Oh, AWP. This was my third time attending, and I suppose I both prove and disprove Rahul’s theory of social spaces. I knew a slew of people. I’m familiar with most of the big-name panelists, and many of the up-and-comers as well. I even had a few meetings set up with friends. And yet instead of being sociable, I hid in my room like a shut-in, and/or silently tagged along with other people’s groups (sorry, Bryson). I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches alone in the room.
If I’m going to go again, I need to go with a better ‘tude or a conference buddy who’s less morose than I am, because this time I walked away disillusioned. I think it’s because my time in the PhD program is coming to an end, and the vast nothingness on the other side gets more grim with every passing year. I don’t know what world of bright-sided-ness the majority of AWP-goers live on, but I definitely do not live there. Twenty-five jobs v. 12K attendees. We are approaching lottery-level luck, here. But I’ll be playing the lottery next year, like it or not, applying for any and all jobs that I seem remotely qualified for. I need a book, or a major award, or a gas station seeking night-shift attendants.
The good bits of AWP: coffee with Rahul and surprise guest Nick Mamatas, who speaks brilliantly even at a million miles an hour (plus with snark in spades). I met the folks at Dzanc books and said thank you for picking up one of my pieces for Monkeybicycle. I heard Kate Bernheimer speak, not once but twice (recently read Ketzia Gold for prospectus research, so I was interested in hearing her discuss her theoretical commitments). Got a few good leads on new fabulist books forthcoming, so hopefully I can submit a few reviews to American Book Review over the coming months. Wrote on my own stuff three of the four days I was at the conference. Heard Lily Hoang and Alissa Nutting speak. Ran in to Nicole Walker and got to briefly exchange a flurry of news. Caught up with Brian Oliu at the Fairytale Review table. My roommates’ panel on poetry pedagogy was remarkably practical and exercise-driven, as opposed to too many of the other pedagogy panels I attended, which were content to trade bromides. Oh, how difficult it is to teach genre! Cry me a river, person with a Real Job. How about this: I’ll teach your students, you can pay me, and then you’ll never have to teach genre again. Problem: solved. (Snark is catching.) Had several fabulous conversations with Megan Milks and Tyler Mills and Brianna Noll about the recent turn to the grotesque/fairytale/the fantastic mode, and about which devices are commonly conceived as fabulist, and about how Todorovian hesitation plays in to that, and about how all of this fits (or doesn’t) into the intentionalist arguments happening in literary criticism.
The bad bits: 12K people = miasmic desperation. The fact that despite having worked with both Dinty Moore and David Shields, they were so mobbed by MFA’ers there was no way to so much as say hi. Creative nonfiction remains ascendant; the nonfic panels were so packed that I went to the experimental and genre fiction panels instead, where I mostly I heard the same definitional arguments regurgitated, same as the last two times I went. Give me formalism over these fluffy accounts any day.
And now I’m in Arizona for Spring Break. March has been devoured by travel. Can’t wait to get back into my usual writing groove in April.