The Blur of AWP DC
1. Brandon Tietz. 2. Nik Korpon. 2. Michael Sonbert.
The annual AWP Conference is a celebration of writers as rockstars. It’s a place to see and be seen, put faces to names best known from online, connect in the flesh with authors, editors, publishers, former classmates and teachers. It’s a place to network for jobs, tune in to publishing trends, fondle freshly minted books from favorite indie presses. It’s a place to be dazzled by cover designs, load up on litmags, horde paraphernalia (Kore pencils, Hobart flasks, Flatmancrooked condoms). It’s a place to read in front of rapt audiences, make new friends and fans, smoke, drink and dance until well past midnight, dream big, get laid. AWP is a blur.
This year in Washington, DC, rather than racing around from one panel to the next, studiously taking notes in hopes of edification, or pretending to be engaged at sober readings in lecture halls at the conference proper at the Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham hotels, I opted for an off-site-only plan — readings and performances at bars and nightclubs — starting with LIVE NUDE WORDS, a show I helped set up with fellow literary deviants who tend to lean into the darkness with their prose: Brandon Tietz, Nik Korpon, Michael Sonbert, Caleb J. Ross and Jillian Weise.
1. Caleb J Ross. 2. Jillian Weise. 3. Yours truly preaching.
In classic punk-rock tradition, we found the doors to our dingy venue, the Velvet Lounge, locked when we arrived at the agreed-upon start time. The club wouldn’t open for another ninety minutes. We were kicked to the curb until then, which drove away a portion of our audience, “intimate” by any definition, including Tietz’s agent, Sonbert’s girlfriend, Weise’s parents and my best friend since eighth grade. It was a dirty, filthy, incestuous love fest. In a word: beautiful.
Tietz told an unusual tale from the forthcoming follow-up to his first novel, Out of Touch, about a bossy cold sore named Carl. Korpon gave us a haunting excerpt — a kind of come-on by a suicide girl — from his debut novel Stay God. Sonbert went off on a shock-and-awe scene from his soon-to-be-published second novel, We Are Oblivion, starring an amnesiac former boxer and his pregnant junkie hooker girlfriend. Ross read dark and light variations of a story from his upcoming book, Stranger Will, which included the memorable image of horses and humans as the same species — doing what horses and humans will do. Weise did a poem on intimacy in e-culture (her final take: “ultimately, just a screen”) and also read from the opening pages of her debut novel, The Colony. I performed “You Have to Get Naked to Be Clothed in the Lord, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Reverend’s Wife,” a mashup of sermons, sex scenes and songs from my forthcoming first novel “badbadbad.” It went something like this.
1. HTMLGIANT’s Blake Butler. 2. Patrick Somerville.
The next night I tried to catch three major off-site events — Vermin on the Mount, Table-X Reading and Literature Party — but I only made it to the latter two. Logistics, serendipitous meetups with friends and intoxicant consumption all contribute to where one ends up on any given night at AWP. There’s no escaping the blur.
Co-sponsored by more than a dozen independent presses — including Ugly Duckling, Barrelhouse, Greying Ghost, Les Figues and Counterpath — and featuring maybe 60 writers, the Table-X event at Steve’s Bar Room was packed to capacity. No ventilation. No microphone. And the evening’s first readers were unrehearsed and clueless about respecting the time limits of their sets. An inauspicious start.
But then came the poetry, prose and performativity power (apologies for the overalliteration) of next-generation world-class artists like Adam Robinson, Mike Young, Heather Christle, Ben Mirov, Sasha Fletcher and Lily Hoang. Not only do these writers know how to move words and images around the page, but they also understand the value of performance. They know how to read out loud, match their voices to the tone of the pieces, carry themselves with confidence (even when they’re nervous) and interact with the audience in a way that conveys camaraderie. Their work was gourmet brain food — a table full of literary tapas — small portions, exquisitely prepared, tasty and satisfying.
After Hoang’s slam-bam reading from “Unfinished,” I hustled into a posse making its way to the Literature Party: a benefit for 826 DC, co-sponsored by a number of top lit-arts organizations — including Bomb Magazine, Richard Nash’s Cursor/Red Lemonade, Featherproof, HTMLGIANT, SPD and Publishing Genius — at the city’s premier night club, the Black Cat. The event was short (though by no means light) on the lit and heavy on the party. First, the lit from a trio of writers you may recognize: Patrick Somerville, Tao Lin and Amelia Gray.
1. Tao Lin. 2. Amelia Gray.
Somerville read a strange piece from “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” about a guy, his girlfriend and her father, and her desire for the guy to murder the father, who discusses this openly with the guy. Lin presented a graphic list of blowjob techniques by ten different fruits (pineapple, coconut, currant, durian, lime, etc.). Suffice to say, you may want to think twice about letting sweet, tart, juicy things that fall from trees into your pants. Gray did her heavy-breathing, psychotic girlfriend thing from “Threats,” a book she’s currently developing for her new publisher FSG. A choice line: “I think it would be fun if we nailed you to the floor.” Of course, after terrorizing her man with such intimations of bodily harm, she suggests, “Let’s make a baby.” Is it any wonder why everyone loves Amelia Gray?
1. Margaret Gebauer & Michael Kimball. 2. HTMLGIANT tech guru Gene Morgan & Melissa Broder, Mike Young & Mike Kitchell.
Then came the dance party. The obvious question: can writers dance? Answer: yes and no. Yes when they’re liquored up enough to get out of their heads and into their bodies. Yes when they’ve memorized the moves beforehand from YouTube. Yes when their groove is a mating call, accompanied by vaunting hipsterish intellectualism: “Duh, Blake Butler is our generation’s William Burroughs. Now back that ass up over here, girl, and shake it.” No when they’re thinking they should be writing instead.
1. Lit Hotties Up Against a Wall. 2. Lit Dancers I!
The next afternoon we hit the book fair, drooling over countless literary achievements and purchasing one very special, very tiny yet hardcore collection from xTx: “Normally Special,” the debut release on the Tiny Hardcore imprint, a new press founded by one-woman production juggernaut Roxane Gay. Then it was time for the final nighttime jam: a five-publisher — Agnes Fox Press, Magic Helicopter Press, Parthenon West Review, Sink Review, Small Desk Press — MEGAREADING at the Black Squirrel.
1. Lit dancers II! 2. To See & To Be Seen — Nicole Monaghan & Heather Fowler.
It’s hard to say what made this event the perfect ending to the AWP blur. A wall-to-wall turnout for a poetry reading? Fearless writing and performances by Dan Bailey, Jason Bredle and Matt Hart? Hearing the cadences of the Beats and the Last Poets in the work of writers born after Kerouac died? Laughing at sacred nods to Satan, Miranda July and Strom Thurmond? Chatting up supersexy, supersmart grad students at the bar?
I guess it’s all of the above and then some. Now it’s time for sleep. See you next year.
–Jesús Ángel García is the author of badbadbad, a transmedia novel coming in late May on New Pulp Press. He plans to tour the country all summer. If you’ve got an extra pallet on the floor, please get in touch.
1.To Be Seen — Monica Storss. 2. To Be Seen & To See — Tim Jones-Yelvington & Goodloe Byron. 3. Matt Hart.
1. Literary Power Couple — Hobart’s Aaron Burch & Elizabeth Ellen. 2. Ben Loory — Lily Hoang — Molly Gaudry — John Minichillo.
1. Mega Reading Audience. 2. Anders Monson — Jason Bredle.
1. Ram. 2. Wolf.