The adventure begins in Rhode Island, Providence. I flew in on Tuesday for a reading at Brown on Wednesday. I stayed at The Biltmore which is Very Old in a tiny room with a big bed. The next day, I met with two classes of students, talking about nonfiction and writing and such. They were a delight. The second class, in particular, was just so charming with their enthusiasm. That night, I read and took questions and it went well. My host, the very talented Kate Schapira, was a delightful conversation companion and I’m glad she invited me. Also, Providence is very cute with little shops and such. I am always charmed by the loveliness of that place I call Not Charleston. On Wednesday afternoon, I also met with a young feminist, Ana, who was one of the founders of Brown’s feminist magazine Bluestockings. She had great hair and loves David Bowie and bought a pre-distressed sweatshirt bearing his likeness.
Late Wednesday, I headed into the mouth of the AWP beast, and met up with xTx. There are intimacies involved I cannot share. We wandered the Prudential Center in search of food that wasn’t say, an $18.50, cold ham and cheese sandwich because really, Sheraton? REALLY? We ended up at this place called Five Napkin Burgers. They had excellent drinks. Casey Hannan and his boyfriend Josh joined us. There was something about the elderberry. The burger place made me a cheese sandwich that was really great. Our waiter wanted to be our bff. He decided to go to AWP after talking to us.
The next morning, I went into the Hynes Convention Center in search of a registration badge. The place was lousy with writers. Skinny jeans, fashionable glasses, intricate facial hair, extreme beauty, all of it. When I found the registration center, there was a line out the door, one that foretold of hours of waiting. I thought, “I am not that invested in the proceedings,” and contemplated simply staying in my hotel room for four days.
Then, I realized that was the line for people who didn’t pre-register. The relief I felt was immense. I quickly got my badge, declined the tote and hefty book because I think AWP needs to develop an app and I wanted to register a silent and utterly futile protest.
After lots of aimless wandering without the help of a map, which I would have had if I had simply taken my tote like a normal person, I found the PANK table, which my co-editor, Matt, had set up really beautifully. We were next to a table with an older man who liked to eavesdrop and mansplained that Central Illinois isn’t so bad. Sir, I did not ask you for your input.
The bookfair was hectic and wonderful. We sold out of all the merchandise we brought and then some, which was really gratifying. We met contributors. I met people who read my work and said exceedingly flattering things. By the end of the conference I was filled with this buzzy feeling of joy that was a little surreal. I also couldn’t help but feel, “Are they thinking about another Roxane Gay?” I need to learn how to become accustomed to kindness and appreciation.
My goal each night was to drink until I could no longer feel my feet throbbing. I succeeded in this, amply. Drinks just kept appearing in front of me so I did the responsible thing and drank them. This made mornings rough.
There was also this matter of snow. I don’t really believe in following the weather. I’m not sure why but the weather report seems a bit useless to me. In my mind, I was going from Providence to Tuscaloosa, where it was in the 70s. I came with a hoodie and a pair of YakTrax and with these items, I braved the elements, oh how I braved the elements. There was a blizzard, you see, dropping quite a lot of heavy, wet snow, all over the city. Everywhere you looked, writers trudged through slush and snow to get to safe havens known as bars. They were brave.
On Thursday afternoon, I participated in an off-site panel for the London Review of Books with Michael Miller, James Wood (?!), Christian Lorentzen, and Joshua Cohen. As I sat there, as the only woman and only person of color, I thought, “This would be a charming VIDA count.” The panel was lively and interesting. I was a bit obsessed with the fact that James Wood has amazing jeans, shoes, and is English. I learned a lot and tried to say intelligent things. I was happy to be invited to participate. There are so many smart people in the world, that was my takeaway. Also, yes, VIDA COUNT MATTERS.
Moving on. That night, I was to read at the VIDA prom. I was terribly nervous. People never believe this but I am terrified of public speaking, mostly because of low self-esteem, just keeping it real. The place was PACKED. It was insane, but what was more insane was that I was reading with Robert Pinsky, this great poet whose name escapes me, Cheryl Strayed, Jennine Capo Crucet, and Pam Houston. Intimidating much? At the venue, I learned that I was going to be reading last so I had LOTS OF TIME TO SHIT MY PANTS. At one point, I told my date, “I cannot do this, I am just going to walk out,” but there was literally no room to move so I was foiled.
I said about half an incoherent word to Cheryl Strayed. She wore great earrings, is luminously beautiful, and wore the fiercest leather boots ever. Part of the reason I was able to only say half an incoherent word to her is because I was very nervous to meet her and I am shy but the other reason was that this guy just interrupted us because he had to say something to me and that took precedence. Thanks, guy.
Everyone read wonderfully and then it was my turn. I read about Mr. Rogers. I rarely own this sort of thing but I killed it. Soooo that was hella awesome. There was dancing, and the meeting of people. Lauren Groff! Melissa Chadburn! Holloway McCandless! Beth Bates! I am not going to name all the names because I’m going to forget some folks and that’s not nice. Also, at a certain point each evening, things began to blur. After the prom, it was off to LIR for PANK/Hobart/Barrelhouse’s Not Reading. There was no reading, but a floor crammed with writers. I finally met my man Saeed Jones who is the freshest breath of air and also as fine as you can imagine.
