Five Things Learned From AWP 2013 In Boston

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (why isn’t it AWWP? we’ll never know) has been holding its Annual Conference & Bookfair for nearly fifty years now; it’s the largest such event in North America at this point. So what about the publishing industry did this year’s congregation in Boston teach us?

1. Apparently no one in publishing has anything against the idea of Boston in early March. Like an idiot I didn’t pack boots and stepped in a puddle of icy slush when a cabbie tried to drive off with my luggage still in his trunk. Even in cutting, blinding, incapacitating snow, people were leaving bars to find other, better bars. Which brings me to …

2. Writers can’t hold their booze nearly as well as they think they can. Just ask the woman who was meant to lead off a reading around 9 PM and was so drunk she read the same paragraph at least three times. On second thought, ask the organizer who tried to pull her offstage but was told “No, I’m not done.”

3. Wait a minute: if everyone at this thing is in an MFA program, or teaches at one, or is pitching one, or has already graduated from one, or is just determined to get the phrase “University of Tampa Low-Residency MFA Program” on the official event badge lanyards, then who exactly is being recruited? Security guards.

4. The catchall answer for any question ever asked of a panel is: “It depends.” Really, it works for everything. Try it! Either it comes across as very anguished and genuine, or glibly defeated and mildly funny. No one will ever challenge you for saying “context is everything.” Brilliant.

5. If you just look at a copy of a journal or a book and try to put it back, the people working that table will tell you it’s free. If you ask to buy a book or journal off the table, the people working there will say it’s not for sale—well, maybe come back tomorrow. At which point it will already be gone.
 

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Shut Up, Hemingway

Being a white male straight twentysomething writer makes me automatically awful. I’ve accepted that. But not every white male straight twentysomething writer has. I know this because I still see articles like Open Culture’s “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction,” and nobody but a deluded white male straight twentysomething writer is clicking on that. In short: shut up, Hemingway.

Hemingway, your advice is shit and you don’t even follow it yourself: under tip #7, “Be brief,” we see that you wrote “It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.” How about just “those of flight,” you hypocritical fuck? Tip #3: “Never think about the story when you’re not working”? Yeah that makes a lot of sense.  

I know it’s not just you I should be angry at, Hemingway, rather the horrid archivists who cull blog material from letters that the world never needed to see. I’m still half-convinced that the actual Hemingway could now scoff at his own epistles and tell us: “Write however you goddamn want, what do I care, I’m dead.” But on the off-chance he’s every bit as irritating as he seemed—I hope that in hell you get trampled by bulls every day.

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This Just In: Memoir Exists

This week, literary authorities were stunned to uncover the existence of something called memoir, the apparent transmission of one human being’s actual past experience via the printed word and sometimes even bound artifacts known as books. Startling, isn’t it? Normally we think of books as a bunch of made-up bullshit!

Even more astoundingly, memoir turns out to be exceedingly popular, generating big advances, TV appearances and franchisable authors. Which may help to explain why so many young writers are flocking to the study of this bizarre craft. It’s almost as though they want to be commercially successful in their chosen field. Strange days, indeed.

But the news just gets more fantastic from there. It turns out that memoir has existed for literally at least forty years, and probably longer! Scientists have carbon-dated certain miserable memoirs by bearded alcoholics all the way back to the late 1960s. Historians have suggested these ancestors of the modern memoirist were fairly superstitious, often typing with dick in hand.

What other secrets might the world of letters reveal to us in time? Now that we know ourselves capable of reconstructing a workable narrative of what has happened to us up to that point, anything is possible. Why, there might even be such a thing as an autobiographical novel. Imagine!

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