AWP: Writing and Remembering in Washington, D.C.
This post was written as an assignment for Professor Cindy Shearer’s Aesthetics of Value course. In Aesthetics of Value, students explore their arts heritage and inquire into the values that guide their creative work.
I didn’t expect the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), held in February, to have such a great impact on my life, but it did.
I had been almost 10 years since I was last in Washington, D.C., so I was excited to be back. I was delighted to have the Capitol steps all to myself as I strolled various parts of the Mall that Sunday and Monday after AWP was over. “I used to live here!” I kept thinking. It’s kind of like when the reality of the gifts you have finally sink in. I think people there take it for granted to be in the nation’s capital everyday, much as I take it for granted that I have a 360-degree view from my workplace that encompasses three major bridges, including the world-famous Golden Gate.
I had a Voices of Our Nation Foundation (VONA) reunion with my dear friend Willona Sloan. We were a pair of silly girls who came alive with laughter at the slightest provocation. I was also lucky to see my Writing and Consciousness MFA cohort friend and fellow writer Wendy Sterndale at the conference. When Wendy joined Willona and me, we were truly “ac’in a fool” and had a great time together. I didn’t know I could laugh so hard!
We enjoyed the company of VONA elders Elmaz Abinader, Faith Adiele, Ruth Foreman, Suheir Hammad, Evelina Galang, and Junot Diaz (from afar), and fellow VONAites Crystal, Chelsea, and Daisy. We were lucky to get “stage” seats at Busboys and Poets restaurant to the reading by Ruth Foreman,Carolyn Forche, and Suheir Hammad, hosted by Hedgebrook’s Amy Wheeler. Events like the off-site University of Miami MFA reception, and the on-site Macondo Foundation reception were more engaging than the sessions. Of course, I loved Junot Diaz’ plenary in which he challenged all of us writers to be real. I enjoyed listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s plenary; it was amazing that the lead keynotes be writers of color, but more importantly, that the first keynote be a woman. That made for a great inspiration.
I volunteered my time on Friday afternoon as a registration desk clerk and had quite a ball. I was stationed at the booth marked “E-H” between two guys who were hilarious. One of whom, Steven Cleaver, wrote “Saving Erasmus.” I bantered with them for most of my four-hour shift so the time went by quickly. I found out how common it was for writers to have a degree in theology as well as a MFA. I think altogether, I have now met about 10 folks with that combination. I don’t feel so odd anymore. (Yeah right! I wish that was all it took!)
Overall, AWP reminded me that I wanted to be a writer, was a writer and author already, and that I needed to keep writing. A part of me felt depressed after the third session on publishers and agents, because it seemed like they were saying a lot of it depended on luck. I wasn’t encouraged by this idea. Of course, it is only my perception, you know? I’ve been writing with renewed vigor since I returned. Since I have yet to develop a steady habit of time and place, I am doing the best I can by carrying three notebooks of varying sizes around with me, just in case. Of course, it helps that my MFA Project Proposal was due this spring, and in order to do this I had to have written something substantial. For my final project, I’ll be working on a culinary memoir that chronicles my story of growing up in Ghana with my mulatto, maternal grandmother. The memoir, told in vignettes paired with recipes, tackles issues of identity, class, race, and skin color, using food.