Tagged with jeff parker

An introvert at #AWP16—Day 1

Just like Disneyland

Showing Up

I discovered that my hotel’s breakfast was far from adequate, but knowing downtown L.A., I knew that there was a Denny’s between the 7th/Metro subway stop and the convention center so I stopped there for breakfast and a chapter of the novel I’ve been reading before facing the crowds. I expected to be able to walk up to a kiosk to print a registration badge, but of course it was instead a long line to get to the computers with a curvy line setup, just like Disneyland, which I suppose makes this the second-happiest place on earth. 

I had a bit of extra time and I was thirsty from the salty Denny’s breakfast so I bought a diet Coke from the cafe for the low low price of $4.50. Tomorrow, I’ll bring my own beverage.

I sat outside the panel room waiting for them to open the doors, solving the ridiculously easy Poetry Magazine crossword puzzle and listening to the people who know each other greeting each other while I was too timid to speak to any of the strangers who surrounded me. Eventually, they opened the doors and I took a seat.

Flash Fiction International: Readings from the Book

The panel was a bit delayed because one of the panel members, Peter Zaragoza Mayshle, was being held hostage at registration because they couldn’t find his name in the system. Finally, he was released at 9.15 while Robert Shapard was giving his introduction. The authors who read were all part of an anthology edited by Shapard which was so briefly introduced that I didn’t even get a glimpse of the cover, let alone catch the title, but some quick Google work identified it as, not surprisingly, Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World. The central concern of the panel was what was happening with flash fiction from outside the U.S., with writers from Ireland, Mexico, Iran and the Philippines represented. Mónica Lavín’s “Volcanic Fireflies” was especially wonderful and I’d love to find the original bestiario where it was published.

Mónica Lavín, Peter Zaragoza Mayshle, Robert Shapard, Sholeh Wolpé, James Claffey

On the way to the next talk, I got to cross off the “hey, I know you,” square on my AWP bingo card as I bumped into Jeff Parker.

Write Me Right: Ideas and Resources for Writing Diverse Characters

Very different feel with this panel. A lot more reading prepared statements rather than free statements. There’s a palpable difference between reading literature and reading a speech. We opened with Yvonne Mesa giving a sort of state of the union of diversity in literature both in terms of authors and characters. One interesting point is that white ways of knowing are superimposed on diverse characters as a result of many of these characters being written by white writers. Diverse writing can actually reinforce monoculturalism if done poorly, e.g., all Latino characters portrayed as having the same sociopolitical status, diet, etc.

But then we moved to interactivity, and I ended up being one of four volunteers who were challenged to take six pencils to make four equilateral triangles. I felt a bit like a cheater as my math education background brought me to the solution rather quickly, by looking beyond two dimensions.

This was meant as a metaphor to bring us to researching diverse culture: First dimension: culture, second dimension: personal experience (in particular looking at narratives actually written by members of the group) and third dimension: attitude. The second round, from Tamara Gray was less read and more compelling looking at the second dimension a little more closely, pushing writers to go beyond the master narrative of a story, e.g., Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror as an alternative view of American history from the view of the non-Anglo peoples.

We then had Valarie Budayr talking about the character’s attitudes and how that impacts them, looking at how their culture and religion impact their view of the world. What is the view on education in the home life of the character?

Valarie Budayr, Najiyah Maxfield, Tamara Gray, Yvonne Mesa

Visiting the Bookfair

My first stop at the bookfair was Journal of the Month. This is a wonderful project where readers can choose to receive four to twelve journals per year selected from a significant roster of publications. One of the things they did for the bookfair was offer a bingo game. The official rule was that one had to get eight stamps from visiting the various publications. I decided to just fill the whole thing in, which gave me an enjoyable way to cycle through a number of the exhibitors. Two of the journals had lost their stamps already so I got initials from one and had one of the booth people draw me a picture for the other. 

Journal of the Month bingo

I also made it to the Barrelhouse table to get my “Fucking Poets, Man” T-shirt, visited with the good people of The Southampton Review who were responsible for publishing my fiction for the first time. 

I had planned on going to a Claudia Rankine signing today, but apparently it was an error in the program. I did spot this close to where she allegedly was to be:

Awp16

I also saw evidence that I write in the wrong genre:

Awp16

The end of my bookfair visit on the first day left me quite exhausted. A bit too much interacting with people for one day.

