February 2012 Archives

Off to AWP!

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Along with 8,999 other writers from around the country and around the world, I'm heading to Chicago soon for our big annual professional conference.  If you're at any of these events, I'll see you there!


Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction
Wilford B, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor
I'm very excited about this one, especially since I'm now writing crime novels in which women are very much in jeopardy, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the panelists have to say about it all.  I'm also looking forward to meeting Julie Hyzy in person.

A Pat Mora panel
Wilford B, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor
Yes, it's in the same room as the one above, but no, that's not the reason I'm staying put.  I'm a huge Pat Mora fan and have taught her work for years.  This panel will be great.

OUR PANEL!  Prepare to swoon.
Wabash Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd floor
This one is all about female modernist creative nonfiction writers:  Virginia Woolf, Alice Meynell, Louise Bogan, Margery Latimer, and Meridel Le Sueur.  Woolf, as you can see, is the only canonical one; the rest expand our concept of modernism and of the history of female-authored creative nonfiction.  The panelists are creative nonfiction writers themselves:  Tracy Seeley (who did a great Q&A about writing memoir here on the blog a while back); Marcia Aldrich, the long-time editor of Fourth Genre; and Jocelyn Bartkevicius, who edits The Florida Review and directs the MFA program at the University of Central Florida.  I'm super-excited about this panel (which I think, with a few tweaks, could work equally well at MSA...).

Now, the panelists are supposed to go have coffee (read: cocktails) afterwards, so I probably won't make it to the 3:00 p.m. panel that I'm interested in, but I'll put it here anyway:

The Geometry of the Novel
Grand Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th floor
This panel will explore alternatives to Freytag's stalwart, sturdy pyramid, and how we can choose/develop structures that work with our material in more organic, exciting ways.  I'm all for that, and I hope I can catch a bit of this.  Moreover, I believe Debra Di Blasi is one of the presenters, and I'm a fan ever since she did the (downtown) omaha lit fest.

The Whole Truth
Waldorf,  Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor
To tell you the truth, I'm sensing my own incipient burnout on the whole D'Agata controversy (though I love Dinty Moore's recent entry into the fray:  " But I reserve the right to complain, and to call something a self-promotional manipulation, when I see it that way.")  But anyway, this looks like a great panel.  It stakes a claim (yes, art can be rooted in fact), and the panelists are all great people.  So it's a maybe.  Depends on how good those coffees are.

Pachanga for Pat Mora
Zapatista restaurant, 1307 Wabash Ave.
What could be wrong with celebrating Pat Mora a little bit more?  Especially with tapas and friends.

And then of course you know all about Margaret Atwood at 8:30, so I won't belabor the point.  I haven't seen her in person since I was an undergraduate, when she came into our workshop and eviscerated the short story of one of my peers, and I was at once admiring and horrified and so very, very grateful that it hadn't been my story on the docket that day.  Presumably she will be just as terrifying from the stage.  I look forward.

Then I'll be toddling home to crash in my dear cousin's luxurious guest room.  His condo overlooks Lake Michigan.  He's obviously the member of our family who made the shrewd financial decisions. 


Oh, yeah!

The Cuban American panel (I forget the whole real name of it, but it's a good topic)
Private Dining Room 2, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor
Ruth Behar and Achy Obejas will be on this one, so it's a can't-miss.

[Now follow several hours in which I'll wander aimlessly around the Bookfair, have coffee with friends that I will randomly bump into, and try to eat something vaguely nourishing--all the while chiding myself for not sitting quietly somewhere prepping for class next week--after which I'll head off to the next can't-miss event, which is (drum roll):]

Luis Rodriguez & Dagoberto Gilb
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd floor
Oh, I cannot freakin' wait to meet Luis, who is of course an amazing writer, an amazing community organizer, and an amazing human being, but who also has been so incredibly nice ever since last year when he gave a paper on an AWP Latina/o memoir panel I organized and then (due to the horrible blizzard) could not attend.  Oh, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth!  (Long-time readers of the blog will remember the sad little photo of my packed suitcase against a yellow wall.)  And, uh, Dagoberto Gilb's pretty talented, too.

Flash Mob at the VIDA table, booth #308 at the Bookfair!

If you care about women's creative nonfiction, and especially if you write it, be there!  (There will be candy.)

Then I'm going to the Prairie Schooner reception (thank you, Marianne) and dashing over for a quick bite with my lovely former colleagues from Pine Manor MFA program--again at Zapatista.

Esmeralda Santiago & Jesmyn Ward
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd floor

After which I'll presumably head straight home, without stopping off for drinks with any festivity-seeking writers.  Because that's what a good cousin does.

By Saturday, I'll be overstimulated and exhausted and whining like a tired child, which should make me tons of fun when I attend the following:

A panel about writing YA lit for Latina/o readers (primarily because Sergio Troncoso will be presenting, and you know the severe writer-crush on him I've been nurturing for years now)
Astoria, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor

A panel about teaching writing to migrant workers' kids (primarily because it will be fascinating but also because Linda Rodriguez will be presenting & I'm dying to meet her)
Lake Huron, Hilton Chicago, 8th floor

Then I will stagger back to the condo and fall weakly into the arms of my cousin and his partner, who'll be scheming up something lively for dinner and will forgive me for babbling incoherently about everything I've just quasi-absorbed. 

They are nice, nice people.  Their niceness cannot be overemphasized.

It occurs to me that there are a great number of events on offer this year for people with an interest in Latin@ writers.  That's kind of a nice transformation.  I don't remember there being nearly so many when I first started going to AWP.  It's been a gradual ramping-up.  There are tons that I'm not going to get to, too.  So hey:  good job, everybody. 

All right.  Off to pack.  How will I shove all my jewels and silks into a carry-on?




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I had a wonderful time at Susquehanna University this week.  What a lovely program they have!  Great undergraduate writers, kind and collegial faculty, and a gorgeous Writers Institute I would personally be thrilled to clone on the UNL campus.

I devoured a fantastic South African curry made by Glen Retief, heard an urgent lecture about the rhetoric of environmental writing by Jimmie Killingsworth, and stayed in the quiet, lovely, passive solar home of Gary Fincke and his wife Liz, who cooked delicious meals (and took me to see The Artist; I'd been remiss).  I loved getting to meet and chat over dinner with poet Karla Kelsey and fiction writer Catherine Dent.

Sophomore Kirstin Waldkoenig did a practically professional job of introducing my reading, and another student, whom I didn't have the chance to meet, blogged kindly about the event.  (While I'm on the topic of lovely students, let me thank Alex again for peeling the boiled eggs for the curry--that was an awful lot of eggs--and wish the dashing Shelby every good thing in her magazine writing career.)

HELL OR HIGH WATER had its debut in the Degenstein Theater, and that was exciting.  I read some things from ISLAND OF BONES, too, and a couple of brief bits from The Truth Book.  It was odd to read from books that aren't available; The Truth Book is enduring a lull until the new paperback comes out in September, and HELL OR HIGH WATER and ISLAND OF BONES are only available for pre-order.  So there was no book table, no signing, but it was all still very pleasant.  Terrific crowd. 

What I'll probably remember most clearly, though, are the wonderful made-from-scratch meals that my hosts spoiled me with, the long walks alone, and the quiet, starry nights in the Appalachians.


Work is Madness

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If you know an academic, you know that the January-February part of the year is academic hell.  It's the crunch, or what waitresses used to call "the weeds."  As in, I'm in the weeds.  As in, lost, overwhelmed, can you find me a lemon wedge for table three before they throw something?

In academia during this season, there are job searches, merit reviews, and, for many disciplines, the major annual conferences, which mean papers to write, performance anxiety, and the peculiar purgatory of winter travel.  There are strategic planning documents to write and reappointments to do and hundreds of graduate applications to be read and ranked. 

All my academic friends have tired eyes.

If you know any academics, be patient with them.  They're operating on too much caffeine and too little sleep.  They're not quite all there right now.  Be kind.  If you live with one, lead him or her tenderly off to bed.  Talk in soothing tones.  Expect little.

They'll be back soon.

The Ends of the Book: Authors, Readers, Public Spaces

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If you haven't seen "The Ends of the Book:  Authors, Readers, Public Spaces," you might want to have a look.  It's a lecture that was given by Matthew Stadler at Yale's Beinecke Library this past January.  An hour and twenty minutes long, it's an investment of your time, but everyone involved in publishing should see it, and so should every writer and every literary theorist with an interest in marketplace issues.

While the publishing industry convulses (mostly fearfully) about its uncertain future, Stadler offers some striking insights.  Here are some choice passages:

The crisis in publishing is the collapse of the book as a commodity, as a nexus for shopping.  That's it. 

Reading can shape an economy.  I call that practice publication, and I'm going to draw things in sharp contrast to clarify the practice.  Publication is the creation of new publics through a culture of reading.  Shopping, which is the prevailing culture of our time and which drives most of the choices now being made in publishing, corrodes or evacuates public.  Real publication begins by quieting the noise of shopping.

Reading and shopping have never been a very good match. 

For those of us who love reading, and who are sick and tired of shopping, this is a golden time indeed.

Publication is the creation of a public.  It is an essentially political act.

Literary culture . . . is almost beyond the ken of those would like to manage it.

Literary culture and its economy have never been made better by convincing non-readers that they ought to buy books.

The quick changes, the premium on novelty, the need for a next debut novelist--once the last one has moved tiresomely on to their second novel--is not a happy companion to publication.

Publication is a political strategy.

It's interesting to me to come across Stadler's work at the precise moment that I've hired a publicist to make the most of my two forthcoming books' brief windows.  My publicist is great, but her creative, clever ideas actually do link books to shopping.  They're terrific ideas and have worked well for other clients.  But there's something sort of surreal about them, too, because they have little to do with literature.  They don't "quiet [ ] the noise of shopping" at all; they amplify it. 

My experience thus far of publishing is that it's intensely dollar-driven.  Which is not why I write, and probably not why you write.  Yet I find myself getting caught up in the panicky logic of the machine:  If this book doesn't sell well, no publisher will look at your next book.  Short story collections sell poorly; write a novel.  Your narrator's not likeable; no one will buy this.  And so on.

How different from the truth and relief of a statement like this:  "The crisis in publishing is the collapse of the book as a commodity, as a nexus for shopping.  That's it."

That's it.

Stadler's lecture is a bracing corrective.  Have a look.



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