Last weekend, I attended the 2014 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (aka AWP14) at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. The AWP website boasts that with over 12,000 attendees and 650 exhibits it is “now the largest literary conference in North America” — and it certainly was the largest I’ve been to in my life, with a shopping-mall sized number of tables (featuring colleges, writing programs, presses and publishers) at the bookfair and plenty of superhuman writers as guests (Sherman Alexie and Ursula LeGuin gave readings, for example).
Seton Hill University had a table for our MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction, and at any given time you could probably find me hanging out there with fellow teachers and alums like Heidi Ruby Miller, Jason Jack Miller, Nicole Peeler, Lana Ayers, Danielle Hinesly, Christopher Paul Carey or Tasha Kreger. I also spent a great deal of time hanging out with my old friend, the poet Bryan Dietrich, just a few tables down from us, and swinging a row over to chat it up with the crew at Minor Arcana Press, who not only were there to promote a new book (Drawn to Marvel) that I’m a part of, but who gave awesome tarot card readings to passers-by. (I drew the 8 of Cups, aka, The Elopement of Knowledge, from the Celtic Wisdom Deck, which Anne Bean interpreted as signifying that I was at a point in my life where I had more knowledge to share than I realized, and would only realize it by sharing it freely).
When I wasn’t at the table, I was surfing the bookfair, and seeking out old friends and making some new ones. It was great to chat with Todd Davis, Gerry LaFemmina, Bill Ransom, Sam Weller and too many others to count. At one point, I bumped into the bizarros at Eraserhead Press, where I finally met Cameron Pierce, and then grabbed publisher Rose O’Keefe so we could go on the hunt for my former mentor (and Raw Dog Screaming Press colleague) Lance Olsen…he was there, but I never managed to find him. After that, I haunted many a publisher in seeking out a non-fiction book on a particular topic, and could not find one, so I basically pitched the idea for the book at various presses and may end up writing it myself someday (which is why I’m speaking opaquely about the subject matter). While there were many college presses and stuffy journals at the AWP (nothing wrong with those — seriously), there were a few literary rebels that really spoke to me, like Eraserhead, Minor Arcana Press, Fiction Collective 2, and University of Hell. But one awesome press I discovered that was new to me was Black Ocean, who publishes an array of very dark material (mostly poetry or prose poetry) by international authors, in fabulously designed formats, and as I sampled from their books I was BLOWN AWAY by the literary horror writing I found. I was so surprised by my own ignorance about this press that I felt I must know them better, so I surreptitiously bought every single title they had on display like a crazy person. That resulted in a funny photo which leads the gallery below. I enjoyed meeting Janaka Stucky from the press, and I guess I’m now a Black Oceanographer proper.
One high point of the conference happened the first night I arrive, which I attended bleary-eyed and exhausted from all the travel (I’d left at 3am to get to Seattle!): the “Superheroes of Poetry” reading, where very good poets all read their speculative genre work at the Jack Straw Center (a really special place that has a special audio training program for poets!). It was fantastic getting to meet and see in action Bryan Dietrich, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sally Rosen Kindred, Jason McCall, Lesley Wheeler, host Lana Ayers, and Evan J. Peterson (who gets a special shout-out for rocking some horror poetry from his book, The Midnight Channel, an homage to the ‘final girls’ from splatter films). You can witness a video recording of the whole event on youtube.
On the final evening of the conference, Minor Arcana Press hosted a reading/signing for the anthology, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (which also includes Dietrich, SHU’s Albert Wendland and some high profile folks like Sherman Alexie and Lucille Clifton, just to name a few). This was an “offsite reading” at a local gamers’ parlor called “Ray Gun Lounge” where about 12 contributors — too many to list — read their poetry. This was one of the highlights for me, not only because of the camaraderie but because of the fun location (I got to stand near a larger-than-life Dalek). It was recorded on video, so I expect you can see it on YouTube soon.
I brought new “Instigation” postcards to the AWP and handed them out to many writers. These include prompts on the back that could be mailed back to me to post on the Mastication Publications site. A few have already come in, so be sure to visit the “Greetings from Hell” routinely to see what people send in!
I could go on and on, but maybe it’s time to let some photos speak for themselves…