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Where the writers are: The AWP conference

Attending the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference --which began Wednesday in New York--requires a somewhat manic balance between panels, the book fair and the scramble to get to the best parties.

Awp_3   But there are also rare moments of transcendence. One happened in the Ding Dong Lounge (admittedly, not a promising name), an uptown dive that was host to a reading for Creative Nonfiction magazine. Among a slate of unremarkable readers, Sierra Bellows, an MFA student from the University of Virginia, shone like a gem. Leaning on the pool table to read from her laptop, she quieted the room with a story about her grandfather that had a kind honesty and a genuine clarity of language. It was a reminder that we’re here for the writing, after all.

And there are several thousands of us here for the first-ever, sold-out AWP conference. Usually a magnet for writing students, professors and authors with books to sell, this year’s gathering has become a literary happening in the center of the publishing industry, New York.

"It obviously makes a difference for AWP to be in New York City," says Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books and a conference veteran. "It gives everyone a bit of a lift."

It’s a strange electricity. Panels on how to teach creative writing are as filled-to-the-brim as those on how publishers select their books, while authors from the National Book Foundation’s stellar 5 Under 35 read to barely two dozen people. Poetry is big--Yusef Komunyakaa and Sharon Olds packed a ballroom with several hundred fans. There must have been more than a thousand people listening to Steveerickson_3 Joyce Carol Oates when I popped in.

But what about the parties? This is the problem with New York--there are just too many of them. In Atlanta last year, authors--including Dan Chaon and Walter Mosley, both remarkably approachable-- hung out at the hotel bar, which was enough to make people stop and stay. Here, the conference has two hotels, each with multiple bars, and "offsite" events take place all over Manhattan and, of course, stretch into Brooklyn. What makes a good party? Is it who shows up, as Jonathan Lethem did at a quiet reception for Steve Erickson?

Or does it have to do with how many people are there, or how well they dance or hold their liquor?
Partly, it’s all of those things--and if there happens to be a moment of writerly transcendence, then you’re in the right place for sure.

Carolyn Kellogg

Carolyn Kellogg is an occasional contributor to Book Review and hosts the literary blog Pinky's Paperhaus.

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I'm sorry but its phony [baloney] to bring up somebody named "Sierra Bellow" reading about her bloody grandfather and not be honest and let us know old gramps was Saul Bellow, the great 20th century american writer. Because by failing to mention that, the writer is suggesting that Sierra is only being mentioned for her own merits. Or are you giving a little wink wink at all those readers "in the know"

But what I really get from it is the sense that all these creative writing programs are rife with nepotism and "who you know/who you blow"

and if, as it turns out, I've just made a total [jerk] o myself, because Grampy was actually Myron Bellow, a cantankerous guy who ran a shoe store in East Rutherford, and had two mistresses both named Myrtle. I humbly apologize, though you shoulda mentioned that and spared us all the bitter suspicions

But frankly I think these creative writing programs are hovno.

have a nice day

Brendan, I'm afraid you have made a total jerk of yourself, but your apology is accepted. My niece, Sierra, was most likely writing about her late, maternal grandfather. Her paternal grandfather, however, is a cantankerous guy ;-), so you were partially correct. Make note of the name (Bellows, not Bellow) ,and look for future greatness.



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