Day 1 AWP Conference

Wednesday February 26th

  • Woke at 7 am and levitated until 9:30, when I picked up Hobie and we began.
  • 12:30 pm.  Arrive at Seattle Convention Center and wait in line to pick up registration materials.  A woman in my line (Me-Pn) entertains us all by yelling to her husband in another line (M-Me), which is moving much faster, thus lengthening the distance over which she has to yell.  After each rather un-funny comment, she grins around at the rest of us.  She too is riding the high of AWP registration materials pick-up day and shares her inanity with the rest of us.
  • 1 pm.  Meet Hobie’s friend, Sam Snoek-Brown and walk to Pike Place Market.  Rambutan, that spiky fruit with flesh the color of popped-out eyeballs, rests in little green cardboard boxes, reminding me of trips long ago when I ate rambutan from a stall at the Manila market.
  • 5 pm.  Attend the Festival of Language at Rock Bottom Brewery.  A wonderful array of writers, mostly poets, but some prose.  A surprising conversation between poems arises as poem after poem addresses children going to war, violence, and general commentary on the wars which have become the common landscape of our young writers.  Favorite piece – a hilarious performance by Thaddeus Rutkowski, a half-Russion, half-Chinese American.  His poem “Am I white or am I wong?” addresses the polarity of being bi-racial as well as the white-default assignment of rightness or wrongness to race.  Simply brilliant.

Thursday February 27th

  • 9 am.  “The Third Degree: Why Writers Pursue Additional Education Beyond the Bachelor’s and Master’s.”  Panelists: Fred Leebron, Michael Kobre, Nadine MacInnis, Brighde Mullins, and Queens Alum Jake Williams.  For those who have a low-res MFA, achieving an MFA through a traditional university offers the opportunity for teaching, which can be a boon to getting college teaching jobs after graduation.  Any traditional program also tends to provide assistanceships through either teaching or research, thus allowing a writer 2-3 years of focused writing time in an academic setting without taking on a hefty debt of school loans.  The Ph.D. is not a requirement for teaching university classes, but my experiences show that colleges are trending toward looking for that higher degree.  There are a few low-res Ph.D. options such as Old Dominion, Indiana University Pennsylvania, and BathSpa University.  Initially, I thought I was going to swallow my brain when I learned I could get a Ph.D. in creative writing from BathSpa; however, Mike Kobre indicated that a degree from a university outside the U.S. may pose problems when applying for teaching jobs.  While I absolutely want to re-engage with academia, I also want to be more marketable as a faculty candidate.  Still much to think on.
  • 10:30 am.  “Don’t Hate Your Life: Redesign Your Comp Class.”  Panelists: Rachel Simon, Chloe Yelena Miller, Melisa Febos, Kamilah Aisha Moon, and Alex Samets.  Learned excellent strategies for making composition assignments interesting and useful to students.  Ideas:
    • Cover Letter: in the process of practicing a skill students will need on the job market, instructors can work on paragraph organization and the mechanics of grammar.
    • Independent Study: the assignments are standard but students choose the topics – they can choose topics that are meaningful to them.
    • Use Documentaries – Watch documentaries such as “America the Beautiful” and then have students choose a topic addressed in that essay as the focus of the culminating essay.
    • Build up – each assignment builds toward the larger final paper.
    • Peer Review – students write and critique in the class itself.  Millenial students in particular enjoy collaborative or group work.
    • Reality TV – use the television shows students are watching to engage in larger discussions of consumerism, materialism, body image, gender identity, marriage, etc.
    • Biography – ask students to write a biography about someone they really care about
    • Cross-genre exploration – offer students a combination of essay, story, or poem that addresses some core idea – such as sibling relationships or race – and have students write their responses to these pieces.
    • Journaling – students maintain an ongoing journal in response to the weekly readings.  Instructors provide a few questions but then ask students to just generally respond.  Check these journals either every few weeks or randomly to ensure students are reading the assignments.
    • Cell phone quiz – a favorite of all panel attendees!  Every time a cell phone goes off in class, the instructor gives a pop quiz on the week’s readings.
    • 1:30 pm.  “How to Do It Now: New Trends in Publishing.” Panelists: Jeffrey Lependorf, Jon Fine, Rob Spillman, Rachel Fershleiser, Ira Silverburg.  With a panel consisting of the director of the Council for Literary Magazines and Presses, the director of author and publishing relations at Amazon, the founding editor of Tin House and Tin House books, the literary and non-profit outreach director at Tumblr, and a former agent and direct of the National Endowment for the Arts, I couldn’t go wrong with this panel.  The excitement and positivity here was truly inspiring.  People are buying books!  Both print and on-line.  And here’s where I learned the big take-away for AWP – Be a Good Literary Citizen.  The collaboration between magazines and presses reflects collaborative competition rather than capitalistic me-first thinking.  When we support one another, we all rise together.  Clearly, this is happening already.
    • 3 pm. “Creating Emotional Depth: Tools and Inspiration from Various Genres.”  Panelists: Laure-Anne Bosselaar, David Jauss, Tim Seibles, Karin de Weille, Robert Vivian.  Standing-room only!  I arrived quite a few minutes before this panel began and still had to sit in the back and was too late to obtain the hand-outs.  Question that opened this panel: What is the emotion that makes this speaker (character) unable to stay quiet?  David Jauss’s four ways to convey emotion:
      • Direct/Abstract Statement
      • Body language and internal experience
      • Particularize the gradations of emotion
      • Tone – tone generates content
      • 4:30 pm.  “Writing Through Race.”  Panelists: David Lau and Benjamine Hale.  Unfortunately, due to personal and weather issues, this panel lost three of its contributing members.  David and Ben both read from essays that addressed questions of race and then opened the discussion to the room.  The overwhelming topic of concern was how to do we bring a multi-racial experience to our MFA programs.  Many students expressed being the only writer of color in their programs, either as student or faculty.  This led some speakers to drop from their program under the pressure and lack of understanding by their workshop-mates and faculty.  Questions of “what race is this character?” and “you can’t use dialect!” bombarded many students, leaving them feeling as though they were prevented from following their voice and also had no faculty under which to study and have support.  A small group spoke afterward about how we must encourage AWP as the director of our writing programs to take this issue of race more seriously, both in terms of representation amongst students and staff, as well as in a curriculum that teaches writers how to write through race, rather than falling prey to, as Benjamin Hale aptly referred in his talk, the “white default.”  Books of note: Griff by Percival Everrett.  Essays: “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” Jorge Luis Borges and Tone Morrison’s writings on “othering.”

Wonderful first day!  Exceptional panels!  Committed and passionate panelists.  A headache drove me home after trying to attend the Two-Year College Caucus, but I’ve heard that the keynote address by Annie Proulx was wonderful.  I will try to link a podcast to those events that I attended once they become available.

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4 thoughts on “Day 1 AWP Conference

    • Deb! I’m so happy to connect again. Elisa shared your blog, and I’ve been very much enjoying it. Yes, I’m continuing to look for that low-residency option – looks like Bath Spa is out – tuition is something in the oh-my-god, I -just-threw-up-in-my-mouth range.

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