Or: Maybe you're not going to this year's AWP conference. Maybe you couldn't get time off of work, or coverage for childcare, or travel is too expensive. Maybe crowds aren't your thing. Maybe you feel the community of AWP needs to step up to greater inclusivity and accomodation, and until that happens it is not your job to navigate unwelcoming waters. Maybe you're thinking there are more important issues at stake in the world right now, and you'd rather focus your energy on protest and advocacy.
You don't need me to validate these choices, but for what it's worth your concerns are valid, and you are not alone. Anyone who tells you that the AWP conference is a necessity to your writing career is buying into a gatekeeper mentality that I refuse to purchase. All of what makes American letters worthwhile is not going to be hanging out in a single VIP suite at the Marriott Marquis.
That said, the conference is a great resource for extroverts (which I am) and introverts (which I am), and this year it is on my doorstep in Washington, D.C. So I'll be there. And because I've been part of no less than a half-dozen "How do I handle AWP this year?" conversations, I'll offer a few tips.
Getting Around Town
If you're relying on WMATA's metro, familiarize yourself with the map. In particular, note the triangle created by the Mount Vernon / Convention Center stop (Yellow and Green lines), the Gallery Place / Chinatown stop (Yellow, Green, and Red lines), and the Metro Center stop (Red, Orange, Blue, and now Silver lines); this zone, within walking distance of the conference for the able-bodied, is your portal to all parts of the city plus into Virginia and Maryland. Sometimes if you're dashing to catch a train, knowing which end station you need to head toward heads off crucial confusion (for example, "Greenbelt" to go north on the Green line, versus "Branch Avenue" to go south).
If you rely on escalator and / or elevator access, use the WMATA site to check for day-of outages. Many DC metro stations are significantly below ground.
Buy a card for multiple rides; you can donate leftover farecards to Martha's Table or Miriam's Kitchen, an initiative that began with the recent march. Remember that unlike New York's subway, you need to show your card at the beginning AND end of your ride, so keep it handy. Trains run markedly faster during rush hour, which can be the difference between a four-minute wait and a fourteen-minute wait. Changing lines outside rush hour can also add significant time (as much as 18-20 minutes). Have a back-up plan for getting back to the hotel after midnight.
For app-based rides your options include Uber, Lyft, and Curb. I know that Uber is not in favor, but note that they will connect you with wheelchair-accessible taxis.
If you're driving, installing the Parkmobile app on your phone will save a lot of hassle with meters, which are typically limited to two hours downtown (further out, also limited unless you have a zone sticker). Anticipate difficulty parking in neighborhoods naturally busy on a Friday or Saturday night, including downtown, Georgetown, H Street, and Adams Morgan.
Onsite Schedule: General Tips
Do you do well with phone apps? If so, here you go.
Do phone apps overwhelm you? (They do me.) If so...
These are maps specific to the 2017 Conference. Print out two sets.
These are schedules specific to the 2017 Conference. Print out two sets.
If you pack a seal-top coffee mug that you trust not to spill, you can 1) sip while walking the book fair floor and 2) rinse out and refill it with water for the rest of the day (there are generally pitchers or carafes of water at the back of the conference rooms). Pack a few snacks, particularly nuts or some other simple protein, fruits, and vegetables--I'm a fan of carrying carrot juice. Pack tissues, a legal pain reliever, an illegal pain reliever, and one of those travel toothbrushes.
Aim for three official AWP conference events per day--a panel and two readings, or vice versa. In my first few years, bright-eyed, I aimed for two of each. Godspeed if that works for you. Over the years I've learned to follow people, not topics. If I find someone who is articulate, spontaneous, funny, and resonant with my own thoughts toward poetry or nonfiction or life in general, I'll show up to watch them talk about watching paint dry.
If, on the other hand, I show up to an event and the person I really wanted to see had to cancel participation, I will get up and quietly slip out. Life is too short. Leaving ten minutes in, or twenty minutes out from the end (especially if the event is in Q&A) is okay. Try to be inconspicuous. What's not okay is to block an aisle by lurking at the back of a small room--which hinders accessibility--in case you want to leave.
