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AWP: Dispatch No. 8, by Barrie Jean Borich: AWP is a "brain-sucking spaceship."

  • Blog Post by: Laurie Hertzel
  • March 3, 2012 - 8:11 AM

 

Sarah Gilbert, Portand, Oregon and Nuria Sheehan, grad student The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline. Photo by Barrie Jean Borich.

Sarah Gilbert, Portand, Oregon and Nuria Sheehan, grad student in The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline. Photo by Barrie Jean Borich.

 BY BARRIE JEAN BORICH


For my students AWP is about information. One of my Water~Stone Review grad student editors runs up to me, a familiar face emerging from the hordes at the bookfair, to ask me what’s OK to say to contributors whose work is still on our editorial table. Another tells me how mind-blowing it is to learn, from a panel conversation between Cheryl Strayed and Ryan Van Meter, that some editors send authors one page of notes and others send 16 pages. And another student poet tells me Brian Teare’s paper on poetry and grief deepened her understanding of her vocation.

 

Graduate Students from The Creative Writing Programs at Hamlilne, Gretchen Rueth and Caitlin Thompson, with creative nonfiction author Brenda Miller of Bellingham, Wash.

Graduate Students from The Creative Writing Programs at Hamlilne, Gretchen Rueth and Caitlin Thompson, with creative nonfiction author Brenda Miller of Bellingham, Wash.

 

For those of us who’ve been attending for years, AWP is about annual relationships. One lit world friend stops me in the aisles of the bookfair to say hello, and within seconds I find out he and his longtime boyfriend have split. A colleague from one of my editing projects tells me the story of how she came to know her foster daughter. Another explains that the reason she is so meticulous when folding t-shirts is her father used to own a chain of clothing stores. A fellow nonfiction journal editor apologizes for handing me a postcard advertising his newest book. Six times I stand and talk at length with former Water~Stone contributors about ongoing plans, new work, coming books. Three times I introduce famous writers to grad students, even though I myself know those big names only in passing.

Everyone complains about AWP dementia. One friend asks me to repeat a question I already, moments ago, answered. Another describes the AWP bookfair as a brain-sucking spaceship. I keep losing my hotel room key card. My students staffing the Water~Stone Review table suggest offering a reward to any conference attendee who successfully navigates all four quadrants of the book fair. Downstairs in the book exhibition everyone’s cell service is dead, but once we get upstairs the lobby bar is illuminated by smart phone light, and the text messages fly. Meet me where? Which corner of which bar or which red-carpeted stairs?

Late tonight, at the VIDA:Women in Literary Arts karaoke party, I notice my grad student—Nuria Sheehan of Minneapolis—talking to last year’s Water~Stone Judith Kitchen creative nonfiction prize winner, Sarah Gilbert of Portland, Oregon. I stare, but don’t recall where they might have met. “How do you two know each other?” I finally ask. They remind me that I was the one who’d introduced them, at the Water~Stone launch party, back home, last Fall, in St. Paul. Oh right. I’ve forgotten about all that information I give to graduate students about ways of creating substantive professional/personal relationships. As I leave the karaoke party I remember again, as the last thing I see is Nuria and Sarah, side-by side, dancing.

Barrie Jean Borich is an assistant professor at Hamline University and the creative nonfiction editor of Water-Stone Review.
 

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