I won’t lie. I wasn’t too eager about going to D.C. for the writers’ conference this past February. I had whiplash after November, and hadn’t processed all of the stages of grief. I spent very few days in denial, not that recall if fear is part of the stages, but I will admit to being afraid and since I am not a thrill-seeker, I don’t do well with uncertainty.
I enjoy going to AWP for all of the right writerly reasons. I like the community, the workshops, the engaging talks and if I’m lucky I see old friends and make new ones. Normally, I wait too long to make reservations, the hotels are all sold out but this past year, I acted quickly. The conference hotel option was gone but I managed to score a deal in a nearby hotel on Embassy Row.
I unpacked my bags, got organized and decided to let D.C wash over me without any orange crumbs and to make the most out the conference. It turns out that AWP soothed my uncertainty and I had a blast.
Hotel: The Fairfax hotel on embassy row: Not too close to the venue, but the price was right, the hotel room super big and the metro ride was super easy. My stop was in Chinatown which was super vibrant at all hours
BTW- What I vowed to never do again: Rely on Apple’s maps! Having said that, I also vowed to spend less time trusting any map other than a paper map. I walk way too fast and sometimes the corrective response of the map doesn’t go as quickly as I want it to. Next time I am grabbing one of these crumpled maps
Here is a common problem for me: Cool sessions happening at the same time. Since I haven’t figured out how split myself in half, I normally pick my top 2 and go to my first choice. If for some reason the first one doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I duck out quietly and make my way to choice number 2. I’m mentioning my favorite ones.
Solo en Español
Wow! how it gave my heart alegria to hear only Spanish read in the literary form. The essay read by Lupita Vargas-Strathman, about identity, language and place, was nicely relevant during this political climate. Right before the conference I watched a series based Sor Juana Ines on Netflix . I was especially inspired and still in my mother tongue’s language embrace when I sat in the audience for this session. When I was younger I read Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz’s poetry only to have the memory languish with the sediment layers of my daily english speaking life. Guess what I have on my endless to read book pile? I am going to read her plays.
The panel’s readings and conversations unearthed for me Spanish words and terms that were not permanently lost by any means, but suppressed.
Solo en Español: An All-Spanish Reading and Craft Discussion. (Jose Faus, German Perilla, Norma Cantu, Maria Diaz) This reading and craft discussion celebrates work of the Spanish-language, multi-genre anthology, Corazon y Una Lengua Peregrina. It features work by Latino Writers Collective members living in the Midwest who have roots across the Americas and Spain. Esta lectura y discusión celebra el trabajo de la antología en Español y múltiples géneros, Corazon y Una Lengua Peregrina. Nosotros presenta la letra de miembros del Colectivo de Escritores Latinos con raíces a través de las Américas y Espana
Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sponsored by the Authors Guild.
I had missed the opportunity to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates in person, when a Harvard conference (Universities and Slavery: Bound by History) booked up quickly. I taught his book and his essay A Case for Reparations, last semester and was motivated to join a packed house (no hyperbole) for this important dialogue. I managed to get in before the previous session ended and caught the tail end of the Emma Traub and Ann Pachett session so I secured a seat and got to hear a delightful conversation about independent bookstores and advice on reading and writing characters. I had a great seat, and as the venue filled out and more people tried to come in I was relieved to stay put. The reading by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was amazing and I seem to be the only person in the country who hasn’t read Americanah. So, guess what’s waiting on my endless to-read- book- pile?
Writing the Dual Self
Every once in a while you happen on a session where you find yourself saying “get out of my head!” over and over. This was one of these sessions. Writing about self when so much of the outside world has expectations of who you should be has been a specific challenge for me. Once, in AWP Boston I attended a session of writing across diasporas. At the time, although the authors were all East-European I latched on to the vocabulary and language of the experiences of those, who like me, call other countries home. This session had solutions and honest perspectives. In this panel all the speakers were intuitive and articulate. Props to Sonya Larson from Grub St. who makes everything she touches radiate pleasant clarity.
Writing the Dual Self: Opening Spaces for Hybrid Identities . (Philip Metres, Tomas Morin, Thrity Umrigar, Michael Croley, Sonya Larson) Writers with dual ethnicities or hybrid backgrounds often struggle to find ways to tell a nuanced story of identity and community. Five writers with diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities share experiences of the struggle and strategies for forging a space for the dual, hyphenated, multiple self—one that does justice both to our art and our ancestors, working through the liberatory possibilities of writing and to resist the urge—or to market’s demand—to self-stereotype.
The Assay Journal has a nice comprehensive recap of the session. I am particularly interested in the form of the speculative Essay because of it’s open-ended form. The ideas of a speculative essay, far from being wavering, ask pertinent questions and invites the reader to inquire along with the writer. Just like a solid essay in the speculative form, the session peered into questions of author’s responsibility for voice and for truth, ideas of self and belonging through Emerson and Thoreau’s writing, origins and intent of the essay and impressions of the form. I came out of the session with a nice reading list, and while trying to find the subterranean location for the session, met the super-cool author Michael Tager.
Many essayists have employed speculation throughout the form’s history, relying wholly on speculation (relating nothing verifiable) rather than engaging “fact.” Virginia Woolf’s “Death of a Moth,” for example, does not require a verifiable moth to achieve its power. But what are the limits to speculation? Must essayists always signal their speculative intentions? Can an essayist delve into the traditional realm of the fiction writer, overturning traditional notions of point of view in the essay?
An important panel exploring the responsibilities and perspectives from the immigrant writer’s voice and experiences. The timeliness of the session in the midst of conversations about the freshly instituted travel-ban gave the panelists plenty to discuss.
Article in Publishers Weekly
Just planning ahead
So that’s it until we meet again in AWP18. I think we’re going to a sunnier spot.
- March 7 – 10, 2018 | Tampa Convention Center & Marriott Tampa Waterside
- March 27 – 30, 2019 | Oregon Convention Center
San Antonio, Texas (Hooray!)
- March 4 – 7, 2020 | Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center
Kansas City, Missouri
- March 3 – 6, 2021 | Kansas City Convention Center
- March 23 – 26, 2022 | Pennsylvania Convention Center