In Search of Lost Swag: My Decade of AWP Conferences

February 14, 2017 § 2 Comments

liaoBy Kim Liao

As I packed for AWP this year, it occurred to me that my first conference in Atlanta was now ten years ago. I stopped sorting toiletries and thought, Who was I ten years ago? I was a writer in zygote form, somebody who was impressed by cocktails with paper umbrellas and awestruck by Tin House. I’ve experimented with several different AWP personas in the last decade: student, first-year writing instructor, journal section editor, book reviewer, slush reader, and panelist. This year was the first time I attended simply as a writer.

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At AWP in Atlanta in 2007, I was 22, and just before I left for the conference, I kissed a poet in my graduate school program. I was aflame with possibility. I took copious notes at panels, seeing the study of writing craft and literary theory as an alive, pulsing thing. I discovered my love of dirty vodka martinis and the Book Fair. Working the Redivider table as a fiction reader, I got hooked on chatting with writers who stopped by, our would-be subscribers and submitters. It conjured up my love of selling books over years of working in my town’s independent bookstore in high school and summers during college. That summer I started submitting my first essay to journals in manila envelopes with enclosed SASEs. My relationship with the poet didn’t even last a week.

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At AWP in New York City in 2008, I was full of sophomore swagger, the rising Nonfiction Editor of Redivider with my first publication forthcoming in Fringe Magazine. I shared a hotel room five ways with my closest Emerson friends, who were also my trivia team. I played with them every Tuesday night after the Nonfiction Book workshop class I was taking with my mentor. This was the book project that would turn me into a writer, with its magnetic pull encouraging me to dig deeper into the suppressed stories of my father’s family and with its endless frustrations along the path to crafting compelling storytelling. The manuscript would take much longer to finish than I could ever imagine. On late Saturday afternoon of the Book Fair, we auctioned off Redivider issues for rock bottom prices, and I ran around to other journals’ tables in a frenzied haze, swapping Redividers for journals that would become the basis of my authoritative lit mag collection.

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At AWP in Chicago in 2009, I shared a hotel room with my writing group. We danced on our beds and drank beer and took photos before they were called selfies and laughed endlessly. I was about to graduate, almost finished with my thesis, an excerpt of my family memoir about retracing my grandparents’ footsteps through the Taiwanese martial law period. Through the writing process, I realized that I would need to go to Taiwan in order to get the whole story of what happened to my grandparents after World War II. I gushed about the free issues of Poets and Writers at the Book Fair to my friend in the conference hotel elevator, only to have Kevin Larimer say next to me, “I’m the Editor of Poets and Writers,” as he departed to his floor, leaving me a deep shade of magenta. I went to the Dance Party on Saturday night with two girlfriends, feeling drunk on the intoxicating force of women in control of their destiny. After accidentally falling asleep in my friend’s room, I took the elevator back upstairs at 7am in party clothes and bare feet. When travelers looked at me with judgment in their eyes, I just gazed back at them and smiled.

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In 2012, at AWP in Chicago, I spoke on a panel about finding funding opportunities such as fellowships and residencies, having just returned from a Fulbright year of book research in Taiwan. Someone mistakenly put us in a lesser ballroom. The other panelists did fine, but I crashed and burned, and did so slowly, because an hour an fifteen minutes is not a short amount of time. Before the panel, I poured bourbon into my paper coffee cup, in case I got anxious and needed to relax. That probably didn’t help. I wasn’t working on a journal anymore, and felt lost and untethered as I walked through the Book Fair. I stopped by the Fourth River table, who had finally published an essay I wrote five years earlier. They were polite. Right before leaving Boston for AWP, I kissed the same poet again. Have you learned nothing??

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A year later, at AWP in Boston, every Emerson alum, student, and faculty member who I’d ever met attended AWP. We all recognized each other with more warmth and charitable familiarity than we showed one another as classmates. I was almost done with the first draft of my family memoir of the Taiwanese Independence Movement, but this draft had exacted a toll on my body and soul. Writing this draft felt more like vomiting than like composing, and being almost done was like being almost finished with an exorcism. Someday the demons would finally exist outside of my body. I shared a hotel room with one friend, and we marveled at finally having our own beds. We felt so grown up.