Speaking of fine. I met Mat Johnson who I honestly couldn’t even look at straight in the face. I took a couple sneaky pictures of him like a creeper. Brother is just… so damn fine.
Anyway. I’m a freak. We know that. At LIR, I only had about 20 minutes of sociability in me and quickly escaped to my hotel room. I was a raw nerve at that point. People! Constantly! Ahhh!
Friday, more bookfair. More greatness. That night, I read for The Rumpus/McSweeney’s at 826 Boston, which is a great space. I got to share the stage with Amy Fusselman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mariss Nadler who makes beautiful music, the extraordinary and FINE Thomas Page McBee, and Paul LeGault. It was one of the best readings I’ve ever attended.
A constant refrain for me, throughout the conference was that there is no shortage of excellence in the writing world. Let’s not kid ourselves.
Do you want to know about this super awkward thing I did? Before the Rumpus reading, my friends xTx, Aubrey Hirsch, Ashley Ford and I were fucking around in the store at 826, taking dirty pictures with the bigfoot statue and whatever. We are mature adults. This woman walked up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Amy,” and I think I said hi and shook her hand and then continued with the photo shoot.
Later, during the reading, I kept staring at the back of this Amy’s head thinking, “I maybe know this person.” But where did I know her from? I puzzled this to distraction and suddenly, this wave of dread flooded me. It was my editor Amy Hundley from Grove/Atlantic. Guys. I sat there, flagellating myself with mortification until I could go and re-introduce myself properly. The mortification lingers. Also, she is ridiculously beautiful and has great glasses.
Friday night, hotel bar, debauchery, liver damage.
Throughout this conference, there was this look some people gave, one that said, “Are you important enough that I should know you?” It was soul destroying. I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, “NOPE!”
Saturday, bookfair. then I had a panel on alienating friends and loved ones in nonfiction writing moderated by BJ Hollars and with co-panelists Bonnie J. Rough, Marcia Aldrich, and Ryan VanMeter. It was standing room only, out the door. It went well.
Before and after this panel, like in that room, I met two of my sheroes. First, Julianna Baggott, who is like… a spirit guide for me because she is unapologetically prolific, and good at it, and an exceptional literary citizen. She is always working to spread the word about other writers and I really look up to her. I was scared to say hi so Gregory Sherl forced me to say hi. That was helpful.
After the panel, this woman walked up to me and I thought, “It’s not possible,” but it was! Meg Wolitzer, y’all. I silently peed myself and only gushed a little and we had a nice little chat and I am going to e-mail her.
Saturday night, my editor Amy, her partner, xTx and I went out for dinner at Haru. I had vegetable spring rolls and this tempura thing and it was all great. We ended up talking for like 2.5 hours. Really a highlight of the conference. My book is absolutely where it needs to be, in very capable hands, and Amy and her partner were just lovely people. Excited to hang out with them again.
Saturday night, hotel bar, debauchery in the lobby, people just coming and coming and drinks and liver damage. I saw many friends and acquaintances and met new people and talked about Yo Gabba Gabba with Kate Maruyama and Jaqui Morton (forgive my spelling if it is wrong) and Alan Stewart Carl. I talked with the really smart Alex Estes who is my Twitter friend. I saw Cathy Chung, who is always such a warm presence. Earlier in the day I met Devan and Aubrey’s baby who is really quite chubby and cute. I am forgetting too many people but I really did enjoy whatever time we got to spend together, however brief. Sean Doyle! Matt Sailor! Robb Todd! Emily I Don’t Know Your Last Name! Julia Fierro and Justin Feinstein!
Sunday morning, pain, in significant amounts. I was not the best conversationalist. A drive to the airport. A painful good bye to my very best friend with whom I get to share face space far too rarely. It was the beginning of a day where every single destination was as humanly far as possible from where I began the journey. When I arrived in Atlanta, I had 20 minutes to make my connection. I was at the ass end of Terminal C. I needed to go to the ass end of Terminal E. I’ll tell you what, and I though this several times throughout AWP—my personal trainer is worth every penny. I’m finally starting to see results both in terms of size and stamina and bless her evil “making me exercise” heart because I did not die.
My calves were THROBBING by the time I landed in Birmingham, Alabama, because I will be spending the week in Tuscaloosa, being a writer and whatnot.
This was my fifth and by far best AWP, in terms of personal enjoyment. My first one was a miserable and I sure wrote about how miserable it was. The thing is, many of my concerns about that first AWP still linger. AWP has some diversity issues it really needs to face. We’ll get into that later because right now I’m just enjoying what was a really wonderful time with friends and acquaintances and readers who are so supportive and I am grateful for it. I am grateful for all of it. I always will be.