Last week I attended the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Here’s what I took away from the event that drew more than 12,000 writers, editors, publishers, teachers and readers to Seattle:
Conversation: Apparently, Twitter is the social media for writers, but even a virtual cocktail party can feel daunting to a wallflower like me, planted firmly (and usually silently) in the corner since I joined. The conference was an opportunity for me to creep into the continuous patter of observations, thoughts, critiques and summaries.
— Sharon Van Epps (@sharonvanepps) February 28, 2014
— Rachael Conlin Levy (@RachaelLevy) February 28, 2014
Sharon VanEpps, whom I’ve never met, live tweeted the parent-writer workshop, which looked as if it contained good advice (swap childcare time with a writer-friend, view writing time as self-care), but turned prickly when the discussion turned to whether having only one child might be the key to the parent-writer’s success. I was happy to have sidestepped that debate by attending the comic panel where I learned that we “read” even wordless comics, our brain drawing on its right side to translate images into language.
Connection: The best talk was one I learned about at the conference, but had to search out on the internet. Rockstar Amanda Palmer gave an inspiring and thought-provoking speech on why and how writers should converse with their readers. It was sponsored by Grub Street, a Boston creative writing center.
(re) Circulation: One of the thrills of attending the AWP conference is its book fair. Two convention rooms were packed with more than 650 small tables manned by professors, students, editors and publishers hawking their writing programs, literary magazines, journals, broadsheets, single-story chapbooks, poems, and books. On the last day, many booths deeply discounted their merchandise, and I was able to stuff a tote bag for cheap. Once I’m finished reading, I’d like to pass the books and magazines on to you. If you’re interested, leave a comment below and I will include your name in a random drawing at the end of March. Here’s what will be available:
- One Story — A literary magazine that contains, simply, one story. It publishes an author once, so readers always get a new voice.
- One Teen Story — See above, but for teens.
- Stories by Mail — A broadsheet of flash fiction mailed through the postal service.
- The Kenyon Review — A literary journal published by Ohio’s Kenyon College.
- ZYZZYVA — Showcases emerging voices and never before published writers in addition to the already established. Based in San Francisco.
- “Domesticated Wild Things and Other Stories” by Xhenet Aliu — Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, Aliu’s stories are filled with “biting humor, an eye for the absurd, and fumbling attempts at human connection, all rendered irresistible — as as moving as they are amusing — by a writer whose work is at once edgy and endearing and prize winning for reasons any reader can appreciate,” according to the back cover.
- “Tell Everyone I Said Hi” by Chad Simpson — Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Synopsis: “Displaced by circumstances both in and out of their control, the characters are lost in their own surrounds, thwarted by misguided aspirations and long-buried dissapointments but fully open to the possibility that they will again find their way.”
- “Safe as Houses” by Marie-Helene Bertino — Winner of the Iowa Award for Short Fiction, ” ‘Safe as Houses’ proves that not all homes are shelters. But then again, some are. In and out of the rooms of these gritty, whimsical stories roam troubled, funny people struggling to reconcile their circumstances to some kind of American Ideal and failing, over and over,” according to the back cover. Bertino is a former associate editor of One Story.
- Fair Tale Review — Annual literary journal dedicated to publishing new fairy tales and to helping raise public awareness of fairy tales as a diverse, innovative art form.
- Prairie Schooner — Literary journal published by the University of Nebraska.
- Under the Gum Tree — An independent literary arts micro-magazine that exclusively publishes creative nonfiction and visual art. Based in Sacramento, Calif.
- The Sun — An independent, ad-free monthly magazine that publishes personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs. In my opinion, the section “Readers Write” is worth of the price of the magazine.
- Stealing Time: A literary magazine for parents – An approximately quarterly magazine printing poems, fiction, essays, and memoir.
As a girl I lived next to a lake of hardpan that was impermeable to water. When it was dry the salt flat was as good as concrete, perfect for riding a bike or playing basketball. When it rained it became an enormous puddle, and I’d crouch at its rim to watch clouds skim over this mirrored sky, and at the brine shrimp that hatched. With a stick I’d write on the clay bottom until the water grew milky and the words disappeared. Days would pass. The lake shrank, and a ring of salt crusted at the shoreline. I’d take a fingernail, scratch off crystals and lick them away.
In December I stopped writing. I didn’t miss it, but neither did I like the taste of life no longer salted for my tongue. The decision to misplace the pen and cover my notebook with a stack of other people’s books might have something to do with reaching mid-life: I’ve caught myself revisiting, re-evaluating, re-scaling dreams so they were smaller and more modest. This hurt. Jeez, I thought, I may just as well curl up and die.
Or I may just as well say fuck, my life needs more salt to make the sweet sweeter, to take the edge off bitterness. So I’ve returned to the table and I hope you’ll pull up a chair, because we’re in this together, equal parts sodium and chlorine. Writing isn’t solitary, but a meal made for two, me and you, bearing witness to each other’s artistic work, responding to and encouraging the existence and value of our creations.
Today’s cup is filled with day-old coffee. I drink it resolutely, and view the day with tired eyes.
This boy asked if I was writing a book. The response would’ve held all the heat and bitterness contained within my cup, so I saved my answer for another day.
“There will be a book that includes these pages,
and the one who takes it in his hands will sit staring at it
until he feels you holding him
and writing through him.”
-Rilke’s Book of Hours
Rejection should’ve had this sweet soloist’s face.