Daily Postings
Literature : essay

BOMB@AWP Liveblog: Feb 12, 3:30-4:40

by Natalie Edwards


Morgan Gliedman and Natalie Edwards will be liveblogging AWP for BOMBlog. Here’s Natalie’s first installment:


3:00. I spot a dude with a pompadour.

4:15. One of my favorite parts of the nostalgia-enducing bookfair for grown-ups, besides getting to know new publishers, is the tchotchke factor-temporary tattoos, many tiny buttons, bumper stickers, and my favorite bookfair tchotcke so far: the prose vending machine. Pop a quarter into the side and wait for a scroll of words to fall out the front. This is no Scholastic bus of soft-cover Clifford books, but a football field of Lit-related fun will do any day.

4:25. A school of serious-looking literary types with clean jackets swarm from “International” and “Continental” rooms to rooms named after Great Lakes. There is confusion over the location of these rooms, the crowd looks like a school of fish folding over on itself, but someone points out the one helpful person with a nametag posted at the top of the stairs. I hope she is not allergic to hip glasses.

Flashback, 12 pm. McSweeney’s Underground America Panel

This oral history discussion brought together fiction writers, some of which happen to be lawyers and doctors, and all of which happen to be oral historians. Sounds stuffy, but isn’t.

The discussion is focused on McSweeney’s Undergound America, a book I turn to over and over again, for the tremendous storytelling and as a guide for conducting interviews. The panelists agree that the aim of the book is to create an understanding of the personal stories of immigrants, but they admit that an eye for narrative, a gift they attribute to being fiction writers, is part of the book’s success.

The emphasis of Underground America, is to present immigrants as real people, not just soundbites on the local news. A lawyer on the panel says that when he represents a client, he doesn’t just get the facts of the case, he asks the individual what instrument he plays, what he first ate when he first came to this country and how he feels about it. The lawyer wants to be able to present the person as a whole, just as Underground America does. This is also the difference between journalism and oral history, they say: the McSweeney’s club wants to know who these immigrants are, show us who they are, not as victims, but as people with stories. Do I recommend this book? I do.

Ongoing. I am stalking Marilynne Robinson with no success. We have got to talk about this Housekeeping business. I have read what seems like thousands of nametags.

Writers conference