Friday, April 9, 2010

AWP, Day Two

It's been another good day at the conference. I attended three sessions but left the last one early as it seemed to be adding up to a dud. Earlier, though, I attended a superb session about the craft of writing fiction from the perspective and/or voice of a child. If you've tried that yourself, or read stories by student writers who are trying it, you know how challenging, even perilous, an attempt it is. But the panelists did a great job of explaining why writers shouldn't shirk the challenge and also suggested ways of approaching the challenge that might help one avoid sounding too precious or falsely precocious. Lots of great titles were referenced and many useful excerpts read. As I sat and listened, it occurred to me that this subject would be a great one for a Topics in Creative Writing class, a course my department offers every semester, featuring (of course) a new topic each time. I also attended a useful session on the art of the novella. Four very successful novella writers discussed the form itself and how they went about writing their own novellas. It was a well-balanced section which allowed time for tangential issues like finding a market for one's novella and assessing the apparent current rise in popularity of the genre. The panel also left time for audience questions, which certainly is NOT always the case at AWP, a pet peeve of mine from past conferences. (In fact, at some AWP conferences allowing time for audience questions has been the rare exception.)

The conference is shaping up as one of the better AWP meetings. Lots of folks here but not a crazy number. Some sessions are crowded, but mostly seats are available. The book fair has been great. As usual, it's allowed me a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Most importantly, a terrific number of literary journals, small presses, and MFA programs are represented. The book fair is an incredible resource for writers and would-be writers alike, a rare chance to get a tangible feel for what these different journals and presses are that you've heard about.

Lots of sightings today. At the book fair, I saw a man who has taught for decades at George Mason, where I earned my MFA. We caught up, and he pointed me to a press that publishes the books of my former MFA thesis director, the poet Susan Tichy. Along the way to that table, I saw at another table a book of prose poems just published by a man who served on my doctoral dissertation committee at ULL: Skip Fox. I bought Skip's book and am digging it. While I helped out manning the Exquisite Corpse table, a woman stopped by, a celebrity poet who joined the faculty at George Mason during my last year there. I never had a class with her--I was done workshopping at that point--so she didn't recognize my name. But I did remember her, especially the fact that she blew off my request to occasionally sit in on her workshop even though I was not enrolled. (I did not remind her of this today, of course.) At a session today I saw a writer I'd like to bring in as a visiting writer next year to UCA; I also saw Charles Baxter, the very first writer that my wife and I suggested as a UCA guest writer, some 10 or 11 years ago. We did indeed bring him back then, and he was a wonderful visiting writer, but I don't think that today Charlie had a clue as to who I was. Also saw at the book fair Tom Williams, a great fiction writer and teacher who visited UCA a few years ago to participate in our Arkatext Writers Festival. Tom used to work at ASU in Jonesboro but took a job last year at a university in Florida.

Maybe the funnest thing that happened today was discovering at the book fair a very inventive chapbook of sonnets. It's called Sonnagrams 1-20. The author took Shakespeare's first twenty sonnets and made anagrams out of them. That is, he put each sonnet into an online anagram "machine," mixing up the letters and forming new phrases and lines out of them. He then arranged those lines into completely new sonnets, but managed to keep the Shakespearean rhyme schemes and meters! Apparently, he'd have a few letters leftover each time, and from these he formed the titles of each sonnet. It's a wild chapbook, and a great example of creative appropriation, a cause championed by visiting Davis Schneiderman just a week ago at UCA. (Davis is here too, somewhere, but I haven't run into him yet.)

The weather in Denver is fantastic! Pure sunshine and temps in the 60s. Glorious. I only wish I could make it to the mountains (which I can see from my hotel window). More news from AWP tomorrow, if I can get away to blog.


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