And so, the annual celebration/schmoozefest/reading-and-panel-palooza/drink-a-thon that is AWP has once again concluded, and I am left feeling both deeply satisfied and overwhelmed and tired and more than a little anxious, which I guess is exactly what most people feel after AWP.
While Chicago was all about the off-site readings and parties–at least for me–the weather in Boston made many decisions for us, and we writers, already pretty comfortable shutting ourselves indoors, had not only a snowstorm but a seemingly endless series of tunnels and arcades connecting the hotels, the convention center and the mall, which meant we never had to see actual weather. If I did venture outside, it was because my hotel was in the Boston Common area, as my three-month-in-advance booked Airbnb place fell through last minute because of flooding in the building, and we had to scramble to find a reasonable deal. Besides, so many of the parties–Grub Street, Vida, Agni, Pen American, among others–were less than a five minute walk offsite. (Dearest friends with far-flung readings: truly sorry to not make it, but the snow. And the panels. And the book fair. It runs a guy down.)
If it were only the readings that I missed! The thing about AWP is that, even when you know you can’t possibly do/see/attend/support every single person/panel/reading you want to, you still feel guilty. Why am I not tweeting more? Or posting pics of my friends on Facebook? (Or at least the meals we shared on Instagram–I didn’t take any pictures this year. Nada. I was that lazy.) And what about my friends in Boston? Do I contact them to let them know I’m in town? I only have three days…Is it terrible that I want to go shopping on Newbury Street? Or that I need to nap every afternoon?
One of the things about getting older (oh God, how much do I hate sentences that begin with “One of the things about getting older…”) is you learn to accept the inherent contradiction between your pre-conference optimism and your post-conference reality. I had a list of ten panels I wanted to attend. I ended up going to two. Normally at the book fair, I spend hours and hours–across several days–chatting people up at the lit mags and the presses, looking around for people I know and for organizations I want to support. This year, I spent less than two hours total at the fair. Am I just jaded? I don’t think so. I had some business to attend to this year, and I focused on that. I recently signed with Erin Harris at Folio Literary and I was so pleased to attend the Folio breakfast on Friday morning, where I got to celebrate with my friend Viet Dinh, who also recently signed on with Michelle Brower. Erin and Michelle are both such sweethearts, and after schmoozing with the other Folio authors and attending the panel on The Right First Book, I felt even more fortunate to have signed with them.
For me, AWP is pretty much Writers Camp Reunion. Conference and residency addicts such as myself have a lot of people to catch up with, and since we can’t plan trips to Utah and Missouri and Minnesota etc., every year, there’s just no better way to reconnect with old friends. And AWP is inspiring: in the face of the recent Nate Thayer/Atlantic controversy about writers no longer getting paid, and the endless moaning about the dismal state of publishing literary fiction (I won’t bother to get into the state of publishing poetry, which has long been dismal, and in some ways seems less dismal than lit fic lately), ignoring the barrage of rejection letters and our general discomfort about large-scale socializing, forgetting our families and deadlines and our need for quiet, we gather, and we listen to our fellow authors tell their stories, read their work to us, share their experiences and wisdom and advice and yes, tales of horror and frustration. We travel hundreds if not thousands of miles and just by doing so, we quietly say fuck you to a world that seems to value Transformers movies and “reality” television and Lindsay Lohan kleptomania, and we remind ourselves, with every George Saunders and Jennifer Egan hitting the best seller list, with every poem we hear that shakes us to the very core and with every friend of ours getting over-the-moon happy about that piece being accepted at that undergraduate Tumblr e-zine, that just by doing what we do we make it matter, because it is we who get to decide that it matters.
Friends: I am so happy to have seen you. There can be no better reminder than AWP that we are all in this together, that we must really love what we do to put up with what we put up with. And there is such joy in that, a joy that only we understand. See you in Seattle!