Dispatches | March 03, 2014

By Michael Nye

My recent Monday posts have been about my Internship in Publishing class, but this past weekend was the great big AWP Conference, and it seems like it would be a mistake to veer from the past and not write yet another of the thousand (give or take) post-AWP blog posts that will be going up over the next few days. Here are my posts from the last couple of AWP conferences: Boston in 2013, Chicago in 2012, DC in 2011, and Denver in 2010.

So this is Year Five for me with the combination of going to the conference and being a TMR employee. While everyone remarks on each year being bigger and badder (bad meaning good!), it has always seemed gargantuan to me. My first year, I was running around trying to introduce myself to people and figure out what my dual role: emerging writer and managing editor. When I went to Denver, I had only been at TMR for four months and was still getting my feet firmly on the ground with my basic job responsibilities. Now, on my most days, I’m certain of what I’m doing here and I’ve also been fortunate enough to publish my first book of short stories.

Each year, then, there are new and old friends that I want to spend time with, as well as new and old business colleagues that I want to talk shop with, and those two camps frequently overlap. Before I flew out, I sat down and started writing down the names of people I wanted to see, not even sure if they were all going, and within about ten minutes, I had filled an entire sheet of paper. And I knew there was no way I was going to be able to see all of them. This realization made me both happy and sad, and filled me with a certain amount of anxiety about the trip.

It didn’t help that my first AWP interaction in Seattle was awkward when I failed to recognize a fellow writer who I had done a reading with just a few months ago. Ye gods.

Anyway, I still haven’t really processed the trip. Yesterday was a travel whirlwind, and I’m trying to hit the ground running back here at TMR. Reflecting on all the things I learned, what I heard, concerns and complaints and hopes for publishing, plans for TMR in 2014, and so much more, it’s going to take a few days for it to all sink in and give me direction for what’s next. On the whole, though, I’d say the state of publishing and writing and editing, despite all you hear about the Death of Reading, is strong.

Here’s a few more scattered thoughts on my Seattle trip:

The Rejections and The Voice. I spent more time at TMR’s table than I have in past years. We sent fewer people to the conference this year than we have in the past, and I also found it easier to just stay in one place and let writers and editors know via Twitter when I was at the table. Frequently, I took the morning shift in order to let my staff sleep in (plus, I was wide awake at 6 am every day; my body was not a fan of the whole West Coast time zone thing) and I was at the table every day. I believe I was there for about twelve hours total.

Two things kept coming up from our readers. The first was that they really like our rejections. I know: sounds like an odd thing to hear, right? But, as a writer and a veteran of the conference, I get it. We don’t have a magazine without the writers who submit their work to us, and with so many magazines to choose from, why would they send to us? It’s an extension of the idea that VIDA stresses when it comes to publishing work by and about women: you have to let people know they are welcome. Sounds really simple, but it isn’t. And over the years, our staff has done an excellent job of encouraging the writers whose work was discussed as a possible publication, but didn’t ultimately make it into our magazine. We have to let writers know that we value their time, effort, and writing. It was great to hear that we seem to be doing that effectively.

The second thing surprised me a bit: people really love our blog. This is a huge compliment to our social media editor, Alison Balaskovits, who curates all of our platforms. We want our blog to sound like us, but we also want it to be a place where other writers can find a voice; hence, our Working Writers and Literature on Lockdown series. I was thrilled to know that the blog has found a readership. So, you out there: thanks!

RUN AWP might have been the single greatest event in the history of mankind. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But not by much. What was RUN AWP? It was a basketball game put on by poet Scott Cunningham, who curates the O, Miami biennial poetry festival produced in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the University of Wynwood, which advances contemporary literature in Miami. He’s a busy dude. He got with Indiana Review and they worked together to find a bunch of poet/hoops junkies to play ball for two hours in the middle of the conference. Open to the public, DJ spinning 90’s hip-hop, and a poetry reading to close: what could be better?

So, I ran with Marc McKee, Ross Gay, and Scott, and we played four-on-four in a quasi fullcourt game. How did we do? We won five straight. I got named co-MVP. I wore a neon green penny. We heard Blackstreet and Montel Jordan. This was such a good time. Getting away from the conference for basketball was the best idea ever. Big thanks to Scott, IR, and everyone else who made this wonderful event happen.

