Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thirteen Ways to Look at AWP: My Favorite Quotes

The only time I’ve been able to attend AWP has been when it’s in Chicago, so this was my third go around. One reason I became a teacher is that nobody would pay me to be a full time student. At AWP I get to be a student again and it’s inspiring to see and hear the work of my peers and to connect with old friends. I filled a ream of notebook paper with quotes and ideas, and I started this week ready to charge back into my current writing project. Here are thirteen snippets from AWP, whether quotes or poems or stories or jokes:

  • “…my wish, indeed my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight."—Eudora Welty
  • "A man is about to be hanged. 'Do you have anything to say?' asks his executioner as he leads him up the gallows and cinches the noose. 'Yes,' the man says: 'This thing doesn't look safe.'"
  • “What’s truer than truth? The story.”—Isabelle Allende
  • “Every story is a riddle…”  said Chris Abani in one panel. A little later he added that, “all literature is good gossip.” (In other words we read for mystery and the greatest mystery of all is each other—we must connect/or be fascinated by characters in the story.) Still, it was his definition of noir that fascinated me: “Noir is the result of the trauma of industrialization: we have been ripped from our roots.”
  • On research the research necessary for novels:  “Read two books and close your eyes.”
  • The screenwriter’s maxim from a great panel with Sean Otto on adaptation:“We have to get the cattle to Abilene—if it doesn’t solve the central problem, it has to go.”
  • “Violence in fiction is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality.”—Flannery O’Connor.
  • “America, stupidity plus enthusiasm is a dangerous combination.”—Tony Hoagland
  • I attended two panels on magical realism and speculative fiction and both were packed rooms. This shows to me how many readers and writers hunger for such stories. Here’s a favorite quote from the panel:“The uncanny is much richer than experience and embraces something lacking in real life. With deep roots in myth and folklore, it has potential to awaken us to the strangeness of life.”
  • On how Franz Kafka’s work foreshadowed the mechanized slaughter of the 20the century: “What golem, regardless of his strength can protect the people?”
  • On larger than life qualities of characters and fiction: “We are hardwired to crave novelty, our biological imperative. Such experiences—the mountaintop, the climax of a great story that invokes catharsis—release dopamine in our brains…In our fiction we must not buy into politeness. Let the character say or do that thing.”
  • Tony Hoagland received a standing ovation for his own version of William Carlos William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

“So much depends


a red multinational


glazed with tax


beside the white


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