AWP Chicago

February 16, 2009 | No Comments

AWP in Chicago this year was surprisingly upbeat overall given the economic miasma. (I’d forgotten how much I liked the word ‘miasma’ until my recent re-run-in with Poe).  Nevertheless, after three days of panels and readings and trolling the book-fair, I’m still convinced that AWP is great for catching up with friends and making new ones, but not an effective learning environment. Some of the panels are dynamic and informative but often they are disorganized, repetitive, or self-aggrandizing and bear little resemblance to their supposed topic, which hovers above the room like an un-tethered dirigible that the panelists snatch at without catching or pinning down – or else they ignore its bobbing between the chandeliers entirely and read their own work. Are writers too introverted, too busy, to turn up for a presentation prepared?  We are presumed to be technology-shy (a myth, given the number of laptops and I-phones I saw) but where are the visuals, the PowerPoint, the handouts, the downloads? Given that many of us are teachers, I find this baffling. The most productive panels were those dedicated to a particular aspect of craft, or marketing, or a particular organization and its goals, while those tackling esoteric questions such as “when is the memoir of a bisexual, bi-racial, politically motivated gerbil not a memoir?” unraveled into vague dissembling when the simple answer is ”when it is and it works.” As our dearly departed Johnny Up-Dick might have said – don’t think so much, just do, and the form will take care of itself.