AWP Minneapolis: Day 3 — goddesses and gurus

Today. Has. Been. EPIC.

My day began with writing exercises and the bookfair and a pretty solid panel on research for creative writing (and a strong shout-out for the indispensable service librarians provide everyone, not just writers and teachers)! And all of that was wonderful.

And then Debra Monroe hugged me.

I was headed to Debra’s panel on the ethics of writing secondary characters in creative nonfiction, but I spotted Debra outside and was delighted to chat with her a bit before the panel. That panel, by the way, was amazing, with a killer talk from Emily Fox Gordon. I learned a lot that I’m eager to share with my students.

Still reeling from that awesomeness, I headed back to the bookfair, where I met a bunch of amazing folks, hung out at the sunnyoutside press table for a while, chatted up my own books, and got some other folks’ books signed (including Excavations by Wendy Ortiz!).

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This is maybe one eighth of the bookfair
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That's my chapbook up front, left of center.
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The Fourth Genre table has kittens!

On Twitter, I’ve been trying to tweet bookfair tables I’ve been to as a way to plug them and direct more traffic their way. Today, for a little meta-on-meta fun, I tweeted a photo of the big AWP Twitter jumbotron in the bookfair, and then I took a photo of my tweet on said jumbotron:

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I also did a little writing and sent some work out, because even at a conference, writers write. And then I was off to let Joy Harjo and Lidia Yuknavitch melt my brain with their genius.

And holy shit, did they ever.

They even sat next to each other!

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I’ve written before about how and why I love Joy Harjo, and about how deliciously quotable she is. So, not to disappoint, here are a couple of the lines I scribbled in my notebook today:

“The book is a body. It’s an energetic form that has life within it.”

The “colonization” and disempowerment of women “is only this much” — (she held her fingers very close together) — “only this much out of a timeline that is endless, yet we’ve allowed that to take over everything.”

Harjo rocks my world. But the panel wasn’t finished. We ended with Lidia Yuknavitch. And y’all, she brought me to tears.

She started by saying she wasn’t there to give a talk, she was there to recruit us all for an army. Then she got us all to our feet. The whole crowded room, standing in front of our chairs:

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And then she made us sing.

She told us to sing the word “I” for as long as she held us, until she told us to stop. And she held us a long time. You remember that Bugs Bunny opera cartoon where Bugs plays conductor and has the tenor hold a note and he leaves his glove in the air forever even when his hand leaves it?

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It was like that.

Then she told us: we’re taught that autobiography and memoir is about the author, it’s always about the “I.” But it’s not about our individual “I” — it’s about all our different “I”s together, singing in congress. “We are that ‘I’ song,” she said, and I choked up. Then she said, “Help me write new ‘I’ songs,” and I just about lost it.

It was powerful, and transcendent, and most importantly, it was a call to action. (My creative writing students, today was a game-changer. Brace yourselves.)

Then I headed back to the bookfair so Jenny Drai could sign her new poetry collection for me (I previewed her book a while ago and I’m thrilled to finally have a copy!)

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Jenny Drai signing her new book at the Black Lawrence Press table.

I browsed awhile longer and sent some emails and did some more work, and then they shut down the bookfair. As I was being ushered out of the room under the darkened lights, I stumbled across the Zoetic Press and Paper Nautilus Press tables, where I was delighted to find Allie Marini Batts!

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And yes, I now have one of her books, too. You should get one.

I also picked up a shot glass from Zoetic Press, and they were kind enough to fill it with a very decent sipping gin.

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I drank the gin.

Afterward, I spent the first half of my evening with Press 53 at a wonderful reading full of amazing poets and fiction writers, including Liz Prato (whose new book has just released at AWP) and Bonnie ZoBell and Grant Faulkner (the guy who founded NaNoWriMo!).

The second half of my evening I spent in the company of an old, dear friend, my first college professor, my first college writing mentor, my usher into the writing life, my guru, my friend David Breeden.

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And of course, we traded books — I gave him a copy of Box Cutters and of Hagridden, in which acknowledgements he’s listed, and he gave me his latest two poetry books. Then we spent the night eating Indian food and drinking beer and talking about art and writing and religion and history and politics and life and all the things I’ve always enjoyed talking about with him. And he’s still teaching me, and I’m still eager to learn.

And now it’s late. But I’m not yet tired. Because gang, after a day like today, all I want to do is sing:

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