Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Andy Dost, a friend of Appazoogle, recently attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago. This annual celebration of the written word includes a lot of pro-print dialogue—but also involves a lot of innovative examples of creative writers harnessing digital solutions to promote literature.
Emerson College flew me to the epicenter of AWP12 in Chicago from February 29 through March 3. The conference gathered 10,000 writers, publishers, and editors, 400 panels and readings, and four showrooms-worth of book fair. It was a little Comic Con and a little Library of Babel, a colorful and crowded change from the lonely isolation stereotypical of the writing profession.
The Hilton Chicago and Palmer House, both 1920s hotels in the Chicago Loop, provided bright-lit ballrooms, crystal chandeliers, gold paint that isn’t just paint, and a maze of hallways in which I got lost time and time again. The turns I had to take to get from one ballroom to the next for panels (sometimes in the opposite hotel) meant that I bumbled around until I found the elevators again.
In my first panel, “Indie Lit in the Second City,” editors from small Chicago literature magazines and publishers talk about being smaller and local, working with distributors and catalogs, and praising print-on-demand for their journals and chapbooks. (Though when asked about distribution, James Tadd Adcox, editor of local Chicago literature magazine, Artifice, noted, “Our distributor is called an intern.”)
Remember: 10,000 people at any time could clutter the book fair-filled showrooms of the Hilton. Among tables for writing programs, literature magazines, and publishing companies, I ran into fellow writers, friends, and rivals from Chicago, New York, San Diego, Tampa, and (of course) Boston. I also ran into a stranger in a green-plumed raven costume giving flash performances of poetry. Including swag and literature I was conned into buying with sweet talk and pretty covers, my suitcase gained 12 pounds.
After a hunt for outlets in the Hilton’s gold-and-red-carpet lobby—this is a crucial conference survival skill, and always look behind the planters in the lobby first—I spent my recharge break searching the #AWP12 hashtag on my Seismic app and sifting through 12 pounds of book fair loot.
I bumbled my way through late-night readings, dances full ofTweed, and many more panels. Panels like “Midwest Gothic,” “Villains, Killers, and Criminals,” and “Beyond Pulp: The Futuristic and the Fantastic.” Like “Writing Games,” “Emerging Digital Genres,” and “Leaving a Paper Trail: The Relevance of Print Culture in a Digital Age.” Just imagine trying to get to all that.
My final panel carried the tagline, “The Best American Poetry Blog and the Future of Electronic Publishing.” Panelist and blog managing editor Stacey Harwood said the blog was not just for poetry but passion. Weekly guest bloggers could “post anything they wanted without the personal attacks” that run rampant on the Internet.
When the ubiquitous question, “is print dead?” came up, panelist Laura Orem answered, “Anyone who thinks [that] just needs to go downstairs.” Every ounce of publishing was on display or being recited by a man in a feathery costume: chapbooks, magazines, journals, and all formats of print-on-demand literature was advertised, with a few placards declaring free e-book downloads. Panelist Stephanie Brown, a poet and a librarian, said, “Everyone’s doing this for love.”
Answering what use a blog like the Best American Poetry has for writers, Orem said, “Writers are seen as isolationists. But writers can get that validation here.”
A conference helps, too.
Andy Dost is a Boston-area writer, editor, and publishing professional. He Tweets under the name @eaglie. Tweet hi sometime.