Haven’t had enough of the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago yet? Neither have we! Following Jacqueline Maggio’s guest post on Tuesday, today we have another slightly different take on last week’s four-day writing conference from MAWP student Shane Zimmer. Thanks, Shane, for sharing your AWP reflections with Ex Libris readers.
I heard a lot of big talk about the AWP Conference for a couple of weeks before the event. Despite being skeptical of hype, I did attend, all three days in fact, March 1-3 at the Chicago Hilton. For me the conference lived up to its reputation.
It was educational and exciting. But the most surprising impact the conference had on me was that I suddenly felt part of a community.
Although the panels were interesting, I enjoyed the Book Fair much more. Each day I walked around the hundreds of tables and booths to peruse the overwhelming number of literary journals, publishing houses and presses. I filled my bag with about fifteen pounds of journals and talked to a lot of editors and publishers who were, it’s strange to say, not unlike me. They loved art, were presumably living modest lives, and were dedicated to the culture of literature.
It was inspiring to look beyond the bestsellers, the books-made-into-movies, and all the other popularized aspects of literature and instead to see a greater picture of our literary culture. To see it, yes, and to interact with it. I could actually talk with the editors of say, Tin House or McSweeney’s, or the many smaller publications that were just as cool, like locals Anobium and Artifice Magazine.
It was inspiring because so often I feel like I’m writing in a bubble. Sure, there is school and my few writer friends, but it’s a small group and they are sometimes eclipsed by the big, impersonal worlds of academia, the publishing industry and a global society in which a billion voices are crying out all at once.
Beyond school and my friends, there are the journals and presses, but really, who are these people? They seem to exist as abstractions in cyber space or as a mailed subscriptions two to six times a year.
But no. They are more than abstractions. They are everyday people like us. I’ve met them. They want to know what we’re writing. They want us to contribute to their projects and want, like we all want, to be inspired and to inspire others to create their best work.
Meeting these people, I found myself falling into a pattern that later I codified: 1. Talk to people openly. 2. Listen to them carefully. 3. Follow up.
Number three is important enough to repeat: follow up.
I talked with Courtney Davison, Editor at Paper Darts, who referred me to a story that “changed how [she] viewed short stories.” Later I met Christopher Wolford, Editorial Assistant at Bull who mentioned an essay in their latest edition that he proudly “championed and convinced the editors to accept.”
I read both pieces and went back to each person to share my impressions. They were delighted to be getting feedback and our resulting conversations went off in unexpected and satisfying directions.
A MAWP friend recommended I check out Open Letter, a publisher dedicated to translations. Because their books were only five bucks, I asked one of the staff, Chad Post to tell me which of all the books on the table was his favorite. He said that Scars by Argentinean author Juan José Saer “reinstated his faith in fiction.” I myself have had my doubts about fiction lately and so I bought it, got his email and told him that after I read it, I’ll write him with my reactions. And I will.
I believe that this one aspect of what people mean when they talk about building a community. Of course it doesn’t always have to do with reading recommended works, but it does always involve some level of engagement.
Engaging each other feeds the culture. Just like a culture of living organisms in a Petri dish needs its food, our culture of arts and literature needs to be fed by our efforts to talk and share, to encourage and help out, and to follow up.
The conference was synchronistic for me. I had decided about a month ago that late in 2012 I will start aggressively submitting to literary journals. This weekend I was able to collect a long list of places to submit. But much more than a list, much more than a collection of publications, I gained from AWP a sense that there is a larger world out there of writers and thinkers and artistic weirdos like me, and we are part of a living, thriving community.