AWP Highlights

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We know that not everyone could make it out to AWP last week, and even if you did join us in Boston, there is no way you could take in everything the conference offered. As we’ve been recovering this week, we’ve also pulled together our highlights from the conference. Here are some of the panels we loved and the writers and journals we discovered.


Guest Editor Major Jackson read from his work at AWP.


Poetry Editor John Skoyles and Guest Editor Major Jackson

John Skoyles and Major Jackson

Sarah Banse, Senior Reader: There were many moments at AWP13 for me, but my favorite was listening to Seamus Haney and Derek Walcott on Thursday night.  The masters were gracious and inspirational. Hearing their Irish and Caribbean lilts was like a warm glass of milk at the end of the day.

Also, an unexpected moment:

I haven’t read The Scarlet Letter since High School but after listening to Megan Marshall and Jennifer Haigh on a panel, I can’t wait to dig into it and use it for an inspiration for my novel.  I never would have seen that coming. 


The Ploughshares booth all decked out.

Wes Rothman, Senior Reader: 1. Post Black? Culture, Craft, and Race in Verse. (Mitchell L H Douglas, Douglas Kearney, Evie Shockley, Khadijah Queen, Randall Horton)

An incredible gathering of poets discussing ideologies, sharing methodologies, reading poems, and confronting the problems of the phrase “Post Black.” These authorities shared in creative, pedagogical, academic, and social terms their experiences writing about and with black culture, sometimes addressing racial issues, and the all too common conflation of the two. In Evie Shockley’s words, “Race and Blackness are not interchangeable terms.” Not only was this a lively, wonderfully engaging conversation, it was also delightfully interactive and entertaining, notably Doug Kearney’s elaborate and useful metaphor for poetic composition based on the popular video game Skyrim.

Ploughshares Blog Editor Andrew and former Intern Jordan

Andrew (Blog Editor) and Jordan (Intern Emeritus) at the Ploughshares booth.

2. Copper Canyon Press 40th Anniversary Reading. (Michael Wiegers, C.D. Wright, Jean Valentine, Bob Hicok, Dean Young)

This reading was held in one of the largest venues onsite and the readers drew a standing room only crowd! To hear each of these giants of the poetry world read published and unpublished work was a treat for so many. To see the community Copper Canyon Press serves, the community that finds a poetic home with the writers under its roof was really a visceral testament to contemporary poetry as well as to the future of such an influential publisher!

3. We Are Homer: A Reading of Collaborative Poetry and Prose. (Ryan Teitman, Traci Brimhall, Laura Eve Engel, Adam Peterson, Brynn Saito, Marcus Wicker)

AWP dancing at our booth for a totebag

An AWP attendee dances to win a totebag.

Not only did these panelists read from their published/unpublished collaborative manuscripts, but they shared rather productive insight into their methods and practices concerning the development of such manuscripts. Collaborative poems, stories, and books have appeared increasingly over the past decade, and it seems with these talented and committed young writers, there is certainly a future for collaborative writing! Current Ploughshares contributor Traci Brimhall read from her recently selected and published collaborative chapbook (with Brynn Saito) Bright Power, Dark Peace, out from Diode Editions.

Poor Claudia Press: Poor Claudia is a poetry chapbook imprint of the popular Octopus Books. They have a beautiful letterpress artifact out right now called Kings: Poems by Mark Strand, Michael Dickman, and Matthew Dickman, which collects a poem written by Mark Strand some years ago with poems “in response” to it by each of the Dickman brothers. Poor Claudia has quite a few other exciting chapbooks and artifacts, and will continue to add texture to poetry through letterpress and chapbook-making.

Sarah and Mimi chatting people up (including Ploughshares blogger Nora Maynard!).

Mimi Cook, Marketing Assistant: One of my favorite panels at AWP was  “Bring Out Your Dead: Writing Ghosts (and Zombies) in Literary Fiction,” organized by Ploughshares blogger Rebecca Makkai. The highlight of the panel was hearing from Lauren Groff, who I’d just discovered through her devastating story “Delicate, Edible Birds.” Groff discussed the connection between zombies and colonialism, stressed the central importance of a character’s longing, and insisted that genre distinctions shouldn’t matter: “Good writing is good writing.” I left inspired to experiment with the supernatural in my own writing, and to search out more of Groff’s work.


Abby and Ellen (super intern) waltzing in the booth. (If we dance, will you, too?)

Abby Travis, Editorial Assistant: Favorite Panel: Essaying the Essay, with David Lazar, Phillip Lopate, David Shields, and Lia Purpura. It’d be impossible to go wrong with a lineup like this. The panelists spoke on the self-reflective essay, and several also read excerpts from their essays that appear in Welcome Table Press’s forthcoming anthology, Essaying the Essay. I’ve heard both Lopate and Shields speak before, so to frame this as a discovery: Lia Purpura is just as extraordinary in person as she is on the page, and post-AWP, she’s still—if not even more so—my favorite writer right now. (Essayists: study her.) Other highlights of the panel: Purpura discussing lyric essays and how it’s a bit silly to call your own essay lyric (isn’t that a compliment best bestowed by someone else?), and Shields calling out an audience member who used the words “story” and “essay” interchangeably.


Nick Flynn even stopped by the booth for a bit… and former intern Jordan Stillman asked him to sign a copy of Ploughshares, which he was kind enough to do.

Outside of the panels, though, I mostly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to such a wide range of people, reunite with former professors, meet editors at other journals, and kick it on Emerson Row with alumni now at Birds LLC, Rose Metal Press, and Gigantic Sequins, and of course, grad student run Redivider. I discovered exactly the poem I needed: Ana Bozicevic’s “About Nietzsche” (from Rise in the Fall, by Birds) and finally got my mitts on The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, ed. Dinty Moore, which I desperately need, 1) because the first essay is by Lia Purpura, and 2) because brevity is as difficult for me as breathing is natural. But also, I can’t ever emphasize enough how much I love speaking with so many people at the Ploughshares booth! What a treat to finally speak face-to-face with so many contributors, readers, submitters, and editors.