I fought through the long lines for coffee in the Hilton lobby and headed up to a 9:00 am panel: “Writing on Working, Working on Writing,” with Larry Heinemann, Chuck Taylor, Tom Nawrocki and Lowell Mick White. The topic was interesting to me, but the main reason I went was to hear Heinemann, the National Book Award Winner for Paco’s Story. And I did enjoy his anecdotes about how the soldier became a writer. Heinemann introduced the other panelists by reading a list of all the jobs they’d ever had (most were paperboys as kids), which was a cool exercise and since the discussion that followed wasn’t always exciting I made a list for myself. This panel might not have been the right choice for first thing in the morning, though.
At 10:00 I was torn. I wanted to hear Kevin Wilson read as part of the “Greensboro Review at Forty” panel, but instead I went to “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Structure in Narrative” with Lan Samantha Chang, Michael Martone, Robert Boswell (subbing for Peter Turchi) and C.J. Hribal. Overall this was a pretty good panel and interesting to me, since structure is always an issue for me. Boswell started, talking about "Sonny’s Blues" and "In the Gloaming," and did a pretty close analysis of structure in both cases. Sam Chang looked at Tim O’Brien’s "The Things They Carried," including a diagram and timeline of the action in the story, suggesting it’s even more brilliant than we know from casual reading. Hribal talked about “lateral moves” while looking at a Joyce Carol Oates story. And Martone delivered a killer essay on Gass’s "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country," and along the way talked generally about the notion of collage in fiction. If there’s anyone well-suited to talking about collage it would be Martone.
That seemed like a good time to take a break, so I sat at the Shenandoah table for a while. We were already out of journals to give away or sell, but I did sell a bunch of subscriptions, which was fun. Then I made a last pass through the bookfair, collected some more stuff and went to one last panel: “Designing to Entertain: Exploring the Novelists’ Desire to find Readers Among those Who’d Otherwise Rent a DVD” (I think that “designing” listed in the program was supposed to be “deigning” but never mind. The panel was Justin Cronin, Tom Barbash, Dan Chaon, Jennifer Vanderbes and Hannah Tinti. It was a good panel. Cronin’s comments were well-organized, but I preferred Chaon’s approach. Cronin is going after the audience he knows buys and reads books; Chaon doesn’t want to think about his audience, other than maybe one person who gets him.
Then I dumped my collected books and journals back in the room and hung out in the lobby, finally hooking up with buddies from Sewanee for a beer and then dinner in a decent little Mexican restaurant before heading over to the Sewanee Writers Conference party. The Sewanee people (Wyatt Prunty, Cheri Peters, Kevin Wilson) were all there and warmly welcomed a very healthy swarm of alums. Great party, fun people, and it was wonderful to reconnect with folks. But I’d also planned to attend the Queens party over at Max Lager’s, so I hurried there and hung out for a bit before making one last pass through the partiers in the Hilton lobby.
I had no idea that AWP could be so much fun. The conference is in NYC next year and I’m pretty sure I’ll go. See you there.