AWP Reading

With AWP only a few days away, my social media feeds have been blowing up with invites and notices about panels and readings that my friends are doing, so I figured that I would share info about the on-site reading that I’m doing.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Wilkes University’s M.A./M.F.A. program in creative writing, there will be a reading featuring two faculty members, Bob Mooney and Neil Shepard, my thesis mentor,  and two students, Marlon James, author of A History of Seven Killings, and I. The reading will be held on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in L100 D & E of the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the conference is being held.

For a full description of the reading, including our bios, click here. 

If you’re going to AWP, safe travels!

AWP Seeks Proposals on the Adjunct Plight

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference  (AWP) is seeking panel proposals on the topics of interest to adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty, including adjunct unionization. Here’s a link with more information on what they’re looking for and the proposal guidelines. I commend AWP for seeking out proposals like this and the organization’s willingness to address this issue. However, it may be difficult to acquire a number of panel proposals from adjuncts because anyone trying to cobble together a paycheck on an adjunct salary will not be able to afford the conference registration, costs of travel, or costs of a hotel. I hope, though, that adjuncts teaching in Minneapolis, with easier access to the conference, will consider sending in a proposal. I also hope that AWP accepts some panel proposals on the issue of cuts to education, which in turn leads to the creation of more adjuncts and less full-time faculty. I’ve been to the AWP Conference three times, in Chicago, Denver, and Boston, and I’ve never seen any panels that address these issues, so kudos to AWP for actively seeking out such proposals now.

Meanwhile, The New York Times just published an article this week about an adjunct professor in NY who took direct action to raise awareness about the low cost of living adjuncts face. Check out the article here.

Post-AWP Rounup

I spent the last few days in Boston for the AWP Conference. This was my third time attending; I previously went to the conference in Chicago in 2009 and Denver the following year. By far, this one was larger, and even the bitter winds and steady snowfall of the first two days didn’t keep people away. I heard estimates that ranged from 11,000-15,000 people registered and over 700 venders at the book fair. I questioned why AWP grows larger each year. Is it because of the proliferation of M.F.A. programs across the country? Is it because of the growth of small presses and journals? I would say it’s both. There’s a creative writing boom going on right now, especially with the continuous creation of low-res M.F.A. programs and undergrad B.F.A. programs. I see this even in northeastern, Pennsylvania. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area is not at all like Boston or other big cities, and yet there are several writing groups here and multiple reading series. The reading series are often well-attended, jammed even. I see this as only a positive thing.

During the three-day event, I saw several of my favorite contemporary poets, including Major Jackson, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Kevin Young, Tony Hoagland, Cornelius Eady, Thomas Sayer Ellis, Richard Blanco,Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, and others. During the Cave Canem event, Major Jackson read a poem about online dating that made me almost fall out of my chair laughing at certain points. It was a poem a lot different from anything found in his three full-length collection of poems, especially for its humor, but also the point it makes about consumerism, online dating, and making yourself a product for another’s consumption.

Hoagland was on a panel with Chris Campion and a few others, and he wrote an essay specifically for AWP about a theory he has regarding capitalism overtaking poetry. The thesis of his article is that the proliferation of M.F.A. programs and this increasing notion of a “professional writer” has created unhealthy competitiveness in the arts and writers more concerned with publishing than really creating good poems and building community. He blames this on market capitalism  and the notion that one must get a tenure-track position to write and have a career. Furthermore, he said this has led to over-intellectualization in poetry, or rather using big words just for the sake of using big words. Hoagland made plenty of good points, and his fellow panelists had a lot of responses, some defending the M.F.A. programs by stating they can indeed build community and they can teach young writers to focus on craft and reading. However, I found myself mostly agreeing with Hoagland. There are SO many M.F.A. programs out there now and SO many M.F.A. graduates vying for very, very few academic jobs.  This has indeed created a cutthroat aspect not at all healthy to community building. Yet, what does one do with an M.F.A.? Most programs stress teaching, but maybe it’s time to have a conversation about career alternatives, such as public relations work, editing, publishing, journalism, or teaching community workshops, as opposed to teaching in a college classroom.

During another panel, I listened to Charles Bernstein defend poetry as a political act when a fellow panelist claimed poetry should not at all be political and instead be about truth and beauty because a political poem makes no difference at all because “nobody reads poetry.” Bernstein said that poetry is inherently political because it often questions what is truth or beauty. He added that even the notion of publishing writing online and through small presses is political because it creates information sharing and makes literature available to more people for free or a low price.

Now that I’m back from the conference, I’m glad to be on spring break. I have a stack of new books to read, poems to revise, and new poems to draft.