AWP Day 2: We shouldn’t be here because we should be writing

I’m writing this before the big event today — Annie Proulx’s keynote address — because I have no idea what kind of time I’ll have to write it after. And there’s plenty to write about already.

In the "Disrupting Class" panel.
In the “Disrupting Class” panel.

So far today I’ve hit three panels. The first was at 9 am and, miraculously, I made it there on time with only a single cup of coffee in me. I’m glad I did. The panel, “Disrupting Class: Changing Pedagogical Landscapes in the Writing Classroom,” was an invigorating discussion of new ideas for teaching writing, including (or especially) first-year composition. I like to think I have some pretty engaging approaches to teaching comp, and the students always seem to enjoy it as much as learn from it, but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to shake things up, and this panels had all sorts of interesting ideas, including a very impressive course designed around teaching argument through video game design — as in, the students not only write essays but design a video game.

After that I attended a very powerful panel discussion on “Literary Politics: White Guys and Everyone Else.” The panelists were all fantastic, but I have to admit the big draw for me was Roxane Gay, who is one of my favorite contemporary writers on race, gender, and literary culture. Somehow, she is even more amazing in person. Her presence — her wit and her intelligence — is enveloping, and I felt like I was a student in her classroom, in the best possible way. The whole panel was informative, but her comments were inspiring.

The "Literary Politics" panel was standing-room only!
The “Literary Politics” panel was standing-room only!

But the panel I took the most notes in today was on “Writing Rules I Break, Presented by The Southampton Review.” To be honest, it wasn’t so much informative (I’m a rule-breaker at heart) as it was reaffirming, and I wound up writing down a ton of fun — and knowingly ironic — rules about breaking rules:

  • There is only one rule: Within the world of your story, know the rules of that story and adhere to them. (Susan Scarf Merrell)
  • Rules are a great way to get out of stuckness. Inventing arbitrariness is a great way to rediscover play. (Rachel Pastan)
  • I write past the end of my fiction so I can safely lop off the last few paragraphs. (Dinah Lenney)
  • There are no rules, and break them all. (Robert Wrigley)
  • You break rules for effect. There ought to be a reason. (Robert Wrigley)
  • Anything that increases the difficulty in what you write is a good idea. (Robert Wrigley)
  • There is only one rule: We shouldn’t be here, because we should be hidden away somewhere in some dark room putting words on paper. (Robert Wrigley)

In between panels, I’ve been spending time at the bookfair, which is the biggest I’ve ever seen it at AWP. Already I’ve bumped into dozens of friends old and new, met half a dozen new magazines or presses, shaken hands with Nance Van Winkle (one of my favorite poets), and sold — and signed — two chapbooks. And while I was at the sunnyoutside press table selling books, friends came by to see me: Daniel Shapiro, Bud Smith, and Amy Temple Harper stopped by, and I took a quick jaunt across the aisle to shake hands with Rusty Barnes (I’ve been a fan of his for YEARS).

All in all, it’s been an amazing day, and I haven’t even gone to the Kurt Cobain panel or the keynote address yet, to say nothing of the myriad readings happening tonight.

Which is to say, I’m exhausted and exhilerated all at once, the latter of which is going to get me to tomorrow.


Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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