“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” —Anne Lamott
I read the title fields of email after email, Get Festival Ready! with pictures of whimsical boho princesses and grass wild with weeds. But my body clock is concerned with only one event, and its attendees’s accessories consist of reading glasses, totes, cardigans and scarves, thick books and skinny jeans.
AWP makes some people anxious, but I love every crazy second of it: the flyer shooing, the kamikaze candy and pen grab, the random banana costume-clad dancer, the lightning gossip via live tweeting: OMG James Franco sighting at Sbarro! Michael Martone has THE best hair. Red, red wiiiiine at 1254! I like hiding my name tag so people wonder, for a moment, if I am a lit celeb. But most of all I like being incognito, starry-eyed, scribbling notes in the crowd, where I feel like a better person just for eavesdropping on the panel’s conversation. I love discovering a new-to-me author, the ticking seconds until I touch their book. I love collapsing against a wall to take inventory of my treasure.
For half a decade, I didn’t miss one: Manhattan, Chicago, Denver, Chicago again, Boston, then zilch. No longer a student, I couldn’t get the student rate or reimbursed for attending. A contractor in the corporate world, I have no vacation. Seattle was easy to miss: the crushing weight of student loan debt. Dorothy Parker got me when she said, “I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling at it.” Plus, the egos and politics. But mostly I felt guilty about not writing, being a nobody.
Maybe I’m feeling a smidge more confident in my nobodiness, or maybe I’m far enough removed from academia that I crave community because I’m suffering withdrawals like the bends. I started searching #AWP15 tweets weeks out. I’ve read the entire catalog. I’m a sadist; I like to know what I’m missing, and here are the top things I, Jane, will be lusting this week:
- 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm – AROHO Night of “Glittering, Vocal Expansiveness” featuring Janet Fitch, Susan Straight, Joy Castro, Aimee Liu, Sue William Silverman, Jill Bialosky, and more. Janet Fitch’s White Oleander was one of my “great literary awakenings.” Astrid’s odyssey spoke to a corner of my soul that is forever homeless. I have desperately wanted to hear her speak since. As Dorothy Allison so eloquently states, “Why am I a writer? Because I have a debt. Because a book saved my life.”
- 10:30 am to 11:45 am – Intersecting Cultures: The Joys & Challenges of Writing the Tribe featuring Daiva Markelis, Bayo Ojikutu, Achy Obejas, M. Evelina Galang and Helene Aylon. Being an insider of a subculture usually makes you an outsider of something larger. This tension is problematic and painful, and I want to sit in, ease the loneliness.
- 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm – The Art of the Encounter: Structuring Short Fiction featuring Arna Bontemps Hemenway, Caitlin Horrocks, Rebecca Makkai, Chinelo Okparanta and Molly Antopol. I need all of the help with short stories.
- 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm – Keynote Address by Karen Russell featuring Karen Russell because Karen Russell, duh.
- 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm – Neglected American Masters featuring James Allen Hall, Jericho Brown, Paisley Rekdal, Yona Harvey and Richard Siken. This is one of those events where I hope the panelists read their own work and, of course, the work of neglected American masters. “This poem by ______ inspired this piece by me” is how it pans out in my daydream.
- 10:30 am to 11:45 am – Sweeping the Steps of the Temple: On Writing a First Book featuring Arna Bontemps Hemenway, Jamie Quatro, Laura van den Berg, Julia Fierro and Nickolas Butler. Tell me everything you know about first manuscripts!
During downtime, I would wander the book fair. I love perusing and flipping through books and journals you can’t find in stores. I’m sure some booths are wondering where I have been for the last two years, and there some new things I want to hold in my hands: Arroyo Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Dancing Girl Press, Ecotone, Electric Literature, Fairy Tale Review, Journal of the Month, Midwestern Gothic, Manoa, One Story, (PANK), The Pinch, Poet’s & Writers, The Rumpus, Third Coast Magazine, and last but certainly not least, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
So if you’re going to Minneapolis, or if you know someone who is making the journey, these are not just suggestions, these are proclamations of love. Some are literary crushes I stalk every year in person—and on the internet always. Some are new loves who I want to listen to and let my curiosity peel back then catapult this fresh thing into full infatuation. Please haunt for me.