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Last year, at AWP in Los Angeles, I came to get a break from the full-time grind of my nine-to-five day job working for an attorney. I packed almost nothing, flying in on Thursday morning and out on a red-eye Saturday night – a parenthetical vacation. I desperately needed a reminder that I could still write stuff and sometimes even publish it. It’s been a long time. I don’t teach anymore. I walked around the Book Fair like a ghost. What do I want? What am I looking for? I met my mentor who was teaching in LA that semester; we had a cup of tea and it grounded me. I told him that after getting blocked on revising the family memoir, I started writing a novel to teach myself how to tell stories again. He thought this was a great idea, and that these things unfold organically. I pitched my novel to an Amazon fiction editor at a party and she gave me kind and helpful notes.

On my way out of the Book Fair late afternoon on Saturday, I spotted Kevin Larimer, the Editor of Poets and Writers (his face etched in my long-term memory for life), and pitched him a Literary Life essay I had been thinking about for awhile. He encouraged me to write and submit it. The essay would not get picked up by P&W, but instead would be published in Lit Hub and directly precipitate my signing with a pair of literary agents. On that particular Saturday, however, I knew none of this, so I celebrated the end of another AWP in the hotel bar with friends and strangers and my world swam back into focus.

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On this past Thursday, I flee a blizzard in New York on an Amtrak train. It’s a reunion of three Boston friends in my hotel room suite, and our hotel serves free breakfast. A 9am AWP panel after eggs is literally a revelation. There are 12,000 of us this year and endless possibilities at every time slot. My friends and I mostly want to do different things during the day but agree to meet up at night. Everyone here looks so young. When did we get old?

I go to more panels than I ever have before, since I just want to hear talks by writers who I love. I listen to and fall madly in love with Jennifer Egan, Karen Joy Fowler, Hannah Tinti, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Celeste Ng, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Julia Fierro, Emma Straub, Ann Patchett, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Is AWP getting better, people, or am I just getting better at picking stuff to see?

On Friday, I leave the hotel room at 9am and don’t return until almost midnight. I say hello to the Redivider table, impressed that they have a whole new section for “graphic narrative.” I meet a poet friend for coffee, who admits that the Book Fair exhausts her and that attending panels helps her recharge. I laugh and tell her I feel the exact opposite. My great anxiety is the agency party tonight, because my agents have had my novel manuscript for almost a month and I don’t know if they hate it or not. Do they hate me? My telepathic powers are stubbornly on strike.

At the party, my agent smiles when she sees me, and introduces me to her other authors. I ask their advice, a carefully phrased plea for comfort. “You just gotta be real chill,” says the first author she signed, who has been working with her for a decade. “When they are reading, you just can’t do anything. Try to distract yourself.” Another agent who works on nonfiction asks me for my elevator pitch. “I’m pitching it differently each time,” I say, and give it a new spin. “Would you crack that book open?” Collected together, we are like a little family. The competitive sneer you sometimes hear at AWP is gone, because here, everyone is rooting for everyone else’s success.

On Saturday afternoon, right before that weariness overcomes the Book Fair like a great wind toppling a house of cards, I take a seat at a giant banquet table near the windows. I watch young wide-eyed students, grey-haired older women holding political signs for that night’s White House candlelight vigil, and two new parents with a young infant. I am none of them. Looking back over a decade of growing up, I see that in many ways, AWP is where I found my writer self, my particular mixture of scholar and artist, of salesman and kindred spirit. This year, AWP has grounded me, stabilizing my soul, heart, and mind, even while wreaking havoc on my liver, digestive system, and adrenal glands. When we are here, we are all home. Yet none of us would survive it for more than four days.

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Kim Liao’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Lit Hub, SalonRiver Teeth, The RumpusVol. 1 BrooklynAnother Chicago MagazineFourth RiverFringeCha: A Journal of Asian LiteratureHippocampus Magazine, and others. She received her MFA at Emerson College, was a Fulbright Taiwan Creative Research Fellow in 2010-2011, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently finishing her first novel.

Hippocampus Magazine Releases First Book

February 7, 2017 § 1 Comment

From our pals at Hippocampus:

 

4150n0szxwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Hippocampus Magazine is pleased to announce the release of its first print title from its book division, Selected Memories: Five Years of Hippocampus Magazine. The collection features 33 essays or memoir excerpts first published in the online magazine between May 2011 and early 2016. From the jacket copy:

Selected Memories: Five Years of Hippocampus Magazine is a celebration of where we’ve been and a testament to the power of telling true stories. Since we launched our journal in 2010, we’ve published more than 600 pieces of creative nonfiction from more than 500 emerging and established writers. We’re proud of our contributors, and we admire their bravery for sharing pieces of themselves. This collection is a representation of our first five years. It’s filled with more than two dozen stories that moved us, made us laugh, made us cry, made us want to read them again.

