The AWP conference was in Chicago again this year, after the city hosted it in 09, and it was a great chance to check out some awesome panels and hang out with other writers. I teach close to the hotel where the conference was held, and am there often, but I’ve *never* seen it so busy. Writers, writers, writers, everywhere! It was impossible to get an elevator, until I figured out a trick: When you’re in the lobby trying to go up, just take an elevator car going down. You only have to wait one floor, and then you get to your destination!
My Friday began by visiting a panel hosted by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. It was about work-in-progress/process, but also about procrastination/inspiration. Ken Chen led this one, and he said some really wonderful things about trying not to intellectualize too much and just letting the scenes work themselves out. Nami Mun also had some really great insights, and the audience was treated to some cool pictures of her writing space. Who doesn’t love looking at writers’ s desks? Hers is surprisingly uncluttered, and looks out to a view of some trees. Don Lee, who has a book coming out with Norton, also shared a picture of his writing space, which was quite beautiful. The reaction from the audience after the panel? One person asked, “How are you guys so awesome?”
Later that night, I attended a dinner in honor of the formidable writers Esmeralda Santiago and Jesmyn Ward, who just won the National Book Award. They’re both super generous and wonderful writers. We went to Henri, which is a restaurant right across from Millennium Park. We could actually see from our seats one of the art pieces in the park. Also at dinner were my colleagues Jeanne Petrolle, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, and Aviya Kushner, as well as Dinty Moore, Bonnie Culver, Amber Withycombe, and her husband Josh. Frank Cantor (who is Esmeralda’s husband) unfortunately got a cab driver who took him to the wrong place, but he made it! Towards the end of dinner, we caught a sneak peek at local celebrity Christy Hefner, who was waiting for her table. Yes, from that Hefner family.
Jesmyn, by the way, is the completely opposite of how I imagined a National Book Award-winner to be: she’s utterly humble, kind, and generous. The moment I win the National Book Award (after all my payola goes through; I *am* from Chicago, after all), I’m going to be a complete and utter diva, and surround myself with an entourage of ten. But Jesmyn was just wonderful, and I was floored to hear about her experiences with Hurricane Katrina.
Jesmyn and Esmeralda were absolutely amazing readers/speakers. They are not just readers but *performers*, and kept the audience entranced. If you ever have a chance to hear them read, do! During the conversation part, which I was lucky to moderate, they shared so many incredible stories of courage, and fortitude, and I think they reminded everyone how much blood sweat and tears goes into a book. Afterwards, some folks came up to me to say some nice things about my moderating, and I was glad, because everyone knows the moderator is the most important person! Right? I mean, I will completely take credit for any and all interesting things said at the event. But seriously, that’s the spirit of collegiality at AWP: it’s a lovefest.
Finally, the day ended by going to Alexander Chee’s fantabulous get-together at the 720 South Bar & Grill, in the lobby of the Hilton, where the conference took place. There, I got to meet in person the uber-awesome, awesome-beyond-words Eugenia Kim. I’ve already blogged about her before: I ADORE THIS WOMAN. She wrote The Calligrapher’s Daughter, and, hopefully this is not top secret, is working on a sequel. (If it is top secret, please pretend you didn’t see this, and Eugenia, I will take this post down. Well, maybe not the whole post, just that one sentence.) Eugenia introduced me to Krys Lee, who has a new book out, DRIFTING HOUSE (I’m not sure why I just put that in caps, I just felt like it). I’d met Krys before on twitter, and it was great to meet her in person. The photo above it is of the three of us–and yes, I’m aware that I closed my eyes. There was one with my eyes open, but in that one, the camera caught Eugenia at an odd angle, and since I am such a gentleman, I sacrificed my own adorable-ness (which is usually the most important thing) and am posting this photo instead.
So that’s my report from AWP 2012!