If I had to choose a theme for my AWP, it would be “How do I suddenly know so many people?” I can’t tell you how much of a joy it was to walk into the colossal, overwhelming bookfair and coincidentally run into people I’d met at workshops and conferences in the past year and before. I even ran into my good friend Lauren Harrison, who I haven’t seen a year and a half!
At dinner one night, Lauren said, “You remember when we had dinner at AWP in DC? I was only just thinking about MFA programs, and you were still in the first draft of your book, and now look at us!”
I’ve been a bit down on myself the past few months because I haven’t published anything due to my attention being pulled in other directions, but when she said this, I had to stop and think: at AWP 2017, I was still a writing novice, and had a headache for four days straight, so overwhelmed. I felt better at AWP 2018, but Lauren wasn’t able to make it due to some other commitments. But everything seemed to have come together in 2019: by then I’d done to so many prestigious workshops and felt so validated, and Lauren’s now getting her MFA at Indiana University. I was suddenly so proud of us both. Even my spouse noticed that I came out of this AWP more confident.
Some of that confidence came from—honestly—not going to that many panels. I either didn’t have time to go, or wanted to take the time to pace myself, so I only really sat through one panel, Crafting Narrative Identity with Unreliable Memories. I’ve been stuck on Chapter 5 of my memoir rewrite for four months for this very reason: I can’t remember a thing about one of my sisters, the one the chapter focuses on. The panelists offered some great explanations of why we can and can’t remember certain things, and some tips on how to tap into memory. But not going to panels kept me from comparing myself to more accomplished people. Funny how that works to boost confidence.
This AWP was a big night for VONA, when we announced the new board members, including myself, and the retirement of Elmaz Abinader, the longtime program director. The reading went so well, and Elmaz was beside herself with joy at everyone honoring her. The board had also had a long meeting that morning, so most of my Friday was delightfully consumed by VONA. When I told people that I was on the board, their heads exploded with delight and they congratulated me immensely, which I wasn’t expecting, but made me feel good, knowing that my work as a literary citizen is so highly respected.
Friday also included a generative Tin House Intensive Workshop, which I was thrilled to have been selected for. About ten of us worked with the great Melissa Febos, who walked us through some prompts and gave us some great writing tips and strategies. It was such an honor to be in the same room as some of the writers there, people I felt a bit intimidated by, but had to remind myself that I’d been chosen, too.
In conclusion, after three days of people selecting, congratulating, and being happy to see me, it’s no wonder why I felt so good. I know I shouldn’t depend on external validation, but man, does it help.
Quickly, post-AWP, my spouse and I spent another day or so in Portland, seeing friends, then drove out to the Hood River, where we spent a couple of days in a cabin in the woods and it was AMAZING. Then went attempted to drive the scenic route to Seattle, where we spent another day or so with friends, but our good friend Google didn’t tell us that the road wasn’t yet opened for the season.
So after attempting to drive through this, we turned around and used the interstate like normal Americans.
AWP is always an adventure, as is life with my spouse. This summer, I’m going to the Juniper Summer Writing Institute to work with Mitchell S. Jackson, which I am TRHILLED about, so I can’t wait to see who I’ll bump into at AWP 2020 as a result!