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 (which in 2009 became the Academy Award-winning film “Precious”). I have probably seen upward of 250 authors read from their work over the years, and would rate Sapphire in the top five. She practically channels her characters–to the point you believe she is performing a monologue. I was shocked to find myself fighting tears. Equally moving was her decision to read from the work of three other black women poets: Ai, Carolyn Rodgers, and Lucille Clifton. All three were “giants” who died in the past year. This was Sapphire’s way of paying tribute to her muses and honoring their lives and work. Que mujer!

The next AWP will be held February 29 – March 3, 2012 in Chicago. I am so there (snow permitting)….