The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) has been “fostering literary talent and achievement” since 1967, but this is the first year they’ve done so in the West.
What happens at AWP? Keynotes. Dozens of featured readings. Dozens of panels. And at least half a dozen off-site parties every night. It’s a virtual who's who of the literary world, with special emphasis on MFA students, programs, and instructors. If you’re a serious writer, this is the place to be. I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, because I know there are a lot of serious writers in the West who have perhaps never heard of AWP.
the conference (besides the famous Blue Bear sculpture outside Denver's Convention Center peering in at all of us)….
Lots of friends from the West’s writing community were there. Teresa Jordan. Laura Pritchett. LeAnne Howe. Kent Myers. Laurie Wagner Buyer. Julene Bair. Lisa Jones. David Romtvedt. Chris Ransick. Maria Martinez. Deirdre McNamer, Lee Ann Roripaugh. So many more! And Denver’s own Lighthouse Writers was a prominent sponsor.
Lynn Stegner and Russell Rowland after months of email communications. Kittredge's comments on Western mythology reminded me that I need to re-read his classic memoir, Hole in the Sky, and read for the first time The Best Short Stories of William Kittredge (Greywolf Press).
Robert Wilder and Pam Houston (with Summer Wood and Uma Krishnaswami) had the audience laughing out loud during the panel, “Writing the West: The Transplanted Writer as Literary Outsider.” Pam and I have presented together a couple of times and it was good to be again in the presence of her wit. Rob (author of Daddy Needs a Drink) is a writer with that rare gift of both humor and wisdom. Here are a few of their more serious comments (not verbatim):
“I love the West exactly the way someone from New Jersey loves the West,” said Pam. “What happened to me in the western landscape? The Colorado Plateau was big enough that it made me feel like IT knew more than I did. My first job was JUST TO TRY TO GET IT DOWN.”
Ron Carlson (who spoke at the "Tribute to William Kittredge" event along with Terry Tempest Williams and Rick Bass) gives similar advice in his book Ron Carlson Writes a Story. "Solve your problems through the physical world," he advises writers. Terry gave me similar advice over fifteen years ago at a workshop in Wyoming. She challenged all of us to know the names of at least 10 plants, 10 trees, and 10 creatures that share our landscape.
During the "Writing the West" panel, Summer Wood (winner of the $50,000 AROHO Gift of Freedom Award) gave this advice: "Understand how STORY SITS IN LANDSCAPE."
In my essay, "A Shape-Shifting Land" (included in the forthcoming anthology In the Manner of the Country), I write: "Writing personal stories about the landscapes we love is a radical act. A protective act. A celebratory act. Even an act of desperation. It is also an intimate and sensual act. Sometimes I crave the western earth like food, or breath, or sex, or water."
What do you crave in your writing? How do your stories sit in landscape?
More AWP inspiration to follow, so stay-tuned.