It’s been a busy first day at the AWP conference. And just as I expected, and blogged about earlier this week, I’m running into/passing/seeing from afar a rich cross segment from my writing life. In the book fair I gave a big hug and spoke at length with a former UCA student, now in her first year in the MFA program at Roosevelt University in Chicago. At my pedagogy session, where I was presenting a paper, I met the editor of Sou’wester, a woman with whom I’ve communicated frequently over email in regards to stories I’ve placed in the journal but whom I’ve never actually seen. At the same session, I also saw a good friend from my days in the doctoral program at University of Louisiana-Lafayette (he teaches in Florida now). Made a date to have drinks with he and his wife, another friend from ULL. Then, from a distance, across the enormous football field that is the book fair, I saw a man who teaches in Wales and who hosted my wife and I went we went to England for research purposes in 2006. And just now, as I left the convention center, I passed a woman who has collaborated with my wife on a few projects and who invited us to her family’s Chicago pad at last year’s AWP. More sightings to come tomorrow I’m sure. It’s part of the wonder of this conference.
I went to a few sessions today. All have been solid and useful. In my pedagogy session, I heard some good ideas about incorporating interdisciplinary research and even service learning into a creative writing class. At a jammed morning session on “Writing the Literary Fantastic,” a number of promising titles and teaching approaches were shared. This was an especially important session for me to attend since I’m teaching a course on writing “supernatural realism” (my coinage) next fall. And just now I got out of an interesting session on “Narrative Crossdressing, Men Writing as Woman and Woman Writing as Men,” something I’ve done in my own career with great pleasure and some success many times. As you can imagine, the discussion was both delicate and impassioned.
Perhaps the best aspect of the conference so far has been the book fair. As usual, I’ve spied a number of journals I’ve read or submitted to in the past, but I’ve also seen some promising new ones, including journals to which I think I should consider submitting excerpts from my Van Gogh novel . I also picked up some subscriptions at a reduced conference rate. Thank goodness; these are subscriptions I once had but let slip due to a concerted effort in our household to tighten our belts. I’ve felt terribly guilty for months about doing this—literary journals all need and deserve support; in fact it’s a writer’s moral and practical duty to support them—but at least now I’ve (partly) corrected course. I also picked up a couple of great books. My favorite find has been a book that is all about absinthe. Regular readers of this blog know that of the many day-to-day details about Van Gogh and his era that I have been trying to get a handle on one pressing detail is the how and why of absinthe. The book I bought, called Absinthe: Sip of Seduction, is beautifully illustrated and goes to great lengths to explain the history of and mystique surrounding absinthe. One paragraph from the author’s introduction suggests the allure people feel for this subject (and the spirit itself): “My life has never been the same since that moment. Enchanted, I fell under the spell, not knowing that absinthe would become for me an abode of passion. Having stepped through the entrancing absinthe door, I happened into a mystical world of herbs, forests, bistro cafes, elegantly etched glasses, shimmering topettes, embossed fountains, and intricately shaped sipping accoutrements of which, prior to that first primeval night, I knew nothing.”
Kind of like what those who are attending their first AWP conference must feel like!