Tributes in which the featured writer is alive are celebratory and often illuminating. I understood Charles Wright's work much better after attending the one for him, even as a former student of his.
Posthumous tributes, while emotionally draining, are also often really good. You're seeing fellow writers direct their attentions outward, and fantastic anecdotes (on the record and off the record) rise to the surface. I'll always remember the one I attended for Craig Arnold. I wasn't even that familiar with his work before attending, but I sought the poems out afterwards. The one for Lucille Clifton was standing room only.
There is usually a late-afternoon window of readings by conference sponsors, staged in rooms big enough that you can freely float in / out, or have a notebook out while the event is taking place. Graywolf, Poets House, Cave Canem, and Copper Canyon are a few of the commonly associated names. Look for those, as they are a good way to get a taste of what rising stars and mid-career writers are up to, even as your overall ability to focus is flagging. I attended a great one last year with Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, and Geoff Dyer.
Give yourself an hour of book fair browsing each day. I usually center this on a friend or former teacher's table-side book signing. Having been the author at a few of these, if no one shows up it is grim. Sometimes you walk up to an empty table and get to really chat with someone for twenty minutes, which is wonderful. Other times they have a line, which is also wonderful In that case your job is to smile, validate that they have a BIG crowd, say "Catch you later!" and then keep walking. Again: life is short.
In addition to that, I set a couple of arbitrary goals--"I'm going to find the tables for X press and Y journal"--look them up on the handy guide, and enjoy whatever organically comes your way en route. Walk slow. If you're particularly averse to small talk, perfect toeing the middle of the aisle, so that you're not TOO close to the tables on either side (to make eye contact within three feet is to say "Yes, I can stop to talk to you").
That said, if someone holds out a piece of paper to you, take it. So what if it is not your genre? The inconvenience of you disposing of it later is far less than the mutual good of saying, "Yes, thank you, thank you for all you do." If you can, budget $20 a day to purchase items from small journals and micro-presses, who really depend on the book fair income. Budget for three journal subscriptions if you can, since there are often great deals particular to the conference.
If you have a DC-area friend who is curious about AWP, the $45 Saturday Day Pass (purchase day-of) is a good deal. But do not wait until late Saturday afternoon to hit the book fair. Many tables pack up and leave early ~3 PM.
When it comes to the megawatt readers or featured presenters, I'm spoiled by the fact that many come to DC other ways--it is rarely my ONE chance to hear them. But that can bite you in the ass (says the girl who got to finish her big bowl of delicious pho in Boston...and missed out on Seamus Heaney). If it's someone you'll forever regret not having heard, OR if it is someone you greatly admire who is doing something original to the conference--a lecture or a moderated conversation--prioritize that. Even if it means you have to be the one who asks that her dinner bill be separated out from the group, so you can pay quick and get back to the convention center by 8:30 PM.
Onsite Schedule: Day-by-Day Highlights
The full conference schedule, sortable by day, is here.
Now, what do you choose? I can't tell you, but I can show you what I did, as long as I can I freely admit bias toward my genres of poetry and nonfiction. Also, you'll notice I've picked TWO for every time slot. Sometimes a room is at capacity; sometimes you're mid sentence with someone, want to continue the conversation, and this leads you away from the intended destination. Stay flexible.
Some Thursday (February 9) highlights...
