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What Writers Do When They Get Together

by Katie Leo 

Tags: Great Writing, Literary News, AWP Conference 2009,

The annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) blew through Chicago this past weekend.  It’s impossible to sum up this four-day gathering, which includes hundreds of panels, readings, and parties, not to mention the sprawling bookfair of publishers, literary journals, and writing programs.  By conference end, you can spot an attendee by the dark circles under her eyes, which speak of too little sleep, too much caffeine, an overly stimulated intellect, and if she’s lucky, an event or two that blew her mind. 

Some highlights:

1) A literary rock & roll concert that re-imagined what a reading could be, sponsored by Columbia College Chicago and featuring authors ZZ Packer, Dorothy Allison, and Joe Meno, as well as the “circus punk” marching band, Mucca Puzza.  

2) A moving tribute to poet Jane Cooper by friends and colleagues, featuring Kazim Ali, Marie Howe, and Tony Hoagland.  Cooper was the State Poet of New York in 1995 and taught at Sarah Lawrence College, where she inspired future poets for decades.  The panelists converted me to this under-appreciated writer whose work is defined by a fierce attention and lyric grace.

3) A reading from the new anthology American Hybrid, which erases delineations between traditional lyric and experimental poetry.  What emerge are exciting new hybrids that invite readers in while attending to the possibilities of language.  Poets Rae Armantrout, Mary Jo Bang, and Ralph Angel were among those who lit up the crowd and helped American Hybrid sell out at the bookfair on the first day. 

But one person can only witness so much.  Thus, here's what other attendees thought of AWP: