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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Review

It's been a week since I attended the AWP Annual Conference and Bookfair. I took plenty of notes, met some fantastic people and got inspired to write, write, write. Which is what I've been up to lately, lots of writing. I completed a few writing assignments and projects and I began some new ones.

There were dozens of workshops to choose from every day. I attended with my friend and we decided to split up the entire duration of the conference in order to cover more topics and then go over our notes together at the end of the weekend. And the planned worked out great.

Here's the list of workshops I attended during our four days at the AWP Conference. The workshops with asterisks were most helpful and insightful.

R113. New Media for New (and Old) Authors and Writers *
(Priscilla Long, Matt Briggs, Waverly Fitzgerald, Rebecca Agiewich, Cynthia Hartwig)
Private Dining Room 2, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
What do writers need to know about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LibraryThing, Goodreads, YouTube, SheWrites,, and author pages on these sites and other new media? What is essential? What is too much? What about that book trailer? What considerations and issues should we authors and writers reflect on as we negotiate these new ways of connecting and communicating? Is ignoring all of this an option? What is the downside?

R127. Ideas That Always Work; Solutions That Never Fail: Best Practices for the Creative Writing Workshop
(Christopher Castellani, Ethan Gilsdorf, Lisa Borders, Jill McDonough)
Continental A, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
Every workshop has problems: the dude who won’t stop talking; the lady who keeps psychoanalyzing; the inappropriately dirty/violent/creepy story. Every workshop needs new ideas: unique exercises that always yield worthwhile pages; rules that structure conversation without squashing spontaneity. In this panel, instructors of all genres will share case studies of how they deal with common problems and also reveal their best strategies for maximizing the effectiveness and fairness of workshops. 

R161. Behind the Scenes of Implementing a Successful iPad and Tablet Publishing System
(Rajesh Padinjaremadam, Paul Joseph)
Marquette, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
iPad and other tablets are evolving as an important channel for publishers. However, publishing to these tablets presents multiple challenges for business models, technology roadmaps, content creation, and reformatting workflows. This session speaks about the best practices in publishing content to tablets for newspapers and magazines, based on our experience working with a number of publishers.

R179. Nikki Giovanni: A Cave Canem Legacy Conversation
(Alison Meyers, Nikki Giovanni, Thomas Sayers Ellis)
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
Called the Princess of Black Poetry in her early career, Nikki Giovanni has for four decades engaged deeply with the political and the personal. A popular poet whose versatile work inspires and challenges both adults and youth, she has received over twenty honorary degrees and numerous literary awards. Following Ms. Giovanni’s brief reading, Thomas Sayers Ellis will conduct a wide-ranging conversation with the distinguished poet who declares, “Writing is... what I do to justify the air I breathe.” My Favorite Workshop! I met Nikki Giovanni and took a photo with her. It was fantastic. She is full of insight. She was witty and engaging. I was on the edge of my seat listening to every word.

R221. What about Blog?: How Blogging Can Propel Your Career and Polish Your Craft
(Sarah Klenakis, Turi Fesler, Claire Bidwell Smith, Rachel Vogel, Caitlin Leffel)
State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Sure, lots of writers blog, but what can you do to actually capitalize from your daily posts? A writer, editor, literary agent, and blog sponsor come together to discuss what appeals to them when reading online, how you can better attract followers, make money from your blogging, and possibly even find a job. From sharing success stories to blogging “don’ts,” this panel will clarify the murky waters that surround online writing.

R241. You Wrote It, Now Promote It: DIY Publicity for the Busy Writer
(Brendan Constantine, Kim Dower, Janice Eidus, Elise Paschen, Douglas Kearney)
Empire Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
At a time when publishing is in a profound state of flux, there is no one right way to promote a book. Whether you do fifty events in fifty days or six in six months, there are ways to find and connect with an audience. Each panelist in this diverse group has stories to share of the modern marketing tactics they’ve used to promote their work. Join them for a wide-ranging discussion on the hazards and unexpected pleasures of juggling a new book with a new baby, family, jobs, and sanity. 

Off-site Events We Attended That Evening
Join BLOOM for the launch of DIvining Divas, a poetry anthology of poetry by gay men (many of whom have appeared in BLOOM). Contributors reading from anthology: * Richard Blanco ENDORA/Bewitched * Jericho Brown DIANA ROSS * Regie Cabico NINA SIMONE * Bryan Borland MAYA ANGELOU * Joseph Campana AUDREY HEPBURN * Steve Fellner MISS PIGGY * Charles Flowers BARBRA STREISAND * Michael Klein LAURA NYRO * Paul Lisicky JONI MITCHELL * Lonely Christopher GERTRUDE STEIN * Angelo Nikolopoulos GRETA GARBO * Ruben Quesada OPRAH WINFREY * Douglas Ray DIXIE CARTER/Designing Women Special guests include: * Sarah Browning * Elaine Sexton * Dorianne Laux * Kathie Berquist * Ana Bozicevic (Really enjoyed meeting new people. There were about 6 women in the entire club and the club was packed, my friend and I were probably the only two single straight ladies. It was so much fun though. I don't think I've ever been in a club full of men that weren't looking for women. Loved it. I met a great writer there as well. Hey Josh!)

