I thought I would leave it at pie.
For me. It doesn't get any better than a shared meal with friends on our last night together in town. (Although I need to add here that the first-meal-of-AWP tradition I've got going with Mike Young and anyone who wants to join us is pretty awesome; two years strong, may it live on forever!) But yeah, I mean, we talk about how we're all friends. And it's true; we are; but, you know, some people just don't get it. Like. It's the Internet. Or, like, they don't even live in your town. But this is our work. Our lives. It's what we do every day. It's like a massive company and Dzanc is one department with its own floor and offices and MLP is another department on a different floor and somewhere else there's Featherproof and Octopus and etc., you know what I mean. And some people have corner offices with windows and some people work in the basement. But we're all there, and we're all trying to get up to the top where some of us already are. And some of us are happy to just be in the door at all. But the thing is: the door is always open. And all you have to do is step through it. And open your arms to the people waiting to welcome you inside. The people who will inevitably become your friends. And in some cases, your best friends.
So I want to say something about these friends.
And I'll start with my pie friends. Because they were there. It was our last night together after several hard days in a row. For anyone who has not been to AWP as a bookseller, let me tell you what your life is like: You get up at 7:30, shower, get ready, catch the 8:00 shuttle to the conference hotel, walk past the book fair guards at 8:30, hope and pray someone has coffee, start pimping books, and let me tell you about pimping books. If you do not pimp books. If you just sit there and wait for people to come up to you. They will not. And you will not sell books. You have to get them to your table. Most people are shy. Most people do not really want to drop $20 on books they haven't heard about and don't really trust. But most people, if only you ask them who their favorite authors are, what they've read recently, what they're looking for when they read, why they write, which cover they like best, which title they think is catchy, they will engage and they will buy books. If booksellers are super cute like Ben and Erinrose, and if you are Sasha Fletcher and working alongside them, people will buy the shit out of your books. That little trio of adorable hipsters sold so many books it's incredible. People also liked it when I told them they were free to tickle our books. That our books like it when they're tickled. I sold a shit-ton of books. Later I will mention Gene Morgan and how he saved my ass and what that involves is he held half the cash I had on my person so I didn't have to have it on my person anymore. So anyway, you pimp your books until 5:30, and if you are the MLP table on Saturday, you CLOSE DOWN THE FUCKING BOOK FAIR because people are STILL buying books at 6:00. Anyway, at 5:30 you get dinner with anywhere from 1 to 150 people who are heading to one reading or another. And then you go to that reading and listen to about anywhere from 2 to 40 (seriously!) people read, people you love and have supported before and continue to support by being there for them to hear their words in person instead of see them on the page. And after that reading you probably head to another reading, or a gathering spot where everyone comes together, and that is when the fun really begins because by this point you're having those late, late-night kinds of conversations with people. You meet people and talk to them and find out what they do. You meet amazing people. People who work for magazines you adore. Magazines you've never heard of. Magazines you would die to be in. People who work for presses you would die to be published by. And if you hit it off, even better. You see old friends, too, and catch up on what's happened in the last year. You find out people are engaged and in love and out of love and happy or not that happy or got a new job or looking for a job and getting interviews or not getting interviews, and you think, This is wonderful. And by then the bar is closing and it's time to go somewhere and some people go home but most people stay out and find their way to some hotel lobby or hotel suite or afterhours bar or whatever and the conversations continue until 4am, 5am, 6am, and then at any of these times you rise and say, This is wonderful, but I have to go, and so you go, get home, put your head down, and at 7:30 it's time to do it all over again. And it is. It is. Wonderful. The readings, the panels, the book-selling, the meeting people, dancing with people, hugging people, laughing with people until cheeks turn purple. It is a wonderful four-day mob scene. Bodies and bodies and work and work and some play. And so now I'm going to talk about pie. Because pie is what started this post. And if only Roxane had been there too it would have been perfect. But what can you do? It's not always perfect. But sometimes it's pretty damn close.
Pie Night, Pie Friends:
Christopher Newgent had pie. Planned pie, really. And the thing I remember that probably a lot of us don't is that he came after us, or me at least. This seems like a strange thing to start with, but it's true. We were waiting for him. He found us. And now he's a part of us. And we are richer for it because he is probably the nicest man you will ever meet. He is kind, gentle, warm, and has a wonderful laugh. He has a habit of crossing his arms over his chest, but that may be the jock part of him that the writer part of him never quite kicked. This is what makes him special, but he's also special because he cares. He cares about you. And me. And about what we do and how we do it and why we do it. And he does it for us. If that's not love, what is?
