And We’re Off: Blogging AWP 2010

So the flight up here, well the connecting flight to Chicago anyway, was so turbulent that I introduced myself to the gentleman next to me by accidentally grabbing his thigh during a gut wrenchingly steep and bumpy ascent.  See, I was reaching for my husband’s thigh at this point, which was on my left, and well, my right hand just instinctively followed suit in the other direction.  Fortunately, while I was mortified, he was very good humored about it.  He also called me “young lady,” as in, “Are you all right, young lady?”  So I knew right away we were going to get along.  “Just relax,” he told me.  “Enjoy the ride.  Like a roller coaster.”

Yep.  A roller coaster.  Space Mountain, I’m guessing, where you can’t see a thing.  The he followed up with, “Besides, if anything were to happen, you’d never know what hit you.  We’re going 500 miles an hour.”

As you can imagine,  he was very kind and gregarious, chatting with me the whole 1.5 hour flight and occasionally throwing in, “that was just an air pocket, no big deal,” which I appreciated.  So whoever you are from just south of Chicago who designs breweries for a living and travels all the time, thanks for the distraction.

Some of you may be wondering where my husband was during all this.  Reading a book while I occasionally held his hand so tightly my rings left red marks on his fingers.  He’s not insensitive; he’s just used to this.

But enough about me and my aviation angst.  Today began the AWP 2010 Festivities, and although it was an incredible, information packed day all around, it started auspiciously enough with me missing the first session because even though I was a minute or two early, that wasn’t even enough, the room was SRO with about thirty to forty people still waiting to get in.  It was about Creative Nonfiction and though it had seemed interesting, even getting to stand inside was looking hopeless, so I gave up and went to check my email.  Needless to say, I was at least twenty minutes early to all the sessions the rest of the day, even if it meant I had to leave the session I was in before it ended.

My next two sessions were sensational and interestingly, echoed one  another.  The first, called “Shameless Book Promotion,” was put on by Squad365.  Here are some highlights:

  • Promoting books is not just more necessary but also more interesting and creative every day.  Make opportunity out of necessity by reaching out to readers.
  • From poet, Todd Boss, “The world is our audience and we should give them the poetry it craves.”  Commit to a public role (Todd himself is the Poet Laurete of Nina’s cafe in MN. ) In other words, we need to assert ourselves as public leaders in the arts in our own communities.
  • Tour for reasons other than book sales.  Touring isn’t about you and your book but about connecting with the souls who show up to show their love for literature and the arts.
  • Number one strategy for getting your book known?  Get in some sort of trouble.  No, seriously, it’s about human connection.  Promoting your book is a service.
  • All of the presenters seemed very high on Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which I bought at AWP last year and have been wanting to read.  Now I have no more excuses. 

PLATFORM BUILDING (with, among others, Golden Baguette award winner and Writer Mama/Get Known Before the Book Deal Author Christina Katz)

  • We are responsible for the outcome of our careers, for making the best choices for the best results. (CK herself).
  • Ezra Pound, as a missionary for poetry and for himself, was the best platform builder of the 20th century, “hauling ass all over Europe” for a cause he believed in.
  • CK started college with a 128 K Mac, just like I did.  We must be about the same age, although she sounds much more tech-savvy.
  • Writing always comes first; but 10-20% of the rest of your time should be spent micro building your platform (ie. baby steps, a little bit each day).

Next was the “all-star” biography session, with appearances by Philip Lopate, Robert Root, Honor Moore, Kim Stafford (one of my heroes), Diana Raab and Joy Castro.

  • When Stafford called friend Naomi Shihab Nye (another of my heroes) to tell her of his father’s passing, she asked if he was writing.  When he said no, everything was so unsettled, she told him, with her characteristic wisdom:  “don’t wait until things settle to write about this. Things are unsettled right now in a way they will never be again.”
  • After his father’s death, he learned from one of his father’s friends that the elder Stafford had confided that “I love all my children [he had four] but there is one that is myself.  It is Kim.”  And so, Kim Stafford told us, “I was saddled with the treasure of mutual identity.”
  • From the duality of William/Kim Stafford:  When a particular writing day finds you struggling to choose among several projects, “choose the thing in your hands that is most alive.”
  • From Honor Moore:  “Write the hot spots first.  It gives the book structure.”
  • Philip Lopate writing about his ambivalance toward his subject, Susan Sontag.  “Contradiction is quite human.” (And so in my own ears rings, “Do I contradict myself/Very well I contradict myself/ I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Teaching Creative Writing Across the Pond

  • The most enlighting part was the discussion of Creative Writing in Ireland, which I don’t know nearly as much about as I should.  Sounds like compared to that “other Island” (yes, this was how they referred to the UK) the history of creative writing there is proceeding at a much slower pace.  I’m looking forward to having coffee with one of the presenters, Shauna Busto Gilligan, tomorrow. 

I was supposed to go to another session after that but my head was swimming and I was all conferenced out.  Which is how you’re probably feeling if you made it all the way through this post.  Onward!  I’ll be back tomorrow.

Bye y’all,

SV

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