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AWP Conference Roundup

Posted Fri, 4/08/2016 - 6:59am by  |  Category:

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2016 was held in Los Angeles this past weekend, and an estimated 11,000 people registered for the conference and bookfair. An annual pilgrimage for many writers, it offers a mind-boggling array of 550 panel discussions, readings, craft talks, and other, unofficial events, such as running into your literary crushes at the bookfair (featuring over 800 presses, journals and literary organizations, including the Hugo House). After three twelve-hour days hearing from writers such as Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Jonathan Franzen, Douglas Kearney, Eula Biss, Geoff Dyer, Mark Doty, Eileen Myles, Jess Walter, and Roxane Gay, attendees pack up their suitcases full of new books and leave with their heads full of ideas. There is much to digest. I interviewed some Seattle writers about their AWP experiences. Here are a few highlights, gleaned from in-person encounters, emails, texts, Twitter, and Facebook messages as they flew home or were stuck in traffic or high-rise elevators.


Sarah GalvinSarah Galvin

author of The Three Einsteins and The Best Party of Our Lives

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

Okay, one interesting thought a conversation yielded is that fragmentary poetry can be manipulated in an interesting way by limiting the language used to a specific thing or idea. For instance, Kate Durbin wrote a fantastic poem comprised completely of lines from tabloids about celebrity pregnancy – awesome and hilarious.

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

The Wonder reading and associated poets were amazing. And Octopus, always, duh.

Excited to finish Cody Walker’s excellent new book, The Self-Styled No-Child.

Also, the new John Colasacco, Antigolf. Also, Terrifying Photo by Matthew Timmons.

What or who blew your mind?

Kate Durbin, Kate Durbin, Kate Durbin. Also I had never seen Matthew Timmons read and he did this piece modeled after maybe yoga instruction that was incredible.


Megan Snyder-Camp Lit SeriesMegan Snyder-Camp

author of The Forest of Sure Things, brought a newborn infant to AWP

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

Everything I loved I had to leave because the baby hated panels but I saw mindblowing fragments of Dark Noise Collective reading (“your writing hand around my throat”), Ada Limon‘s reading (an amazing poem about peeing), Douglas Kearney‘s long poem about murder and imagination, Poetics of Rhetoric (my kingdom for a handout!), and the new Larry Levis documentary.

I hear Claudia Rankine killed it.

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

Belladonna, Hummingbird, Pitt (stocked up on Larry Levis, David Hernandez, Martha Collins), Canarium, Tavern Books, new (to me) journals Slice and Rock & Sling.

The best carpet to lie down on is over in the corner of the bookfair. Lots of people said, “I can’t wait to read your book!” and I kept thinking I was famous but really they were talking to my 3-month-old baby in the Ergo.

What or who blew your mind?

Dark Archives by Andre Bradley [ITI press]; a book called Nets, [by Jen Bervin, Ugly Duckling Presse], that is tiny raised-up bits of Shakespeare sonnets; Darcie Dennigan’s Palace of Subatomic Bliss; Birdies’ chicken sandwich and horchata donuts, a poetry air freshener from the Poetry Foundation in the shape of a tree that smells like a tree.


Kevin CraftKevin Craft

author of Solar Prominence and editor of Poetry NW Edition

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

Favorite quote: David Baker poem about his father, drawn out of a line from Lowell: “Why not say what happened?”

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

It was a good schwag year: Roethke shot glasses from Seattle Review (made me dizzy), badges from Two Sylvias (made me feel like I was Lorine Niedecker and W. B. Yeats going on a date), viewfinders from Broadsided Press (like, 3-D poetry, whoa).

I was inspired by the redesigned Kenyon Review (whose matte covers seem to attach to your fingers) and beautiful books by Marsh Hawk Press (some very good cover designs). I literally looked at every book design I could find and asked: who is your printer? Tell me about your design process. Learned a few tricks that will help us launch Poetry NW Editions in style.

What or who blew your mind?

