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Monday, March 11, 2013

AWP in Boston

At Logan Airport waiting for our flight back to LA after a very stimulating AWP that was one part informational, one part nostalgic, and at times just plain eerie. I used to live in Boston in the latter half of the 1980s and Copley Square, Boylston Street, the whole Back Bay Area was my old neighborhood. Back then I walked almost daily, long walks down Newbury or Marlborough Streets, between my apartment on The Fenway and the Public Garden, with side trips to Beacon Hill or the Public Library, where I was doing research on the witch trials for the book that would become Calligraphy of the Witch.

I kept feeling the magnetic pull of the Boston Common, and the yearning to be outside meandering through the streets. I wanted to show my darling Alma the gazebo in the Common where I stood when I wrote the poem, "Listening to My Bones" the time five pigeons landed on my arm and a squirrel for some reason scurried up my back and stood on my head for a few seconds. I wanted her to see  the Old South Church, the grand entrance of the Library, my T Stop off the Green Line, my favorite bookstore (the Trident,  of course, which I'm happy to say us still in business) but my plans were foiled by the snowstorm. A huge snowstorm fell over the Eastern seaboard on the first day of the conference, and we awoke to one of those silver-white days where the snow flurries from daybreak to dusk and the only light comes from the mounting snowbanks on the ground. No walking that day, so we stayed put inside the Hynes Convention center and attended all the sessions we could, though it was crazy how many sessions had been scheduled at the same time and really how little we could take in. Still we learned about picture books and illustrated novels and heard some excellent short fiction and poetry. It was heartening to see how many literary journals are still in business and
still publishing poetry. How many new poetry books there were, how many poets still plying their trade, how many new formats there are to publish poetry and short fiction.  We were especially impressed with the new journal called Hoot, which bills itself a mini-review of work that is no longer than 150 words, published on postcards. We loved that format and saw immediately how we could adapt it for our Codex Nepantla project.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of the conference was Jeanette Winterson's keynote presentation and reading from her memoir on Friday afternoon to a packed auditorium. It seemed like all 11,000 of the AWP attendees were at her reading, which was so much more than a reading, but also a philosophical contemplation of the writer's life, her family foibles, her experience as an adopted child, and at one point she apologized for having transformed the reading into a revival meeting. She was so funny, and her memoir so very good, authentic and honest. Unfortunately, the line of folks wanting to buy her book wrapped around the balustrade and they ran out just as I was getting there. I wasn't able to bring home her signature in a book but Jeanette did get to take home the beautiful watercolor drawing Alma was making of her while she spoke, with Winterson's hilarious phrase, "... Contemplating the horrors of heterosexuality..." on it.

But the streets' beckoning would not relent, and luckily Saturday turned out to be a clear day, the sky a pristine blue and the snow dazzling white in the sunlight. Off to the Common we went, setting off on Boylston Street and making stops along the way for Alma to film me with her bloggie for a short video she wants to put together for me to help give Calligraphy of the Witch more exposure. She loved the old buildings, the friendliness of the Boston folks, the food (mostly pub food) we ate. She really loved that the writers at the conference seemed very down to earth, and that they seemed genuinely excited about sharing their work and their ideas. At one point she said that hanging out with writers was like being around artists, only with words.


1 comment:

Gaspar said...

I forgot to mention that the Chicana Decolonial Imagination: Chicana Historical Novels panel I organized was scheduled for the last time slot on Thursday, and we competed with an interview with Alice Hoffman. Obviously, people went to see Alice, not Alicia Gaspar de Alba or Graciela Limon (Emma Perez was also on that panel, but got sick at the last minute and had to bow out of the conference). Still, I think we did a fine job, and our small audience of 12-15 souls was very attentive. We would have had more discussion, except Graciela and I took most of the hour and fifteen minutes of the panel. We did sell a few books, though. Thanks to Gabi Baeza of Arte Publico Press for moderating and asking some great questions, and for carrying around all those books for us.