First Books: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

My last panel of the day was a bit of jumping the gun as I’m still at the query stage of the novel (and have a significant expectation that it may never land an agent). Even so there were a number of useful tips offered up. I found it particular inspiring to hear Matthew Thomas talk about how when he thought about what success would mean for him and determined that, “Success would give me time to write,” which was, what he was doing at that point and helped feed the energy of the writing process. Chris Scotton talked about his editor seeded the sales staff with galleys and solicited their opinions about the work which in turn led to them being essential supporters of the work. Many of the writers noted how publishing a book led to them being pushed into being essayists in service of the book’s publicity.

Chris Scotton, Matthew Thomas, Tim Johnston

Tim Johnston, Aline Ohanesian,  Arna Bontemps

Social Time

After the last panel and a bit of downtime, I headed over the University of Tampa cocktail hour and had a chance to see a number of old friends from alumni and faculty.

AWP16 Keynote Address by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

This was the big event for me. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric was the best book of 2015 as far as I’m concerned. A work of genius. Not surprisingly, race was a central concern for Rankine in her keynote, talking about how the assumption that white is the default creates a climate of suppression for people of color. Looking back on my reading lists for my MFA, there are some disturbing numbers: Just 2 out of 51 works I read were by people of color and 12 out of 51 were by women. The two female mentors I had did much better on the gender front, but of the two people of color in my reading lists, just one was suggested by a mentor, the other was a writer whose work I had read before and wanted to read more deeply. I fear that my own recommendations to my peers were not much better.

There’s a tendency to view any recognition of race on the part of writers as moving their work into protest or politics or sociology, which is unfortunate as it ignores how much this is central to the experience of everyone, not just people of color. Being able to ignore racism is a luxury and one largely reserved for white folks. There was a lot in the “write me right” panel earlier in the day which helped inform my own reactions to Rankine’s talk.

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Final Residency—Days 5 and 6

Monday was another short day. After lunch we had Mikhail Iossel giving a seminar on close reading, which was a repeat of a seminar from an earlier residency. 

Then we had the final round of readings from the graduates. I really enjoyed the stories from Jared Silvia and Benjamin Tier, although all were good.

The evening reading was Carmen Gimenez Smith reading from her poetry. We’ll have her for a seminar tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday opened with a fiction workshop with Jeff Parker, looking at “Difficult Fiction” we examined stories by Lydia Davis, Etgar Keret and Daniil Kharms, taking them apart to see how they worked and then trying to wriIMG 0549te something emulating the technique. I ended up taking a divergent path from something that Keret wrote in “Fatso” to do something which didn’t really meet the parameters of the exercise, but which I think might be usable somehow.

The afternoon began with the first round of graduating student seminars. In addition to my own seminar, I attended seminars from Christina Boussias on revision andIMG 0552 Kari Fuhrman on multiple plots in the novel. 

This was followed by a seminar from Carmen Gimenez Smith on documentary poetry which has inspired me to consider actually tackling the Chicago Sonnets project I’ve been thinking about for the past few years.

The evening readings were Marcus Wicker reading from his poems and UT MFA alum Nathan Deuel reading from his book, Friday Was the Bomb.

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Residency day 9

And we’re pretty much done with the residency. A morning seminar with Jeff Parker on his place-based narrative project (I sent him my story earlier this week. It’s interesting to write something in the place where the story is located and that will be read in that same place. This was followed by a final workshop and then lunch. My afternoon is completely open (heading to the pool shortly) and this evening will be the closing reception/party.

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Residency day 8

We’re just about done with the residency. We started with the genre workshop with Tibor Fischer and Corinna Vallianatos talking about beginnings of works. We workshopped a new piece that I wrote this week and despite it being relatively rough in my opinion was well-received by everyone else.

I went for a walk after lunch and nearly forgot to go the synthesis. I remembered just minutes before it was meant to begin.

The afternoon was largely empty until I had my contract consultation.

The evening readings consisted of Stefan Kiesbye who read a chapter from Your House is on Fire Your Children All Gone. It was spooky enough on its own, but Stefan added a backing soundtrack for added eeriness. Jessica Anthony read from a novella in progress and Jeff Parker finished off the reading series with a short story which concludes with a character (probably) disappearing into a sinkhole. Damn it, that was a story that I wanted to write.

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Residency day 7

And now it’s really flown by. Only two more days on campus. The opening seminar of the day came from Jessica Anthony who talked about articulation in fiction. She had us look at a collection of twenty first lines and pick first our top five, then our favorite from those. The obvious choice to me was the opening of Mrs Dalloway: “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Another part of the seminar involved writing a continuation of one of the opening lines.

