Authors in the Spotlight: How To Turn Your Readings Into Book Sales
with Porter Anderson
Join me in this special three-hour intensive Boot Camp session at Writer’s Digest Conference East (#WDCE) at 12:30pET on Friday, April 5. We’ll look at public presentation for the entrepreneurial author in an interactive, up-on-your-feet workshop format: come with two pages of your work in progress, ready to rock and read.
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By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From March 7, 2013
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
That “W” in AWP
It stands for “writer” and it refers to all writers.
This week, we’re heading, in our thousands, into Boston’s Hynes Convention Center for the three-day Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference—#AWP13 to your tweetly neighbors, and the Epilogger I have running on it is right here, good way to look in on it.
Having written about AWP in general at Publishing Perspectives earlier this week in Ether for Authors: AWP’s Boston Foray, I want to bring up a yearly factor in this big, big college-festival gathering. And I want to do it carefully, respectfully, and as positively as possible.
In a moment, in fact, I’m going to tell you what I’m not saying. Because it’s very hard, at times, for us to handle this issue without charged feelings waylaying the discussion. And I’d like you to be perfectly clear on what I’m not saying.
I am not saying that there are too many sessions at AWP focused on women’s issues. Twenty-three sessions, by my count.
I am wondering why there aren’t more sessions than there are—I count just one—having to do with men’s issues.
AWP claims to be the largest literary conclave in North America, and some 11,000 people are anticipated this week. I’m glad to tell you that in past years, I’ve found the male-female ratio at this gargantuan conference looks to be far closer to 50-50 than you might expect from a 23-to-1 imbalance of gender-themed sessions.
A couple of years ago in Portland, Oregon, in fact, organizers of the Willamette Conference turned men’s rooms into women’s rooms because that major regional conference was almost overwhelmingly attended by women. We guys were left one restroom, which was kinder than directing us to the bushes outside by the parking lot.
Nevertheless, the campus-fueled sessions at AWP are, each year, curious in several regards beyond the lack of real-publishing-world developments, as I mentioned in the earlier article.
Went and registered for #awp13. Heard a speech that mentioned digital is killing everything. Ran into @BiblioCrunch. We know better.
— Kate Pullinger (@katepullinger) March 7, 2013
The more-than-500 sessions of the conference are selected from proposals solicited by the governing core of AWP at George Mason University. Indeed, one session at each conference is devoted to making just such a proposal. (Best Practices for Submitting an AWP Panel Proposal this year is at 10:30aET on Saturday, Room 101, Plaza Level, Session #S128, in case you’d like to be there.)
I’m not privy to the system by which sessions are selected. But I get no sense that a Dan Brownish wearing of the hooded cassocks is involved, and I have no reason to think that lots of proposals for men’s-issue sessions are being turned down for any reason.
As might be expected, some of the women’s-issue sessions have the ring of resistance, the good fight, the perceived lack of parity in literature. Such entries are so relentlessly in place each year that you wonder whether anyone would notice if things actually had got better for women since, say, last year’s AWP.
Personally, I’m not persuaded by the VIDA numbers that depict a fearsome bias in favor of men in media coverage of books. My skepticism comes from my own newsroom experience of how books normally enter the system for review-coverage consideration. But regardless of the militancy of some VIDA adherents, any suppression of women’s work and of media-writing by women is a completely serious concern, of course, always well represented at AWP.
Probably more helpful in bringing the good work of women to light are such sessions as:
- Writing the Ends of the Earth: Women Writers on the Arctic and Antarctica. (Thursday, ##153)
- Readings from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (Thursday, #R171)
- Women Poets on Mentoring (Thursday, #R251)—I’m glad to see this one’s description mentioning, “Women poets today have a wealth of literary models to turn to in their reading.”
Maybe less effective, for my money, are the politically tinged sessions such as Thursday’s Women’s Caucus (#R274). When that one’s description asks “Where is the place for the women writer(s) within AWP and within the greater literary community?” it seems to me that a 23-to-1 imbalance of women’s to men’s issue sessions calls the question into doubt.
There’s no men’s caucus, of course. What a silly thought.
A double whiskey at the Sheraton bar costs $24. That's as much as a house in Houston. #AWP13
— Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) March 7, 2013
Probably one of the more intriguing discussions might be heard in Friday’s The Bible, Women, and American Literature (#F268), which promises “five women writers who use Bible-based themes transformatively (sic) in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.”
The entertainingly named Women in Crime is on Saturday (#S136). The speakers are authors who will discuss, we’re told, “their choice to build a crime series around a female protagonist.” Mrs. Marple may ride that bike through the room at some point.
The New (England) Guard: A Poetry Reading (#S205) on Saturday does itself no favors in its description. It’s described as a way to “showcase the excellence and diversity of contemporary New England poetry.” That “diversity” is brought to you by a panel of five women and no men.
Arrived in Boston. Saying goodbye to the letter R now. #AWP13
— David Hicks (@hickswriter) March 7, 2013
Similarly, the description of Smart Girls on Saturday (#S256) is about as dispiriting as a visit to Hooters, proclaiming, “‘Girl’ does not denote age but power—no men in it.” Ghetto-ization hasn’t worked yet, and probably won’t work on Saturday, either.
I’d expect Translation: Across Languages and Codes to interpret some smart points, including, as it does (#S243) Vanessa Place’s inversions of male and female pronouns. I love Place’s text in Boycott Project #13, The Laugh of the Minotaur:
I shall speak about men’s writing: about what it will do. Man must write his self: must write about men and bring men to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies—for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal.
This, in fact, is probably related to the one session directly focused on men’s issues, Writing Masculinities on Thursday (#R117). In that panel, there’s to be a look at work “that reimagines the landscape of the masculine, directly or obliquely, through a dense exploration of subject matter and language.”
Tonight I skipped down Mass Ave in Cambridge. I'm a very serious writer. #awp13 #happybirthdaytome
— Dianne T. Richardson (@NovelDianne) March 7, 2013
And as frequently as we hear in the industry! the industry! that men aren’t reading enough, I’d like to think we might be getting closer to finding more ways to bring things together, not keep delineating them as separate and discrete.
This won’t be that year at AWP, obviously. But perhaps some work with some of the sponsors of the event can help bring some pressure to bear on the session-development process to begin to look at both the practical and economic advantages—let alone the sheer societal good sense—of getting us past gender “caucuses,” for God’s sake, and into more compassionate territory.
Oh god. #awp13 hasn’t even started yet and I’m already completely exhausted.
— Chip Blake (@chipblake) March 7, 2013
How much more can we ask anger to do for us?
It is time to liberate the New Man from the Old by coming to know him—by loving him for getting by, for getting beyond the Old without delay, by going out ahead of what the New Man will be, as an arrow quits the bow with a movement that gathers and separates the vibrations musically, in order to be more than him self.
And she is right.
City of Boston urges conference attendees – "please stop taping our accents for research for your short story set in boston" #awp13
— Raul Alvarez (@raulralvarez) March 7, 2013
Click to read this week’s full Writing on the Ether column at JaneFriedman.com.