AWP 2012 Karaoke Idol 
Held at the Beauty Bar
After readings and other literary events, presses from Chicago and beyond will battle for the AWP 2012 Karaoke Idol throne, followed by Karaoke-dance party. Karaoke Idol Judges: Amy Guth, Joe Meno, and Patrick Sommerville. Presented by Another Chicago Magazine (ACM), Artifice Mag, Curbside Splendor, Featherproof Books -- contestants, more info to come... (This was hilarious. Attendees really let loose and had fun. The only thing I didn't like was the long line outside to get in. It was freezing cold and I was not happy about it at all.)

F105. Behind the Book: Debut Authors Reveal the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Kristen-Paige Madonia, Alexander Yates, Amina Gautier, E.C. Osondu)
Continental B, Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level
From requesting book blurbs to receiving first reviews, authors discuss the road to publication and the speed bumps they stumbled on along the way. Panelists will address the pros and cons of publishing with large houses versus university presses and will focus on the mysterious window of time between signing contracts and launching their debuts by discussing things they wish they’d known, things they never expected, and tricks they’re glad they used to prepare for their first book publication. 

F125. Writing for Young Adults *
(April Lindner, Marilyn Nelson, Helen Frost, Curtis Crisler, Meg Kearney)
Astoria, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Young adult literature is as diverse and ambitious as any literature. What is the appeal of writing for a younger audience, and what are the practical concerns of the author who writes literary YA poetry or fiction? A panel of poets and novelists will explore the vibrant world of YA literature and examine the many ways in which it literature can be relevant, experimental, traditional, and necessary.

F155. How Far is Too Far? Facing Self-Censors and Publishing Censors When Writing about Coming-of-Age for Young Adults *
(Laura Otto, Ann Angel, Daniel Kraus, Penny Blubaugh, Ricki Thompson)
Joliet, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
When writers work to capture the emerging adult at the end of the young adult journey to independence, they find their characters exploring the forbidden adult world. These stories often depict experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sexuality. How do writers, compelled to tell the truth of the adolescent’s journey respond to the interior voice that warns, “You can’t write that”?

F205. Bridging the Gaps of Race, Gender, and Culture in Children’s and Young Adult Literature *
(Kekla Magoon, René Colato Laínez, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Bridget Birdsall)
Joliet, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Caucasians will be a minority in the U.S. by the year 2020. The new multiracial face of America is bridging cultural divides on many levels and embracing a brave new world where geeks, freaks, and queers can likewise no longer be hidden in literary closets. As reading rates decline, children’s writers are uniquely poised to promote a literature that better acknowledges who we are becoming. This panel will help writers give voice to the other in a meaningful way.

F241. The Literati: Deconstructing Publishing Myths for Writers
(Ben Pfeiffer, Danielle Evans, Brian Shawver, Joe Miller, Jacinda Townsend)
Empire Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton, Lobby Level
Authors address misconceptions about publishing, including how agents are found, the importance of networking, and publishing as it relates to writing. Unpublished writers often become consumed with anxiety about the world of publishing, asking questions such as: Why is no one publishing me? Do I not know the right people? The panel seeks to return the focus of publication from gimmickry to writing itself, emphasizing craft, hard work, awareness of form, and the mechanics of language.

F153. A Reading and Conversation with Jaimy Gordon and Rebecca Skloot 
(Jaimy Gordon, Rebecca Skloot, Donna Seaman)
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
A reading and conversation by best-selling authors Jaimy Gordon and Rebecca Skloot. The conversation will be moderated by critic and editor Donna Seaman. (I met Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I took a picture with her :-)) She's very pretty.

F247. A Reading and Conversation with Esmeralda Santiago and Jesmyn Ward, Sponsored by Columbia College Chicago Poetry & Nonfiction Programs
(Esmeralda Santiago, Jesmyn Ward, Samuel Park)
Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
A reading and conversation by best-selling authors Esmeralda Santiago and Jesmyn Ward. The event will be introduced and moderated by Columbia College faculty member and novelist Samuel Park.

