What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2017

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” —Anaïs Nin

2014, pre-blog, found me as a contractor without paid-time off, boobs-deep in credit card debt (seven pieces of plastic to be exact). 2015 found me unemployed on an island in the most isolated archipelago in the world. 2016 found me unemployed on the same island. Three makes a pattern. It’s 2017, my third year of the what-Jane-wants-to-do-most posts, and I’m employed (knock, knock, knock on all of the wood). I’m working for a temp agency (more on this later) in a new state (more on this later), but I’m, again, missing AWP, a conference I once-upon-a-time lived for.

After five faithful years, AWP is a stranger to me. The 5oth anniversary is in DC, where once I watched Junot Díaz, a glass of cab warming me from the inside. That has to be the biggest compliment for a writer—that a reader went offsite in the fresh air, booze abound, and returned to the sea of cardigans, spectacles, and totes for literary love.

Here’s what I will be missing this year. Please live-tweet everything, take a bookmark, yank some chocolate, buy a book and lit mag, scribble some notes, and swig some wine in the back of a conference room for me.


8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – 4th Annual Rock and Roll Reading. 12 writers, including Danielle Evans and Porochista Khakpour, will read song-length pieces inspired by rock-and-roll. Swoon.


9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. – Say Yes to the Press: How Effective Small Publishers Do What They Do featuring Brent Cunningham, Juliana Spahr, Martin Riker, J. K. Fowler, and Sunyoung Lee. The stuff of my entrepreneur dreams.

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – Whereas, Standoff, Cinder, Rapture: Graywolf Poets featuring Jeff Shotts, Susan Stewart, David Rivard, Sjohnna McCray, and Layli Long Soldier. I have been counting the minutes to March, Whereas’ publication month, and, duh, Graywolf.


12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. – The Shape of Fiction: A Look at Structuring Novel-Length Prose featuring Christian Kiefer, Jeff Jackson, Esmé Weijun Wang, Janet Fitch, Kirstin Chen. Hello, ladies I love, ladies I have read, ladies I want to read, ladies whose organizational skills and planners I admire, ladies whose thoughts on structure I want to witness.

1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Alexander Chee and Valeria Luiselli moderated by Lisa Lucas. I’m still not over the shoes Alexander Chee wore on Late Night With Seth Meyers and his essay with the Chloë Sevigny-cameoThe Story of My Teeth is on my TBR list. Have you heard Valeria Luiselli on Between the Covers with David Naimon?

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates hosted by E. Ethelbert Miller. Because I’m reading Between the World and Me. Because Purple Hibiscus, because Half of a Yellow Sun, because Americanah, because We Should All Be Feminists, because Beyoncé. I haven’t read That Thing Around Your Neck just so I would have some unread Adichie in my near future.


8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. A Reading by Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong with introductions by Jennifer Benka. I love Terrance Hayes and Ocean Vuong in a buy-their-book-the-second-it-publishes. And Rita Dove. Are there words? Tuesday afternoon I read her conversation with David Masciotra in Salon that sent my soul vibrating. And her words, and this reading, are a perfect end because now, more than ever, we need poems: “Poetry pulls us back into a focus of our impressions as we move through the world. These are things that are unremarked upon because they are too sensitive, or they are considered things that we experience every day, like how the air feels as you walk along on a spring day and the wind catches the hairs on your arms.”

Jane Rebels Against Her Reading List

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” —Oscar Wilde

I hate being told what to do. Even when I’m the one doing the telling: work out, save money, eat more raw things. In 2015, I finished 32 books, my personal high, and I vowed to read more in 2016. Because it felt fun, I organized a reading list, courtesy of Modern Mrs. Darcy, for the year.

Surprise—I hardly obeyed it. Obsessive, I strayed, found myself on three reading tangents: Hawai‘i writers, nonfiction, and titles featuring the word sky in them. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. Stones of the Sky. Night Sky With Exit Wounds.

Because I hate failure, I edited my reading aspirations, which appear below. While I failed to imbibe the books I intended to—and it feels sacrilegious crossing beautiful titles and authors out—they remain on my ever-multiplying TBR list. I will return to them. The House of the Spirits waits for me, on hold at the library; Green Island stands on the shelf in my office; The Lover, which I bought two Thursdays ago during my first visit to Half Price Books, decorates the coffee table.

Here is how I failed last year, but—I have to tell you—failing feels a lot like success:

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras Hawai’i One Summer by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak Balikbayan by Michelle Cruz Skinner
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich Cherry by Mary Karr
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez