Today I got up and headed off to AWP. It was a wonderful day full of listening to interesting panels, being around lots of creative energy, and getting jazzed about writing! Quite a few of the panels gave me ideas about how to finish various projects that I am working on, and hopefully have given me the oomph to actually getting them done. Still, before I work on those, here’s how the day went:
Getting off the metro, I joined the stream of other writers (known by their name tag badges and AWP bags, and the fact that some of them, quite frankly, just looked like writers) also exiting the train. In one large long group we left the station and headed up to the hotel where the conference was. I first stuck my head in to the panel called “One Word Please: Writers on the Words They Love or Loathe” and listened to an essay about Chaucer, Old English and the word kankedort which was beautifully written, as well as a hilarious short piece by an author who hates the word “pants” due to the inability to make a decent plural out of it. Paraphrasing his last sentence, “Pants is a word that thinks it is too good to follow the rules of English grammar.”
My friend Michele joined me soon after this, and we walked around the book fair, where we both bought “One Story, Thirty Stories: an Anthology of Afghan-American Literature” and talked to the editors of the book. I am super excited to delve into this anthology, though not sure when I will have the time! At least with an anthology I can read it in short bursts.
Next we went to see Joyce Carol Oates’ reading. I had enjoyed her lecture at Bucknell in 2007, but was not particularly enamored of it. But today, she completely blew me away. She read from her new memoir which chronicles the year after her husband’s sudden passing. It was beautiful: such lyrical descriptions of dealing with grief, the crippling sadness along with the absurdity that comes with death, the thoughts of “this can’t be happening,” the ridiculous sympathy baskets that people send, the matter of dealing with all the paper work. The reading was particularly poignant to me, because right now I am dealing with the death of a close friend from a sudden unexpected illness. Despite the differences in the situation, much of the reading today rang true with the ways that I have been feeling the last few weeks. It also gave me some new ideas for one of the blog entries I have been working on about the the process of writing and reading through grief. Despite the sad subject, it was a very enjoyable reading, and Joyce Carol Oates was so personable. I think part of it might have been that she was reading amongst her kin–other writers–something she commented on at one point during the reading.
In the afternoon I went to more panels, the first of which was poetry by Korean-American poets who were over-seas adoptees. It was really good. I wrote down these lines from Jennifer Kwon Dobbs’s essay: hungry for embodiment; first language of desire; give erasure a face and map her movements; body inherited from generations ahead of him. and thought about our friends who have adopted a little girl from China. What will she think about her adoption when she grows up?
Then came the Bodies Politic panel which was my favorite panel of the day. The panelists had some brilliant essays and poems addressing bodies, corporeality and identity as related to race, sexuality, gender, weight and disability.
Barrie Jean Borich Judith Barrington’s poem “Why Young Girls Like to Ride Horseback” was sensual, beautiful, and made me want to ride again soon! Brian Teare discussed being “temporarily able-bodied” and the struggles of living with chronic illness. One line that I found memorable was “the boundary between able and disabled is as pernicious as the boundary between mind and body.” Ann Pancake’s essay addressed the complexities of writing about Appalacia, and the struggles to write about particular bodies that are generally discarded by mainstream society, that is southern, white, working-class, white-trash bodies. throw away bodies, poisoned bodies, obese bodies, missing teeth bodies. She discussed the difficulty in writing against these stereotypes without at the same time romanticizing them. She says it is important to write against the common idea, to write as if she has no knowledge of those stereotypes, and to try and write what she sees as true. The last panelist whose essay I really enjoyed was Ira Sukrangruang, who is the author of Talk Thai: Adventures of Buddhist Boy. His essay reflected on the ways in which it is difficult to have a body which does not fit specific cultural expectations. It was very funny and had subheadings like “Body as Song,” “Body as Religious Artifact,” “Body as Identity” and “Body as Wednesday.” I added his book to a growing list of books that I now want to read and/or buy.
I ended the day with a final panel “Don’t Call Me Mother,” grabbed Chipotle for dinner and then headed back to College Park. On the train ride home I ran into one of the editors of the Afgan-American anthology that I bought, and we had a nice conversation before she got off. I am super excited about going back tomorrow–I have already picked out the panels I want to go to. The only thing that would be better about all this was if Chrissy was here. She couldn’t come because of all the ridiculous weather in different parts of the country this week. No snow in Minneapolis, but everywhere else was shut down…I missed you, Chrissy, and thought about you often today, hopefully we can see each other soon. I did briefly see Paula and Lousia at the bookfair, and hope to see more of them tomorrow!
Edit: I incorrectly attributed “Why Young Girls Like to Ride Horses” to Barrie Jean Borich, when the poet was Judith Barrington. My apologies! Barrie Jean Borich was the panel organizer and moderator. See comments below.