Living in Boston within walking distance (or a short subway ride) from AWP2013 at the Hynes Convention Center; was luxurious. I had picked up all my registration materials the day before the full conference started and before the real bad weather hit us hard downtown. So it was easy walking in, breezing though the book fair since I had missed the 9am session all together. Boston was scheduled to get five to eight inches of snow by evening so I opted for an early night and hibernated safely back in Brookline.
Here are some highlights:
8 sessions I wanted to attended:
Keeping Track of Your Book. (Mary Kay Zuravleff, Hannah Tinti, Bich Minh Nguyen, Porter Shreve, Lan Samantha Chang) How do you chart plot and subplots, the passing of time, point of view, characters, and structure while working out a book? Participants reveal what methods they have devised, if any, to keep themselves on track. They will tell tales of the seven-foot outline, the illustrated injury map of a character, and other attempts to visualize the arc and architecture of a novel, memoir, or story collection.
Writing in the Diasporas Across Languages and Cultures. (Domnica Radulescu, Ezzat Goushegir, Danuta Hinc, Biljana Obradović, Stella Vinitchi-Radulescu) What are the joys and challenges of writing from the perspective of the immigrant experience in the United States? From the role that Iranian American writers have had on cultural transformation in the US, to the difficulty of writing as an American Serb after the Bosnian war of the ’90s, to the resilience of poetry in the face of globalization and technology, to the exploration of family stories from World War II Eastern Europe, this panel offers diverse angles on writing in the diasporas.
The First Five Pages: Literary Agents and Editors Talk About Giving Your Manuscript its Best Shot. (Erin Cox, Rob Weisbach, Alexis Gargagliano, Jill Schwartzman) How do you convey the story, theme, and nuance of a 90,000-word novel or memoir in a powerful query letter? What if the action of your book doesn’t come until Chapter 3, but agents and editors only read the first ten pages? These agents and editors discuss the kinds of submissions that grab them and keep them engaged, and the ways to make sure you frame your story effectively, avoid common pitfalls, and get your foot in the door.
I Essay to Be. (David Shields, Phillip Lopate, Elena Passarello, Amy Fusselman) This reading traces the lineage of contemporary essay-writing by embodying it: Phillip Lopate reframed and revivified the form decades ago. David Shields looks back to the tradition Lopate articulated and forward to a group of younger literary collagists, including Maggie Nelson and Amy Fusselman. Each generation builds off of and pushes away from the previous one; each of these five essayists finds his or her own way into the form.
From Parts to a Whole: Turning a Bunch of Essays into a Unified Book. (David Giffels, Chuck Klosterman, Sean Manning, Chuck Klosterman, Meghan Daum) Why do some books of essays feel like collections of B-sides, outtakes and orphans, while others carry the thematic and narrative satisfaction of a good concept album? Drawing from their own experiences, this panel of successful authors discusses vital techniques for conceiving, organizing, developing, and enhancing a collection of creative nonfiction essays into a unified whole. We will address how to balance recurring themes, maintain voice and tone, how to build bridges, and other topics.
The First Ten Years: An Anniversary Reading by Faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. (Steven Cramer, Barry Brodsky, David Elliott, Alexandra Johnson, Hester Kaplan) Celebrating the first ten years of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing, five of its local faculty—from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but representing the program’s nucleus in Cambridge—present new works. Readings from just-published books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrated verse for children—as well as actors performing a staged reading of a ten-minute play—showcase the program’s multi-genre and interdisciplinary ethos.
From the Hamster Wheel to the Sandbox: Dreams and Free Association, New Media, and Playfulness in the Writing Classroom. (Ricco Siasoco, Matthew Burgess, Alden Jones, Jason Roush, Lad Tobin) The writing workshop may be our most important pedagogical tool, but we can significantly improve the quality of our students’ writing by introducing methods that demystify the process of invention. A cross-genre panel of teacher-practitioners shares innovative prompts that push students to write from new personas; to access rich unconscious material through dreams, fantasies, and free association; and to incorporate new media, including blogging and podcasting, into the writing process.
Lyricist Maximus: Maximalism and the Lyric Essay. (Daisy Pitkin, Amy Benson, Steve Tomasula, Joni Tevis, Kyoko Mori) Usually applied to artists like David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, maximalists are writers who embrace juxtapositions and chase limitlessness in their work—where anything, from white space to syntax to statistics, can become an expressive instrument of the artist. In this session, panelists will look at the lyric essay to examine how this hybrid nonfiction form both breaks down borders between, and binds together, complex systems of disparate raw material inherent to maximalist texts.
6 Sessions I attended
Writing in the Diasporas Across Languages and Cultures.
I Essay to Be
From Parts to a Whole: Turning a Bunch of Essays into a Unified Book.
From the Hamster Wheel to the Sandbox: Dreams and Free Association, New Media, and Playfulness in the Writing Classroom
The First Ten Years: An Anniversary Reading by Faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing
Lyricist Maximus: Maximalism and the Lyric Essay
Why not all the ones I wanted?
Both Keeping Track of Your Book and he First Five Pages: Literary Agents and Editors Talk About Giving Your Manuscript its Best Shot were over capacity without even sitting space. For the’ Keeping Track session’, a guard had to come and tell folks to get the heck out of the doorway as many of us struggled to see what was happening either at either side of the huge crowd. The ‘First Five pages session’, was also like that, with two entrances to really clog things up. I found a place on the floor behind someone’s chair but could only see a gentleman’s behind, so I bailed.