Lincoln Michel is a new friend, and really it seems strange to include him here but he was at pie and that is awesome because that right there is what AWP is about; I mean, there are so many offices and so many departments and sometimes those offices or departments overlap because there is some human person link between the two, but at AWP I think one of the goals is to start making those human-person links more like bridges, or like plains, expansive plains of human bodies, but anyway that's a stupid metaphor, so here goes the truth: the truth is I was always intimidated by him. And his 'crew.' Yes, I used single quotation marks there and you know why. Afraid because, like, they're the cool kids. As much as we like to think our community is all-inclusive, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it feels like I'm still that little girl at recess sitting on the grass reading mystery novels while the other kids play ball and laugh and have fun and for fun throw their big red kickball at the back of my head. And my glasses go flying off. And my lip bleeds because of teeth. But the other truth is once I actually met him, he turned out to be really nice. If anybody reading this ever feels sometimes that some of 'our' 'people' seem different, or better, or cooler, or whatever, I urge you to forget about that and introduce yourself and find out otherwise. Be surprised. Be wrong. Make a new friend.
Lily Hoang and I go back at least a year. I had applied to MFA school and she was a solid support system. My life was shit. When I say shit I mean I felt like if I didn't get into school I would probably have to work in bars for the rest of my life. I went and visited the school I applied to. This was in the winter. Just over a year ago. And in the months following I wondered if she would continue to be a support system (and here, I'll admit, I'm being cryptic; I'm not talking about writing stuff; I'm talking about friend stuff). And I can tell you from personal experience Lily will only love you when you fuck up. She will only provide pep talks when you do not get into the school. She will talk to you and send you hugs and tell you you're amazing even when you're not. She'll let you be who you are and defend you and apologize for people who don't deserve to be apologized for. She is an incredible woman with a heart the size of Texas, which, by the way, is where she's from. If you don't know Lily, you should. Everyone deserves to have a friend like her. (P.S. Lily. You know your love letters? I want our next collaboration to be a series of love letters. Full-length, woman. Let's do it. Let's break some fucking hearts in the process. Make people cry. In all the best ways.) Because if there's anyone who deserves to be loved, it's Lily. And I do. And I will. And I will never stop.
And Tim. You are the bravest, most fearless human being I know, and I am so lucky to know you; I am privileged. Honored. To call you my friend. When I saw how much I popped up in your post, I felt so happy and so lucky to have been there with you for those many incidents. When that fucker said that to you, I put myself between you and him. When they went by and others came our way, I put myself between them and you. The bouncer, Adam, saw that. This is why he pulled me aside. And the thing is, and you know this, I will do that for you always when we are together. I will put myself between you and the rest of the fucked up world and stare it down and tell it to fuck the fuck off. And when you told me about Dos Passos and I said that thing about Cheever, we were in a fucking sandwich shop on Sunday and on our way to the airport and I didn't want to let you go because you were the last link between the world we'd just been in and the world I had to return to, the world that for so many reasons I was not ready to return to or maybe just didn't want to return to, and anyway, I wanted to hold onto you because there is no one else I'd rather see last. Because you give me courage. Because you soar. So fucking far above the rest of us. And just don't ever, ever let anyone pull you down.
Ah, shit. Is this turning into a sappy post? Probably. But for good reason.
I've been to a few AWPs now and they are the highlight of my academic year. Every year I get to see everyone I love and work with every day, in person, for a few bright shining nights. And that is something special. It is something real. It's always real, except it's so real that after three or four full days it hurts to leave.
AWP Chicago, 2009
This was taken two years ago. This is me and Matt Bell in Chicago, which was the first AWP I went to where I felt like I knew people and that people knew me. I was such a baby then. A handful of publications. A year out of grad school. A brand-new press on my small list of accomplishments. And Matt, man, who even knows why, he had let me publish his first little book of stories. They are beautiful stories. And he's only gone on to write more stories. Stories more beautiful than those we worked on together. Stories that we have all seen get the bigger and wider recognition they deserve. Sometimes, when I think about how busy I am, I think of Matt, and I think: be busier. Destroy this world. Rebuild it. Make it better. Because that's what Matt's doing. Because that's what Matt's done. And I am so lucky to have been there then. Even luckier to have had a table beside his this year. The sheer number of young and old writers alike who came to meet him at the Dzanc table, well, it was breathtaking. There is no one that makes people feel as welcome as he does. Maybe he is our doorman. And we owe him something for that. Something big. Something like a gigantic Thanksgiving dinner with hot food and chest-warming drinks that make our heads fuzzy with happiness. Because that's what it feels like to see him treat people with the kindness and gratitude that all good people deserve. He just sort of gets that. And this is what I have learned from him. So thank you, Matt, for being you, and for teaching me.