R114. It’s the End of the World as She Knows It: Apocalypse Poetry by Women. (Maggie Smith, Dena Rash Guzman, Meghan Privitello, Leah Umansky)
Thu., 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ Supreme Court, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
R129. Tell the Truth and Lie to Me. (Meghan Daum, Lisa Glatt, David Hernandez)
Thu., 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ Room 203AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
R139. Which Comes First, Activism or Artist?. (George Higgins, Martin Espada, Airea D. Matthews, Eleanor Wilner)
Thu., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
R140. The G Word: Writing and Teaching Genre in a Changing Literary Landscape. (Katie Cortese, Art Taylor, Idra Novey, Matt Bell, Porochista Khakpour)
Thu., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
R169. Imagining the Essay. (Rebecca McClanahan, Lia Purpura, Ander Monson, Lauret Savoy )
Thursday, 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
R179. Beautiful Mysteries: Science in Fiction and Poetry. (Robin Schaer, Amy Brill, Martha Southgate, Naomi Williams, Camille Dungy)
Thu., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
R197. We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good. (Melissa Stein, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Natalie Diaz, Nick Flynn)
Thu., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Room 207A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
R187. Bite Hard: A Tribute to Justin Chin. (Jeffrey McDaniel, Timothy Liu, Beth Lisick, David Daniels, Adrienne Su)
Thu., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Salon F, Washington Convention Center, Level One
R201. Mining a Dark Vein: Writing About Appalachia and America’s Working Class. (Larry Bingham, Amy Clark, Crystal Wilkinson, Jill McCorkle, Carter Sickels)
Thu., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
R228. Success, Failure, and the Green-Eyed Monster: Thriving in a Competitive Environment. (Jean Kwok, Rebecca Makkai, Mitchell S. Jackson, Mira Jacob, Jami Attenberg)
Thu., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Room 206, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
R235. Beyond the Deadline: Surviving (and Thriving) in Magazine Publishing. (Katelyn Belyus, Stephen Elliott, Roxane Gay, Sy Safransky, Art Stupar)
Thu., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
R264. Zero Chill: Writers of Color Against Respectability. (Casey Rocheteau, Rachel Mckibbens, Franny Choi, Morgan Parker)
Thu., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Room 207B, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
R275. Asian-American Poetics and Politics in the South: Self-Articulation and Solidarity. (Shamala Gallagher, Ching-In Chen, Vidhu Aggarwal, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Wo Chan)
4:30 PM-5:45 PM ~ Monument, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
R292. Variations on Audionarrative: The Next Wave of Literary Podcasting. (Harry Marks, Melissa Faliveno, Ben Tanzer, Jim Warner, Aubrie Cox)
4:30 PM-5:45 PM ~ Room 204C, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Some Friday (February 10) highlights...
F119. Home: A Four-Letter Word. (Kelly McMasters, Rachel DeWoskin, Hasanthika Sirisena, Sonya Chung, Elissa Washuta)
Fri, 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
-->Me!-->F126. Celebrating The Golden Shovel Anthology in Honor of Gwendolyn Brooks. (Maura Snell, Major Jackson, Sandra Beasley, Natalie Richardson, Marilyn Nelson)
Fri, 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ AWP Bookfair Stage, Exhibit Halls D & E, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
F144. The Manifesto Project: A Reading and Conversation. (Tyler Mills, Jillian Weise, Vandana Khanna, David Groff, Rebecca Hazelton)
Fri., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Supreme Court, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
F161. Body of Work: Exploring Disability, Creativity, and Inclusivity. (Sheila Black, Eileen Cronin, TK (Tim) Dalton, Anne Finger, Laurie Lindeen)
Fri., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Room 203AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
F171. Beyond Sex: The Poetics of Desire. (Sarah McCall, Remica Bingham-Risher, Tim Seibles, Natalie Diaz, L. Lamar Wilson)
Fri., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
F198. (Not) Just the Facts: Teaching Docupoetry and Investigative Poetics. (Erika Meitner, Rosa Alcala, Susan Briante, Tyehimba Jess, Adrian Matejka)
Fri., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Room 207B, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
F192. American Smooth: A Tribute to Rita Dove. (Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jericho Brown, Robin Coste Lewis, Natasha Tretheway, Rita Dove)
Fri., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Room 202B, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
F203. Looking Outward: Avoiding the Conventional Memoir. (Steve Woodward, Paul Lisicky, Belle Boggs, Angela Palm)
Fri., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
F220. The World Turned Upside Down: Hamilton, An American Musical. (Judith Baumel, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Victorio Reyes, Stephen O'Connor)
Fri., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Room 102B, Washington Convention Center, Level One
F236. University of Arkansas MFA 50th Anniversary Reading. (Brian Spears, Elizabeth Harris, Lucinda Roy, Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly)
Fri., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
F248. Following the Thread of Thought. (Steven Harvey, Phillip Lopate, Ana Maria Spagna, Sarah Einstein)
Fri., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
F286. A Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sponsored by the Authors Guild. (E. Ethelbert Miller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Fri., 4:30 PM -5:45 PM ~ Ballroom A, Washington Convention Center, Level Three
F292. Making Canons, Losing Friends: On Making, Revising, Critiquing and Reading Anthologies. (Stephen Burt, John Kulka, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Cate Marvin, Sina Queyras)
Some Saturday (February 11) highlights...