The books division is actively seeking queries for memoirs, essay collections, and other book-length works of creative nonfiction, and it also plans to produce the occasional anthology. To learn more about what Hippocampus is looking for, visit books.hippocampusmagazine.com.

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I’m Writing Like a M*****F***** Again: A Thank You Note to DJ Trump

February 6, 2017 § 26 Comments

IMG_0004.JPGFrom Nina Gaby
Brookfield, Vermont

May I call you DJ? This here is just a little thank you note.

First off, thanks for getting me back in the pool. Last time I was this depressed, DJ, was right after Reagan’s election. I’d just stopped drinking. I was all sorts of bloated and baggy-eyed and wow, if I didn’t just swim my way out of that depression and addiction! I was gorgeous! Not a “10” but I bet you’d have looked twice at me, all artsy and zaftig1. I’m older now and have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and shoulder stuff and can’t really swim, but I’m in the pool again. I strap on one of those belts and jog back and forth, back and forth, just thinking about you.

And who knew pink was my color? I never wear hats. But that march, well, a whole new me.

In a way, DJ, you may also be giving me more job security than I can even handle, though that’s certainly a bit of a mixed blessing. You see, I’m an addictions specialist and psychiatric nurse practitioner, so “good for business” does not necessarily mean good. Of course, if you and your buds decide to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, I’ll need the continued income for my own medical expenses.

Or bail, as the case may be.

Big shout-out dude for signing that anti-immigrant executive order exactly on Holocaust Remembrance Day, though you did somehow forget to mention the Jews. We felt a little left out. Thanks to you, though, I made a special trip to Michael’s Crafts to get a few squares of yellow felt so I could make Jewish Stars (Like sheriff’s badges! You remember!), but then the thought of wearing them prematurely seemed too radical even for me.

Speaking of that, what’s up with Ivanka and her shoulders? When I lived in Israel and went sleeveless through the religious quarter they threw bricks at me. I love that Ivanka got permission to drive home from Inauguration even though it was past nightfall on Erev Shabbat. Maybe one of the things you can do to prove that you really love the Jews is insist no one schedule important events on Saturdays. With a stroke of the pen I bet you can just do that. The thought of it makes me feel pretty darn important. And popular.

And last but not least DJ, let’s not forget social media. I’m no dexterous Twitter genius like you are with those cute little fingers of yours, but I know my way around Facebook and because of you I have so many more friends! I even belong to a book group, the first I’ve ever been invited to, and we are reading a book and it’s about you. Thanks again.

I get a lot more “likes” on my posts than I used to, on all my resistance action plans and silly little memes. How about the clown with the orange hair climbing out of that quaint barn? I stopped on my way to work to snap that. So inspired!

And you know what? I’m writing like a little motherfucker, excuse the language. Because of you I’m getting essays accepted and my fat little fingers just can’t stay off the keyboard.

Well I’ve got postcards to write, and I don’t want to take up any more of your limited reading time. Just wanted to reach out and be that change I want to see in the world.2

In synergy3, NG

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 1 Zaftig (Yiddish) Means plumply succulent and juicy, womanly. Just the way you like us. Being from NYC I probably didn’t need to define that.

  2 From a quote by M. Gandhi, (1869-1948) Indian pacifist who was assassinated by an extremist who did not like Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims, among other things.

 3 When everything just seems to come together like magic.

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Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner. She is the editor of Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women published by She Writes Press in 2015. Most recently her creative nonfiction is appearing in Diagram, Proximity, Mslexia, Entropy Magazine, the new Seal Press anthology, How Does That Make You Feel? Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch, among other collections. Gaby is a runner-up in the Quarter-After-Eight short prose contest, and has work coming out in Rock and Sling and the anthology A Second Blooming. She infrequently blogs at www.ninagaby.com. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, and Arizona State University’s permanent collection. She exhibits her mixed media book art in venues in Vermont where she lives and works in a very old house across from the longest floating bridge east of the Mississippi. Politically active on social media, Gaby worries a great deal about algorithms.

Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression at AWP 2017

February 3, 2017 § 5 Comments

March.jpgThe annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is in D.C. this year, and in fact, it is next week, and this year is starting to look a bit different. Yes there will be books, and yes there will be beer, and chances are good someone at some panel is going to sound pretentious, but in keeping with the times, we have this:

On Saturday, February 11, during the last evening of the AWP Conference & Bookfair, a Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression will be held in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, which faces the north side of the White House. The vigil is set to begin at 6:15 p.m.

The gathering will include several speakers: Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.

The group organizing the event writes on their Facebook page: “This basic freedom is threatened in new ways and with more intensity than in recent memory. As the nation’s poets and writers, editors and critics, we have a unique and vital obligation to stand watch over free speech and expression.”

Read more at this link.

The Rumpus: Now a Matriarchy

January 25, 2017 § 5 Comments

Marisa Siegel recently took on the role of Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus, and we are pleased to offer her our blog today to share thoughts on the magazine’s future and the challenges ahead:logo-sm.png

I sometimes believe in luck and I definitely believe in timing. But I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or even (especially) God. Still, every now and then a series of coincidences leads to a conclusion that may in hindsight seem like fate. You look back, and it may feel like a force was guiding you toward a future you did not plan but also marched directly toward. A future that you didn’t foresee but embraced, in small but meaningful ways.

In the fall of 2012, I was on an airplane going to visit a friend I’d met on the Internet. This is not typical behavior for me, but that visit began a friendship that has become one of the dearest in my life. On that airplane, I was skimming Facebook posts and saw a call for Rumpus poetry reviews. I emailed Brian Spears, Rumpus Poetry Editor, and my first review for the site appeared a few months later.

In June of 2013, The Rumpus’s first Music Editor, Katy Henriksen, put out a call for assistant editors.  I answered that call, because I was in love with The Rumpus by this point, and looking for a way to get more involved. I became Katy’s Assistant Music Editor.

In late August 2013, Stephen Elliott sent out a Daily Rumpus asking for help with a new project, the now-defunct Weekly Rumpus. I replied, and we met for coffee. By early September, I was Managing Editor of the Weekly Rumpus, an app and PDF version of the site that also included exclusive original content.

Marisa-Siegel-square_LJ-Studios.jpgIn late November of 2013, I found out I was three weeks pregnant. This was not unexpected, because I was trying to be pregnant, but it was fraught, because I’d had three miscarriages in the prior year.

In April 2014, I was nearing the final trimester of my pregnancy. Stephen wrote and asked me if I’d consider taking on the role of Managing Editor of the site. I said yes. I didn’t even hesitate. A full-time job was not a part of my parenting plan, but this was not an opportunity I could pass on. I’m a Managing Editor through-and-through—details, organization, and structure are how I get through life. And I could work from home, staying active in the literary community and keeping my resume alive, while caring for my newborn.

In August 2014, my son was born. Four days later, we brought him home, and my mom let me know that my father died. I’ve written about my father before, in the Daily Rumpus and here on the site. He was an abusive drug addict, and dying was the only decent thing he ever did. I stopped worrying he’d find out I had a child and come around. I stopped feeling angry every time a good person passed away and I knew my father was out there breathing air and snorting coke. And, after a year of lawyers talking to lawyers, I was able to “inherit” a small sum of money that he had stolen from my mother in a nasty, long-time-coming divorce years earlier.

I put this sum of money in bank account and waited for something to do with it. I wanted to spend it on something that felt meaningful to me, something that would somehow—in light of the weight of the history surrounding this money—allow me to feel lighter. I knew I wasn’t going to spend my inheritance frivolously, but I also wasn’t going to spend it paying down student loans or buying groceries. I had to find just the right reason to use it. This fall, that reason became increasingly clear. The thing to do with the money was to buy The Rumpus, to invest in it and help it continue and grow, especially now, especially in light of a Donald Trump presidency. I promised we would not look away, and we will not.

I have valued every moment of my time at The Rumpus, in all of the above roles. As Managing Editor these last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to create amazing events, make space for and work with writers on pieces that I’m personally so very proud of, oversee a staff of talented and creative and dedicated volunteer editors, bloggers, and artists, and connect with readers in meaningful ways that continue to surprise me.

I look forward to continuing the site’s tradition of featuring underrepresented and new writers and subject matter, particularly in our country’s disturbing current political and cultural climate. The Rumpus will not back away from the dangers ahead and we believe that writing has an important role in the fight against inequality and injustice. The Rumpus will continue to be a voice of dissent against policies of hate.

