There are writer’s writers and then there are writer’s writers’ conferences, of which AWP is the grand daddy mac. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs takes place once a year, usually in a place cold and windy enough to encourage writers to stay away from whatever cultural attractions the host city might offer to attend lectures, readings and the mammoth book fair with their brethren.
The staid name doesn’t make it sound fun, but AWP is not only fun, it is extremely inspiring. Because of fire laws, it was impossible to sell more than 10,000 tickets—the conference completely sold out. This year’s AWP took place from February 29th to March 3rd in two different hotels in Chicago, IL—Hilton Chicago and Hilton Palmer House, both of which feature gilded age deets—including frescoed ceilings, fleur-de-lys stair runners, dim lighting, chandeliered-ballrooms and some actual conference-sponsored dancing in said ballrooms.
Pulp Lab was on hand to witness the fervor. There are several great write-ups floating around the web, notably literary culture guide Full Stop’s exhaustive, illustrated recap and We Who Are About to Die’s AWP bingo card. Below are the witnessed events.
Karaoke proved to be the one lubricant, after alcohol, that humbles and unites writers of different ages and backgrounds. Out of many different karaoke themed events taking place, the favorite was the AWP Karaoke Battle Dance Party at Chicago’s Beauty Bar. Each competing literary magazine had to choose one writer to represent them in a karaoke/dance-off. The night’s champion was the man who literally puts the bear in baritone, the writer Benjamin Percy, who scored a big win for Tin House with his choreographed rendition of Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Other highlights among the many, many fêtes was the AWP Literature Party which featured a marathon reading from 40+ different readers as well as a veritable who’s-who of “it” writers around the drinking well. “It” writers? Yes, such a thing exists.
The Berkshire-based poet Mark Leidner pretty much killed it at the Birds LLC “No Baby” party with his one-line pop culture epiphanies from his collection, Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me but in terms of verbal murder, he found his match in the night’s final reading by his neighbor, Ben Fama, who quietly delivered quirky insights into the world of fashion, bodies of water, and making out.
Old favorites such as Hobart, Mud Luscious, Caketrain and Dzanc books continued to impress with their mind-blowing diverse collection of chapbooks, novellas, story collections and other oddities. Octopus Books, Bateau Press, Rose Metal Press, Bat Cat Press and Birds LLC left us salivating with their selections, too—and talking like fish tacos and salted margaritas on a Sunday at 3PM type of salivation.
It was very hard to top Thursday’s There Will be Blood panel seeing as it not only involved four of the most exciting, young, (and let’s be honest) attractive writers in America (the aforementioned Percy alongside Antonya Nelson, Alexi Zentner and Alan Heathcock), it also involved beer. In addition to exploring the role of violence in contemporary American fiction, Zentner, especially threw out some brilliant hard love-liners such as “If your characters make you do something, then you’re not working hard enough.”
Saturday is always a tough day at the conference. People are just plain tired of talking about writing…with writers. Nevertheless, some of the most stimulating conferences of the week took place that day, with Todd Zuniga of Literary Death Match, Daniel Nester of Karaoke + Poetry = Fun, Kathleen Volk Miller, founder of Painted Bride Quarterly and Matt Longabucco from The Poetry Project discussing inclusive, celebratory ways to get your work out there that don’t involve “liking” things on Facebook. The last panel we made it to before collapsing was a truly riveting discussion on the use of fraudulent artifacts in creative writing, led by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, co-editors of a forthcoming story anthology, Fakes.
Nice people sitting with nice people. The AWP book fair:
Because of cost considerations, lots of literary magazines end up sharing a table. When these seatmates have asymmetrical aesthetics, electric conversations and inspired purchases occur. Our favorite seating arrangements were between Brooklyn-based Noon and Gigantic Magazine; NYC-based The Coffin Factory and Slice Magazine, and the triple horn of plenty that was Lumberyard, H_NGM_N and Forklift, Ohio. Forklift also wins Pulp Lab’s vote for most subversive swag: a branded pack of “nuts and bolts” containing actual nuts and actual bolts. Yes.
Next year’s The Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ AWP Conference will take place in Boston, MA from March 6th to March 9th, 2013.