the panel, and they're two of my favorite people on Twitter. Later I tweeted about how thrilled I was to be in the same room with them, and they both liked my tweet! Sounds ridiculous, I know. But for someone like me who basically lives on Twitter, it's a big deal. It's akin to shaking the hand of a huge celebrity. 
  • Later that day I ran into Juan Martinez, a fantastic author whose new story collection Best Worst American was recently published by Small Beer Press (go buy it now why are you still reading this go buy it). I'd met him briefly at the Los Angeles AWP--he studied at UNLV before I was there and is good friends with my former professor Maile Chapman--and we friended each other on social media. But despite our acquaintance being mostly online, he was incredibly friendly and gave me free advice, which I appreciate immensely. I mentioned I was excited to see his reading with the incomparable Kelly Link the next day, and he informed me that she was currently at the Small Beer Press table and told me to go say hi to her. Reader, I did say hi to her. And she signed a book for me, and it was magnificent. 
  • Saturday is always a busy day at the AWP Book Fair, since most of the presses will lower the prices of their books to get rid of their stock--otherwise they have to ship it all back. I took advantage of the buy-two-get-one-free deal at Copper Canyon Press, and when I picked up Ocean Vuong's acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, they mentioned that he was signing a few booths over. There wasn't even a big line! He encouraged me to keep writing--which is probably what he told everyone, but I'll pretend it was special advice just for me. 
  • I spent Saturday afternoon working at the VIDA booth, since I volunteered to count with them this year. (It's an awesome organization doing vital work, and you should check them out now if you haven't already.) The poet Camille Rankine is one of VIDA's organizers, and she was at the booth when I arrived--which was extremely convenient, as I had just purchased her book of poetry Incorrect Merciful Impulses at the Copper Canyon booth as well. And so I received another signature. While I was working the booth, I also got to meet Celeste Ng and Brit Bennett! But more importantly, I finally got to meet all the rad VIDA volunteers that I had only known online. 
  • Saturday evening I went to Politics & Prose to see Kelly Link and Juan Martinez read from their most recent collections. And then they both signed books for me! I love it when my favorite authors are as delightful as I imagine them to be. 
  • I had a late dinner with Tim and Laura at Baby Wale, which is as strange as it sounds--in a good way. While drinking my exclusive, sold-only-in-D.C. bourbon, I tweeted that my greatest AWP regret this year was not meeting Brandon Taylor, who is also one of my all-time favorite people on Twitter. (I should mention that he is an incredible writer, whose non-fiction pieces have literally made me cry.) Not only did he like my tweet--he followed me! Now I'm self-conscious about my tweets, afraid that they won't be cool enough. But what are you going to do? 
  • Our last stop of the evening was the Marriott lobby bar--things always get a little raucous at the hotel bar on the final night of the country's largest writers' conference. I wound through the crowds to find my dear Olivia (whose book of short stories comes out in June and you should probably pre-order it just saying), and sitting next to her was the amazing author Jennifer Pashley, who RECOGNIZED ME AND ASKED HOW I WAS. I've only met her once before, so I was pretty floored. 
Here are some other neat things that happened: 
  • I was visiting the Paper Darts booth, since they published my story "Radioactive Teeth" a while back. When I mentioned the title, another woman visiting the booth--a total stranger--said she'd read it and loved it. 
  • I got to see panels featuring Manuel Gonzales, Roxane Gay, and Alexander Chee
  • I was able to reconnect with my childhood friend Landon--we got Thai food and went karaokeing and almost certainly drank too much. 
  • I attended a great reading hosted by Sundog Lit and Split Lip. Every single reader was solid, not a weak piece in the bunch. Plus, I discovered that my friends Laura and Melissa know each other, because the literary world is very small. 
  • Laura and I bought each other The Rumpus' famous "Write Like A Motherf**er" mugs, since we'd bought them for so many other people besides ourselves. 
  • Tim bought me a flash fiction anthology because he's way too nice all the time.
  • I got to hang out with the always wonderful Andrew Wessels, who was managing editor at Les Figues when I interned there. He gave me a copy of his new book, A Turkish Dictionary. (Buy it right now seriously I am helping you with all these links why haven't you bought it yet.) 
  • I fell in love with Big Bear Cafe, an independent coffee shop that you must visit if you're in D.C. It was right down the street from our Airbnb, and they provided me with plenty of tea and breakfast sandwiches. 
  • I walked the entirety of the National Mall, and visited the Lincoln Memorial on Honest Abe's birthday. 
  • I went to the National Postal Museum because I'm a freaking nerd. Stamps, my friends. Stamps are the best. So many stamps. 
  • I arrived home from AWP with a suitcase full of books, only to discover that my dad had brought me a whole cart of books that used to be my Great Aunt Joan's. She died a few months ago, and I'm glad my dad entrusted part of her extensive library to me. He picked some good ones, too: James Baldwin, Salman Rushdie, Walt Whitman, and more. 
Ultimately, I felt overwhelmed by goodness this weekend. I'm so glad I made the decision to come to AWP. It was refreshing to jump back into the craft of writing after having spent several months away from my MFA program. I'm tired from my travels, but I'm newly inspired to keep writing. 

To close, here's a picture of my AWP haul, plus a puppy: 


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