Deputy Books Editor Lyz Lenz will take on the role of Managing Editor. I first “met” Lyz by email, when she answered a call for bloggers and I replied that she was overqualified for the position. I still remember her answer: I love literary magazines, and I want to write for you. After blogging for nearly two years, Lyz became Deputy Books Editor. I met Lyz “IRL” (as the kids say) at AWP Minneapolis, and she became my hero. It was my first AWP, my first time away from my then-infant son, my first time organizing a literary reading. I was a mess. She brought me allergy meds, made sure I ate food, volunteered at our bookfair table way more than she needed to, and generally proved herself to be the woman you want standing next to you when about to embark on a thrilling but also terrifying journey.

What plans do I have for The Rumpus? In addition to growing traffic, revenue, and optimizing the site for mobile readers, I hope to expand our real-world presence and continue to build its community with increased appearances at conferences and events in cities across the country (not just in New York and California) and to increase The Rumpus’s focus on small, independent presses across all verticals on the site. I want to refocus our mission such that every piece we choose to run, every book we choose to review, is selected through the lens of what is going on in our country and around the world. And, I want to reach a point where we can increase our pay to writers, from a nominal fee to a more industry-standard rate for feature articles.

We’ll also be creating an advisory board to help guide the site forward toward reaching its goals. We’ll be choosing writers, editors, and members of the literary community who we look up to, and whose opinions and advice we know will be valuable to us. We’ve already shared that we are thrilled to have Melissa Febos, who also serves on the Board of Directors of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and the PEN America Membership Committee, and Mary-Kim Arnold, author of Litany for the Long Moment forthcoming from Essay Press in 2017 and former Rumpus Essays Editor, join us. We look forward to announcing the full advisory board shortly!

The next four years will surely test us all. Likewise, taking on the task of running a business—yes, there is a business to this literary world we love—and trying to keep a small, independent literary website alive will surely test me. I hope you’ll join me in trying my very best to make a difference. To keep the importance of storytelling and poetry and craft vibrant at a time when those in power will be doing anything but.

Let’s go ahead and keep writing like motherfuckers, and keep fighting like motherfuckers. Always stronger together, and always looking right at the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

The Life-Changing Magic of Brevity’s 54th Issue

January 17, 2017 § 1 Comment

salvage-slideBrevity’s January 2017 issue looks at typos, teeth, Toledo, lunch lady arms, and Einstein’s theory of time and space, featuring fine flash nonfiction from Brenda Miller, Daisy Hernandez, Sonya Huber, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Sean Lovelace, Beth Ann Fennelly, Lucinda Roy, Jill Talbot, Lori Jakiela, Elizabeth K. Brown, Paula Cisewski, Eleanor Stanford, Allegra Hyde, Michele Morano, David Naimon, Staci Greason, and Maya Zeller. With original artwork by Allison Dalton.

In our craft section, Brandon Schrand considers our ability to equivocate artfully in the essay, Peter Selgin examines the need to resist total seduction by sounds and surfaces, and Rachel Tolliver and M. Sausun discuss nonfiction and social justice in the new political era.

Exactly what are you waiting for?

Yoga and Creative Nonfiction in Costa Rica

January 10, 2017 § 4 Comments

img_1304In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Creative Nonfiction founder Lee Gutkind is also a devoted yoga practitioner, and Lee plans to share his enthusiasm for both his interests this spring in a Yoga and Creative Nonfiction Immersion in Costa Rica.

Lee, a frequent speaker about the genre of creative nonfiction, has always stressed the need for writers to keep a regular schedule, as he has for decades. “It can be exhilarating, frustrating or exhausting experience — and sometimes all three,” he writes. “My yoga practice helps me reflect on what I have written and prepare for my next writing day.”

The yoga and writing immersion will take place April 8-15 at the Blue Spirit Resort, located on an isolated five-mile beach (also a turtle refuge) along the Pacific. “We will write every day, then discuss the craft of the genre and share our work. There will be daily yoga and meditation sessions.  Not to mention good food and drink,” Lee explains.  “At the end of the week, I am hoping that we have written something we feel good about and that we have established a schedule and a rhythm of work we can follow when we return home.”

Lee will be joined by Sean Conley, a former NFL kicker turned yoga instructor. Conley is author of the book, Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness, and Spirit.

More information and a registration link can be found on the Amazing Yoga Website.

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