BY HEID ERDRICH
Whatever “in sync” means, I am always out of it at AWP. I always want a drink whenever one else is resting, I want to rest when everyone else wants to party, I skip lunch and everyone else is skipping dinner. So it is that I find myself in the gorgeous Palmer House lobby taking advantage of the three-dollar Happy Hour appetizers.
The air is thin with writers—and by thin I mean 11,000 of them have breathed the oxygen out of the place all day and now have cleared off for other locales. I’m nearly alone, trolling for Minnesotans under fantastic friezes of gryphon and gods and naked ladies who arch forty feet above me. It’s a cavern, richly appointed, the Palmer House lobby. Ornate candelabras, a clock decorated with nudes and fawns in plaster relief, a peacock-feather designed rug, wee balconies off ballrooms where words danced all day. But I enjoy solitude in a crowd, which might explain why a poet would go to a huge gathering like AWP in the first place.
Soon enough one of my teachers from graduate school, Jean McGarry, happens by. She is a shy person so I am surprised and pleased to see her here, but she seems equally surprised to see me. We enjoy a moment catching up before my waiter takes my attention and I say goodbye, and settle into a huge leather chair.
My mind is packed with all I’ve heard in the past 48 hours. Biggest surprise? A panel on Writing the Middle East composed of two indigenous North American writers and two Arab-American writers. Choctaw author LeAnne Howe, who many remember from her days at University of Minnesota not so long ago, just served as a Fulbright Fellow in Amman, Jordan. Her manuscript in progress tells of the Arab Spring from the perspective of an American Indian teaching indigenous Bedouin women next door to revolution.
Allison Hedge Coke, a Coffee House Press author, tells of being welcomed to a writer’s gathering in Lebanon where connections draw people together across the gulf of war. The voices of these women play off the two male Arab American authors, Matthew Shenoda and Heyan Charara, whose own works are wrenching, terrible in their beauty.
That panel/reading alone would have been enough to fuel me for a week, but I sat on two panels after, and signed books, read poems, met with collaborators, and caught up with Chrissy Kolaya who teaches at UMN Morris and Donna Trump who teaches at The Loft, two talented writers from the mentor group I worked with a few years ago at The Loft.
Chrissy was with The Most Fascinating Writer in the World, Adam McOmber, a young man who writes prose so well that he is published by BOA Editions, a press famous for publishing the best American poets. Donna’s students come up to greet her as we speak and for a bit, everything seems in sync.
Heid Erdrich is a Minneapolis poet.