Our Love/Hate relationship with AWP, 2012 edition

AWP was, as usual, both exhilarating and stressful. It’s just one of those events that we complain about endlessly, but if you ask people (like me) who’ve been going for several years now if they’ll be going next year, the answer will most likely be yes.

We have our reasons to complain, lots of them valid. The crowds are overwhelming. The panels are a crapshoot–some are fascinating and informative and others are long slogs and/or exercises in shameless self-promotion (sometimes all of these, at once). The conference feels both too short to cram in so much socializing and way too long, as in do I really have to have my game face on for another ten hours in a row?

The thornier complaints have to do with our natures as writers. David Rothman, a great guy I met this year (through my lovely friend Andrea Dupree) said AWP should be renamed IPN, as in Introverted Pathological Narcissists. We are both super eager and deeply embarrassed to have to talk about our work, our goals, etc., and to have to engage in that for 72+ hours is too much. If like me, you have a book recently published/coming out, then the pressure is even more intense. I felt like I was supposed to be promoting my collection (Margins of Tolerance, out May 30th! And yes, I know I’m being a douche) in pretty much every conversation I had, which in turn made me super self-conscious about how ridiculous I must sound. And yet all the writers on the two panels I attended about first books/marketing would not only dismiss my characterizing this as ridiculous, they would have encouraged me to do way more self-promotion. One of them even said there were no boundaries in terms of publicity, other than “kidnapping someone’s kids and telling them you’ll hold them for ransom until they buy your book.” He was only half-kidding.

I’m wondering how much of my distaste for this is a product of age, and knowing that fifteen years ago(!) when I got my MFA authors could have counted on the publicity machine of the house they signed with to do a lot of this drudgery for them. Nowadays, even my friends whose books came out with the Big Six have told me that publicity is close to non-existent, and they are forced to hustle almost as much as I will (at least they have their sweet advances to comfort them). Books are dying, literary fiction is dying, yadda yadda, and this is the new normal. Ok, I get it. It doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

What I am happy about, and what makes me certain I will keep attending, is seeing so many good people that I’ve become friends with over the years. Those who know me know I’m a conference whore, and so AWP is like my reunion crack. Shout-outs to the following lovely people, some of whom I got to spend some quality time with and others only a few precious minutes:

John Reimringer, Alex Yates, Andrea Dupree, Rose Bunch, Michael Montlack, Christian Gullette, Anna North, Jenny Zhang, Sabra Wineteer, Ted Wheeler, Angela Mitchell, Jaquira Diaz, Paige Lipari, Jeff Parker, Milda Devoe, Laurie Ann Cedilnik, Michelle Whittaker, and all the other wonderful people from the Sewanee, Key West, SLS, Southampton, NYSSWI and Aspen writers’ conferences. I know I missed a few of you; next year, hopefully!

Highlights of this trip included the Divining Divas/BLOOM launch party where I got to pick up Michael Montlack’s excellent anthology as well as my contributor’s copies of BLOOM (which is gorgeous, and has so many great pieces! Really, you should pick it up <== there I go, self promoting again!) Meeting lots of really committed editors of several small presses and hanging out with the Cunt-tastic Jenny Zhang at the very inspiring Octopus reading at the Hideout. (If you know Jenny, you know she’d approve of my use of the word cunt-tastic. If you don’t, pick up her f@#$ing awesome poetry book, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, and prepare to have your head explode. It’s that good.)

Here’s a really bad picture of Jenny reading:

I wish I had more pics, but  the ones I took with my iPhone mostly suck, frankly.

See you in Boston, or hopefully sooner, since I may come to your city to do a reading (especially if you encourage me to)!