jmww AWP Report, Part II

Because we couldn’t fit all the goodness in one post. jmww Flash Fiction Editor Robert Vaughan ponders his AWP mind warp:

I might have guessed when I arrived at the Milwaukee airport last Wednesday morning and was informed my flight had been cancelled (through Newark to Boston), it would set the tone for the entire AWP Conference. A UWM English professor I know, Liam, was already negotiating with the agent at the adjacent desk. It was cinematic, an indie movie, or a television commercial. Simultaneously we’re searching iPhones for any open airports east of Chicago, while the agents are on their telephones calling every other airline getting negative responses. Solution? Hop a bus to Chicago, and hope I could beat the Nor’easter racing rapidly through northern Virginia and Baltimore, threatening to hit New England. Moving toward Boston, my destination.

Arrive, I finally did, too late to share a cab with my pal, Meg, to the Marriott Copley Place, but not too late to read Wednesday evening in The Festival of Language at Dillon’s. This is an annual event hosted by Jane L. Carman, and brings together roughly 5 hours, in three sets of amazing talent, reading in 5 minute slots. Gathered there, I ran into some old friends like Jane, Bill Yarrow, Len Kuntz, Chris Allen, and met many new talented writers. This fraternal feeling is much of what AWP is about. We’re all in this huge, messy talent pool together, so there is both a feeling of gratitude combined with an overwhelming sense of mystery. So many writers! And yet, a magnificent dinner at Capital Grille with friends Len, Karen, and Meg re-assured me that I have a place at the table.

Thursday morning arrived none too soon: off to see Gloria Mindock of Cervena Barva Press and my new chapbook, Microtones, at her table in the humungous book fair. Row after row of booths, including everything from the bi-coastal giants right down to the internet sites or multiple independent presses. Mostly awkward conversations. Loaded opinions about writing. We finally located P-11, and there it was! Nothing quite like the shock, satisfaction, and glee of holding your own anticipated book in your hands. I had to hold back tears. And the three friends who shared those moments all scooped up copies for me to sign. I was so grateful. I still am. That evening the snowstorm slammed Boston—we attended a reading at The Greatest Bar—hosted by Best of the Net/ Connotation Press/ Sundress Press/ Boxcar. This brings up one of the most challenging things about not being able to morph yourself into four places. You have to choose your readings carefully, and regardless, will miss others in doing so. The highlight of this reading was to witness tremendous fiction from Sara Lippman, Alex Pruteanu, and Angela Woodward, and many outstanding poets like Doug Anderson and Al Maginnes. Another highlight was seeing the first book from Connotation Press: Smoking Mirrors! It’s an anthology filled with stunning art from Matt Tuite, and 18 short ekphrastic fictional gems.

Friday, snowing, blizzard, white-out. Felt the same inside the tunnels that connected the Marriot to the Sheraton to Copley Place to conference center. What am I doing here? Sometimes you happen upon a reading, spontaneously, which we did that morning, watching Matt Hart read on the Alice Hoffman Bookfair Stage. Then oh yes! I was to replace a host for the HEAT reading at Dillon’s! Poor Anna March was ill, so Laura Bogart, Meg Tuite, and I stepped up, and had a blast hosting three solid hours of incredible talent. The Dillon’s room was packed, and the readers really seemed to enjoy the event. Certain readers like Andrew Keating invoked audience participation (“HOT!”), and Joseph Quintela was half-rapper, half-quixotic magician-wordsmith. Never a dull moment.

Saturday was open to the public at the Book Fair, and the prices drop significantly, so we ran around trying to fill our suitcases up with every chap, snap, pop, and NAP we could possibly jam into our vessels. As the weather turned sunny and warmer, we decided to venture out to the North end, and tramp around the tight, trendy neighborhood filled with pastry shops and pizza. We ate another incredible meal at Mother Anna’s on Hanover Street where our waiter, Adam took pride in his family restaurant. As the Chianti was flowing, the conversation was fantastic. Back to the Marriott for one more round, then it was packing, and wake-up calls at crack of dawn because of the Daylight Savings time changes.

The best part of AWP for me is the friends I have made over the years: Len, Meg, Chris, Michael, Bill, Sara, Ken, Janee, so many I can’t possibly mention them all. And then to meet the new friends I’ve already “known” online: Alex, Pat, Laura, Bonnie, and numerous others. One of the challenges is always to figure out where I am going, but that’s the same as it is for me at home. If you hang with Len, he is usually willing to navigate. And if you want to know about classes and schedules, ask Michael Maxwell, jmww flash fiction editor. He attends everything you possibly can and takes copious notes. A friend suggested better signage might help. (In my case, probably not.) Another friend asked what does AWP spend all its money on? Surely they could alternate to a Southern city, Austin, or Miami? Who knows, but next year it’s Seattle. See you there?

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