S109. Starting Small: Grassroots Workshops and Conferences. (Shawna Ryan, Dave Housley, Donna Talarico, Mark Brazaitis, Tyler McMahon)
Sat., 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S110. Money, Power, and Transparency in the Writing World. (Natalie Shapero, Kima Jones, Morgan Parker, Jane Friedman, Rachel Mennies)
Sat., 9 AM-10:15 AM ~ Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S148. When Safe Spaces Aren't: (Re)Imagining for a Multicultural Creative Space. (Alyss Dixson, Jennifer Baker, Amy Lam, Metta Sama)
Sat., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Liberty Salon M, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
S159. Arsenic Icing: Sentiment as Threat in Contemporary American Women's Poetry. (Cate Marvin, Jennifer Knox, Erin Belieu, Brenda Shaughnessy, Vievee Francis)
Sat., 10:30 AM-11:45 AM ~ Room 202A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
S175. What's Found in Translation. (Jennifer Grotz, Susan Bernofsky, Geoffrey Brock, Bill Johnston)
Sat., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S199. Writing With and About Dis/Ability, Dis/Order, and Dis/Ease. (Sarah Einstein, Sandra Lambert, Sonya Huber, Elizabeth Glass, Gina Frangello )
Sat., 12 PM-1:15 PM ~ Room 208AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
-->Me!-->S211. Poets on Craft—Tipping the Scales in Persona Poetry. (Laura Fairgrieve, Tina Chang, Sandra Beasley, Nicole Beer, Brian Barker)
Sat., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
S216. The Ghosts of History: and the Secrets They Tell, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts. (Angela Flournoy, Andre Dubus III, Aminatta Forna)
Sat., 1:30 PM-2:45 PM ~ Ballroom A, Washington Convention Center, Level Three
S238. This Is My Word for That: Teachers Share Their Most Helpful Invented Craft Terms. (Joseph Scapellato, Matt Bell, Jameelah Lang, Hasanthika Sirisena, Dan Chelotti)
Sat., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Marquis Salon 9 & 10, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S243. Socially Conscious Fiction: Writing That Can Change the World. (Allison Wright, Anna March, Jabari Asim, Garth Greenwell, Naomi Jackson)
Sat., 3 PM-4:15 PM ~ Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four
S272. Writing War, Teaching Craft: Veterans & Cadets in the Creative Writing Classroom. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Kevin Powers, Ron Capps, Benjamin Busch, Katey Schultz)
Sat., 4:30 PM-5:45 PM ~ Marquis Salon 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
S284. All I Have Is a Voice: Strategies for Inclusion in the Workshop . (Laura Minor, Adrian Matejka, Jillian Weise, Erin Belieu, Robert Lopez)
Sat., 4:30 PM-5:45 PM ~ Room 202A, Washington Convention Center, Level Two
Offsite Schedule: Highlights
Though offsites may be ticketed or have door fees, an AWP Conference badge is not required. So for those with local friends this is a great way to meet up at the edge of the AWP maelstrom, if they are curious. Items on my radar courtesy AWP's online index....
Thursday, February 9 ~ 7-9 PM ~ 826DC & Tivoli's Astounding Magic Supply Co., 3333 14th St NW (Columbia Heights) ~ "Brooks Books, A Celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks" (Free)
Join editors of The Golden Shovel Anthology (Peter Kahn; Ravi Shankar; Patricia Smith), the Guild Literary Complex, 826DC & Brooks Permissions to celebrate two new Gwendolyn Brooks anthologies. Featuring performances by Terrance Hayes, Dottie Lasky, Kwame Dawes, Camille Dungy, Adrian Matejka, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Dorrianne Laux & Nora Blakely. A night of feasting & legacy poetry!
