I made it back and forth from Rochester, NY to Washington, D.C. with a less-than-twenty-four hour stop- over in New York City without one weather-related delay, an almost unheard-of occurrence in this part of the country in February. I attended the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in D.C. along with twelve thousand other writers, editors, and writing teachers, the first time I’d gone, and it was overwhelming. There were four straight days, with each time slot crammed full with thirty panels taking place simultaneously across multiple sites, and even just reading through the conference schedule was daunting, not to mention all the running between the Washington Convention Center to the Marriot, up and down escalators, racing up staircases to get to panels on every aspect of writing imaginable: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, pedagogy, and criticism. Here are some of the titles of the talks I attended: “Does Gender Matter? Wrestling with Identity and Form in the Golden Age of Women’s Essays,” “Half of Literature Lost: Women’s Writing and the Politics of Erasure,”Theories of Everything: Multigenre Workshops, Multigenre Writers,” “Mother Lode, Mother Load: Writing Difficult Mothers and Others, ” The Personal (Essay) Is Political: Nonfiction as an Agent of Social Change.” And as I sat and listened to each of these panels and many more, I was acutely aware that, at the very same time, there were 29 others going on that I was not attending.
And then the evenings–Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, was the keynote speaker, and she gave an electric address that had everything to do with the occupant of a certain white-colored house less than half a mile away from the conference site. Another night, I finally got to hear Eileen Myles, Alice Notley, and Sonia Sanchez read their poetry, and yet another evening featured Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong. Oh, and did I mention Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation with Chimamanda Ngogi Adichie moderated by Ethelbert Miller? That event was so popular a second ballroom had to be opened for the overflow crowd–including me–with a live video feed so everybody could experience this far-reaching conversation.
I shouldn’t mention the book fair, but I will have to, because I came home with ten more books (with orders for two more that will arrive in a few weeks). I could barely squeeze my carry-on in the overhead bin on my flight home. I needed help from a fellow passenger in cramming the over-stuffed bag into the bin so the plane could take off. I have enough books now waiting to be read for oh, perhaps a millennium.
So it was a great week to be in the presence of incredible writers and writing, but not such a good week for my own reading. I must have studied the conference schedule for hours, trying to strategize the best combination of talks, but by Friday I was finding myself beyond the ability to think straight, and by Saturday, I needed to take an hour-long walk after the last panel just to return to some semblance of functionality. As much as the conference was a great experience and learning event for me, I felt quite a bit of relief returning home.
I did start reading one of my book fair purchases, Sven Birkerts The Art of Time, and I made a little more progress in Janet Burroway’s Embalming Mom. And I’m three stories short of finishing I Brake for Moose, so my grand total for the past week is 160 pages. I did read two poems and 30 pages of workshop material for the nonfiction class I am taking, so I suppose I could up it to 190, but that is being generous. I’ll be in better shape to read more this week, I hope, that is once I unpack and finish doing the laundry I towed around with me from DC home, and find a place for ten more (really essential! buy me! read me!) books, and write two pieces for class, and get some groceries since my husband ate everything in sight while home on his own, and…..well, here’s hoping I find some reading time in between everything else that needs to get done.