Along with the Barnstorm staff and 12,000 others, I spent last weekend at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston for AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair). I attended sixteen-hours of panels. I bumped into friends I hadn’t seen in years. I got a blister. On day two, I had a mishap with a soda fountain that became known as “Coke Jacket.” I even talked to a few strangers.
What follows is a collage of my notes from AWP. If a quote is unattributed, I overheard it in a crowd. Dialogue without quotation marks has been paraphrased.
Phillip Lopate says, “There are no easy answers.”
Tracy Kidder says, When you write about people, their lives continue after the book comes out, and it could hurt them. You have to live with that.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc says, You fall in love a little with the people you write about.
Tracy Kidder says his editor says, “Subjectivity is another word for thought.”
“AWP is a hot mess.”
AWP is a high school reunion.
Stephen McCauley says, “I’m marginally less unhappy when I’m writing.”
Stephen Elliott says Austin Kleon says, “All advice is autobiographical.”
AWP is lecture hall, summer camp, concert, mall. AWP is a party where you know two people there and one of them keeps going to the bathroom.
Stephen Elliott says, “You are not the weirdest person in the world.”
I say, “I go to fill up my iced tea at the soda fountain, my jacket draped over my arm like this, the collar open like a bowl. I lean in and my jacket pushes against a soda lever. By the time I realize it, the jacket is filled to the brim with Coke, somehow not leaking at all, a pool of Coke. I turn and no one in the restaurant notices. It’s packed with people. So I just pour my entire jacket of Coke into the troth of the soda fountain and walk away without looking back.”
A friend says, “Are you constantly embarrassed?” The book launch is body to body, and we hold free drinks to our chests and make half-jokes about panic attacks. I say, “Yes.”
Meghan Daum says, “Present tense is twee.”
Steve Almond says, “If you give a boy a candy bar with a ruler on it, he’s going to measure his dick.”
He says, “You have to write about your obsessions.”
AWP is an amusement park where Mickey Mouse takes off his character head and sets it on the bar.
I listen to an introduction to an introduction to an introduction. (This happens at numerous readings.)
“Flannery O’Connor said, ‘Universities stifle writers.’ Well, they should stifle more. Look how many of us there are.”
I stand in line behind David Shields at a table to buy a book by David Shields.
Amy Fusselman says, We learn through repetition, but we never learn what we do over and over is a thing.
“The future of AWP depends on you.”
Nick Flynn says he enjoys memoir because it’s “like the Wild West.” You can write in any style. He says, “The problem is when crazy people come to town.”
AWP is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Steve Almond says, persona “is editing self into eloquence.”
I am an Oompa Loompa.
AWP is overwhelming, specifically the the number of amateurs/students/beginners, hundreds in each room, tens of rooms, so many of us leaning forward in chairs, scribbling notes, longing to be the ones on stage being adored.
George Saunders says, “You don’t have to be a dickhead to be a writer.”
Christian Barter says, “We are the causes of our own loneliness.”
“It’s a hard subject to write about.”
Steve Almond says, “When working with an editor, pretend to be more together than you really are.”
George Saunders says, “At a certain point, it starts working.”