Kerfuffle around AWP: it made the news in Publisher’s Weekly, Huff Post picked it up, and it’s apparently all over Facebook, but if you want a cogent breakdown try Rich Villar’s blog, “Allies, Firefighters, and the Genesis of Representation Anxiety in Big Ass Literary Spaces.”
The lack of AWP transparency renders any attempt to settle other issues impossible. Is the gatekeeping of events at the conference racist, sexist, otherwise less diverse than one might wish? Show us the data. For that matter, how about we follow the money? That conference rakes in vast sums of $ and I for one do not have any clue what my money supports. I have mentioned this before: one of the infamous right wing Koch brothers (millionaires? billionaires?) has been on the board of the George Mason U, of which AWP is a part, and Koch monies built their newish business school.
So, AWP, talk to us. Tell us about the rainbow hues of your leadership, your plan to welcome further diversity on panels and readings. And please, stop BS-ing about how diversity is the reason for your dizzying expansion. You did not quadruple the number of vendors in your annual book fair in order to include more diverse presses (I laughed out loud when I saw that quote), nor have you continued to increase admissions to the conference to that end. Many of us don’t feel that the hugeness of AWP is conducive at all to writers networking, or to small presses and lit mags who fork over large sums for a table or booth. We continue to voice our preference for smaller regional conferences and other modes of getting back down from Gargantuan City Size Conference to Moderate Size Village. Larger attendance and 800+ vendors does not automatically translate to more traffic at our booth–sometimes just the opposite. Who can possibly make the rounds of 800 vendors in a 3-day conference packed with competing events? Not to mention the competing events, some of which inevitably draw far too few people due to the sheer numbers of simultaneous panels, readings, ad nauseum.
While I am at it, I gotta vent for a little minute. One of our favorite authors was recruited by AWP to headline their opening reception this year. Apart from being a much lauded writer and teacher, Cornelius Eady, as you folks all know by now, is a serious musician. Yet, though it was AWP’s idea (and dollar) to bring in his full band from NYC for their reception, there was a mind-boggling lack of appropriate audio support, rendering their performance for all purposes inaudible–worse, it was an unintelligible cacophony. I have let this percolate now for several months, but I just can’t wrap my head around why, and how, they could not be bothered to set up and properly run their audio board. The backwash was that nobody present understood at all what Eady and the band, Rough Magic, were doing in their new album. It’s a damn fine work, and the lack of regard with which it was treated was tough to swallow.
Does that level of insult have anything to do with race? I leave that, dear reader, up to you. (And I will note for the record, it’s not about the other, campy musical act which sounded fine, Rita Doves whimsical group Pink Tuxedoes, which used prerecorded music and three vocal mikes–no live instruments–which is a whole bunch simpler sound board to run, more akin to what AWP usually does, than to live music).
I emailed out a rejection to an author who I’d let send me a revision, after we rejected the first version of his book. (Yes, sometimes we are ridiculously generous that way). He replied that the book had been picked up by another small press. I congratulated him. It’s an interesting book, it just wasn’t a good fit for this press. Then I noted our policy of No Simultaneous Submissions. That manuscript shouldn’t have been on my desk at all–never mind twice, or that he didn’t bother to withdraw it once it was accepted elsewhere.
Once more, with feeling: in a perfect world No Sim Subs would not be our policy, but we simply don’t have the time to waste on manuscripts that get pulled after we’ve already invested in their review, often by multiple readers. If you want independent small presses like ours to stay in business, help us out by showing a little respect for your colleagues. Small press editors are almost all writers themselves. We love our authors. We are in business to promote them.
Provincetown was crowded last week, it being Carnival Week. The annual parade theme was Candyland, the little town jammed for a day with revelers of every possible stripe, businesses along Commercial Street decorated to the nines with giant tootsie rolls and game boards. Favorite costume this year: Sarah and Diane dressed as bunches of [balloon] grapes (one green bunch, one purple). Even the Wednesday evening Bingo game on the UU Church lawn is something to experience (not your mother’s Bingo game), but this year we didn’t pick Carnival week, it just worked out that way.
The inner harbor was like a full bathtub. I don’t know why, it wasn’t a full moon. I never got around to looking up the tide charts. It just felt that way–topped off and deep. We saw paddle boarders doing yoga on the water one morning (not one of them fell off their board in down dog). There seemed to be fewer houseboats than usual. No horseshoe crab sightings. We heard Great Whites were spotted on the national seashore side, occasionally clearing beaches as far out as Herring Cove. When you see seals clumping close together in the water, it’s because sharks are near. One year we saw sea otters float by lolling on their backs, but not this time, and no turtles slumping across the road in the dunes either. The dunes felt strangely quiet of birdsong, to my ear. I had that same sense up in Newburyport, on Plum Island a few weeks back–as if the number of species has dwindled sharply.
Humans and their tiny, tiny speck of time. We mourn what is lost. We yearn for a more perfect world. We stamp our feet, make a ruckus trying to get there from here. We question the futility of our work, and then we get back to it. Ars longa, vita brevis.
This is me, sending humid hugs to all you writers and readers out there. Submissions review, cover designs to polish, a soup to finish cooking, a novel I need to get back to reading. Ugh, taxes to address, in three jurisdictions. I might bake some scones–our household will soon be dwindling further, after the swell of pre-cape guests, but we still have enough mouths to polish off a batch. Perhaps even a cheesecake?
A soup, like a manuscript, needs time to simmer, patience to layer up. But some things, like a chocolate chip scone, are best when fresh.
Be kind to each other. Be kind to your dreams, and your human frailties. Respect your colleagues. Respect your fellow sentient beings.
Pick up something you wouldn’t typically read, and promise you’ll stick with it for at least 50 pages.
thanks to Apassionata Gallery for the image “Zeit für Träume – Candyland-Szene”