(I'm biased, because I helped coordinate, but trust that the house will fill up fast.)
Thursday, February 9 ~ 8-10 PM ~ Bayou, 2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (near George Washington University) ~ "The Magnificent Seven: A reading hosted by Pleiades, AGNI, American Literary Review, Boulevard, Cream City Review, Gulf Coast, and Poemoftheweek.org" (Free)
Come to Bayou to celebrate the Magnificent Seven at a reading by our contributors, including: Chen Chen, Alice Elliott Dark, Matt Donovan, David Keplinger, Shara McCallum, Gregory Pardlo, Caitlin Pryor, Maggie Smith, and Ryo Yamaguchi. Meet us upstairs for a drink in the company of friends.
Thursday, February 9 ~ 8 PM-midnight ~ Little Miss Whiskey's, 1104 H St NW (H Street) ~ "The Poetry Brothel at AWP" ($25)
The Poetry Brothel is a unique and immersive poetry event that takes poetry outside classrooms and lecture halls and places it in the lush interiors of a bordello. The Poetry Brothel presents a rotating cast of both male and female poets as “whores,” each operating within a carefully crafted character, who impart their work in public readings, spontaneous eruptions of poetry, and most distinctly, as purveyors of private poetry readings on beds, chaise lounges and in private rooms. For a small fee, all of the “poetry whores” are available for these sequestered readings at any time during the event.
Of course, any true brothel needs a good cover; The Poetry Brothel’s is an immersive cabaret, offering a live music, burlesque, vaudeville and fortune-tellers, with newly integrated themes, performances and installations at each event. Themed costumes and/or evening wear are encouraged but not required. This event is 21+.
The Poetry Brothel at AWP will feature The Bitter Dose Combo, burlesque artists, Ophelia Zayna Hart and Mademoiselle Estelle, tarot reader Melissa Shaw, sketch artist Gregg Vance Emery, an all-star cast of poetry whores including Michael H. Broder, Christina Beasley, John Dunn Smith, Shari Caplan, Stephanie Kaylor, Nicholas Oliver Moore, Emi Bergquist, and Patricio Ferrari, and, of course, your hosts, Stephanie Berger, Nicholas Adamski, and the amazingly hilarious Mister Charley Layton.
Friday, February 10 ~ 3-5 PM ~ Busboys and Poets, 1025 5th St NW (Mount Vernon) ~ Kick-Ass Writers and Teaching Artists / AWP17 (Free)
More fairness for Adjunct Professors In Higher Ed with readings by--Kaveh Akbar, Cynthia Atkins, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Chen Chen, Claudia Cortese, Roy Guzman, Vandana Khanna, Jen Knox, Richard Peabody, Octavio Quintanilla, Lee Ann Roripaugh, and Melissa Studdard.
Friday, February 10 ~ 6-9 PM ~ True Reformer Bldg, 1200 U St NW (U Street/Shaw) ~ Fierce LOVE: The Field Office Collective Reading (Free)
A Field Office reading featuring Nikky Finney, Ross Gay, Dorianne Laux, Ada Limón, Adrian Matejka, Gregory Pardlo, Kazim Ali, Curtis Bauer, Rebecca Gayle Howell, & Steve Scafidi.
Friday, February 10 ~ 7-9:30 PM ~ 826DC & Tivoli's Astounding Magic Supply Co., 3333 14th St NW (Columbia Heights) ~ "Adapted" (Free, donations requested)
Award-winning writers Danielle Evans, Belle Boggs, Tania James, Matthew Klam, Mariama Lockington, and Mike Scalise have their live readings adapted instantly by illustrators in a real-time, bookmaking event mixer that benefits student programming at 826DC, a free writing center for DC students.
