You Should Totally Go!
by Beth Mayer
Did you know that Cinderella has a bodyguard? She does. I saw the two of them, together, in Disneyworld. Cinderella’s bodyguard is a big guy because people really want to get close to Cinderella. She has clear skin and a royal bearing and can really hit those high notes. We think, maybe if I can get close enough to Cinderella, I will become Cinderella. (Or bed her. Whatever.) So, here goes my imaginative leap.
The AWP Conference is Disneyworld. But it is a really special Disneyworld, without talking mice, and with alcohol. It is made especially for writers and readers and teachers. It is made for you. And Cinderella? She’s everywhere, sans bodyguard, in the guise of Tim O’Brian, Joy Harjo, Lee Gutkind, Jane Hirschfield, John Yau, Antonya Nelson, Janet Burroway, and Steve Almond. I attended the AWP Annual Conference in Austin, Texas in early March and I loved every frenetic, inspiring, caffeinated, insecure, inebriated, celebratory minute of it. Very quickly I got over my frequent affliction, my imposter syndrome, and realized that there were also regular people just like me -- a little green, a little eager. I understood that I belonged there anyway. Plus, I had one of those name badges, the kind that hang on a cord around your neck, you know? That was cool. At AWP Austin you could ride the Bookfair, Panel Discussions, Author Signings, Readings, and Receptions. Oh, and late at night, there were dances - complete with aging kings waltzing, so to speak, with sweet young things.
In the evening, I preferred hearing Ed Bok Lee do a benefit reading at a nearby bar, eating California rolls at a quiet sushi place, and sitting on a terrace with a few friends overlooking the city. I spent most of my days at the Bookfair and Panel Discussions. The Bookfair had representatives from lit mags and journals you know: Tin House, Iowa Review, Creative Nonfiction, Paris Review and others you might like if you did, namely Meridian, Smartish Pace, and Florida Review. Hamline had a table, of course, for Water~Stone. It was a pleasure, truly, to talk with the writers, readers and contributors who came by to see us. Water~Stone was located next to the Starbucks booth, so you can imagine the action. Also at the Bookfair were large, small, and university presses (think Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Milkweed Editions; SMU Press) with editors just hanging out, drinking their Starbucks, talking to you. Now, a cautionary tale, because in Disneyworld even the villains are dressed nicely: beware the Vanity Press booths and individual authors hawking their questionable wares. At AWP you have places to go, people to see, and not enough patience or good manners for that sort of thing.
The Panel Discussions were interesting and plentiful, almost overwhelming. I counted: in a one hour time slot, there were over twenty choices. I made it to three: Whatchamacallit: Defining Genres in Creative Nonfiction, or Do Definitions Matter? (Kristin Iverson, Michael Steinberg, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore) and Launching and Sustaining Careers: Southern Methodist Univeristy Press’s First Twenty Years of Publishing Fiction (Scott Blackwood, Tracy Daugherty, Janet Peery, Lisa Sandlin, Allen Wier, Kathryn Lang) and From Where You Dream: Crafting Fiction From Your White Hot Center (Robert Olen Butler, Rita Mae Resse, Christie Grimes, Brandy T. Wilson.) The venues were small enough to really hear, to ask questions, and to talk with the panelists afterward. The best part was the ease of the level of discourse. It was not elitism of the highest academic order. Rather, it was refreshing and quick. Since we were all word people, there was no mucking around. We all spoke, and understood, a common language about language. And when I started tripping out from all the people, or my feet hurt, I went back to my hotel room, drank a $4 bottle of Evian, and took a hot bath. (OK. I did this every day after midnight.)
Disneyworld needs you, even if you are a jester, because you are a jester. Disneyworld needs your beautiful size elevens and mezzo soprano. And AWP? You should totally go.
The 2007 AWP Conference will be held in Atlanta. The main conference hotel books really early, so plan ahead. Seriously. In Austin they also opened up nearby hotels for conference room rates. (Hence, my aching feet.) Hamline writers, Westeggers, Very Recent Alum, think seriously about proposing a panel. (There were student led panels with established writers and teachers as members.) Forms are available on-line and you can check out this year’s panel descriptions.
Beth Mayer writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and The Sun Magazine. Beth is an MFA candidate at Hamline University. She lives in Lakeville, Minnesota with her husband and two children, and is currently working on a collection of short stories about relative courage. She can be reached a b.mayer AT yahoo.com