where the writers are
AWP, Denver, Other Stuff...

Saturday, April 10, 2010
Much of my trip to Denver for the AWP Conference was enjoyable—it turned out to be, surprisingly, like a big writing reunion and hardly the intimidating networking deal I'd anticipated.  I had the opportunity to participate in an impromptu reading with staff and friends of Our Stories and to meet many of my favorite writers and editors in person.

Sure, the B&B where I was staying was dusty and chilly and adorned with competing flower collages that are imprinted forever in my subconscious, not to mention the fact that the establishment was tucked snugly between two bars and a liquor store, which made a night's sleep difficult. Oh, and  I lost my phone and credit card due to my sleep-deprived, zombie-like state, but in the end, it was utterly worth it (and my property did eventually show up again, thanks to the honest nature of writers). 

I was at home with a community of my peers and literary heroes They're all as crazy (dedicated) as I am, I thought, as I navigated the conference rooms and exhibits, noticing the sleep-deprived saggy eyes and coffee-in-hand lurch was common, not mine alone.

One panel, which I want to discuss briefly, seemed tailor-made for me, my current struggles and joys (and the topic of many a blog post lately); it was called “Truth or Trash” and it was a panel of female memoirists who discussed the value of the genre and the way it is often cheapened or ridiculed by mainstream media and critics as being self-indulgent. The panelists each told a story similar to my own, about reviews, good and bad, that discussed the writer, and not the writing. 

It was a discussion about the common trivialization of the genre in general, especially when the topic is a woman's life or hardship. Many of the writers discussed the fact that memoir is not often enough recognized as art, even when the craft that goes into it is as demanding (and sometimes more so) as that of the novel. What these women and the hundreds of people in attendance at the talk gave me was hope—there are people out there beginning to recognize the value of literary non-fiction, but when it comes to memoir, it can be more difficult to be taken seriously as a writer and acknowledged for attention to craft. 
 A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression

 A Memoir of PromiscuityBut what will happen as this changes, and it will change, is that more voices (a more diverse scope of voice) will be heard, and to all my fellow memoirists out there: the adversity of the community will only make our voices all the more important. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I've been empowered by the company I keep, namely the fabulous women who gave this panel (Kerry CohenSue Silverman, Rachel Resnick, Melissa Febos, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (author of Willow Weep for Me). I'm so grateful. And perhaps Musical Chairs will find a broader audience of readers, after all, due, in no small way, to the ground-breaking efforts of other such writers.