A Barely There Summary of AWP Day 3

To anyone who hasn’t attended this conference before: if you decide to stop reading now so I don’t exhaust you with the summary of my last day—I’m exhausted enough, no use passing it on to anybody else—just know this conference is most definitely worth it. Not only am I glad I went, I would do it again. As in next year. Seriously: I liked it so much, I’m already thinking ahead to how I can go again.

My third and last day at the conference tired me out, though, to the point where I couldn’t even stay for a reading I’d planned to see, and when I got home I was even too tired to write this post.

My first panel of the day, called “Mystery at the Heart of Story” had me taking down feverish notes about invented rituals in stories, how the visible thing in a story can reveal the invisible thing (the mystery), how stories can come at their essential mysteries sideways, and stories as prose puzzles. At some point in there I got an idea for how to work through one of my especially stubborn stories and was sneaking notes on that in my own margins. This was a very, very good panel, and, as I remember, most of the panelists taught in the Warren Wilson MFA program. I get the sense that the students who go there are in a good spot.

All I will say about the next panel I went to is… not much. I don’t want to be mean. The Panel That Shall Not Be Named was so very bad that if I had been a prospective student for the program that had sponsored it and heard this from its instructors and students, I would have run away screaming. I’ll stop talking about it now.

Other panels were “Saying Goodbye to Sweet Valley High: The New Young Adult Literature”—and Margo Rabb’s presentation about how she thought she was writing a literary novel that happened to be told from a teenager’s perspective but that sold as YA was especially fascinating for me. (When she had originally told a fellow writer how it had sold, the response was “what a shame.”) And the panel “Memoir and Memory,” which, though I’m not a memoirist, gave me ideas. All you can ask from all of this is ideas.

I had planned to hear a reading at 4:30, but I was flat-out exhausted. We made one last pass through the bookfair, where we saw an old college acquaintance and had some awkward moments saying-and-not-saying what we’ve since done with our lives, picked up some books, and then we were on the subway home.

I think the conference would have been better had I had a hotel room so I could nap, or drop off heavy books, or just take a moment from the swirling crowds. Ideally the hotel room would be in the conference hotel itself, if that’s not too expensive.

Next year’s conference is in February 2009, in Chicago. I’d like to go. (Plus, I have an incredible friend there… maybe she’ll be around and maybe, just maybe, want to go with me?)

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8 responses to “A Barely There Summary of AWP Day 3”

  1. I’ve loved reading these entries. Glad it was worth it and you had a good time!!

    Margo Rabb’s presentation about how she thought she was writing a literary novel that happened to be told from a teenager’s perspective but that sold as YA was especially fascinating for me. (When she had originally told a fellow writer how it had sold, the response was “what a shame.”)

    I have to admit, I kept anticipating the following line in your entry to be, “And then Margo Rabb said she punched that fellow writer in the face.”
    And part of me can’t understand why it wasn’t.

    (Or I could just be a tad reactionary.


  2. Courtney, Margo Rabb actually seemed a little sad about the whole thing, and conflicted. For instance, she had a scholarship to a prestigious writing conference for literary writers (Bread Loaf) from stories that became the YA novel that was later published, but afterward she couldn’t technically apply there with the same writing because Bread Loaf has in their guidelines that they won’t consider writing for young readers. A YA book published doesn’t “count” as a book published in the literary world, if she was going up for certain awards or teaching jobs. She said all this but then closed her presentation with a letter a 15-year-old girl who had read her book had sent to her. The letter was really moving and I found myself getting teary. She has since embraced being a YA writer — it was a really great story and presentation.

    That said, she didn’t mention punching that writer in the face! 😉


  3. Heh–it’s probably just as well. Violence doesn’t solve anything, I hear. I kept thinking about this all night last night, though! Today I woke up and saw this:


    Oy. :/

    But thanks for sharing the rest of the lecture, it sounds like it was amazing–but talk about getting the short end of the stick in the lit community!!–but I LOVE knowing that she closed off her presentation with a letter from a young reader. That’s so fantastic.


  4. Hey, I was at the Margo Rabb panel, too. I had a different take on it, though. It was my first time in New York.

    I think literary YA is on the rise, and has been for some time.

    I discovered your blog from the Verla Kay boards. I look forward to reading your book this year. Best of luck as you work on the YA.


  5. Hi, Chris, a whole year later after I wrote that post…

    I agree. I just wish places like the Bread Loaf conference would not still say in their guidelines “Please do not send children’s or young adult literature” — sigh.

    Literary YA is what I’m writing now, and I’ve been reading some incredible books. I wonder if the AWP conference will have any panels about this in Feb. I can’t go this year though. 😦 I hope someone reports!


  6. But, of course we as children and YA writers have SCBWI conferences, both regional and national. And have a great and supportive community.

    I got turned away from a few MFA programs, since my writing sample, a YA short story, was consider a genre piece and not literary, I even argued with one director that YA is still literature and that in fact they had graduated some well known and admired YA writers.

    Have you ever thought of doing your own panel at AWP? An insider’s guide to literary YA. It might help make MFA programs and writing conferences start taking YA seriously when the YA canon simply rocks.

    Sorry to babble so much, especially a year after you posted, when I discover a blog, I read as far back as I can, and when I read that you had attended the same conference I was at, I just wanted to comment.


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