So much happened last weekend at AWP. So much. I can't tell you it all. I didn't see it all. I was there nonstop for three days, and I saw only a fraction of what went on. I'm talking, of course, about the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, that traveling show of literary people that took over the Minneapolis Convention Center for three days last week.
Some things I do know. Graywolf Press was named Small Press Publisher of the Year. Poet Claudia Rankine and novelist Marlon James cooked dinner for some lucky people at James' house. Essayist Roxane Gay was everywhere, delighting fans, sending her cult status soaring without even trying. ("Roxane Gay for President" bumper stickers are now available. "I'm just a girl who writes," Gay said, mystified.) Poet Laureate Rita Dove sang.
Robert Bly was honored at a tribute that included other poets, music, singing, and a magician who made flames shoot from the pages of a book. And then Bly, 88, read, and it was he who wowed the room.
People won totebags. They played Bookfair Bingo. They played Name That Author. They picked up literary journals they had never heard of and dreamed about writing for them someday. They reunited with their MFA classes, even if they had graduated just last year. They bought books. (Let's say that again, slowly, because it's important: They bought books.)
They listened, raptly, to T.C. Boyle and Cheryl Strayed and Carolyn Forché ("Carolyn Forché you wreck me" one person tweeted). It snowed. It rained. The sun came out. It snowed. The sun came out for good.
Central Connecticut State University issued its annual rating for most literate city, and Minneapolis was back in first place. Tweets galore! "Perfect timing," said one.
The final tally was close to 12,000 attendees — 11,800, said AWP executive director David Fenza, and he was happy. "Registration above 11,000 people is a great victory for us," he said.
Minneapolis writer Charles Baxter, who was there every day, on panels, in conversation, being honored, noted that AWP is not just a convention of writers, but a convention of readers.
"That's an important distinction," he said. "It's a place where poetry is still discussed without apology, and where it is assumed that poetry is still a living force in our culture."
All weekend, he saw people — mostly young people — heading into panels.
"And you'd hear laughter and shouting and applause. Everyone says how overwhelming it is, but it's not just the size and quantity, it's the intensity of feeling.
"The book is not dead. Poetry is not dead."