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.

Originally Published: February 4th, 2008

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006); Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He...

  1. February 4, 2008
     Francisco Aragón

    I would like to congratulate CON TINTA on a wonderful gathering in El Barrio on Thursday evening, which, in addition to honoring Tato Laviera and Sandra Maria Esteves, showcased a few voices from PALABRA, a newish journal out of Los Angeles edited by poet, writer and editor elena minor.
    And congratulations to Rich Villar and ACENTOS for what I would venture to say was an historic and moving reading on Friday night featuring over 25 Latino and Latina poets, many of whom I had to the pleasure of hearing read for the very first time, including, in no particular order:
    Carmen Jiménez Smith
    Raina J. León
    Xochquetzal Candelaria
    Rodriigo Toscano
    Edwin Torres
    Willie Perdomo
    José B. González
    to name a few.
    There has been a lot of discussion about AWP here. The one thing I might add is that there is no such thing as "one" AWP experience---there are many. And for me, as I've said elsewhere, the panels and readings are sort of beside the point, as Rigoberto suggests. While it is true that the organization has work to do on being more diverse (where Latino/as are concerned), the conference, since I began attending in New Orleans, has become a place to catch up with other Latino/a poets and writers I only get a chance to see once a year or so, in addition to many other people of course, including, for example, Jon Tribble at the Crab Orchard Review and Catherine Mayo of TAMEME. So yes, it's most valuable characteristic, in my view, is affording one the chance to feel a part of a larger community.

  2. February 4, 2008
     Rich Yañez

    As I recover from my AWP cruda (hangover for la non-raza), like Rigoberto and Francisco, I too feel more optimistic than not. What I would like to add to this welcomed post and thoughtful comment is that Con Tinta, Acentos, Letras Latinas, and other Chicano/Latino organizations will always survive through the hardwork of nuestra gente. But to THRIVE, we do need the support and assistance of AWP (All Willing People). So my Shout Out goes to the editors at the University of Arizona Press, our friends in Kundiman, Poets & Writers, and yes to all those young people/educators who we met in hallways, after panels, over drinks.
    Mas Y Mas!!

  3. February 4, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Bueno. Rigoberto, you do a lot to increase the visibility of Latinos on this particular stage we call AWP. We do what we can.
    Elena Minor deserves commendation for bringing PALABRA to the conference. I ended up with a lot of her leftover product.
    As for our headliners, I understood that various logistical issues kept folks from the Immigration panel on Saturday. That would have been cool, but I guess sometimes these things can't be helped. All I can say on that note is: there's always next year.
    My thanks for all your help, especially to Con Tinta for allowing Acentos to share table space with you. We had a lot of fun, even if the whole thing was spread out to all-be-damned. I dig AWP, but perhaps not in NYC. Chicago, though cold, will be off the chain. Can't wait.

  4. February 4, 2008
     Sheryl Luna

    It was great seeing you at AWP, Rigo! I attended the immigration panel with Dagoberto Gilb and Luis U. It was fantastic! I thought it was well attended too. Javier Huerta read some poems about amnesty, immigration and another woman riffed an amazing speech about growing up in South Texas, which sounds very much like the El Paso, Ciudad Juarez situation. I was very impressed with her and am frustrated I can't remember her name. Sorry you read first at your panel!!! I missed you!!! Maybe in Denver in 2010!

  5. February 5, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Hey Sheryl,
    After getting the report from Dagoberto last night at his reading, I'm thinking the woman you heard was probably Adriana Ramirez, a poet and non-fiction writer from Texas currently in school at Pittsburgh. She's all kinds of fly. I'm sorry I missed that. And I'm sure Javier killed it too.

  6. February 5, 2008

    Rigoberto, sorry I missed you at the cnference. But I did stop by the Con Tinta table--happy to see Con Tinta become a larger presence in the poetry community.
    Maybe next year Cave Canem, Kundiman, and Con Tinta can do a joint reading--a celebration of voices--in Chi-town.
    Take care!

  7. February 5, 2008
     Shann Palmer

    As one of the (white) people attending for the first time, I also enjoyed the bookfair most of all. I got something from your table (I'm not sure what- perhaps a pen- LOL- I haven't dared to open my stuffed bag) and really enjoyed seeing the range and scope of people, books, and publishers from all over, but particularly the presence of Latino poets and publications.(I am originally from Texas and Arizona). It was a rich group, compared with what we see here in Richmond, VA, where I now live. I hope we can attract some of these voices to Richmond in the future to read and speak. I volunteer coordinate an art gallery where this could begin, if anyone is interested.
    As a first-time visitor to NYC, I love New York, though all I really saw was the 14 blocks from our hotel on 42nd to the conference. I want to come back as soon as possible, no conference, just fun.
    shann palmer
    art 6 Gallery
    Richmond, VA

  8. February 5, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Working on it.

  9. February 26, 2008
     Robin Kemp

    Esta gringa deliberately played hooky. I did my turn(s) babysitting Five Points, reupped a few subscriptions, bought a couple of books, and went to exactly two panels: Sonia Sanchez' reading and interview with Elizabeth Alexander, and the WOM-PO panel for Letters to the World. I wanted to catch more, but it was my very, very first time ever in NYC and it seemed far more important to my poet's soul to walk all over the city, to have lunch and dinner with old friends, and to avoid getting conference-head. I got a whopping case of the flu instead, but it was well worth it. There were so many people I wanted to see, but this time was just for me.