Word of the day: Essay.
Heard it a lot, maybe because my writing is mostly personal narrative and essay topics lined up with the sessions I picked to attend.
“Invite the reader to think along side you. An essayist has more authority when they don’t know than when they do.”
“Good comedians are offering an essay”
“An Essay can fold anything.”
Nice people I just met that day
The friendly and smart Libby Walkup of the literary journal Ginger Piglet
The talented editor of Brain Child Magazine
The amazing Stacey Lynn Brown, current Poetry Editor of Sou’wester
Met folks of Phantom limb Press
Author Danuta Hinc writing the moving story of Angels in the Forest.
4 conference etiquette questions
Is it acceptable to:
1. Take your shoes off and cross your legs exposing your odorous heel to me when I am sitting only five inches away from you?
2. To play with your hair while leaning in my direction, examining each strand carefully, shaking whatever comes off with your fingers as you finger comb your long tresses insessantly in my direction-while I am sitting only five inches away from you?
3. To have your very cute child eat a sandwich sitting next to attendee parent, while many of dozens were turned away or couldn’t find a place to sit during “Keeping Track of Your Book.” As a proud parent of genius kids, I could give this child the benefit of the doubt as a mini-author.
4. To take a photograph with your phone of an unsuspecting human being sitting on the floor less than a foot away front of you? To zoom in on her hand -as fetching as it might be- and take interesting angles of the woman’s back and arms during one of the sessions?
10 Books I want to read or re-read
To Show and Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction– by Phillip Lopate. I have never read any Phillip Lopate’s work but now I am eager to do so. During the Essay to be Me session, Lopate read from one of his essays in which he talked about his writing of Essays and how he goes about treating tricky subject matters.
Also read his wonderful article in the NYT- The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt
As part of the panel for Essay to be- David Shields read from his book Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity. I found the piece he read, extremely funny but also revealing of our collective mind set as a country. The list of bumper stickers curated in life’s chronology is quite clever.
From the essay Information Sickness: “I love all forms of taxonomy—lists, categories, compartments, containers, boundaries. When I went to the famous Amsterdam sex shops, I was struck mainly by the arrangement of movies and magazines into exceedingly minute subdivisions of pleasure and pain. I love doing errands, and what I especially love about doing errands is crossing things off my errand list. When making phone calls, running errands, or performing ablutions, I always begin with what seems to me the least personal item and conclude with what seems to me the most personal item….”
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays- by Joan Didion– I’ve read Didion essays before, like In Bed, where she talks about her life with migraines, from which I too suffer. Now I need to go spend one good chunk of life reading this essay collection.
Pulphead: Essays –by John Jeremia Sullivan “A sharp-eyed, uniquely humane tour of America’s cultural landscape—from high to low to lower than low—by the award-winning young star of the literary nonfiction world.”
The Braindead Megaphone- by George Saunders “The breakout book from “the funniest writer in America”–not to mention an official “Genius”–his first nonfiction collection ever.”
Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America- by Steve Almond. It is no secret that I have a huge literary crush on Steve Almond. He’s funny, honest and to the point. He’s incredibly smart and his observations on writing, the industry and the writing life are dead on. If you ever see him in person, bring some cash. His mini books, the ones he sells “drug deal style,” are so worth it. I just ordered these
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut,Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog- by Diana Joseph. “Surrounded by dysfunctional men-from her fourteen-year-old son to her high-maintenance boss-Diana Joseph did what she had to do: survive. I’m Sorry You Feel That Way is an honest, hilarious, and instantly recognizable memoir of a truly modern woman. Funny, fearless, and warmhearted, it is a portrait of a woman in all her endless complexities and contradictions, and of the people she has come to love in spite of-or rather because of-theirs.”
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays– by David Foster Wallace. This one has been sitting on my nightstand for a while. Will need to pick it up this month. For some reason it makes me sad that DFW is dead. I have all his books and always hesitate when I am about to start reading any of them.
Odes to Common Things- by Pablo Neruda. I have read and re-read these poems almost yearly. This year I received this book from my handsome husband as a Valentines’ present. The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction
The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction-by Tom LeClair. “The Art of Excess’ combines intensive literary scholarship and wide-ranging multidisciplinary though to restore the meaning of criticism – evaluation – to the study of recent American fiction.” This one looked interesting to me because of the topics of mastery and criticism. The book came up as an example of the wide breadth of the essay as a writing tool. The Art of Excess could be considered a book-length essay.
I caught up with old friends from the Lesley MFA program and heard them read.
The First Ten Years: An Anniversary Reading by Faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. (Steven Cramer, Barry Brodsky, David Elliott, Alexandra Johnson, Hester Kaplan)
Celebrating the first ten years of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing, five of its local faculty— from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but representing the program’s nucleus in Cambridge—present new works. Readings from just-published books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrated verse for children—as well as actors performing a staged reading of a ten-minute play— showcase the program’s multi-genre and interdisciplinary ethos.
My talented mentor, Alexandra Johnson has a wonderful book in progress that I am dying to read soon. Alex is one of the most supportive collaborators I’ve ever met and she’s quietly elegant about her own writing. When I heard her read from her time in Italy, I was taken in instantly. I also ran into another talented faculty member: Leah Hager Cohen. Her latest novel, The Grief of Others, which I read in one sitting, has characters in modern American life that are both relatable and sympathetic.