Today was the best kind of whirlwind.
I was tired enough from last night that I wasn’t sure I would make it to my first panel at 9 am(!) but registration went fast and I’m damn glad I got to that first panel on writing personal essays in the Internet age. I was already looking forward to it because it involved Anna March, Wendy Ortiz, Ben Tanzer, and Jamie Iredell, all of whom I love and know online but none of whom I’d met in real life until today. And the panel (which also included Megan Stielstra, who was awesome!) was so amazing I wound up taking — no kidding — 15 pages of notes! (My creative writing students, be sure to ask about this one when I get back next week.)
Even better, I sat with my pal David Atkinson and we were soon joined by my friend and fellow Portland writer Trevor Dodge. So it was a wonderfully friendly way to start my AWP.
Afterward, I stopped in at the bookfair for a bit, hitting the sunnyoutside press table and then crossing the Sea of Literature to find the table for my old lit journal, American Literary Review. There, I met a couple of new PhD candidates, Kim and Bryn, and we chatted about my former professors and the current brilliance of the magazine. They also invited me to an ALR reading in the evening, which is where I am now as I type this.
I also visited One Story, which is always one of the best booths in the bookfair. They’re doing a superheroine thing this year, and I love it!
I also ran into Bill Roorbach, whose book Writing Life Stories I’m teaching out of now (nonfiction students, Bill says hi).
But then it was time to return to the panels, starting with a panel on unsympathetic characters, which I was super-psyched about not only because of the subject but also because my hero Tom Franklin was on the panel, and, unsurprisingly, he was my favorite part of the panel. (Some of you have been following me on Twitter, so you’ve already seen my geek-out tweets today.)
I should also point out that Tommy’s panel was beyond standing-room-only, which didn’t surprise me at all — I’ve been a fanboy for Tommy for about 15 years now, ever since his first book.
Then I hustled over to a panel on nurturing a creative life alongside a career in teaching at a two-year college, which (again) I was at as much for my own edification as to support a friend, this time the lovely and überprofessional Brianna Pike.
After that, I raced over to another panel, this one on travel as research for fiction (and poetry) which included both the goddess Beth Ann Fennelly and my seatmate from my flight to Minneapolis, Peter Mountford, and also the fantastically interesting Tiphanie Yanique (whose book I’ve been after for a while now and am extra-eager for now!) and Philip Graham (whose forthcoming novel is postmortal fiction and therefore right up my alley). That, too, was a brilliant panel (students, ask me questions!) and I took loads of notes.
And from there I was headed to a panel my students sent me to, but alas, I got the room number wrong, and as I was trying to find the correct room, I passed the bookfair, and I was already late to my panel, so I just bailed and ducked into bookfair.
And that turned out to be a fabulous decision, because I got to say hi to my chapbook publisher at sunnyoutside press (table 128). And I chatted a while with Aaron Burch at Hobart (folks, buy his book Backswing and subscribe to Hobart!). And I ran into a former colleague and a gang of student editors at Driftless, the lit magazine I helped found with poet Russell Brickey when we lived in Wisconsin!
And I ran into my friends Jessica Standifird and Gayle Towell (whose book Blood Gravity you should definitely buy and read) from Portland’s Blue Skirt Press!
AND I got a request for a full novella manuscript from a publisher I love and respect, right there in the bookfair, exactly like some dream fairytale encounter at AWP.
And then security turned out all the lights and literally chased me from the building, which is when I headed to the ALR reading I’d been invited to, and that was fantastic. I wound up sitting with the current grad students I’d met earlier in the day, Kim and Bryn, as well as a recent graduate, April, all of us fiction writers, and in between poetry and fiction readings, we had long and fascinating conversations about craft and grad school and publishing. It was a wonderful evening, really, and exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for in my AWP evenings, particularly for my first night.
(I’d post pix but the lighting in the bar was low and none of the photos is particularly flattering.)
And! I rode the elevator with a member of the community college caucus, who invited me to the listserve for community college teachers! So that was productive!
I’ve also spent a lot of today tweeting about the conference, and if you’re interested in that, you can follow me on Twitter.
But for now, I’m exhausted, and I have a lot more ahead of me tomorrow, so I’ll sign off for now with this final note: it snowed today. I don’t know how well you can see that from these photos:
But I, for one, was so thrilled to see real winterish weather that I donned my rain jacket and, like a good Portlander, walked the several blocks to tonight’s reading sans umbrella.
And I loved every step of it.