Friday, February 10 ~ 8 PM-10 PM ~ Coffy Cafe, 3110 14th St NW (Columbia Heights) ~ "Kick-Ass Women Kick Ass" (Free)
Join 5 kick-ass women poets for a kick-ass reading: Jan Beatty, Sarah Browning, Denise Duhamel, Niki Herd, Valerie Martínez No cover. Free snacks & drinks. Doors open at 8 pm. Readings at 8:30 pm.
Saturday, February 11 ~ 7 PM-10 PM ~ Home-hosted, 1402 12th St NW (Logan Circle) ~ "TOAST: Raise a Glass to What's Good" (Free, donations requested)
TOAST is a benefit for Writers in Baltimore Schools (twitter.com/WritersinBmore). Come, hang out, raise a glass. No cover, no hard sell, but bring some cash (or credit) to donate to this worthy cause. We'll have craft cocktails and NA drinks, light fare, and toasts from your favorite writers—ALL FREE.
Featuring toasts from writers from Baltimore and around the country, including: Hossannah Asuncion, Stephanie Barber, Mark Chambers, Nitya Ventkarama Chambers, Tracy Dimond, Sarah Rose Etter, Amelia Gray, Kamden Hilliard, Michael Kimball, Justin Sanders, and YOU. Presented by Submittable, FSG Originals, Atomic Books, Publishing Genius, Spencer Printing, Magic Helicopter Press, Albright, and more.
Saturday, February 11 ~ 7:30 PM-9:30 PM ~ Busboys and Poets, 1025 5th St NW (Mount Vernon) ~ Stadler Center Literary Reading (Free)
Join the Stadler Center @ Busboys & Poets for a reading by past fellows and residents Justin Boening, Eduardo C. Corral, Carolina Ebeid, Leslie Harrison, Donika Kelly, Emily Means, Emily Rapp, Mike Scalise, Chet'la Sebree, Tim Seibles, and Jane Wong. Hosted by Shara McCallum.
The Stadler Center for Poetry seeks to foster in a wide and varied audience an appreciation for the diversity and richness of contemporary poetry and the other literary arts. We also provide support for writers at various stages of their development and careers.
Saturday, February 11 ~ 8 PM-9:30 PM ~ Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW (U Street/Shaw) ~ "Literary Death Match DC Spectacular" ($15)
LDM heads to the nation's capital for a magical night of bent on protesting (and distracting from) the horrors happening over at 1600 Pennsylvanie Ave. Readings from Whiting Award-winners Mitchell S. Jackson, Roger Reeves, Safiya Sinclair, & Elena Passarello. Judged by Claire Vaye Watkins & more! Hosted by Adrian Todd Zuniga.
The array of offsite events is genuinely dazzling. Some years I've tried to hop between two, three, four things. Some years I've skipped all in favor of a meal with friends.
In general, I confess that I am wary of marathon readings featuring 10+ people, as all it takes is one selfish mic hog to throw the whole timeline off. Also, PLEASE be considerate of keeping aisles clear, as these events are often overcrowded. This creates a welcoming space for those with mobility impairment.
I would also add that for those with accessibility issues, fully vet the building prior to arrival. Many historical DC spaces are non-ADA compliant. Sometimes those with accommodations require staff assistance to locate / operate them.
Flash protests have been taking place frequently in downtown DC, particularly outside the White House and the Trump International Hotel, and at National and Dulles airports. On Friday, February 10, at 1:30 PM, "Writers Resist Trump" is a gathering that will begin in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis and proceed from there to Capitol Hill. The idea is to visit the offices of your congressmen en masse to ask questions, express concerns, and hand off letters. Some groups have gone so far as to schedule (independently) appointments for an in-person meeting. On Saturday, February 11, at 6:15 PM, Split This Rock is coordinating a "Candlelight Vigil for Expression of Freedom" featuring Kazim Ali, Carolyn Forche, Ross Gay, and more. The group will meet in Lafayette Park directly across fro the White House. That morning, at 9:30 AM at the STR headquarters (1301 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 600, accessible from the Dupont Circle metro stop), they are hosting an informational meeting on how to organize resistance movements in your hometown. PEN America put together a guide of relevant panels to resistance that includes discussions of translation, immigration, and political poetry.
