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Dateline Minnesota: Jay Ponteri reports from AWP

Jay PonteJayPonteriri, Oregon Book Award author and Memoir Boot Camp instructor, is on assignment this week at AWP in Minneapolis. Here’s what he’s been up to:

I’m at my hotel in Minneapolis, mentally preparing for the annual conference of The Association of Writers & Writing Programs, a.k.a., AWP, which combines, among other things, panels and talks on writing and the teaching of writing, readings by writers at all levels, dancing-partying-mayhem, and A KILLER book fair.

I can’t get you an exact figure—ok, I could but don’t feel like it—I’m talking like 15,000 creative writers, literary publishers and agents, and teachers of writing basically TAKE OVER a city. Everywhere you look—conference attendees walking through the skyways, lanyards dangling around their necks. It’s glorious. My friend, a poet, once described AWP as thousands of very hungry writers gnawing on a bone without much meat. Of course any writing conference brings the earthy smells of passion, ambition, ego—Notice me! Adore me! Notice and adore what I make!—but what is so wonderful about AWP is the unique way a writer feels herself visible. It is impossible not to feel like a writer when you are surrounded by thousands of other writers. It feels as if creative writers have taken over the planet! It’s a cluster kind of visibility, that is to say, you are a single tiny working cog of a giant wobbly machine that eludes any kind of grasp—perceptual or abstract—but you know machine is moving (through the skyways!) and feel yourself moving within it. There are so MANY writers that it feels equalizing. You do and don’t know who anybody is! One minute you listen to the brilliant, funny Karen Russell give the heartfelt keynote address, the next moment you hear Eula Biss and Charles Baxter give readings, all the while you’re sitting next to younger writers just beginning their apprenticeships, whose work will greatly impact your life in the year 2020! Be ready for wonder!

To the matter at hand. The book fair. Wow. Wow. Wow! For a bibliophile like me the AWP Book Fair is like letting a child shop directly from Santa’s workshop. XXX small presses, magazines, and literary organizations set up sprawling shop inside sterile vacuum-packed convention center rooms the size of a Costco. As with any colossal shopping experience, I have found that one must develop a strategy. A plan. Don’t just lope around the aisles dry-mouthed otherwise the pure multiplicity of the thing will stun you into stupidity. Your tongue will thicken. You’ll forget who your favorite writer is. You’ll forget that you write. You’ll forget who you are.

Here is my plan! Wave Books, New Directions, Copper Canyon, Graywolf Press, Sarabande, Wesleyan, Nightboat. I will make social calls at Forklift, Ohio, Octopus Books, Tavern Books (Carl and Natalie!). I’m anticipating Maggie Nelson’s forthcoming The Argonauts (Graywolf), What About This: The Collected Poems of Frank Stanford and War of the Foxes by Rickard Siken (Copper Canyon) and Three Kinds of Motion by Riley Hanick (Sarabande). I will let myself buy some other books I cannot fathom even exist too.

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