Saturday, April 10, 2010

AWP, Denver, Other Stuff...

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-indulgence and only labeled "art" because self-disclosure is "trendy". 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 as that of the novel. What these women and the hundreds of people in attendance at the talk gave me was hope—guess what? There are people out there beginning to recognize the value of contemporary literary non-fiction!  But, we cannot be so delusional as to think that as memoirists, we will not be the target of many critiques, critiques that do not even attempt to look at craft. When it comes to memoir, it can be more difficult to be taken seriously as a writer and acknowledged for attention, no matter how much is paid, to the development and balanced portrayal of our art.
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression

Loose Girl: A Memoir of PromiscuityThe prevalence of nonfiction narratives is, well, interesting.  With increased numbers of output, there are more good works being put out there, but the trouble is that literary nonfiction is being clustered together with a lot of crap.  What the panelists assured me is that this will change; the more voices (a more diverse scope of voice) will be heard, and the adversity in the community of writers who take on self as subject, and do it well, will eventually be understood for their humbling and difficult trek through a well-written memoir. 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 Cohen, Sue 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.


  1. I'm so glad this was a comfy and fruiful convention for you, (well except for the losing of cr3edit cards etc. You deserve a beneficial and like-minded convention after all of your hard work and some of the other readings you've had to deal with.

  2. Thanks, Gail. You must come with next year. It'll be in DC, I think. The best part was meeting some of my online writing friends in person. It's surprising how much people really are the same in person :) Jen

  3. Hi Jen,

    how wonderful for you to be with other memoirists. Hope you had fun and your book will take off!


  4. Glad you got so much out of the event!

  5. Women's memoirs and journals are a beautiful art form. Anais Nin, Anne Frank,the wonderful diaries of women in the West ... Why would anyone possibly think they are not?


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