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Post AWP Bliss
Well, I survived my ninth AWP conference. I’ll say what every New Yorker (including me) said about the conference being held in our city this year: it wasn’t fair. We didn’t get to feel as if we were leaving our duties and obligations behind since we simply skipped over from our respective Big Apple dwellings. But to even out the score, I heard many out-of-towners share this sentiment: that they didn’t feel they came to New York; they came to AWP.
As always, I didn’t attend a single panel, except the two I was supposed to: I read with my new colleagues at the Rutgers—Newark faculty reading; and I chatted about the crisis and transitions in book reviewing with my fellow board members at the National Book Critics Circle. It’s not out of disrespect that I don’t attend other panels—I simply don’t have the time. I spend most of the conference hours manning the various tables, my publishers’ and my organization’s, Con Tinta’s. I talk until my throat hurts, and then I talk some more, usually at the hotel bar once the bookfair shuts down for the day.
I meet old friends, like fellow Harriet blogger Major Jackson, and I bump into new folks, like fellow Harriet blogger Stephen Burt. (Missed you, Reginald. Heard you were around.) And though I caught up briefly (five minutes is all anybody usually gets) with a slew of old friends and allies, I especially love to meet up with Latina/o students and young professionals who always have questions and who simply want to make a personal connection at this networking-fest. (Sigue la lucha, mi gente.) I had to sneak more than a few into the bookfair because, like many others, they got left out of the party after the conference sold out without a warning.
For me, the bookstore is the place to be, to gossip, to see, to schmooze, to meet, and to feel part of a larger community. I can actually do without the featured readers, but I understand that for many this is the forum to hear voices that might not otherwise make it to their neck of the woods. I will have to say though that I was very disappointed that the Latino headliners were weakly represented. For an AWP in a city like New York, that is shameful. (Oh, yeah, and two years ago in Austin that negligence was a crime also.) It reminded me of the joke: What does AWP stand for? All White People. Well, for those of us that have been going to AWP over the years, we immediately recognize this statement as false. You see people of color everywhere: they’re working the bookfair tables, buying books, attending panels, and cleaning the hotel rooms! But we’re only sporadically present on that glossy poster AWP sends to us every year. When a Latino face makes it on there I get the phone tree started. All that just to say, I still love AWP, great job, but it can get better, esteemed board members.
Anyway, on my last month on Harriet, I decided to celebrate the AWP bookfair: I will be featuring books and organizations and cool projects I stumbled across during my exhibition hall strolls. Yes, it was a zoo, as expected. We had three floors and a zig-zagging of escalators, and a screechy god-voice that harassed exhibitors to hurry up and pack on the last hour (she was deservedly hissed at and booed), and it was freezing on one floor, and it was lit like an airport terminal in one floor, and lit like a cocktail lounge in another, but the energy was non-stop, sales were happening, folks were browsing, and overall I think people were happy to be collecting their free pens.
So, as I make my table and hotel reservations for Chicago, as I turn down requests to serve on panels (none for me next year, people, I’m doing the bookfair exclusively!), as I rally with the Con Tinta Advisory Circle to celebrate yet another successful Con Tinta party and start thinking about the next, as I sift through two bags of rubble—catalogues, brochures, book order forms, business cards, press releases and other publicity materials—I will be thinking back fondly on this last week by showcasing poets and poetry projects that grabbed my attention at AWP New York City.
Until the Wednesday Shout Out, y’all.