I went to Washington, and it was good. It was overwhelming, too, despite the fact that I’d been warned that the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference can feel that way, and that I thought I’d prepared for dealing with it. Still, so many writers, so many sessions, so many booths at the bookfair, so many hobnobbers glancing this way and that in the lobby of the hotel, looking for anyone who might be someone, while they clutched their glasses of scotch.
I went to what seemed like a bizillion panels at AWP, and that was even after I made a list of all of the sessions I wanted to make it to, and then crossed out about half of them. I ate a lot of burritos at the Chipotle outlet conveniently located just outside the Marriott that hosted the conference. I heard Jhumpa Lahiri read a lovely personal essay that described how she became a writer. I listened to Joyce Carol Oates read from her new memoir about her husband’s untimely death and, despite the subject matter, manage to tell funny stories about her cat. I giggled uncomfortably when Junot Diaz told us how white we were (“there’s Boston white, and then there’s AWP white”) and I laughed at his profanity-laden responses to audience questions, was impressed by the completeness of what he described as work in progress. Was just impressed, really.
I ate poorly and erratically (did I mention the late-night burritos?), drank beers, and slept not nearly enough. The school from which I earned my MFA hosted a reception one night, and I was surprised to see my thesis advisor there, along with another professor whose memoir workshop I enjoyed. It was great to talk with them again – it has been, amazingly, five years. I talked with a few classmates who are having some success with their writing, and met a few writers whose work I’ll be keeping an eye out for. I heard advice from panelists whose books I’ve added to my to-read list. It was all very motivating and yes, I think I’ll say it again, overwhelming.
Perhaps the best thing about attending the conference was not the conference itself, but rather the uninterrupted time away from home and family to think about writing. Specifically, my writing. The cross-country flights alone were amazingly productive without a two-year-old in tow (surprise, surprise). On the way home from D.C., I spent about three hours plotting out what I now see is more of a novel, not linked stories** — and then promptly banged out half of a completely unrelated short story which has been lurking in the back of my mind for years.
And so, what’s changed since I went to AWP? Not much, probably, but I have a sense of purpose and motivation that I had been out of touch with before the trip. I have a pile of lit mags on my nightstand that I picked up at the bookfair. I don’t want to see a burrito for a while. I have a few new friends on Twitter and a reading list a mile long. Time to get back to it.
*I’ve noticed an increase of “post- ” phrases of late. Is it just me? It seems that anything can be era-defining these days. There’s post-James Frey, of course, and I read the phrase “post-Eat, Pray, Love” in a panel description at AWP. Hell, I’m going to go ahead and jump on the post-post bandwagon.
**More on this later. I attended a fabulous session on linked stories that helped me see things more clearly. The subject of my next post.