AWP 2014: A Review

By: Lucy Burns on Friday, March 7th, 2014

We had a great time at AWP in Seattle. See you next year Minneapolis! Here is a list of some of our favorite events:

Ben Dolan | Editor-in-Chief:

Image Journal‘s 25th Anniversary Reading

I’d already heard poet Scott Cairns read his poems at another Image event, and was glad to see him read again. I love the slowness of his poems, and he read them as someone speaking last words on the edge of sleep. Beautiful. I was especially impressed with Ilya Kaminsky‘s reading. Before he began, he confessed his thick accent, thus the reason for the hard copies he’d given all of us. I read along as he read; I loved his accent and his wildly oscillating pitch. He gave the poems a vocal sound that, now, I hear distinctly every time I reread his poems–for that I’m thankful.

Jill Dehnert | Associate Editor:

The (She) Devil Inside: Unlikable Women in Fiction with Rebecca Johns, Julia Fierro, Samantha Chang, & Marie Myung-ok Lee

I’m thankful that I went to this panel, not only because it was led by some of the best writers (women or no) of our day, but also because they addressed up front the ridiculous nature of this topic. The very idea that somehow women characters shouldn’t be allowed to be “evil” or “complicated” or as Samantha Chang said, “real,” is an absurd notion and male writers have been writing them for centuries (I’m looking at you Flaubert). But the problem seems to arise when women write unlikeable female characters. Sadly, as antiquated as the concept of the “angel in the house” might be, it still permeates our culture today; just ask Lena Dunham. But, as the panelists discussed, the more self-aware an unlikable female character is in a novel/story, the more interesting she is. And that is the goal, right? To write the most interesting story possible.

Sarah Sheesley | Nonfiction Editor

A Reading and Conversation with Gish Jen and Tobias Wolff

At the end of a long day full of panels and escalators and book fair overload, I had to force myself to attend the evening readings that hit right around dinner time. The Gish Jen and Tobias Wolff reading was one of these, and I’m so glad I went. I was not familiar with Gish Jen’s work, and her reading from the novel, World and Town, was a delight. Tobias Wolff read a section from his novel, Old School, that captures the writerly longings of a young prep-school boy. The post-reading conversation centered around the challenges and aspirations of young writers, with Jen and Wolff sharing their differing motivations. It’s always reassuring to remember that even the most accomplished writers were once beginners. As good as the two readers were on their own, the moderator, Jess Walter, did an excellent job facilitating the event with smart humor.

Lucy Burns | Poetry Editor

Roads (Not) Taken: Joy Harjo, Harryette Mullen, and Carl Phillips on Craft

It’s hard to go wrong when you get to hear Harryette Mullen, Joy Harjo, and Carl Phillips read their poetry, and this panel moderated by Camille T. Dungy, was no exception. Mullen read from a series of 365 tankas she wrote over the course of a year; vivid images drew us into her morning walks and offered us a calm not easy to find at AWP. Joy Harjo read “Everybody Has a Heartache: A Blues” and although I had heard her read it before, it felt new and alive and even more amazing than the first time. Carl Phillips has a reading voice that could almost make me fall in love and his poems are no less stunning. I can’t wait to have time to sit down with his latest book Silverchest. The poets, in discussing their compositional process, all mentioned approaching the page with a focus on uncovering the mysterious or the unknown. It reminded me that I don’t have to “know” what I’m going to write before I write it, which is always reassuring.

Michael Noltemeyer | Fiction Editor

Sherman Alexie Reading

If you’ve never been to a Sherman Alexie reading, then you really don’t know what you’re missing. His Saturday night appearance to close out this year’s AWP was the second time I had seen him read, and just as last time, he opened with five or ten minutes of what can only be described as stand-up comedy at its finest. It wasn’t scripted, either: he was ad-libbing to poke fun at his introduction and had the several thousand people in attendance rolling in the aisles. Then he read a piece from his collection-in-progress 99 Tiny Love Stories (now 74/99 finished!) that moved us all from laughter to tears and back again. Say what you want about his work, but I’ve never seen another author who could so easily induce emotion in his audience. His ability to make his readers feel the truth behind his writing is something to which we should all aspire.