AWP 2011 Recap

Just returned from a manic 48 hours at the “largest literary gathering in North America,” otherwise known as the AWP Conference. Every year, some 8,000 writers, MFA students, and publishers swarm a major metropolitan city and hold hundreds of readings, panels, book signings, and discussions. I was super psyched about speaking on two panels this year, but Snowmaggedon intervened. Iowa City got pummeled with snow drifts and all flights were canceled for two days, meaning I missed my first panel (on Memoir & Latinidad). I finally made it to Washington D.C. around 2:30 a.m. on Friday–and had to moderate a “Women on Wanderlust” panel at 10:30! But grogginess wore off as soon as I met my co-panelists, the lovely Alison Stein Wellner, Johanna Gohmann, and Elisabeth Eaves (all contributors to Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010). Some 200 women–and an ebullient man–showed up to pay homage to the glories of the open road.

Aside from that, the conference’s highlight was catching a performance by Sapphire, author of the novel Push

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Interview with Erika Connor

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has taken care of wild birds and raccoons in rehabilitation centers, traveled by white horse in West Africa and Mongolia, and lived with the Fulani and Bambara people of the Sahel: Erika Connor.

What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?

Home, for me, is always somewhere close to earth. I grew up beside a provincial nature reserve of boreal and mixed-hardwood forests where I played and found shelter. It was where I learned about myself, the deeper, stiller self under all the layers. On my travels I have felt at home in a tent, a Mongolian ger, a clay hut. I love these intimate spaces, round walls shaped by hands, made of earth or wool where all the families’ belongings are kept in baskets under the bed, or hung from the rafters. I remember sitting around the chief’s fire in the Manding Mountains in Mali, where the old women touched my face and fed me peanuts, I remember places in Mongolia or …

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Interview with Laurie Weed

When not riding the rails through Burma, getting lost in Laos, hitchhiking to Honduras, or bribing her way into Bali, this week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor is spinning exotic tales and clever copy from Northern California: Laurie Weed.

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Interview with Maliha Masood

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor was born in Pakistan, is fluent in French, is married to an Italian, and considers herself a cultural chameleon: Maliha Masood. She is the author of Zaatar Days, Henna Nights, a travel memoir about her riveting escape from a dotcom Seattle cubicle to a solo expedition across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey for one tumultuous year.

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Interview with Deborah Milstein

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor lives within walking distance of six synagogues in Brookline, Massachusetts: Deborah Milstein. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University and is currently writing a memoir about Jewish identity.

When did you first hit the road? How did it go? My family drove through my entire childhood. We lived in Denver and were constantly driving around the Southwest to check out landmarks: Mesa Verde, the Alamo, the Grand Canyon. I’m the youngest of three and was really whiny most of the time because I had to sit in the back middle seat. Our dog sat in the front seat, turned around, and drooled on my knees. When we moved to Boston when I was seven, we drove all the way from Denver, by way of Toronto. Oy.

My first solo travel? Um, not so good. I dropped out of college one semester and decided to take an eight month journey from Mexico all the way down to Costa Rica, by myself, with about two weeks’ …

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Interview with Jennifer De Leon

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has published fiction, poetry, and essays in Ms, Poets & Writers, Kweli, and Guernica, and has won fellowships from Bread Loaf and the Macondo Writers’ Workshop: Jennifer De Leon. Although she calls Boston home, Guatemala is her motherland.

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Interview with Sara Bathum

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has lived with nuns in Ethiopia, skied down volcanoes in New Zealand, gotten her heart broken in Taipei, and nearly been abandoned at the border in Honduras: Sara Bathum. She currently lives in Seattle with her husband and newborn son.

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Interview with Elisabeth Eaves

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has written a memoir about stripping and a memoir about wanderlust: Elisabeth Eaves. Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping was declared “a first-rate, first-person work of social anthropology” by the Washington Post, while Wanderlust is due out with Seal Press next spring. Born in Vancouver, she currently lives in New York City.

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Interview with Heather Poole

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor spends her days pushing 300-pound carts at 30,000 feet and then blogging all about it: Heather Poole. A flight attendant with 15 years of experience, she’ll be making her memoir debut next summer.

What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?

Home is where my fifteen-pound cat, Gatsby, lives. I’m a flight attendant. I spend part of each month living out of a suitcase. My husband, whom I met on a flight, travels over 100,000 miles a year for business, while my son, a three-and a half-year-old, has been on an airplane at least once a month since he was three months old. All roads lead back to the cat, the only family member with a permanent address.

When did you first hit the road? How did it go?

After I didn’t get a raise working a regular 9-to-5 job for a well-known watch company, I quit. Soon after, I ran across an ad in the newspaper for an airline looking …

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Interview with Jen Percy

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor spent her childhood listening to Garth Brooks and eating T-bone steaks and much of her adulthood writing about war and aphorisms: Jen Percy. A MFA Candidate at the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, she has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, Brevity, and the Literary Review.

What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing?

I moved around a lot as a kid—every few years—mostly around Oregon and Hawaii. I spent a good chunk of my childhood, however, in a town called Tumalo in rural Oregon. It had 500 people, a blinking street light and a restaurant called Hamburger Patties that was painted all white on the inside and full of old farmers. My friends were into country music and rodeo and I had a view of seven mountains out my bedroom window. I spent most of my time outside, wearing hiking boots, smelling like pine sap, and walking for miles without seeing another person—and when …

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Interview with Colette O’Connor

Having lived in such glam locales as Paris, St. Moritz, New York, and Los Angeles, this week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has crafted a living writing about food, wine, art, fashion, home design, and, of course, travel: Colette O’Connor. Her current gig entails editing a lifestyle magazine for owners of private aircraft: Flying Adventures.

What advice can you offer women with itchy feet?

Pack nothing. Or next to. My best trip ever was the 10 days I spent in Paris after Delta sent my luggage via the Bermuda Triangle. A tiny tube of carry-on toothpaste and a mini jar of face cream that Homeland Security cleared saw me through – beautifully. And wearing the same thing every day – doing washables each night in the sink – taught me the truth about travel: most everything you think you need you don’t. And being stripped of all that stuff you can’t live without is wildly thrilling. I am free! you feel. And, really, we end up wearing the same thing every day anyway, …

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Interview with Alison Stein Wellner

This week’s Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor has circumnavigated the globe in her search for food so spicy, she’d ignite on contact (as she once watched her grandfather do): Alison Stein Wellner. She is the culinary travel guide for, a blogger for Luxist, and has contributed to Business Week, Glamour, Men’s Journal, and Mother Jones, among other publications.

What is “home” for you? Is it a particular place or person or thing? Home for me is New York City. I was born here, I grew up here, I left for college and stayed away for another eight years after that. I returned six years ago, and the world felt right again. I’m always oriented when I’m in New York in a way that I’ve never felt anywhere else.

In fact, New York isn’t just a home, being a New Yorker is also my identity, far more so than any nationality, religion, ethnicity, school, what-have-you. And by this, I don’t mean any stereotype that people have about “New Yorkers,” all black-clad …

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