Saturday, March 03, 2007

My First Conference!

Spring Break is upon us, and I attended my first writer’s conference! And while from the outside looking in it had the feel of being an environment poised to legitimize what we do (or want to do) with our lives, from the inside it felt absolutely validating, like home, giving me permission to be my literary/creative self. I was invited to attend the conference by my gutsy, Southern, blond advisor who I now know is in my life at this moment for a reason. She understands and supports my ambition, my vision and my writing, which for a student and writer beginning a journey at age 44 is a valuable commodity. She is bold, unapologetic and encouraging. She is decidedly my mentor. On the other end of the spectrum was fellow student, AE, a tall, very young, but very mature, lady who at first glance seems New York-ish, dare I say too sophisticated for a small university in Georgia. She is among those youthful, brazen colleagues who continuously teach me a thing or two about expecting to get exactly what I want without blinking. Between sessions, we navigated our way through the Peachtree Center Mall to Spring Street, and lunched at Haveli’s, an Indian restaurant in downtown Atlanta.

The conference consisted of countless sessions, panel discussions, and workshop events, many of which were happening simultaneously, which made it a little difficult to chose one to attend. Honestly, I started out not really expecting to be inspired, but I found a little something in all the sessions I attended. There was the reading which featured writers celebrated by the Southern Women Writers Conference held annually at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. One African American woman would have made the panel diverse, but Judith Cofer, a Puerto Rican writer who is also an English professor at the University of Georgia, provided the spice in an otherwise bland reading by Southern women. We also attended a session where small press publishers talked about their efforts to promote fiction chapbooks, which is a great alternative to publishing in journals or anthologies as a way of promoting one’s work. Included were Eric Delehoy of Gertrude Press and Carmen Gimenez Smith of Noemi Press.

I had not intended to go a second day, but AE convinced me to attend the conference on Friday, and I was inspired a little by Robert Olen Butler who teaches creative writing at Florida State University. He’s not readily embraced by faculty so much though, because of his encouragement to students to ignore the stuff that they learn in literature and theory classes. Although I believe in having a strong foundation, I thoroughly agree with him that art is born from dreams and the unconscious, not from the mind, (although they are perhaps “formed” in the mind). After he spoke, I left that session in time to hear Rita Dove read her work. Dove has been the U.S. Poet Laureate 1993-1995, and also for the Common Wealth of Virginia 2004-2006. She also enjoys ballroom dancing! One big highlight for me was, (although I didn’t get to the New Voices of the South in time to hear her read), that I met the lovely Natasha Trethewey, Emory University professor and author of Bellocq’s Ophelia, which I loved. We learned that we have a mutual acquaintance (a friend of hers and my ex-creative writing professor), and I let her know that I’m working my way to Emory’s Ph.D. program.

My conference experience ended with AE and I having dinner at Sybydee’s, a really cool Thai restaurant in Midtown. I think I have been bitten by the writer’s conference bug, and I can’t wait to attend more. The fact that next year’s AWP conference will be in New York alone is reason enough to start planning and packing.

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At 7:29 PM , Blogger Tayari Jones said...

In defense of the Berry College panel, I should tell you that I was supposed to be on that program, but had to pull out at the last minute.

I wish I had known you were at the conference. I would have loved to have met you!

At 8:48 AM , Blogger persistence said...

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