The Annual AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference has just ended. This year’s 3-day extravaganza was held in Seattle, just a quick hydrofoil journey across the Strait of Juan de Fuca… how could I resist?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into: it was the first one I’d ever attended. I think I’m still recovering, readjusting, recalibrating—and I didn’t even go to the afterparties. I loved it. I am saturated—super-saturated—with words, ideas, images, voices, vibrations.
This writing business is partly business, yes—but that came second, in my mind, to what it was really about: the art and craft of shaping our words into ways they can be shared. So what was it like? Every hour and a half, there were at least twenty parallel events to choose from, everything from panel discussions on blogging to lectures on open endings in short fiction. Every hour and a half, twelve thousand people moved from one place to another, stopping in to roam the gigantic book fair if they decided to sit a session out. In the evenings, there were keynote speakers and readings by literati, including one of my very favourite American poets, Sharon Olds.
I wondered if I would feel like an outsider. After all, I’m not American, nor a student, nor a holder of an MFA. I’m not looking for a place to move to, in order to order my words. I’m just a writer. And after all, we writers often feel like we’re on the outside, looking in. But at the AWP, I didn’t feel that. I was among brethren, a grain of sand in the vast dunes of writers who drifted in from all across the continent. It was even sweeter to share the boatride and the weekend with a bunch of amazing, local, west coast writers, too, and to run into old friends. Hellos and dinner plans were called back and forth from the up escalator to the down. Highlights were shared as we made our way, bleary-eyed and heavy-suitcased, back home via the Clipper on Sunday morning.
My highlights? Sharon Olds, of course: who wouldn’t love an “Ode to the Douchebag?” A conversation and reading with Rachel Kushner and Colm Tóibín. A panel about the suburbs in writing. Poetry read by Brenda Shaughnessy and Mary Ruefle. And especially, a reading by Rick Bass of his short fiction set to live music by the Missoula, Montana band, Stellarondo. I was crying within the first five minutes, I was so moved. Words aloud carry meaning first and vibration second, but when paired with music that seems to rise organically from the text? Them’s some good, good vibrations. The event inspired me to think about trying it with one of my stories. (Stay tuned.)
I met some lovely people, including Canadian publishers Wolsak and Wynn, Brick and a few people from PRISM International. And I came home armed with a bunch of American literary journals to explore and submit work to, a couple of bookish t-shirts and a first book of short fiction by a Brooklyn writer who was there to sign it. Somehow a bottle of duty-free gin snuck into my bag, too, for the still-distant summer, and a few new tops from a little shopping on Pike Street. What, you think I could stay inside being literary the whole time? It was 15 Celsius one afternoon!
(arrow pointing the way to some excellent crepes and coffee at Pike Place Market)