Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference: Picks for Thursday, March 1

9:00–10:15 AM . It’s the End of the World as We Know It (But Some of Us Will Be Fine). Panel on digital printing and how it’s changing publishing. OK, I know you haven’t even figured out where the good coffee is yet, but here’s a topic we all could stand to know more about. Wiliford B, Hilton Chicago.

10:30–11:45 AM. Celebration of Tia Chucha Press. A press that has published some amazing books. Luis Rodriguez is impossibly dynamic. Plus it’s in a venue called the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer House Hilton. Sounds like a dream of James McNeill Whistler. What could be bad?

Noon–1:15 PM. A Face to Meet the Faces: Five Poets on Persona and Race. This panel includes Patricia Smith and Cornelius Eady, two of the most exciting poets around right now. Waldorf, Hilton Chicago.

1:30–2:45 PM. Telling It Slant: Measures, Meaning, and Music in Translating Poetry. Some fine translators here, including Ilya Kaminsky and Alexis Levitin (Alexis translates the astounding Clarice Lispector, among many others). Wiliford B, Hilton Chicago. (Who was “Wiliford,” anyway?)

1:30–2:45 PM. A Tribute to Unsung Masters of the 20th Century: Laura Jensen, Dunstan Thompson, Nancy Hale, and Ryuichi Tamura. I really don’t know much about the first three writers, though I’ve read a few of Laura Jensen’s unusual, third-person autobiographical poems. But all the more reason to go. Ryuichi Tamura did for Japanese poetry what Haruki Murakami did for that country’s fiction. State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton.

3:00–4:15 PM. Reading with Mark Doty, Marilyn Nelson, Molly Peacock, Taylor Mali, Roger Bonair-Agard. Any time you can hear Mark Doty, you should. Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago.

3:00–4:15 PM. Political Poetry: America and Abroad. Provocative topic and the panel includes the formidable Nick Flynn. Appropriately enough this is in the International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. Agha Shahid Ali, the Ghazal, and the Destruction of Kashmir. I’d go to hear anything on Shahid and the ghazal. Continental A, Hilton Chicago. (How many meeting rooms does this hotel have, anyway?)

4:30–5:45 PM. From Poem to Art Song: A Reading. No clue if this will be any good but it sounds enticing. Boulevard Room, A, B, C, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. You Wrote It, Now Promote It: DIY Publicity for the Busy Writer. Great topic, don’t know the panelists. Empire Ballroom, Palmer House.

6:30–9:30 PM. Offsite reading for new issue of upstreet magazine with the formidable Bill 
Zavatsky, always a kick to hear him read. Jaks Tap, 901 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. 
Jak’s is about a mile or two from the Hilton and is on the Blue Line. I’m told it’s about a $7 
cab ride, which isn’t bad, especially if 3 or 4 people are sharing.

8:30–10:00 PM. Keynote Address by Margaret Atwood. Everything you expect from her, and, I bet, more. Get there early. This is going to be more crowded than a high school graduation. Roosevelt University Auditorium Theater.

Zack Rogow will be signing copies of his new book, My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers, at the Kattywompus Press table (bookfair booth 721) at the AWP conference in Chicago on Friday, March 2, 2012 from noon to 1:00 p.m. His play, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, about the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet, will be given a staged reading at AWP on Saturday, March 3 from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. in room Wiliford A, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference, Part 2: Don't Avoid the Book Fair

Many people who attend the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) avoid the book fair. It’s true the book fair can be completely paralyzing, with its hundreds of booths and thousands of attendees all schmoozing as if their lives depended on it. Don’t miss the book fair, though. It’s the best opportunity all year to make contact with editors and with organizations for literary writers.

But when you visit the book fair, go with a specific purpose in mind.

Let’s say you’ve got several stories or poems you feel are ready to send out. Ignore the booths of presses that only publish graphic novels about surfing vampires. Focus on talking to presses that have a magazine that’s looking for new work, but don’t miss the fun of just a random conversation.

Bring a business card. If you don't have a business card for your work as a writer, just print it on a laser printer onto card stock.

Make contact with editors who might appreciate your work. Leave a card with them and say something positive about what you sincerely admire about their publication. If you can afford it, buy one of their books or magazines. Ask for the card of the editor you want to send work to, make notes on the back of the card about what you discussed. Email or write to that person directly when you follow up. Don't make contact until several days after the conference, not during the conference. Don’t give out anything other than your card during AWP. The people at the tables are under siege. Be considerate. When you write to them later, just remind the editor that you met at AWP.

The same idea applies if you have a manuscript to send out. Find out which presses are open to new work in your genre, and in your style, and get a business card of a person to send a manuscript to. Follow up with every place where you have a good contact, but after the conference.

If you have a book to publicize, look for reading series and publications that review work in the same vein as your book.

Besides all the schmoozing, make sure to take in at least two great readings at the conference, and two panels that make you rethink what literature can mean. Invite someone to lunch you didn’t know before the conference. Enjoy and explore the city of the bookfair and/or its surroundings.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference, Part 1

The annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is an amazing event that brings together 14,000 writers, publishers, and creative writing instructors in one place for four days. It’s the largest gathering of its kind in North America. 

The AWP conference has an interesting history. According to Christian Teresi, AWP’s former director of conferences, “The first conference was in 1972 at the Library of Congress, and hosted only six events. It’s safe to say there were at most a couple of hundred people there.” Growth was slow during the early years. “I can tell you that at the 1991 conference in Miami there were only around 16 events and 40 presenters,” Teresi recounts. Since then, the increase in the number of participants and programs has been nothing short of astronomical. “By 2012 we already had over 400 events and 1600 presenters.”

The AWP conference is now as over-stimulating as seven marching bands all doing their routines at once on the same football field. You get to hear great or disappointing readings by writers you admire, have chance encounters in glass elevators with people you never wanted to see again, discover writers you’re delighted to learn about, get headaches, wolf down overpriced food, buy more books than you planned, make embarrassing faux pas, and maybe reach a few people with your work who didn’t know your writing beforehand.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s a unique and amazing opportunity to have that many literary people and institutions in one place at one time. You get to hear some of your literary heroes. You have the chance to meet the editors of your favorite magazines and presses, and to find out about ones you never knew existed.

But I find that it’s much more productive to go to AWP if you have a clear goal in mind.

Think about what your current needs are as a writer. Do you have several pieces you’re ready to send to magazines? Have you got a manuscript for a new book that you’re hoping to find a publisher for? Do you have a new book just published that you want to publicize? Are you looking for a job or internship with a literary organization? Do you want to get re-energized to go home and write? Pick a goal and stick to it.

Zack's most recent book of poetry, Irreverent Litanies