It’s been less than a week since AWP 2014 wrapped this year in Seattle. The hangover is finally gone, my bags are finally unpacked and the list of books mentioned throughout the conference have been purchased. With a bit of distance from the debauchery, I present to you my AWP wrap-up, in a best of/worst of list format. Why? Because all of us were unpopular in high school, and many of us would end up on Blackwell’s Worst of List. Recognizing the literary community in both of those formats seems strangely foreign, and yet oh, so familiar.
Best Free Swag at their AWP Bookfair Booth: Hamline University’s Creative Writing Program. Any department that has “Get Lit” printed on all of its swag, has to be full of some pretty awesome people.
Best Twitter Account Created at AWP: @AWPescalator . If you were at the Washington State Convention Center, you know. When I was in the 8th grade, I attended a conference there alongside my mom and watched a woman trip and fall all the way down that escalator. Believe me, it was time those escalators were honored by social media. Also, the avatar picture being James Franco is just glorious.
Best Quote From A Panelist at AWP 2014: “I will say that I’m very tired of essays about white people exploring the world and learning something.” –Roxane Gay discussing what she does and doesn’t look for in essays for The Rumpus. Roxane also gets bonus points for this gem, when discussing unmoderated comments on internet articles: “Go free speech your shit elsewhere.”
Best Stand Up Comedian Masking as a Writer: Jess Walter, the MC for the Gish Jen and Tobias Wolff reading. Seriously, who was that guy? My face still hurts.
Worst Titled Panel That Became a Surprisingly Fantastic Panel: “A Bag Full Of God: Female Memoirists With Daddy Issues”. When I first saw the title I was pretty disgusted, but decided to give it a go due to the lineup (Alysia Abbott, Jennie Ketcham, Liz Prato, Sarah Tomlinson). While the title did come across as demeaning, the women on this panel really brought the discussion of how they dealt with the men in their lives in their memoirs, to a very interesting place. It was also a pleasure to see Jennie Ketcham, former porn star-turned blogger/writer, on this panel being blunt whenever the opportunity arose.
Best Literary Organization Saving The World: Young Chicago Authors. This organization runs “Louder Than a Bomb”, the largest high school slam poetry competition. Between turning high school poets into rock stars and providing programming for youth in one of the most marginalized and segregated cities, Young Chicago Authors is truly saving lives. The panel they ran alongside Literature for All of Us, gave me real-world tools and inspiration for the work I do with youth here in Portland.
Best Fangirl/Reflective Moment: I was telling a student at work how when I was sixteen I loved Chuck Palahniuk, because I’d never seen prose like that before, and he was the only really famous writer in Portland at the time. He made me realize that you didn’t have to be from New York or LA to become a famous author. So for a brief moment when I literally almost bumped into Chuck Palahniuk on the Bookfair floor at AWP, I almost felt my sixteen-year-old fangirl self come squealing out. But then as I stood literally inches away from him, I reflected on how at sixteen all I wanted was to have him sign my book and talk to him for ten seconds. Standing by him in Seattle, all I could think was I’d come a hell of a long way in thirteen years, and twenty-nine is so much sweeter than sixteen.