AWP Denver, 2010
AWP DC, 2011
Me and Tim. The first one is last year. Denver. Wednesday night, I think. The night my grandmother died, I think. So I had to leave Denver early. Fly home for the funeral. But Tim was there. We were roommates. He was the first person I saw and told. I had to tell him I wouldn't be sharing the room with him after all. Perhaps this was the true beginning of our friendship. I like to think it was. I have loved him ever since. And that is why we spent so much time together this year (the second picture), so I could see his beautiful face. His sequins. Which "are a political statement!"
AWP DC, 2011
Me and Lily, at the Literature Party this year. And it's strange to think how much has happened since AWP 2009. This year I didn't go running around, not the same way I did in Chicago anyway, to everyone I knew. In Chicago, everyone was a celebrity to me. I was taking pictures all the time. I was seeing everyone for the first time. But this year, things were different. I knew people already. It felt more like a family reunion than a meet-and-greet reception. I've worked hard these past years, and things have happened in incredible ways. My book is only one year old. It's got a PEN nomination. It's in its third printing. We've sold hundreds of copies. And it's freaking poetry. And my little press, Cow Heavy, is only two years old and just released its fifth title. Its sixth (Kathy Fish's) is just waiting on blurbs and cover art, and soon it will be available for purchase. J. A. Tyler's, our seventh title, is in final edits. And what an exciting thing. What an amazing gift these writers have given me, given us. Their words. Their hearts. Their sorrows and joys. To share with them. Any time we want to just pick them up off a shelf and open them.
And Scott Garson, man. What a guy. I have so much to say. The first correspondence we had was when he accepted a story of mine for Wigleaf. But it had just been accepted by Quick Fiction, and I hadn't withdrawn it, and I felt so bad. I was visiting my folks and trying to explain how I'd fucked up but they didn't get it. But Scott understood, and I gave him another story. Not immediately. I think I waited until I had something better, I thought, than the one he'd taken. And he took it. And that story means something to me. That story, at the time, was the best of me. My heart. And some months later, when I asked him if he would send me a manuscript for my little press, he was so kind. He said yes. And this year, when finally I got to meet him in person, it was like magic. There he was. My author. My friend. And so of course I went to his reading the next night. And of course I hollered out a request. Because he knows how I feel about "Mississippi." And goddam I wanted to hear him read it. I wanted to see him read it from his book. To see that book in his hand and his eyes on the pages and his mouth moving the words that break my fucking heart every time. I am so proud of that book. I am so proud of him. For coming to DC. For being there with us. For taking something away from this past weekend: that we are here for him, just as he and Wigleaf have been here for so many of us.
It's time to return to Roxane Gay, who would have made pie night perfect. Because she's another woman I consider to be one of my friends. I had to ask her something today that I was uncomfortable asking, but I asked anyway, and her answer was pure love, man. I mean. She made everything okay for just a brief second. (More crypticism. Sorry.) But seriously, I felt like something was my fault. I had been led to believe it was my fault. But all it took was her to say, Fuck that. And I felt better. And I know I can talk to her about anything, and I hope she knows she can talk to me about anything. Because she's so fucking beautiful. And hard-working. And brilliant. I have so much respect for her I can't even express it here. But it's true: we are here, in all our professional and unprofessional ways, and for so many reasons thanks to her.
Big Poppa J. A. Tyler wasn't there this year, which is why I worked the MLP table every day from 9-5:30 (except when I had other obligations, like the panel I was on, which was directly responsible for our selling out of WTMAs). But what I'm about to share here is just perfect when it comes to our relationship as publisher and author, a funny little exchange we had on Saturday around 3:00. Tyler: "Is there anything I can do on my end to facilitate more sales?" Me (at the urging of Sasha Fletcher and Ben Segal): "Maybe you could call everyone at AWP and tell them to stop by the table one last time before they go." And a twenty or thirty minute cell-phone silence until the next text came in: "Done and done." And damned if we hadn't sold another 10 books in that time period. My response? "It worked!"
