*or, That Time I Went to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2016 Conference in Los Angeles**
**This joke was brought to you by JK
If anything, this blog is simply becoming a love letter to Northern Arizona University’s Honors Program, because man it is cool.
This past weekend, as a lucky-as-all-hell honors student, I got to go to Los Angeles for the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference to hang out with writers, publishers, journals, paper, buttons, and conference carpet for a couple days.
Although the trip started a little rough with three hours of denying a coffee-bladdered Lizzy a bathroom break, things instantly entered the realm of unbelievable as we parked ourselves on LA’s freeways for an extended period of stress. Eventually, we got off the freeway and into our hotel, whose elevators alone prompted an immediate ride with my friend, Cassandra, while we waited for our professor to check us in.
The rest of that afternoon, two of my best friends and I got to go to the LA Museum of Modern Art, discovered the park from 500 Days of Summer (which you have to hop a fence to get into. I ripped my skirt), and ate at this super cool food market. After adventuring around LA, we went to the keynote address by Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen (which is incredible and everybody should read it). Rankine’s keynote consisted of a two part discussion about black and white relations in the creative writing world and how writers of color are often dismissed as “too angry,” excluding them from taking part in a discussion of “the human condition” as they are only allowed to write from an othered space. Rankine specifically called out the whiteness of her audience and (appropriately) made full use of the second person. Shockingly, however, a woman sitting in front of me still managed to comment after the incredible, beautiful, and important keynote that she found it “angry and unwelcoming.” Sometimes, it seems, writers asking for their voice to be heard have difficulty lending an ear to those that are not their own.
The next two days mainly just consisted of panels and bookfairing, despite desperately wanting to just wander around LA the entire time (there was, Friday night, an excursion to The Last Bookstore, which was absolutely incredible). I saw panels about Asian-American voice in LA, Muslim women’s poetics, eco-fiction, the intersection between visual art and literature, and teaching poetry to children, and saw readings by Geoff Dyer, Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, Ada Limon, Heather McHugh, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Peter Ho Davies, Roxana Robinson, and Joyce Carol Oates. At the bookfair, I somehow managed to acquire seventeen books and have a man lecture me on my inability to call myself a writer: “you need to write your own story,” he told me.
Last year, I also went to AWP in Minneapolis, with some of the lovliest people I’ve ever known. I went with a lover, even, and got lost “between the orange slices of two sunrises. …in a city [where we could] fall off the pavement and undig the poetry in the air” (NEAT page 8), but there was just something different about this year in LA. I can’t quite put my finger on it, whether it be the editor of the Iowa Review buying drinks for and dancing with one of my friends and I, the city of LA itself, the different company this year, having had some publications going into this conference, the speakers, what, but this weekend really was just one of the best of my life, and I will dearly miss the opportunities like this that membership to a university affords.