I spent the past few days hanging out in Chicago, IL for the annual AWP conference and bookfair.
I don’t even know where to start with this post because it was literally four days of literary madness. And that madness was amplified by the fact that I stayed with my friend Stephanie at her arts collective, the West Side School for the Desperate; there were two shows there this weekend during my stay.
I decided to go because a friend of mine mentioned that Margaret Atwood (perhaps my favorite author of all time) would be giving the keynote address. And tickets for students were only $40– a steal given all that the conference gave me access to.
My favorite part of the conference was accidentally stumbling upon the chance to chat for a bit with Bonnie Jo Campbell, who is another one of my all-time favorite authors. She was part of panel on “The Renaissance of Midwestern Literature” on Thursday, but I was unable to attend because by the time I got there, the room was literally overflowing with people.
I assumed I’d missed her, and was pretty bummed about it. But the next day, I was having lunch with Sarah, who mentioned that BJC would be giving a reading alongside other National Book Critics Circle Award winners & finalists later that afternoon. So I hightailed it over there and somehow managed to get a third row seat.
After that, I was dicking around on Facebook and happened to notice BJC’s status: she’d be signing books at the bookfair at 3:30. So I headed over that way.
One of the things I love most about her is the way she handles books signings. She actually takes time to talk to people who come to see her. We’ve only met at readings & workshops, but she remembered me (and apparently, she reads my Twitter). She had tattoos promoting her book of short stories, American Salvage, and applied one on my hand.
I have photographic evidence of this encounter. (Too bad I don’t know how to keep my eyes open for pictures.)
Other things that rocked: Spending time at the West Side School for the Desperate, and seeing all kinds of people from different aspects of my life. At one point, my friend Matthew (who I met at SVSU about four years ago) turned up at the WSSD & performed at an open mic in conjunction with a feature reading by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.
I actually read at the open mic, too. It was my first time reading poetry in public in years; I only got back to writing creatively a few months ago. (Been too busy smashing the patriarchy, you know.)
That was cool, because not only do I consider the WSSD to be a safe space, but some really talented people were there– among them, Stevie Edwards, who lives in Ithaca, NY, and is releasing her first full-length collection of poetry from Write Bloody Publishing next month. You should go pre-order yourself a copy if you haven’t already.
Other highlights: Margaret Atwood’s keynote speech (even if she only spoke for twenty-five minutes).
And sushi. I love seafood, and most of my friends don’t understand. But Stephanie does!
There are other things I could say. About how I attended a panel called “A Face to Meet the Faces: Five Poets on Persona, Empathy, and Race,” and how I learned a lot from it. Or about how the high school students that Stephanie teaches opened for Patricia Smith at her book release Friday night. But I think I’ve nerded out enough this past weekend.
So instead, I’ll say this: Chicago has an awesome public transit system; why can’t the rest of America be like that?
And lastly, here is an adorable picture of Stephanie and me dressed as twins.
I had a wonderful time. My mom joked that if it hadn’t been for the cats, I would have never returned home.
Thing is, though, she was right.