Is better late than never! Fiction editors Linda Simon-Wastlia and Sarah Kendall and Poetry Editor Ashlie Kauffman spent last week huddled indoors with 13,000 other writers as snow covered Boston. In addition to braving the snow, the layovers, the hangovers, the bookfair and tons of panels, they were kind enough to give us the inside highlights to those of us stuck at home.
From Sarah and Linda:
Only at an AWP off-site event would you witness Andre Dubus III flinging a pink-frosted cupcake at a poster of George Saunders. And the only off-site that would even dream of mixing pastry and literary genius is Literary Death Match, hosted by Adrian Todd Zuniga. We spent a riveting evening at the Middle East Restaurant in Cambridge listening to Dubus, Amelia Gray, Thomas Sayer Ellis, and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum get down and dirty with words in less than 7 minutes before a packed audience of writers and readers and drinkers. After two rounds judged by Parul Sehgal, Tony Hoagland, and Steve Macone, Dubus and Bynum squared off with the cupcake toss, which Dubus won handily.
We did lots of other cool things, like listened to Rick Russo speak twice about craft, hear Edith Pearlman wax poetic on her own work, Meg Wolitzer totally bring down the house with her soon-to-be-released novel. And then there was Jennifer Haigh, Rachel Kaddish, Jenna Blum, Augusten Burroughs, Seamus Heaney, blah-blah-blah, and all the cool and wondrous books and litmags and swag, not to mention the 8 inches of snow and hot cocoa at The Lenox, complete with as many marshmallows as one could eat.
It was my first time in Boston, and I loved that it felt snowy and cozy, even the days spent stuck inside a ritzy mall complex connecting three (or four?) hotels and the convention center, when the wind and snow were blowing at insane ninety degree angles. Staying at The Westin with its leaf-shaped soap and reading lights in the bed headboards and extra smushy mattresses definitely helped that. AWP is kind of like a dream where people from your past randomly appear, mixed in with your present life. With something like 11-12,000 writers all in one place, it’s surprising to bump into people you know and haven’t seen in a while, but you jump up and down and grin ear to ear when it happens. On the jmww front, I was glad to run into Oliver de la Paz, Mari L’Esperance, and Ishion Hutchinson. On the personal front, it was really amazing and important to get to spend time with friends from college, from grad school, from Baltimore, and from a writing residency I did last year. It did feel nutty to go to so many panels and readings each day, my mind torn between poetry and fiction. I went to a lot of fiction panels on craft. One Story editor Hannah Tinti, who I went to the NYU MFA program with, gave an enormously helpful and ‘Aha!’-inducing demonstration of how to keep track of character arcs, time, and themes in a novel, using different colored balls of yarn connecting to different plot points (see photo). I loved the Historical Fiction panel with Peter Ho Davies, Jean McGarry’s perfect instruction on hot versus cool endings (“the story itself has to contain the fuel source for its ending”), Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s analysis, in the Origins of Contemporary Fabulist Fiction panel, of Raymond Carver’s influence on George Saunders and Aimee Bender, Emily Mitchell’s (she’s my current fiction workshop professor) explanation of how she used descriptions of photographs in her novel, The Last Summer of the World, as a method of time travel through the narrative, the discussion with Megan O’Rourke and others on writing about grief and conveying “the strange ravages and extraordinary clarities” of it, and Bruce Machart‘s hilarious presentation on point of view and structure that made me want to go out and read everything he’s written (my favorite quote of his about what he says when people say they don’t understand how to structure novels was, “‘Well then I say, friends, welcome to the fucking vocation'”).