AWP 2013, Saturday Report
Posted on March 12, 2013
Saturday morning was beautiful. The sun finally came out, melting the snow that had inundated Boston and made it difficult to feel any enthusiasm about traversing the city. Ambre and I woke early to walk to the convention center, which was about a mile and a half away. We wanted to make it there in time for a 9am session, and after a terrible cup of coffee from a Panera that was NOT like Friday’s Community Cafe Panera, we arrived just barely late.
The 9am session was called Literary Nonfiction and Social Activism, and the panelists were Marianne Leone, Courtney Martin, Michael Patrick MacDonald, and Helene Atwan. David Chura was unable to attend as planned. Each of the panelists introduced themselves and their work, and then explained a bit about how they came to be social activists and writers. For Marianne Leone of The Sporanos, her activism is focused on educating children with disabilities, and she became a writer after the unexpected death of her 17-year-old son Jesse, who had lived with severe cerebral palsy. After his death, she used her grief to write Jesse, a memoir that is both a tribute to him and an account of her journey through the education system.
Michael Patrick McDonald grew up in Southie, a Boston neighborhood made famous to middle Americans like me by movies like Good Will Hunting and legacies like those of Whitey Bulger. He lost four siblings to poverty-related deaths and journeyed to activism before he continued on to writing. His writing is an extension of activism against poverty and the code of silence that can exist in impoverished, disenfranchised communities.
Courtney Martin is a badass feminist whose website lists her books and causes me to say, “Oh! I want to buy that! And that, too! And that!”
After the session, Ambre and I went to the book fair because I wanted to chat briefly with Marianne Leone and purchase her book. I asked her to sign it for me and said that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around writing a book about the death of a child, likely because I am unable to wrap my head around the idea of the death of a child. I also told her that I appreciated that she mentioned the social activist angle of her husband Chris Cooper’s first film Matewan. I remember watching Matewan in high school history class. No one else was all that into it, but I loved the story and the drama of it. I also developed a pretty big, unlikely crush on Chris Cooper. When I saw that he was there with his wife, I thought about talking to him, but I decided that I didn’t want to intrude. He wasn’t there to talk to his fans–even those who thought he was the shit when they were in high school. Instead, his presence at AWP was just a pleasant little surprise that I could tell my friends: You’ll never guess who was at AWP today…
Because we were already at the book fair, Ambre and I tried to see the rest of it. It’s such an overwhelming place that we had to break our visits into 15 and 30 minute chunks. On Saturday, though, we needed to spend longer amounts of time at the fair in order to make sure that we saw everything.
I met a friend for lunch at the Prudential Center food court. THEY HAVE A RESTAURANT THAT SERVES JUST GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES. YES, PLEASE.
The final session that I attended was From Pitch to Publication: How to Pitch, Edit, Design, and Publicize an Anthology of Contemporary Writing with panelists Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Janet Holmes, Kevin Prufer, Pinckney Benedict, Susan Aizenberg. This session was the least useful to me of the sessions I attended, but I don’t think that was the fault of the presenters. It was simply that I am only tangentially interested in the publication of anthologies. I say my interest in the form is a tangent because it is not the focus of any of my writing projects, but I am involved in the earliest planning stages of what should be a really fascinating anthology. I got a few tips and tricks from the panel, but mostly just questions that I need to keep in mind to find answers to in the future.
The week wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t have the chance to socialize with even more internet friends, and so after the panels were done, Ambre and I joined some lovely women for dinner near our hotel. I think AWP was about 30% panels and book fair, 30% socializing, 30% walking, and 10% sleeping. Something like that, anyway.
There were definitely some highlights and low points to AWP, but I will include those in a final wrap-up post later this week. All in all, it was a rewarding experience. I read the re-caps of some bloggers who were either overwhelmed by the size of the event or irritated with the cliches they felt that the conference attendees represented, but I couldn’t get hung up on those things. For two years now, AWP has provided me with my one real chance during the year to socialize with other writers whom I’ve worked with before in workshops and to attend a variety of panels that provide anything from entertaining to very useful material to integrate into my own writing and teaching. I’d say that’s worth any trouble the event may include.