F248. A Reading and Conversation with U.K. and U.S. Poets Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine, Sponsored by the Poetry Foundation
(Don Share, Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Levine)
International Ballroom North & South, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
The Poetry Foundation presents a reading and conversation by the current United Kingdom and United States poets laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine. The event will be introduced and moderated by Poetry magazine senior editor, Don Share. (I met the Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. He is very charming and witty. Would've loved to have a sit down with him. There was a crowd of people waiting to see him, so I didn't get a chance to take a photo with him. But he did autograph a copy of his book that I purchased :-))

S103. Connecting with Readers via Your Website and Social Media
(Michele Wolf, Kim Addonizio, Leslie Pietrzyk, Matt Bell, Paul Lisicky)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
Having a vibrant, user-friendly Web presence—via your own website (supplementing a publisher’s and/or employer’s page for you), blogging, Facebook, and other social media—has become a key asset for engaging readers and students, being part of the conversation, and expanding interest in your work. Learn how to create an appealing, fun-to-click site that best represents your books and passions, what resources and social media contact that readers most appreciate, and what pitfalls to avoid. For me, this workshop didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Was really basic :-(

S140. Queer Voices in Young Adult Literature **
(M. Molly Backes, Meagan Brothers, Alexandra Diaz, James Klise)
Crystal Room, Palmer House Hilton, 3rd Floor
Do queer and questioning teen readers recognize themselves in young adult literature? How does our culture of book banning affect the queer stories we tell? What counts as queer, anyway—does the term include gender identity as well as sexuality? This panel brings together five YA authors whose books feature LGBT, questioning, and cross-dressing characters for a lively discussion of inclusion, visibility, censorship, what we owe today’s youth… and what we can deliver. Loved, loved, loved this workshop. Did I mention I loved this workshop? The panel of speakers at this workshop were friendly, insightful and very encouraging. I left this workshop wanting to write immediately. 

S168. Kids Today: Teaching and Administrating a Young Writers’ Conference
(Juliana Gray, Carrie Jerrell, Rahul Mehta, Susan Morehouse, Margo Figgins)
Red Lacquer Room, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
How do you teach teens the elements of literary craft then sing karaoke with them later the same night? Join teachers and administrators of the Alfred University Creative Writing Summer Institute, the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference, and the UVA Young Writers Workshop—and a former UVAYW student—to find out. We’ll discuss pedagogy, activities, and how young writers’ conferences can recruit promising undergraduates to your university. 

S191. Coloring Outside the Lines *
(Sandra M. Yee, J. Michael Martinez, Jamaal May, Dina Omar, Jane Wong)
Red Lacquer Room, Palmer House Hilton, 4th Floor
Poets and scholars who identify as writers of color explore connections between racial/ethnic identity and writing. How do we respond to the pressure to represent our cultures? How can we create better support systems for each other? Can (should) we initiate healthier dialogues on race, and who is obliged to take a leadership role in initiating this kind of dialogue? And what does our own writing reveal about how we’re redefining the boundaries of racial and ethnic identity?

S203. Writing About Social Issues in Children’s & Young Adult Books **
(Renee Watson, Coe Booth, Shadra Strickland)
Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago, 8th Floor
Though the language of children’s literature might be simplified for its audience, the content and craft does not have to compromise its substance and complexity. In this session, panelists talk about the importance of presenting social issues in children’s literature. They will speak about preaching vs. storytelling and share how books about sensitive topics provide a starting place for conversations with children. Authors will read excerpts of their works, followed by a discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop. Imagine my surprise to see Coe Booth on the panel. She is the author of the YA book, Tyrell. My kids have all read this book and I was so disappointed they didn't have books to sell to have autographed. I didn't know she would be there, (oversight on my part) and so I didn't bring my kids copy. But she and Renee Watson offered some of the best advice at the workshop about censorship and writing for young adults facing social issues.)

S218. The Dome of Heaven: Making an Independent Film
(Diane Glancy, Thirza Defoe)
Boulevard Room A,B,C, Hilton Chicago, 2nd Floor
Independent filmmaking is in. Every time I open my e-mail, I find a new festival. In 2010, I made a film. Several components came together: money, actors, crew, and location. Two weeks and $200,000 later, I had a film, The Dome of Heaven. Independent filmmaking is much like writing a book. It's harder, of course, because many people are involved, but completing draft after draft in filming and editing, submitting the film to festivals, and being accepted or rejected, is similar to the writing process.

This conference was beneficial and rewarding. I learned to prioritize my writing assignments. I was inspired to get back to the passion of writing and to complete some projects I had put on the back burner. I met some fantastic people from all walks of life, from different points in their writing career, some voracious readers and some great bloggers. I will share some more of that in the future. To learn more, go to the AWP website.

Stay tuned this week for my interview with award winning author, Bernice L. McFadden, author of Sugar, This Bitter Earth, The Warmest December, Glorious and Gathering of Waters, just to name a few of her titles. She had some interesting things to say as we discussed the publishing machine behind books and her book Sugar coming to the big screen.


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I am a writer, filmmaker, wife and a mom of five beautiful, intelligent, quirky kids. This blog is for writers, aspiring writers, filmmakers and movie lovers. Bringing you my favorite books, films and photos, as well as giveaways and updates on my journey. I'm currently in the process of producing my first short film from my collection of short stories titled, If I Had My Way. The first story to be filmed will be Tandarin Drive. My award winning book, If I Had My Way, is available now. You can purchase a copy at and You may contact me via email at:

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