Look, I’m not a conference guy. I’m a walk in the woods guy, an afternoon tea guy, a thicken-the-stew-with-flour, homebody-underwater-Emily-Dickinson-multipledraft-Boston-Fern-natural-light-kids-on-the-lap guy. For me, a gathering of more than three people is a mob. But even I thought the AWP was great this year, and I’m hearing the same from others who say they too are not conference people.
Sure, it’s costly in time and money. It’s disruptive to classes. It shamefully wastes enough water just in washing the hotel linen for 8,000 writers that we should have to replace it in the aquifer a cupful at a time. Worst of all, for four days we must endure each other’s probing glances in the hallways, from faces to conference badges, hoping for A Name—and the looks of disappointment that follow.
On the other hand, the 18th Street Deli did a brisk business, and I got to see many old and new friends in person, which inarguably does something that e-mail can’t. Panels can thrive by this too, becoming in the mix of bodies breathing the same air more than the transcript of the session, which after all could be posted online and allow everyone to stay in Missoula and Dayton.
I had the honor and pleasure Saturday morning to serve on a panel titled “Writing the Dispatch: Inspiration on the Installment Plan.” We were all McSweeney’s Internet Tendency types—Philip Graham, Holly Jones, Roy Kesey, Rob Jacklosky, editor John Warner, and myself—and we talked a little about form and how we came to write what we did. The crowd was enormous for an early start on the last day of the conference, by which I mean tiny but enthusiastic, and we were grateful. Of my fellow panelists I can say that there were two I’d never had the pleasure of meeting in person, one who was a former boss, one I’d mentored, and one I’d slept with in a sense. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who was whom.
As a way of rounding out the AWP coverage, I’m delighted to bring you a recording of Philip Graham reading one of his dispatches. Philip is the author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and he is the co-author of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and the forthcoming Braided Worlds. An expanded version of his McSweeney's dispatches will be published by the University of Chicago Press in October, 2009, as The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon, and it's the title essay he's reading here.
Philip's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere, and his non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and the William Peden Prize, Philip teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a founding editor and the current fiction editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter.
Click here for a podcast of his reading -- enjoy!