Confession Tuesday - The AWP Edition #AWP13

With Susan Rich, Me, and January O'Neil

Dear Reader,

I confess I am not going to AWP in Boston this year.  Not because I don't want to, but mostly because I just have a lot going on this month.

My last AWP was in 2011 in Washington DC.

How Taking Taxis & Staying at Nice Hotel Makes You Feel as if You Are Richer Than You Are:
I confess I didn't stay at the conference hotel, but about a block from the White House at The Willard (which was surprisingly just about $60 more a night and without bedbugs).  I took a taxi to the AWP every morning.  I felt like Jackie Onassis.

Things Not to Do at AWP:

I confess on my second day of AWP I looked as if I slept in my clothes.  Here's what happened--I was SO tired and yes, overwhelmed from the first full day, I went casual--not a lot of make-up, hair hardly combed and an Aeropostale t-shirt (seriously, how old am I?)  While I felt great leaving the hotel (hey, it only took me 15 minutes to get ready) I regretted the decisions once people started taking photos to "capture" the moment.

Me (after being overwhelmed the day before) with Eduardo Corral. Note uncombed hair, no make-up and the orange long-sleeve shirt under the Aeropostale t-shirt-- This outfit says I'm a big dork.  I know this would be the image they would show of me on What Not To Wear before the makeover).

So for my first suggestion for AWP--realize, you may wind up on someone's Facebook page, so do not wear your worst clothes feeling you are above it, or you're tired, or you don't care.  I know, I cared when I saw the photos of me looking like I had been out for a run in the fog (I hadn't).

So here are my top picks for AWP:

1) Do not think you'll avoid photos, you will not.

2) When you need a break from readings, go to the bookfair.

3)  When you need a break from the bookfair, go to panel discussions.

4)  Do not look at people's nametags while you are talking to someone else.

5)  Try to stay focused--- it's hard especially if you're like me and distracted by shiny objects (aka poets and writers and books)

6)  Have at least 2 meaningful conversations in the day (one morning, one evening)

7)  Introduce yourself to someone you admire, someone you know from Facebook, someone who impressed you--either there or pre-AWP

8)  Understand, there may be a time when you hate AWP, all the writers who are there, all the commotion, and feel completely out of place.  I recommend a nap at this time, or a quick jaunt to your room for some tea, a bath, a glass of wine, or just to rest.

9)  Some poets and writers are jerks and have egos the size of the conference. And some editors of journals are jerks.  They will stand out in your mind after you meet them--but remember, most of the people there are pretty dang nice.

10) If someone acts odd to you or you're wondering why they said something in a strange way or ran off or seemed peculiar, remember, many of us are introverts and our best conversations happen on the page.  Once we know you, we'll have more interesting things to say and talk about.

The Beauty of Being Overwhelmed:
I confess the word I most hear from writers, especially introverted writers is feeling overwhelmed.

I confess I'm overwhelmed if I'm in a conversation with more than 3 other people.

What you need to realize is the beauty of this conference is that it's overwhelming.  Everyone is talking about books and writing.  Everyone is mentioning names of writers they love.  It's a fairytale for anyone who tells someone their favorite author or poet and they say, "Who?"

But with all fairytales comes the evil witch or villain.  In the case of AWP that witch is having to make a lot of choices, having to interact with a lot of people, not being able to go to a reading or panel you wanted to and being okay with that--mostly, good things disguised as villains, but what problems to have--too many poets, too many writers, too many talks on literary topics, too many books.

When you find yourself overwhelmed, find a quiet place to sit for a moment.  Then when you feel better, walk back into the bookfair and have a conversation with one person where you make direct eye-contact and aren't looking at the nametags of people passing behind you.

Virtual Friends Become Real Friends & Having a Table at the Bookfair--
I confess I did get to meet some people I had been wanting to meet in person for a long time-- Deb Ager, January O'Neil, Eduardo Corral, Nin Andrews, Bernadette Geyer, Sandra Beasley... and there were others.

And it was so wonderful to find that their online personalities were just as kind and cool as their real life personalities.

Make a list of online friends you want to connect with and email them before you go. If you run into them, it will probably be the bookfair, which is a great place to meet up as there's always something to talk about--um, books and writers are everywhere.

I had two really great meals--one with January and one with Deb A.  That was nice to just sit down and talk.  I wanted to have lunch or a snack with Nin A, but I remember having to run off.  Oh yeah, I hadn't mentioned Crab Creek Review had a table at the AWP, bookfair and that was a whole other thing.

The good part of having a table was people knew where to find me and would come up and say hi.  Also, I always had a place to store my things and my big heavy coat.  Plus snacks.  I had a small cafeteria under my table.

The bad part of having a table is if you don't have anyone else to watch it (thankfully, a couple other CCR people were there and I was sharing a table with another lit journal) was that you had to think about getting back to it instead of just being able to enjoy your time.

Don't Mistake My Awkwardness for Flirting:
I confess I had awkward interactions at AWP.  When I met Bob Hicok, I had trouble finding the words to ask him to sign my book.  I said, "Will you sign my book, your book."  I said nothing else except "Thanks."

At AWP Vancouver (and this was just at the early BOOM of AWP before they morphed into some super-sized literary bonanza), Nick Flynn got on the elevator with me and three women behind me almost passed out.

Kay Ryan, who I also saw on an elevator, giggled.  I know it had something to do with feeling overwhelmed, but I don't remember exactly what she said, but I remember liking her energy and wanting to say hi...of course, I didn't.

In DC, I didn't say hi or introduce myself to David Kirby (who I love), Barbara Hamby (who I also love), Mark Doty, Charles Wright, Amy Hempel, Stephen Dunn, Kay Ryan (again), and the list is long and incomplete.

What I recommend--Life is short.  Say hi.  Introduce yourself. Tell them you love their work or a favorite book or a favorite poem.

Honestly, no one can mistake my awkwardness for flirting as mostly I'm standing in the coat closet with a sack over my head.

Stick with your Buddy--
I confess there was one evening I felt really alone.  Martha Silano was having dinner with her publisher, Susan Rich was leaving to go home, and the friends I normally fall back upon were missing.

I felt as if we were on a preschool field trip and I had lost my buddy.

I wandered through the hotel bar where tons of writers were but I recognized no one.  I felt so out of place--who were these people and what was I doing here?  I decided like a full-grown adult I'd go to the bar and order a glass of wine and hope/pray someone nice would sit by me, or a friend would see me and come over, or someone would make eye contact with me and start a conversation.

I sat there uncomfortable for a for what felt like a small eternity then someone I knew wandered by, she, along with a couple people I knew, sat down next to me and (thank gawd) we had a conversation.  At some point, I spilled my wine being the party-foul gal I am.  But mostly, I wasn't alone.

On my next AWP, I'm going to get cellphone numbers, so if I'm ever in a situation where I've lost my buddy, I can at least see if I can find someone to hangout with.  I'm going to have back-up buddies.  And having been in that weird situation of feeling alone, I'm happy to be your back-up buddy if you need one.

That is, if you're kind and not a prevert (misspelling of pervert is intentional for my own personal amusement).

Amen.  See you at Seattle 2014!  It will be fantastic!

~ Kells

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  1. There needs to be a new AWP smartphone APP, like when we went to Disneyland and the app alerted us to the various ride wait-times and approximate locations to stalk your favorite characters.

    You could just check your phone and "Ugh, there's a 45 minute line to have Denise Duhamel sign your book. Oh, but let's hurry to the lobby. Beth Ann Fennelly is on the move and headed to the elevators."


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