The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference is primarily a literary conference. It’s like World Con for literary writers.(Heck, there were even some costumes.) Many of the attendees either have earned or are currently earning their MFAs in Creative Writing.
I went in with the expectation that most of the panels, readings, and book fair booths would exclude genre writing completely. So I was very excited to find a small but active knot of genre-focused events.
Panel: “Beyond Pulp – The Futuristic and Fantastic”
My first genre panel at AWP was “Beyond Pulp – The Futuristic and Fantastic as Literary Fiction.” The panelists were Anjali Sachdeva, Kate Bernheimer, Kevin Brockmeier, Brian Evenson, and Matthew Williamson. This panel took place at the Palmer House, which is beautiful but not a place I’d like to be trapped in all alone at night. It has the kind of opulence that couldn’t have been pulled off without creating a few ghosts in the process.
|The Red Lacquer Room at the Palmer House in Chicago|
Fellow Clarion West classmate Maria and I sat at the panel, taking in the crazy splendor of the Red Lacquer Room. There were maybe ten or so chandeliers, each mounted in ornate appliques on the ceiling.
|Chandelier in the Red Lacquer Room|
At one point, the panelists started talking about Clarion, and how they knew people in the Iowa Writers Workshop (the most prestigious MFA program) who were graduates. Maria and I were practically bouncing in our seats. We wanted to wave our hands and go, “Hey! We got your Clarion Westies right here!”
The panelists each read a prepared statement or gave a brief talk on the relationship between the literary and the fantastic.
Some interesting points:
- Writers should practice free love when it comes to literary/ genre writing. Write everything. Love everything.
- The artificiality in genre distinctions has more to do with marketability than content.
- In genre fiction, online magazines have more prestige and better stories, while the print magazines are mired in nostalgia.
- Kevin Brockmeier is amazing and I must read all of his books.
- Apocalypse tales are better when they have a sense of wonder amid the horror.
- Unstuck – Open for submissions through March 13, 2012.
- Fairy Tale Review – They’re open for submissions for their Yellow Issue until May 31, 2012.
|Fairy Tale Review and Unstuck|
The small white square in the center of this photograph is a music CD, full of songs inspired by fairy tales. I can’t wait to listen to it.
Margaret Atwood was the keynote speaker this year at AWP. She was witty and funny and brief, and I loved her for taking hands with the sign language interpreter for a joint bow at the end of her speech.
|Margaret Atwood speaking in the Roosevelt Theater, Chicago|
Atwood was asked to speak about the craft of writing, but she explained in her speech that she had never formally studied writing. In the end, she learned by reading and reading and reading, writing and rewriting and beginning all over again.
There was a book lottery for people to have up to two books signed by Margaret Atwood. I entered. I didn’t win. But it was amazing just to be able to be in the same giant auditorium with her, and to hear her speak about working tirelessly to craft stories in an encouraging but realistic way.
The Ultimate AWP Event: Hanging Out
|Clarion West 2011 Classmates Maria Romasco-Moore & Nick Tramdack|
Missed Opportunities: Panels & Events I Didn’t Attend
There were several genre events that I didn’t attend. AWP is like that – there’s always ten interesting things going on at the same time.
Here’s some of the genre events that I missed:
- Readings & Parties:
- Wag’s Review & Unstuck Reading, with readers Noam Dorr, Lucas Mann, Rachel Swirsky, and Julia Whicker.
- Unstuck Reading, with readers Gabriel Blackwell, Ian Richard Jones, Meghan McCarron, Joe Meno, Kiki Petrosino, Dan Rosenberg, Zack Savich, Francesca Thompson, and Matthew Vollmer.
- Literary Rock & Roll with Audrey Niffeneger
- Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction
- Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age
- I’d Take Stephenie Meyer’s Royalty Check: What Should We Be Teaching Our Students?
- Midwest Gothic: Dark Fiction of the Heartland
- Vampire by Vampire: Genre Writing and the Creative Writing Workshop
If you write genre/ weird/ fantasy/ science fiction stories and you’re thinking about going to AWP next year, then you’re likely to find a good number of events to attend and journals to discover.
For me, the best part of any convention, literary or genre, is hanging out with your writing friends. The genre people were especially open to speaking with the crowd after panels, talking about their journals at the book fair, and being introduced to genre friends. I was a little worried that I’d feel marginalized and lonely as a fantasy writer at AWP, but in the end it was a wonderful experience.