The morning was completed with workshop time, then after lunch we had genre workshop with Jeff Parker, Stefan Kiesbye and Tony D’Souza. We spent time looking at scene. 

Then the afternoon seminar: Parker is proposing an interesting place-based collaborative fiction project. Similar to the Field Notes of The Silent History, but without the app requirement. Instead readers would have to find the story texts hidden in caches around the world. One of the substories revolves around a terrorist plot to blow up the Republican National Convention by sending a manatee stuffed with explosives up the Hillsborough River, a plan that left some potential contributors concerned about the possibility of getting on a Homeland Security watchlist.

Finally we had our evening reading with Tony D’Souza and Terese Svoboda. D’Souza was especially interesting for his willingness to move from behind the podium when he read.

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Residency day 7

We began the day with Josip Novakovich’s talk on negative motivation in fiction. Again, the large size of the group tended to work against it being a proper seminar. I’m also seeing Josip being fond of using exercises as part of his writing instruction. For me the problem is that these sorts of exercises address problems that I don’t have. Beginning a story is an easy thing for me. I have notebooks full of wonderful opening lines, paragraphs, even pages. The trick is being able to bring this to a complete work. I wonder how there could be an in-class exercise in things like conclusions or revisions.

In the afternoon workshop, we had another large group for the genre workshop. I found the analyses we did of openings to be in some ways helpful, although was a bit embarrassed by the fact that I was familiar with 3/4 of the pieces including the relatively obscure Heliodorus piece.

The afternoon seminar was ”Print Matters” where we visited the University of Tampa Book Arts studio. I mostly spent time with the Intertype operator, and had the opportunity to actually do a bit of keyboarding work on the Intertype. The keyboard of that is a fussier object than I had imagined and it takes a light touch to keep from deploying multiple mats with each keystroke.

The evening reading was Jeff Parker and Arthur Flowers. Parker was the sacrificial lamb who had to be part of a reading with Flowers whose reading was as much performance as reading, with no printed manuscript to work from. Instead, he told/preached/sang his stories. One African-American girl in the audience asked where he got what he did from, and I kept thinking, girl, don’t you go to church? Flowers didn’t acknowledge it, and it might be a case of parallel development of traditions, but what he was doing felt very much a part of the African-American preaching tradition, even if he substituted Yoruba words for the usually Christian terminology.

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Residency day 3

The day began with Jeff Parker’s seminar on “repetition” which he turned into a seminar on “not-knowing/repetition” building a great deal off of the essay “Not Knowing” by Donald Barthelme, an author I’ve found I greatly enjoy. A handful of good things and Parker ran his seminar a bit more like a seminar, although having 46 students in the room makes it difficult to have something like a seminar going on.

There were two workshops today, and I figure I should point out that we have been spending some of our workshop time doing writing exercises, a practice that I have never engaged in, although I found the exercises suggested in Novakovich’s The Writers Workshop to be tempting.

The exercises thus far have been: write about the date from hell, write a story using negation as a narrative technique (inspired by Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t”) and write about a street.

We then moved into Keith Gessen mode. Gessen is scheduled for a total of three events, although I’ve chosen a different workshop opposite the third of these. Instead, I just had a chance to hear Gessen in conversation with Parker, talking about some of the writing life etc. I ended up feeling a bit like the guy who’s read everything since there were a couple books mentioned by Gessen where I was the only one to know them.

The evening session was a sort of panel discussion, called “As publishing perishes.” We had Gessen and Rebecca Wolff (Fence) talking about things from the perspective of independent publishing. Gessen’s n+1 has a rather impressive print run of 8,000 copies. The other interesting number was that out of 1,500 poems that come in through the Fence submission process, they typically publish around 24, which is a higher acceptance rate than appears on Duotrope. Meanwhile Gessen spoke more positively about the slush pile than the n+1 website does, which explicitly discourages would-be contributors from submitting:

Writers interested in contributing to n+1 should note that we come out only three times each year, and that most if not all of the slots available for a given issue will have been filled by the editors many months before publication.

Although re-reading that again, it doesn’t seem as incongruent with what Gessen said than it did that evening.

During the question session one audience member expressed the view that the low acceptance rates of a journal like Fence seemed a justification for self-publishing, a perspective I cannot come close to agreeing with. To me, it seems that aspiring to being in the top 1% is what we should all be doing as writers, and if we fail at that it should be a motivation to work harder at reaching that level.

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