Magic Heckling. I heard more than one version of this story, but it’s an important thing to read. According to Naomi Williams, here’s what happened at Lucy Corin’s panel.

I Know You From Twitter! Though I’ve had a Twitter account since 2011, this was the first year where I felt it was a major part of my conference interaction. I’ve spoken to several people through Twitter in the last twelve months, and it is my preferred method of social media interaction, for a wide range of reasons I won’t get into here. There were people I was looking forward to seeing, many for the first time, who I know only through the Fail Whale.

Naturally, you don’t make fast friends with everyone, and these interactions can be strange. They can also be delightful. Though I definitely had a few “okay, that was weird” moments, on the whole, I loved hearing “You really like basketball, don’t you?” or “I know you from Twitter!” and getting to talk to people, face-to-face, for the first time, for a few minutes. But two moments really stand out.

I got to sit down and have coffee with Ashley Strosnider, a writer in South Carolina, and talk about novels, writing, post-MFA stuff. We didn’t get to talk nearly lone enough, but we definitely had a “hey, this person isn’t insane!” vibe going. The second was late Saturday, when I was sitting in the conference hotel lobby, trying to get my second wind to hang out for the fourth night in a row, and then this happened.

Bonus Moment: What’s up, Kima Jones?!

Eating Alone. Thursday morning, because of jetlag and all that, I was wide awake at four in the morning, and after a failed attempt to fall back asleep, I hopped on Yelp and looked for an inexpensive place to eat breakfast at 6 am. Remarkably few options that early in the morning. Anyway. I found Lola, a restaurant that had a perfect, chill ambiance, and rocked eggs with kale, octopus, beans, onions, and two slices of bread. Food was perfect, but also, the time to ignore all the noise and appreciate the fact that I was a part of this conference at all. It’s far too easy to bitch and complain about the conference rather than notice how amazing it is that the whole thing works at all. Quiet breakfasts are one way I did that this year.

…And With Others. On the other hand, stepping away from the conference with friends to have a meal is also a good thing. And calming. And a way to eat lots of seafood. Thanks and love to Lania Knight, Jessica Rogen, Lydia Ship, and Maura Lammers for talking to me and sitting through my messy eating habits, which include dripping sauce on my sweater, burping loudly, and asking for endless refills of water.

Fifteen Good Minutes. This can’t happen with everyone, but when it does, it means a lot to me. So, to those (off the top of my head) that I got to talk to for a little bit longer than I had any right to expect – Matt Bell, Phong Nguyen, Becky Tuch, Erin Monahan, Daniel Stolar, Amina Gautier, Katie Moulton, Steve Schroeder, Marianne Kunkel, Andrew Ladd, Anca Szilagyi, Stephanie G’Schwind, Liz Prato – thank you. Loved seeing you.

People I Missed. Too many to name or list here. Hey, look, it happens. No one is angry or upset about it (I hope). It’s just the nature of the conference. But after five years, I’m still learning to let it go, and I have a hard time accepting it. I wish I had the chance to see everyone that I wanted to, but the frenetic nature of the weekend prevents all the reunions. If I missed you, I am sorry.

Author Signings Under a Barrel. On Friday, I sat down at the Boulevard table with my friend Jessica Rogen to sign copies of my book. I had eight of ’em, and didn’t really know what to expect: would anyone come by? Sure enough, Dave Housely and Katherine Hill of Barrelhouse came over to say Yo and get an autograph and a beer koozie. I know them both a little bit, and also got to meet Tom McAlister for the first time at the conference. Remember what I said (see above) about just having that great vibe with some people? That’s them. Wonderful magazine, and better people. It was a joy to see them. And big thanks to everyone who bought a copy of my book! The Dude abides!

Books I’m Most Excited About Reading. American Afterlife by Kate Sweeney and What Ends by Andrew Ladd.

When This Is In Minneapolis … Yes, I have said and thought that already. A huge thank you to the entire staff of AWP (especially the volunteers) who made this conference as terrific as it was. I dig the conference. And I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye