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AWP 2011 Conference Roundup

February 14, 2011

On Wednesday night, I visited the book fair to set up the 32 Poems table. The aisles were clear–a strange sight. I looked at the wide aisles with relief, remembering a previous AWP when we all squished into tiny aisles to reach the various tables. After setting up, I met a friend for dinner at The Lebanese Taverna, which I am sure all 6,000 attendees must have sampled at some point.

The next morning, John wrote to say he was stuck in Texas due to snow. One inch of snow in Texas is a big deal and evidently shuts down airports. (Yes, a Chicago person laughed at that.)

The Grist Magazine folks from Tennessee were nice to have as tablemates. Sharing a table makes me happy. It saves money, certainly, but I like how it forces us all to talk to people we might not meet otherwise. Our table, by the way, was within 20 feet of poles covered with ripped insulation, leading many people to speculate rats had been at work.

During the one panel I attended, the speakers claimed not to know they were supposed to talk as well as read. (Oh, no, another “reading” panel.) However, they did talk and one guy was able to pull a talk from a previous event out of his pocket. NOTE: If you do not know you are supposed to talk, should you mention that to the audience? I took notes on my mobile using Evernote–noticing that many others still use paper–and wondered if everyone thought I was a texting fool. I took digital notes on my phone in order to experiment with how I liked it, if Evernote trumped paper, etc.

On Thursday night, I was back at The Lebanese Taverna (we had reservations but it did not seem to matter) for dinner with a bunch of people. The host did not seem to take people in order, so one had to keep asking. He said the customers were taking a long time and lingering over coffee, so I asked him if he needed me to rough people up. He smiled, but humor did *not* get me a table. What got me a table was J., who managed to ask at the right time. The host looked confused, asked her if she was me, and then said we could have a table that had recently been cleared.

Meander. Meander. I spent a lot of time meandering and not as much as you might think at the 32 Poems table. I stopped and chatted with Eduardo Corral, caught a book signing with January O’Neil, met Kelli Agodon, walked around with Martha Silano (and bought her book), picked up a copy of Birmingham Poetry Review (with my poem inside), and bought books by various 32 Poems contributors. I also chatted with Melissa Stein (check out her new book Rough Honey), Dan Albergotti, Dan Nester (bought his book How to Be Inappropriate), Randall Man, and many others.

By the way, January O’Neil blogs her AWP “Confessions.”

Josh Corey talks book buying at AWP and blames Coffee House Press.

Jeannine Hall Gailey discussed how to survive NOT attending AWP.

Collin Kelley gives good reasons for not attending AWP on his Modern Confessional blog.

Kelli Agodon shares the open letter from Claudia Rankine.

Tin House shares the #AWP11 Twitter feed.


Claudia Rankine Letter

February 13, 2011

I wanted to share this letter from Claudia Rankine. If you feel passionate about this topic, please consider sharing your thoughts.


Dear friends,

As many of you know I responded to Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change” at AWP. I also solicited from Tony a response to my response. Many informal conversations have been taking place online and elsewhere since my presentation of this dialogue. This request is an attempt to move the conversation away from the he said-she said vibe toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race.

If you have time in the next month please consider sharing some thoughts on writing about race (1-5 pages).

Here are a few possible jumping off points:

– If you write about race frequently what issues, difficulties, advantages, and disadvantages do you negotiate?

– How do we invent the language of racial identity–that is, not necessarily constructing the “scene of instruction” about race, but create the linguistic material of racial speech/thought?

– If you have never written consciously about race why have you never felt compelled to do so?

– If you don’t consider yourself in any majority how does this contribute to how race enters your work?

– If fear is a component of your reluctance to approach this subject could you examine that in a short essay that would be made public?

– If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?

– Do you believe race can be decontextualized, or in other words, can ideas of race be constructed separate from their history?

– Is there a poem you think is particularly successful at inventing the language of racial dentity or at dramatizing the site of race as such? Tell us why.

In short, write what you want. But in the interest of constructing a discussion pertinent to the more important issue of the creative imagination and race, please do not reference Tony or me in your writings. We both served as the catalyst for this discussion but the real work as a community interested in this issue begins with our individual assessments.

If you write back to me by March 11, 2011, one month from today, with “OPEN LETTER” in the subject heading I will post everything on the morning of the 15th of March. Feel free to pass this on to your friends. Please direct your thoughts to

In peace,


Charlie Jensen on DC

February 6, 2011

Charlie Jensen wrote a blog post about how to survive in Washington, DC during the AWP Conference. A few of his suggestions and comments are so 100% true that I find them hilarious. Weather Our weather is unpredictable, but one thing you can be sure of is that it will be unbearable. Be sure to […]


Literary House Party AWP

February 3, 2011

Come one and come four. 32 Poems, Drunken Boat, Born, Defunct and Tuesday: An Art Project meld minds and join forces to offer a literary house party during the AWP 2011 Conference. Date: Friday, February 4 · 8:00pm – 11:00pm Location:The Biltmore, 1977 Biltmore St., DC (5 minutes from AWP) With performances by Daniel Nester, […]


Every year, the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference takes place in a major North American city. A few thousand writers converge upon the city during one—usually cold—weekend during the first three months of the year. While committees interview academic job applicants in hotel rooms, the book fair fills with readers and writers perusing the tables […]