But I want to say something else about Jason. Sorry man, I just used your name. But I don't call you J. A. And I think that makes sense, right? I mean, you published my first book. My book was your first book. And it was only a year ago! And you took a chance on me. You accepted it without even seeing a full draft. When I abandoned the manuscript I queried with and told you I was running with something new, something better, you believed me. You said, I trust you. Now just go write it. And you put my words out into the world and look what's happened. We are real. The press is real. Titles from Ben Brooks and Sasha Fletcher and Norman Lock and Michael Stewart. Titles forthcoming from Matt Bell and Mathias Svalina. Man, look at what you've done. Can you see it? It is beautiful.
And there are just so many more people. People that have been there for me, have welcomed me, have held me together and held me up: like Blake Butler (he was the first, man. If not for him, I don't know if I'd have even found the Internet); Justin Taylor, who sent me the link to HTMLGIANT like a day after it launched, and I swear if you go back to the ancient archives I'm one of the very first commenters; and Gene Morgan, who no-questions-asked took on a shit-ton of responsibility for me Friday night at the Literature Party by holding in his own pocket something very near and dear to me that I couldn't, under pain of death, misplace, and so the next morning, when he personally delivered it to me, I forever realized what a gem we've got in Gene; Dan Wickett, who has been nothing but supportive from the very beginning (I mean, it's not called the Emerging Writers Network for nothing, you know?); Adam Robinson, who has introduced me to people that have changed my life; Justin Sirois, who I like to think of as another one of my friends, if for no other reason than because he was there and is still here now (more cryptic, sorry!), and Michael Kimball and Jen Michalski and Jamie Gaughran-Perez and Joe Young and Lauren Bender; Richard Nash, and new friends Tom Roberge and Fred Sasaki; Brian Allen Carr and Gabe Durham and Sean Ulman (boys, boys, boys!); Jesus Angel Garcia; Reese Kwon; and David Barringer (do you guys know him? He's awesome! Know him!) and Brian Clements and Randall Brown and Hugh Behm-Steinberg; Kevin Wilson, Ryan Call, Lee Klein, Christian TeBordo, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Zach Dodson, Jac Jemc; and Mathias Svalina, man, whose support I still don't get because he's like a freaking god to me and who am I but some little dorky kid running around saying, like, poems are cool and maybe I write poems too!; and William Walsh and Peter Cole (and all I have to say about that is Keyhole was great to me, Peter was great to me, Peter gave me a helping hand at getting a start in this business); David McNamara, who does all the prepress for Cow Heavy, and I could not do it without him; Craig Renfroe and Ryck Neube; Amy King and Ana B; Rose Hunter, Heather Fowler, Kim Chinquee, Ethel Rohan, Ryan Bradley, Shya Scanlon, Alexander Chee, Ben Percy; and Dave Housley and Mike Ingram; Jackie Corley; Ellen Parker and Dave Clapper; Cooper Renner; Rusty Barnes; Jason Jordan; Erin Fitzgerald and Amber Sparks; Jimmy the genius Chen; and Stephen Daniel Lewis and Shome Dasgupta; Darby Larson; John Dermot Woods and John Madera; Aaron Burch and Elizabeth Ellen and Jensen Beach and Adam Novy and Alban Fischer; David Duhr; Rich Rofihe; Yew Leong Lee; Tom Williams, Amy Minton, Rebekah Silverman and Tadd Adcox; and my god Kate Bernheimer and Michael Martone and Brian Evenson and Christopher Kennedy and Terese Svoboda and Richard Garcia for blurbing my book and god these six should be way up top somewhere because man, when they got that manuscript, who the hell was I, who the hell am I even now, you know?; and Dawn Raffel, who made it happen for me; and Shane Jones, Lydia Millet, Claudia Smith, Christopher Higgs, Ken Sparling, Ben Loory, John Domini, Andrew Zornoza, Joshua Michael Stewart; and, of course, my dream team at Cow Heavy, Donora Hillard and Erika Moya; and Eugene Cross and Blythe Winslow at Twelve Stories; and the entire Big Other gang. . . . And I know I'm forgetting like everyone, but please forgive me. Or remind me and I'll add you in.
I mean. This post could go on forever. But I have to stop sometime, just like the conference can't go on forever. So I'll close by repeating this post's title, which comes from Tim's Big Other post, and which is so true it hurts: "Molly likes to pretend AWP is her everyday life, like she just walked into a bar and randomly ran into all her writer friends, like AWP is its own city and that city is where we live."
And I, like Tim, "hope we can go back soon."
See you next year. And, in the meantime, I love you.