14 March 2006

AWP Wrap-up

After the first two days, AWP, like almost any conference or convention, lost some of its wonder, but as the scenery became familiar, I found it easier to settle into a certain kind of calm and not rush around in a mad flurry, terrified of missing some great event or marvelous person.

The panel I was on was at 9am on Saturday morning, an evil and punishing time for those of us who think morning should begin somewhere around noon, and who blithely go on talking to their roommate into the wee hours. Nonetheless, Jeff and I did a good job of making sure we both got up, showered, dressed (he far better than I; not being a prep school teacher, he's not yet sick of neckties), and had a quick breakfast. We even arrived early to the room where the panel was being held. It was a big room, with fluorescent lights that seemed to be particularly energetic that morning.

The audience for the panel was surprisingly large, given the hour. Jeff opened with a nice overview of the potentials and possibilities of fantasy writing as an art and craft; Kelly Link offered an amusing view of the use or uselessness of labels (bringing down the house when she invoked China Mieville's term "weird shit" as a good description of what she writes), Laird Hunt gave a truly amazing presentation in its insight and eloquence (to say more would be to risk doing violence to it; I hope to at least be able to present some excerpts here soon); I did my thing, and Brian Evenson tied it all together with remarkable lucidity and style. There was plenty of time for questions at the end, and it was interesting to see that particular audience react -- we were praised for "having the balls" to raise this topic at AWP at all, and offered what we could for advice on how to talk about popular (and weird shit) fiction at a place where academically-sanctioned "literary fiction" is the main course. (Personally, I didn't think it required much courage at all; while some old fuddy-duddies might have thought our presence was inappropriate, for the most part I found lots of people who were quite excited to discuss ways of toppling the stranglehold of narrowly-defined "realism" on the world of writing workshops, as well as plenty of editors of literary journals that are interested in more than just the 1,431,235th imitation of Raymond Carver -- two who spoke to me specifically were from The Journal and Redivider, the latter of which has an interview with Kelly Link in an upcoming issue.)

It was a pleasure after our panel to get a chance finally to meet Ron Hogan, who has written about his AWP experience at Galleycat (and posted pictures of Kelly, Gavin, Jeff, me, and my fellow LitBlog Co-opper Kassia Kroszer of Booksquare and, from Pinky's Paperhaus, Carolyn Kellogg, who had my favorite hair of the week).

I dashed down the hall of the convention center to see a panel Ron was on titled "Blogs, Boards, Online Journals" with, in addition to Ron (whose home base is Beatrice.com), Robin Beth Schaer of The Academy of American Poets website, Ravi Shankar of the online journal Drunken Boat, Joshua Corey of the poetics blog Cahiers de Corey, and Tony Tost, editor of Fascicle (among other things, including the blog The Unquiet Grave). Given how many people on the panel are associated with poetry of some sort of another, that was a primary topic -- the role of the Internet with regard to poetry -- but I found myself most interested in the idea of the Internet as a way to get away from some of what Josh Corey called the "prestige economy" of the centralized world of mainstream poetry publishing and toward a more open, less monolithic "gift economy" (echoes of Lewis Hyde). I'm not sure I'm comfortable with either term, or with it being a choice of one or the other, but it was certainly a provocative discussion. During the Q&A afterward, interesting questions were asked regarding women's blogs, the assumption of a middle class and English-speaking audience, etc., though everyone pointed out that, even if the worst-case-scenario of Internet elitism is true, many online journals and blogs have considerably larger and more diverse audiences than print magazines, particularly literary journals.

After that panel, I went to yet another, this time with Nathan Long, a friend of mine from Bread Loaf days who now teaches at Richard Stockton College. The panel was on "Queer Fiction, Queer Community", with panelists Judy Doenges, Maureen Brady, and Robert Taylor. I found it utterly annoying, because the panelists all kept using the term "genre fiction" to refer, and denigrate, entirely different things. They made sweeping generalizations, indulged in some of the rankest egotism I saw at AWP, and managed to say just about nothing.

Nathan and I went to lunch afterward, which was one of the few times I really got to see much of Austin, as we wandered around 6th Street. Later, I made a final pass through the Bookfair, and then joined Kelly Link and Gavin Grant to go see the famous Austin bats fly out from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. At first, we thought they might be taking the day off to rest, but it turned out they were merely waiting for a large audience to accumulate, and suddenly, as dusk moved toward dark, a rippling ribbon of bats flew out from under the bridge, and the ribbon continued and continued, hundreds of thousands of bats in all.

And then all that was left was to say goodbye to various people, including Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan of Omnidawn, who were the entire reason I went to Austin at all, and who were kind, generous, and great guides to the conference.

For more AWP coverage, see Jeff's view and Ed Champion's collection of links.

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