Seattle in the winter is supposed to be cold and drizzly. It did not disappoint. During the five days of the AWP conference from February 26 until March 2, there was one sunny day. And then the northeast got snowed in, so many people could not even return home at their appointed dates. Such are the vagaries of travel during winter months.
Having said that, I like Seattle. It’s an attractive city with friendly people (who don’t jaywalk) and plenty of things to do. I understand there were somewhere between twelve and fifteen thousand attendees at this conference. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of writers. Eighty per cent of them seemed to be young, female, attractive, thin (“impossibly thin” one overweight participant acidly remarked), smart, energetic, and optimistic. Many of them were students from one of the staggering number of MFA programs in creative writing scattered throughout the United States. I couldn’t help but wonder what percentage of these people would still be writing or even involved in literature twenty years hence. But for now they are all basking in the glow of their anticipated futures. It’s a good thing (as Martha Stewart would say). Reminds me of myself long ago.
The Convention Center was a cavernous edifice: one took a series of escalators to the sixth floor to reach some of the meeting rooms. The lines were daunting, but moved quickly. Employees in green jackets were everywhere directing people politely and patiently. I was impressed with how smoothly things went, and all of the people involved in organizing this shindig should be congratulated.
I didn’t go to a bad presentation. Given my penchant for getting up and leaving a lecture I find boring, my sitting through ALL of them says a lot for the knowledge and enthusiasm of the presenters. The majority I attended on Thursday concerned promoting and marketing your work. Everyone seems to agree that in this day and age writers should form a community and band together and create events and support each other however they can. The electronic media is here, use it–blogging, Facebook, email, you-name-it. Authors should develop relationships with bookstore owners. Give readings, even if only one person shows up. The next time might be better. Keep a stiff upper lip: write, market, promote. Write, market, promote. Write, market, promote. Stay in lock step. Eyes on the prize. Sleeping is optional. 🙂
Here is a good tip for you: someone mentioned that John Updike was giving a reading at a bookstore and when he was finished he asked if there were any questions. No one responded. After about thirty seconds, Updike said, “Tell me, Mr. Updike, what time of the day do you like to write, and how long do you generally do so?” And then he answered his own question. This broke the ice and questions from the audience started flowing. You might find this useful the next time you’re at a roadblock in a presentation.
Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner and author of a short story which led to the movie, “Brokeback Mountain,” was the keynote speaker that evening. The auditorium was large and she was little but her image was projected on a screen, so we could see her. I usually find famous authors who address writing groups often speak in literary terms about literary subjects and bore the literary hell out of me. She did not. She traced the development of books from the old days to the present and opined that the number of readers is shrinking while the number of writers is “exploding.” Basically, though, she was upbeat about it and got a hearty round of applause at the conclusion of her talk.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first workshop on Friday morning entitled “Why Online Magazines Deserve More Respect,” since I once wrote an essay on the subject (to be found on my blog under “Literary Prizes and the Selection Process,” Sept. 20, 2013) in which I questioned why so few online lit mags are given prizes by Pushcart, etc., relative to the blue blood print journals. Can there be that much difference in quality? The members of this panel, all involved in the production of online journals, agreed but believe that the worm is turning. It was pointed out more than once that the lines between the two are blurring since some print journals are going broke and moving online while some online journals are now producing a yearly print publication. Again, as the venerable Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing. 🙂
In the afternoon I wandered to downtown Seattle, visited the Seattle Art Museum which had, among other things, a spectacular porcelain collection, and then ate dinner at the old and charming Athenian Restaurant in Pike’s Market. I strolled around as everybody was closing up shop and came to the conclusion that all the good things people say about this sector of Seattle is true. It’s great fun with terrific food and friendly people. Do check it out some time.
That evening I attended a slam poetry contest, which was an experience in and of itself. I’ll discuss that and other exciting things next week in the second half of this report. I’ll close with one speaker’s opinion about publication: the literary novel is to the best seller as foie gras is to the Whopper. The discerning reader (eater) prefers the former but the bigger sales will be realized by the latter. You will have to choose which direction you wish to pursue in your career because it is unlikely that you can have it both ways.
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