AWP conference

I got back from Chicago on Monday and have been trying to catch up ever since. Chicago hosted the 2012 Associated Writing Programs conference, where nearly 10,000 writers, aspiring writers, teachers, publishers, and students (often these categories overlap) converge to interact, interface, synthesize, network, inform themselves, and idol-worship.

For an introverted, reflective, crowd-shy person, the event can be overwhelming. I speak from experience.

Nevertheless, the conference generally provides me with tremendous food for thought in the form of books to read, authors to discover, concepts to familiarize myself with, pedagogies to explore, and considerable re-assessment of why I do what I do. Also, I meet people.

At a wonderful presentation called “Literature and Evil,” for example, I was seated next to poet James McKean. We had an amiable discussion about teaching composition prep to freshmen before I figured out who he was. Here is one of his poems: “Bindweed” up at The Poetry Foundation site. For poetry people, that’s big-time. The thing is, I hadn’t read any of his books; it would have been really weird to say, “Oh, I recognize your name. I don’t know your work at all, though. Sorry.” So we chatted about an area of common ground: teaching.

I tracked down McKean’s books via Iowa’s Writing Program and did a bit of internet sleuthing for samples of his poetry. Turns out I really like his work. So I’m going to be reading James McKean’s poems and meanwhile be thinking, what a nice man he is! Such a devoted teacher, down-to-earth. He shared some of his classroom approaches and I shared my teaching experiences with similar students. We talked about the differences between community college adult students and 18-year-old freshmen. We didn’t talk about teaching creative writing, but we did talk about the low-residency MFA and his current crop of students. He is much younger than my dad, but he reminded me of my father, a midwesterner and professor interested in what Marilynne Robinson, Ha Jin, and Paul Harding had to say about evil and literature.

They had lovely and compassionate and interesting things to say, in my opinion. I suggest you read their books. And, while you are at it, pick up a collection of James McKean’s poems. He’s a terrific poet–and a very nice man.

4 comments on “AWP conference

  1. […] AWP featured a standing-room-only panel on the topic of Cognitive Science and Stories that alerted me to the work of Brian Boyd (more books for the to-read pile), for example; and just this past week, Annie Murphy Paul contributed an opinion essay titled “Your Brain on Fiction” to the New York Times Sunday Review. Oliver Sacks has, of course, worked along this territory for many years, mostly from the neurological viewpoint with research that suggests we consider the relationship of brain science to art. Leonard Shlain has written intriguing books on the subject as well; though he focuses on gender and visual/textual creativity in his earlier work (see The Alphabet vs. the Goddess), his more recent Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light takes on the “rational” brain (physics) and the world and work of art. […]


  2. […] I find it pleasant to retreat to the calming, reasonable, optimistic (though cautioning) prose of Marilynne Robinson. For those of you who, like me, feel a sickening pressure around the whole election brou-ha-ha, I […]


  3. […] Writing Programs conference will be in session March 6-10. I posted about the conference briefly last year…and last year’s conference introduced me to Brian Boyd’s work on cognition and […]


  4. […] about the bookshelf issue is that in a month, I am heading to Washington, D.C. for the annual AWP Conference & Bookfair. I have missed the past few conferences because they were held in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and the […]


Comments are closed.