My AWP experience was cut a bit short for reasons not the least bit interesting. Still, I was able to spend some quality time in the book room (see pics above) and attend a few good panels on Friday. Saturday, I’m sad to say, didn’t happen for me, but I look forward to reading other blog posts about it and catching up. Brevity is blogging about the conference as well.
Friday morning I attended the Women on Wanderlust: Travel Writing panel. Featured speakers were Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Elisabeth Eaves, Alison Stein Wellnet and Johanna Gohmann. Below are some notes from the session:
- The default assumption about women travelers/writers is that we are running away from something when, the reality is usually the opposite: we are running toward something.
- Traveling is simple in a physical sense – not much stuff to carry around with you, no physical baggage – it is also emotionally simple because you have only one task before you: the day.
- There is a feminine style of travel writing (personal, emotional) and a masculine style (aloof, fact filled) – the best travel writers (according to Eaves) are men who write in a feminine style.
- The idea of travel was so magical (having grown up in a small town) that it bred a curiosity, a desire to seek out the “different” in the day to day. This “difference” can be found anywhere: from central Africa to central Iowa.
- Society expects women to travel in their 20s; now in her 30s, Gohmann says her travel is viewed as a frivolous thing – “It’s time to put away your passport.”
- There are gender-specific topics in travel writing: specifically, traveling and motherhood – to be a mother or not, to give up travel for children, to take children on the adventure, etc.
- There is a problem of meaninglessness – a trip that is easy can seem meaningless: it starts well, it ends well & nothing changed. Stein argues that meaninglessness comes from abundance, not scarcity. Not everything is meaningful – there is no need to write about the way the bags came off the belt at the airport, the color of the taxi that picked you up – remember to EDIT.
- Good travel writing needs a character that changes through conflict.
- Finding your story in the mass of experience is the challenge. You must come to the experience with curiosity.
- Rub two aspects of tension together. Example: Stein likes spicy food. She researched peppers to find erotic language in their history and ended up writing an essay titled “The Heat Seeker” that is simultaneously about eating spicy food from around the world and sex. Basically – find the metaphor.
- Male travel writers get extra credit for putting their emotion into their narratives. For women’s travel writing to be noticed, it almost requires extreme emotion or extreme adventure.
All the panelists recommended a visit to www.worldhum.com
I also attended Flinging the Ink Pot: Resisting Messages About Off-Limits Subjects in Memoir. Featured panelists were: Jill Christman, Kate Hopper, Paul Lisicky, Joe Mackall, Sue William Silverman, Kevin Fenton. Here are the notes:
- Writes as a way to find out what she’s thinking and to process the events of her life.
- Motherhood writing is routinely dismissed and tagged as chick lit, mommy lit, or momoir – it is almost universally not taken seriously.
- There’s an idea that once a few memoirs have been published on a certain subject, that subject is closed, cashed out, done.
- In her experience, editors and agents want a voice that is snarkier, edgier, funnier.
- Her advice: stay authoritative in voice. Don’t compromise.
- Her advice to readers: Look past the situation and search out the real story – the universals – review, blog, and help break down the walls that surround personal memoir.
- Why are certain topics dismissed?
- We dismiss things that make us uncomfortable because it’s easier to do so than deal with it
- Certain narratives are placed outside the broader genre: abuse narratives, for example, are in a subgenre which places it outside the broader genre of nonfiction.
- Victims bring out the worst in some of us – whatever makes bullies into bullies in elementary school still exists in adults.
- Comments on publishers and the publishing industry:
- Laziness combined with cynicism masquerades as business sense.
- Fenton has never seen an industry that knows its audience less than publishers – there is a certain out-of-touchness with publishers and readers.
- Advice to writers:
- Don’t use rhetoric as literature – the vocabulary of 12 step programs is not the language of literature.
- Don’t try to be a champion for the healing process as it is dictated by 12 step programs or other therapeutic systems.
It will take a little while to process all that I heard at this year’s AWP conference. But I can say that I left more cautious than I came. And yet, somehow I also feel encouraged to push forward. There were also the other unplanned and happy accidents that occur at every AWP – running into old friends, discovering new writers, having amazing conversations with complete strangers. I’m already looking forward to next year in Chicago. And I’ve learned a lot about the reporting process in this – my first time – reportage of AWP. Were there things you wanted to hear about but didn’t? Were there pictures you would have liked to have seen? Let me know what you want to know, what you missed, what you’re hoping I write about next year, and I’ll do my best to get it all in.