Socializing & Networking
Lead with a compliment. Always have a fallback question ("How was the trip to DC?" "Have you spent time in town before?" "What's been the highlight so far for you?" "Who's the writer you're secretly hoping to get stuck in an elevator with?"). They don't have to be brilliant questions, you're just creating space for people to warm up.
Not talking about writing is one of my favorite parts of AWP. Passionate conversation about record collecting, or the pet waiting for you back at home, where you got that tie, or the best way to cook chili are all welcome. Politics are welcome, but start with sincerity before cutting to humor. Don't assume you know everyone's position just because we share a vocation. Discuss issues rather than fixating on the people in play. This tends to be a less polarizing entry point, which can yield a deeper discussion.
If your main hesitation is feeling like you don't have sufficient pub credits to carry a conversation, stop worrying right now. Don't underestimate the interest people might have in your "other" job. In a gathering of thousands, your banality is guaranteed to be someone else's novelty. If, on the contrary, you find yourself down some deep rabbit hole of gossip over who got what tenure-track gig or the percolating outcome of a major book award, take a quick look around to be sure everyone feels included. Three minutes of that is fun. Five minutes and counting can get a little obnoxious.
Also, that thing where you're having perfectly good conversation with X when some other person--slightly more charismatic, perhaps, slightly more expensively dressed, perhaps--comes into your ten-foot radius and your eyes start flicking over, trying to check their name tag, because you're pretty sure that person is Famous Author Y?
Yeah, everyone can tell you're doing that. People's eyes don't just naturally settle in the mid-belly area. If it is Famous Author Y, they have had enough AWP meet-and-greets that they probably won't remember this one that you're angling to get. Meanwhile, X--the person you blew off so you could go meet Y--will remember that for a long time.
On the other hand, this is totally fine: leaning in and saying to X, in a conspiring tone, I think that's Famous Author Y. I'm such a fan. Can we go crash their conversation, you think? Who knows. X might have an "in" that you do not. If they have neither in nor interest, you're giving them the opportunity to gracefully excuse themselves.
When you stop by tables at the book fair, be aware that the best way to make a good impression is to take something from them, not give something to them (unless that "something" is your money). These publishers / editors / professors / students / staff / interns hauled boxes to DC and created a space to tell you about what they put into the world, often in unpaid capacities. Ask about those projects; ask about their own creative identities; take or buy sample books and issues; don't lead with "Will you read my work?" Later--when they are not trying to pack a suitcase for a return flight--you can follow up with pitches, submissions, even whole book manuscripts per their guidelines. "I really enjoyed speaking with you at the AWP Conference" becomes your point of introduction.
Bring business cards that include your email address at a minimum (mine also include the titles of my books, and my phone number, with a space for jotting notes). If you're giving away postcards, don't be offended when people immediately fold the card in half before sticking it into a pocket or purse. They are not insulting the material, they are just trying to make it business-card sized.
For the Sake of All Humanity
-Tip your housekeeping staff each and every day you get their services.
-Don't get drunk or maybe do the one late night, but only the one.
-If you forget or mangle someone's name, own the error. We've all been there.
-Be kind. We're a weird bunch but we are united in our language-loving weirdness.
There are a couple of fun stretches of newish development along 9th Street NW, adjacent to the Convention Center. Baby Wale is a hipster upscale junk food paradise. Look for the block of Lost & Found (a bar cheekily decorated in vinyl), All-Purpose Pizzeria (Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema's recent fave), and Espita Mezcaleria (Spanish cantina, with seven different moles, tacos, and great shareable house salsas / guacamoles). Someone will pull you in for a lunch at Smoked and Stacked, the new joint from Marjorie Meek-Bradley (Top Chef runner-up), or to get an afternoon sandwich at SUNdeVICH. I haven't even bothered recommending these spots to people, because they will be packed organically.
Just a few blocks south of the convention center, the Arena / Gallery Place area is 50% dynamite (home base for José Andrés!) and 50% tourist traps (e.g. Zengo, Sushi-Go-Round, Ping Pong Dim Sum). Technically this neighborhood is also Chinatown, but I can't steer you toward any gems among the longtime staples; I have experienced cheap but not good-cheap. For good-cheap, trek up to Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th St NW, or Panda Gourmet in the Days Inn on New York Avenue NE. I'm also intrigued by Chao Ku, but have not been yet.
