Dispatches from #AWP19

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Photo by Powell’s Books, March 27, 2019

K-State English was well-represented at the 2019 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference last weekend in Portland, Oregon. Below are some dispatches from AWP#19 to join the ones we posted last year from AWP#18.


 

Of all the amazing panels and readings — and there were many this year in Portland, Oregon — the panel “Expats, Migrants, Nomads: Rethinking the Immigrant Narrative in the 21st Century” stands out as especially impressive.

Four first- and second-generation immigrant writers read excerpts from their memoirs, poems, or novels. Their goal was to discuss how the immigrant story has been reframed to explore issues like border crossings (of all sorts), a fluid identity, and the complexities of calling a place “home.” Through their readings and conversation, it became clear that today’s immigrant story has moved beyond the classic “American Dream.” The ballroom was packed — all chairs taken, many people standing against the walls or seated on the floor.

I noticed how each author’s writing style and reading voice, though noticeably unique, complemented each other. Huan Hsu’s humorously described his year working in China at his uncle’s business and the awkwardness of being too American/not Chinese enough. Myung-Ok Lee’s novel documents razor-sharp observations about race in fictional small-town Horse Breath, Minnesota. Mieke Eeerkens’ tenderly reflects on growing up with her father’s stories about colonialism, and the complexities of being a dual citizen. And, Reyna Grande’s melodic poetry explores borders and border crossing, especially the US-Mexican border.

As I listened to the writers, I felt energized and inspired, not only to tell my own story, but for the new directions that the immigrant narrative is taking.

— Krista Danielson (M.A. ’19)


 

One of the best experiences I had at AWP was hearing the teaching ideas of Oliver Baez Bendorf, Alison Pelegrin, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Brynn Saito. They had a variety of ways to talk about creativity and writing in college and community settings, including origami, snow globes, coloring, sidewalk chalk and more. Somehow people tend to think that creativity is relaxing and not rigorous, but I believe it is both and the lesson plans they shared demonstrated how these ideas are not mutually exclusive. Now that we are officially in National Poetry Month, I’m looking forward to implementing more play as pedagogy.

Traci Brimhall, Associate Professor


 

AWP Portland was everything I needed it to be. As a second-time conference goer, I made sure to keep it simple — to be with people I care about and to attend off-site readings I could truly enjoy! One of the best parts about AWP is the permission to lose yourself in a new city and surround your days and nights with literary lovers from all over. I enjoyed the casual encounters in shared Lyft rides. The laughter of friends over Chai. The charged silence during a well-delivered nonfiction essay at White Owl Social, Emily W. Blacker’s words reeling us so deep that even a man across the courtyard stood at her voice, beer in hand, and crept toward the terrace, captivated like the rest of us. A story about guts and love and making a perfect sandwich. It’s refreshing and overwhelming to sit amidst a crowd who cares about reading and recording the human experience, the raw emotions that can go unexpressed. Afterward, I scribbled nonstop about eclectic strangers who love literature just as much as me. These are the moments I crave — the creative and tumultuous energy, the wild mind refreshed.

— Anna Meyer (M.A. ’19)


 

AWP is a great retreat for the creative mind, and Portland became one of my favorite cities to navigate with its affordable busing and easy quadrant system. I went to this conference because my friend, Bill Lessard, at Heavy Feather Review, was going and egged me on, and he also convinced me to organize an off-site event with Astrophil Press, BOAAT, Fence, and Futurepoem, for the occasion. While our event was well-attended by friends and authors on the last day of the conference, I learned some tricks for hosting which I’ll certainly bring to the Driptorch series in the coming semesters, which resumes with Danny Caine and Evelyn Hampton on April 12.

Overall, I stayed local with a friend in the southeast, and ate heavy metal pizza, and went to Powell’s about five times over seven days. I found some genre books among the literary purists (Small Beer Press namely) and went home with a spectacular haul. I learned about one of my favorite Canadian authors and filmmakers, Tony Burgess, who is writing stories about the Henry Hudson of the northwest passage for ECW. I also helped friends at Stalking Horse Press exhibit for a few hours. I’m glad AWP opened their book fair to the public this year, on Saturday, despite the five-dollar price tag.

The AWP conference has a great spirit and helps me to remember why I do the writing to begin with: for the culture. I loved hearing everyone’s experiences with panels and want to get one together for San Antonio or KC, depending, along with an off-site event. At the conference, I got to pal around with friends Duncan B. Barlow, Jordan A. Rothacker, Janalyn Guo, Kurt Baumeister, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Bill Lessard, Matt Bell, Mike Czyzniejewski, Leland Cheuk, and Ally Harris, to name a few. AWP is home away from home and I love attending to catch up with publishers and friends.

— Jason Teal, Instructor


 

For me, AWP really stands for Amazing/Wonderful People, and foremost among these A/W folks are the former students I get to see who are now pursuing rich and hard and complicated lives as creative writers somewhere other than Kansas. This year in Portland, I got to catch up with Kira Frank (M.A. ’18), who is now studying at Alabama, and Peter Williams (M.A. ’18), who is now studying at Kentucky, and Dan Hornsby (B.A. ’12), who’s done studying and has a new novel manuscript and a new band project he’s currently introducing to the world. Sure, it’s great to see famous writers at AWP, but, these people, these ones are family.

Bonus track 1: Here’s Dan singing one of his new songs at the Sixth Annual Rock and Roll Reading, which the Kansas State English Department sponsors:

 

 

Bonus track 2: Here’s an excerpt of Dan’s novel manuscript, published at joylandmagazine.com: http://www.joylandmagazine.com/regions/midwest/desert-fathers-three-episodes-diary-retired-priest

Dan Hoyt, Professor


 

On the stage of Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon (very near a Blue Star Donuts, perhaps the real star of #AWP19?), the Sixth Annual Rock and Roll Reading was held. Writer and comedian Amy Silverberg hosted and turned the room into a veritable assembly of laughter and rowdy behavior. Then, it was rapid-fire readings about the music we listened to when we were 14, the unnamed mothers of Rock and Roll, and dancing at discos. These poems and stories featured appearances by such diverse talent as Queen, Jimmy Buffett, and Mama Cass Elliot.

When Amy said it was over the crowd was palpably disappointed, and then, miraculously, it wasn’t over! Dan Hornsby, performing as Beauty School, played a too-quick, hilarious, absolutely killer set, sending us off into the world with these lyrics: “It’s a dog eat dog world says the dog with a taste for other dogs.” Incredible.

The reading was held on the last day of the conference, and I was with some Not From K-State Friends who proclaimed it to be the best event they’d been to all AWP. I agree with them. It’s hard to locate the exact magic of the Rock and Roll Reading (though much credit has to go to K-State Professor Dan Hoyt for bringing together each year’s line-up of readers) and ultimately I’m not too concerned with that locating. I’m there for the reveling.

— Maddie Pospisil (MA ’19)

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