Happy 2016! This year is going to be full of nerding out creatively, and I am pumped.
So, in March of 2015, I attended my first AWP — it was a life shifting experience.
This is my process – nonlinear and slow.
And this makes me wonder: what if I was able to honor my process and kept plugging away, anyway?
Well, friends, that is my intention for my creative work in 2016. To finish the things I have started or at the very least honor my process and every movement I make toward significantly advancing whatever it is that I start and have started.
I like the sound of that. Let’s see how it goes.
So, to the post.
AWP, for those who don’t know, is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
On the eight-hour Megabus ride to Minneapolis, I downloaded the super baller AWP app and set up my AWP schedule.
Of all the conference days, Friday was the day I was most excited about. I had readings and panels lined up from 9:00 a.m. til 5:30, and then my plan was to head to The Loft for the Bust Magazine’s reading featuring Roxane Gay, Franny Choi, and other amazing badass writers.
I am not a morning person, but I dragged myself to the shower by 8, was out the door by 8:30, and I got to AWP at 9 a.m. to hear readings from poets inspired by Gloria Anzaldua. The blurb in the program referenced women reading “from the Borderlands,” and I felt called to hear their tales, immerse myself in some (I presumed) fierce, femme of color poetry and perhaps find language that speaks to my own experience. I love hearing from others who also thrive at the boundaries, where rock meets surf; where sand meets shore.
When I got to the reading, I felt once again confused and a bit disappointed at this conference. For a panel that invoked the name of Gloria Anzaldua, I did not see any women of color on the panel — perhaps someone on the panel was mixed, but all of the panelists were white-passing.
I went straight for the VONA table in the exhibition hall. This table had become my safe place, my anchor, at this overwhelming conference. I was instantly welcomed back and was able to share my confusion and disappointment, which my VONA crew received whole and without any surprise.
This was the first panel that I sat all the way through since the beginning of the conference.
One by one the panelists gave life, speaking to the absolute necessity for writers of color to be nurtured. They sang truth about the maddening racial disparities still rampant in the (literary) world, and I had to refrain myself from jumping up several times and shouting “YES YES! SAY THAT!”
Instead I nodded and nodded and snapped and took copious notes.
I left walking on air, reaffirmed in not only my right to be at AWP and tell my stories, but I left reminded of my responsibility as a writer of color to lift up my fellow writers of color, continue building community, and support all efforts to get our stories out there.
I could have left AWP that day and been completely satisfied, but I ended up running into a fellow VONA alum who was on her way to see VONA luminary, Chris Abani. He was presenting on the panel entitled, “It’s a Crime to Skip This Panel.”
In contrast to the speakers before her, Castro discussed systemic oppression as the stuff of true crime. As she spoke I decided that the poem I would read the next day needed to be a mystery, and the mystery did not need to be solved.
My diasporic existence is mysterious, and my questions of identity and ethnic and national loyalty remain unsolved.
I cannot write poetry, fiction, plays, or nonfiction that fake false knowledge, but I can write to speak to the lingering questions and desires that drive me in many ways.
After Joy Castro blew my mind, Chris Abani spoke.
If you haven’t heard him yet, when Chris Abani speaks, tropical flowers bloom in the desert of your heart. Waterfalls crash through ceilings and flood the room. Unicorns appear to prance and graze.
You get the idea.
Abani is just so consistently clear and on point it makes me weep.
He spoke of narrative structure and what story is for. He spoke of what it means to be a writer and why we write, and if I heard him correctly writing usually comes back to figuring out what it means to be human and dropping the rhetoric. All of it.
It means creating a clearing on the page where a reader might encounter their own humanity as they witness the writer encountering theirs.
Or something like that.
So, here’s a cyber toast to writing and creating and living in 2016. Advancing and hopefully finishing what I start and have started. Keeping it real, and basically seeing what happens.