In contrast, the "City Center DC" complex is aggressively expensive with imports such as Momofuku and DBGB; avoid Fig & Olive at all costs. On the CCDC outskirts, Del Campo is aggressively expensive but kinda worth it. RPM Italian, owned by the Rancics, is supposed to be pretty, better than expected, but unlikely as a first pick of any non-politico local.
Some favorites close to the convention center...
Daikaya (Japanese / 705 6th St NW)
Teaism (Fusion /400 8th St SW)
Zaytinya (Mediterranean / 701 9th St NW)
Oyamel (Mexican / 401 7th St NW)
The Partisan (American /709 D St NW)
Rasika (Indian / 633 D St NW)
Some favorites worth the 15-minute trek by taxi...
Thip Kao (Laotian / 3462 14th St NW)
Izakaya Seki (Japanese / 1117 V St NW)
2Amys (Italian / 3715 Macomb Street NW)
Kyirisan (Chinese / 1924 8th St NW)
Chez Billy Sud (French / 1039 31st St NW)
Whaley's (Seafood / 301 Water St SE)
Estadio (Spanish / 1520 14th St NW)
Kapnos (Greek / 2201 14th St NW)
Bindaas (Indian / 3309 Connecticut Ave NW)
Lapis (Afghani / 1847 Columbia Rd NW)
Garrison (American / 524 8th St SE)
Mintwood Place (American / 1813 Columbia Rd NW)
Kaz Sushi Bistro (Japanese / 1915 I St NW)
Bistrot Lepic (French / 1736 Wisconsin Ave NW)
Lavagna (Italian / 538 8th St SE)
Ethiopic (Ethiopian / 401 H St NE)
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (Seafood / 1612 14th St NW)
Baan Thai (Thai / 1326 14th St NW, 2nd Floor)
Overall, DC is having a great restaurant moment. You know what I am not going to do, though? Pretend to be an authority on barbecue. I trust my friend Tim's judgment. He says Hill Country is pretty good, actually, and it's close to the convention center.
Other spots that people rave about--but I have not been to personally, in part because of allergy concerns--are Rose's Luxury, Bad Saint, Compass Rose, The Red Hen, Maketto, Tail Up Goat, Le Diplomate, and Komi / Little Serow. Since long waits in line are not AWP-friendly, you might investigate and save some of those for another trip to town. Fiola, Fiola Mare, Kinship, Del Campo, Pineapple & Pearls, etc. are great if you have recently come into a small inheritance.
For bars you might check out the whiskey selection at Jack Rose Saloon, the speakeasy-style The Sheppard in Dupont Circle, something made to order at Beuchert's Saloon, a draft beer at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe or Big Hunt, a beer and a pinball game at Lyman's Tavern, a beer and a round of skeeball at Iron Horse Taproom, a cocktail named for a poet at Room 11, a cocktail named for a novelist at Petworth Citizen, or a classic sipper in front of the fireplace at The Tabard Inn.
Give yourself permission to get away. If you're at an offsite nearby, break away to go hear live music at Gypsy Sally's (Georgetown, bluegrass), Black Cat (14th Street NW, rock / DJ), the Rock 'N Roll Hotel (H Street NE, rock), or Madam's Organ (Adams Morgan, rhythm and blues) or Columbia Station (Adams Morgan, jazz).
Or check out the amazing renovation of the National Gallery of Art's East Wing, not to mention the Stuart Davis show in the West Wing. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is very close to the convention center and has hours that run helpfully late, 11:30 AM to 7 PM on weekdays. Passes to the National Museum of African American History and Culture may be tough to get, but the Newseum's exhibit on "1967: Civil Rights at 50" is brand new and very relevant to these times. The Newseum is a pricey exception to the standard of free museums in DC, but it is worth visiting once.
...Okay, okay. These ambitious plans tend to fall by the wayside. I know.
Welcome to our city. I'll see you soon.