“Novelists are chancers”–A few favorite moments from AWP ’14

3 Mar

A few favorite moments from this year’s AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Seattle:

*Rachel Kushner saying she tries to make sure that when she writes, she has “not yet performed any acts of speech that day.”  (Or was it that she tries not to have “committed any acts of speech”?  Either way, she’s a #silentgenius.)

*Hearing writers from Killing the Buddha talking about the complex ways in which they write about faith, paying attention to the stories that believers tell rather than the “facts” of God’s (or gods’ or goddesses’) existence or non-existence.

*Jess Walter’s very funny introductions of Gish Jen and Tobias Wolff, including his commentary on how he, a writer unaffiliated with any college, felt about attending his first AWP:

Walter joked that he’d worried about whether he’d fit in at AWP, about whether he’d be expected to use words like “pedagogy,” or if he even was pronouncing the word correctly.  He mentioned that when he first arrived at the conference, he saw a writer friend coming out of a convenience store, and the writer said, “Dude, what the hell?! They legalize pot here and then they don’t even sell it in the stores?!”

To which Walter replied:  “That’s pedagogy for you.”

*Seeing my former Pitt colleagues Catherine Gammon and Jeffrey Condran both doing so well.

*That attentive and somewhat beleagured look on other writers’ faces as they watched each other streaming up and down the endless Escher painting escalators of the Washington State Convention center.  Reassuring because I knew it was the look on my face as well.

*Spending time with my friends and talented fellow Berkeley writers, Kaya OakesRyan Sloan, and John Levine. Always a pleasure.

*Sarah Einstein, the managing editor of Brevity, talking about what kinds of stories the magazine doesn’t accept, and doing so by giving a breakdown of the worst submission she’s ever seen, the one she keeps posted on the wall next to her desk as a reminder, and she pointing out to the audience, in great specificity, the flaws in that submission’s title and theme and craft, and I’m thinking, “Jeez, that’s awfully mean of her to go on like that,” until the ending that I didn’t see coming (and which I’m sure you do see coming) when she revealed that the submission was hers.

*Hearing novelist Thaddeus Rutkowski talk about how hard it is to market his books on a shoestring budget, and how difficult it is to know how effective his use of online tools for marketing is, so in the spirit of online sharing, here’s a link to his website, and here’s a video clip of him performing “White and Wong,” part of the documentary Aurora:

*And finally…Colm Toibin making the statement that “Novelists are chancers.”   Toibin took such impish delight in being a chancer that I knew, then and there, that I wanted to be one.

Colm Toibin

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4 Responses to ““Novelists are chancers”–A few favorite moments from AWP ’14”

  1. sarahemc2 March 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Thank you! I’m glad my truly horrible essay turned into one of your favorite moments at AWP! — Sarah

    • culturemulching March 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

      And thank you for the panel, Sarah. Really enjoyed it.

      In the interests of brevity, I didn’t mention above one of the other things I was impressed with during the panel–when you talked a bit more about what kinds of submissions the magazine doesn’t take, and you choked up talking about the writer who’d submitted a piece saying their 5-year-old had died the previous week.

      The genuine emotion you expressed there, coupled with the well-articulated rationale for not accepting a raw submission like that–really well done. And a display of genuine emotion and compassion not often seen in venues like AWP.

      • sarahemc2 March 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

        Thank you. I was really afraid that, when that happened, I made everyone uncomfortable. I’m glad to know that I didn’t.

  2. sarahemc2 March 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Reblogged this on Writers for Dinner and commented:
    The worst essay that I ever wrote became one of somebody else’s favorite AWP ’14 moments. That almost makes having once written that complete piece of crap worth it. Almost.

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