Panel that blew me away: Plumly, Baker, O’Rourke, and Warren on W. S. Merwin – the great transition from Audenesque formal control to the unpunctuated syntactical inventiveness of The Lice. I realized how much of Merwin’s vision underwrites my own practice. Sample, from “The Nomad Flute”:

I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it

That’s my AWP motto, for sure.


Martha SilanoMartha Silano

author of four books of poetry, most recently, Reckless Lovely

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

“Putting together a book is like making a mix tape for your friends” —Erika Meitner

What or who blew your mind?

The Teaching Vision panel [The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision] blew my mind — David Kirby, Erika Meitner, Natalie Diaz, and Traci Brimhall talking about the workshop experience and how to teach with an eye toward revision and putting together a book manuscript. Kirby quoted Octavio Paz who said the poem is “the apple of fire on the tree of syntax.” Natalie Diaz shared how her poetic structure is made of the desert and chaos. She also said language is energy and showed us how the letter “A” was once an ox — it is a head and a pair of horns.

Use dream logic, [when putting together a book of poems] suggested Kirby. Such a mind-blowing panel — and that’s only about a quarter of it.

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

Jasmine An’s Naming the No-Name Woman, chosen by Keetje Kuipers as the winner of the 2015 Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize, was a stand-out. Diagram magazine, chapbooks, and playing cards. The Fourth River just-released issue on climate change. Sarah Vap’s Viability, just out from Penguin. Agh, it’s amazing!


paulette_perhach.jpgPaulette Perhach

author of “A Story of a F*ck Off Fund,” collaborated with the Hugo House to produce The Writer’s Welcome Kit, had plenty of time to contemplate AWP while stuck in an elevator

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

“If you’re not being rejected, you’re not having the conversation.” —Matthew Gavin Frank

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

It was lovely to see a lot more handmade books, as well as more creative packaging (Kristen Steenbeeke bought Forklift, Ohio, which was in an evidence bag).

What or who blew your mind?

We happened to get tickets to the offsite Fierce Verse event. Lidia Yuknavitch read a detailed account of her first threesome that reminded me of what a wuss I am about writing things that might make others (family) uncomfortable. Watching artists take huge risks and talk about what we’ve been told we’re not allowed to talk about, always reminds me that I don’t have to ask anyone’s opinion about who I am or what I write.


977486_10201124561947033_247176840_oJessica Mooney

writes for Salon, The Rumpus, and City Arts Magazine

What is one interesting quote or piece of craft advice you gleaned this year?

Nothing new gleaned, per se, more reminders of things I have trouble keeping in perspective, like, keep aiming high in terms of submitting work to the top notch places—they aren’t too good for you! Also, writers can be a little joy-averse and neurotic, so AWP is a good place to keep the inner shoegazer in check and join some friends on a ridiculous rooftop hotel bar and let loose a little. Hard to be self-serious when someone’s cracking a joke about going down on Willie Nelson.

What are some of your favorite small presses and/or books you saw at the bookfair this year?

Organic Weapon Arts, run by super-poet duo Tarfia Faizullah and Jamaal May, which published local Seattle poet Michelle Peñaloza’s chapbook, Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes; Coffee House Press, an indie publisher and arts nonprofit in Minnesota that published all three of Valeria Luiselli’s excellent books, including The Story of My Teeth; Tin House, a favorite independent literary magazine and book publisher that consistently puts out strong work by both emerging and well-established authors, such as Bianca Stone, Jodi Angel, and Charles D’Ambrosio; the mighty Graywolf Press, an independent publisher (also out of Minnesota) that has published some of the most exciting literature in recent years, including Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and the highly anticipated forthcoming book of poetry Look by Solmaz Sharif, which “asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable loss of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech.”; Alice Blue Review, a magazine that seeks, “innovative poetry and prose, work that quivers nervously for attention, work that teethes endlessly on doorknobs.”

What or who blew your mind?

Things that blew my mind: the cost of a couple of beers at the Ace Hotel Bar; absolutely everything about Natalie Diaz—her poems, her reading her poems, the way she rocks a pair of leather pants; Susan Orlean’s streak of blue in her hair; Jericho Brown’s wit and charm.