The National Book Critics Circle booth is No. 1201, right across from Boston Review and Adelphi University MFA Program, right next to the African Poetry Book Fund and Prairie Schooner, and everywhere you look, there are writers. Readers, for sure, but writers almost certainly. A few publishers, a few publicists. But even they are probably secretly writers.
The place is packed, the lines for coffee are long (oddly, not so for the bathrooms), and each of the 700 booths is doing its best to attract visitors. Lots of smiles, even the booths where nobody has visited in a while.
This is the AWP Bookfair, the party room of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference and everybody, all 12,000 conventioneers, everybody ends up here sooner or later. Sometimes they don't leave. Some people (I've been told) spend the entire AWP conference here, networking and chatting and trolling for free stuff and interesting books. They forget to go to readings, or panel discussions.
The annual convention began this morning, and in the first five minutes of my arriving at the Book Fair I ran into Charles Baxter, and Susan Straight, and Fiona McCrae, and Jeff Shotts, and Dylan Hicks, and all the Lofties and Milkweed folk, and the head of the National Book Foundation, Harold Augenbraum. (Also a writer.) They're all writers. And yet the atmosphere here is not cut-throat, nor suspicious, nor even competitive. It's like a big party. People hug. They squeal, just a bit. Mostly, they talk, and take pictures.
Jane Ciabattari of the National Book Critics Circle is gamely manning the NBCC booth, has been here for hours, not sitting down, chatting people up, taking their pictures, because the NBCC member who was supposed to be here is stuck in New York because of weather. Everyone who stop by, she says, "Let me take your picture!" and they always say yes.
The booth is kind of bleak compared to others--no stacks of books, or free lanyards, or bowls of candy, or t-shirts. Just printed information on how to join the NBCC and a little "name the author" quiz that has me totally stumped. (It's HARD.) But it's a place of chattiness and warmth. And, of course, hugs. And photos.
Michele Filgate, NBCC board member (and a writer) is here, too, and it is on her laptop that I am writing these words before heading off to the tribute to Charles Baxter. Stay tuned. And follow me at @stribbooks on twitter and instagram for up-to-the-moment photos.