Because I exhausted myself on Day One of AWP, I decided to ease up on Day Two and spend a lot of time (and money) in the Book Fair. I did start the day with two seminars, on opposite ends of the literary spectrum.
“The Fiction Chapbook–A Sleeper Form Wakes” was nothing less than fascinating. For those of you who don’t know what a chapbook is but don’t want to Google it, it’s a small, self-contained book originally produced to fit in the pocket. They started out as the precursors to the printed, bound book we would recognize today, but as societies became more literate and wanted to show off that fact, novels became the rage. Chapbooks became a form of publishing poetry. My high school English teacher loved chapbooks, and when we had the poetry unit in American Literature, we had to make a chapbook of our poems. Since I’m not a poet, I probably tossed it away as soon as I got a grade on it. Silly me.
Chapbooks have now become a hot, new way to publish short fiction in limited runs. That makes them popular for for-profit presses as well as an excellent way to introduce an author to an audience. Chapbooks are especially ideal for flash fiction. The panelists–Nicole Louise Reid, Eric Lorberer, Diane Goettle, Kevin Sampsell, and Abigail Becket–are all publishers of chapbooks and are enthusiastic about this new direction in publishing. Their enthusiasm must have been contagious because I stopped by their tables in the Book Fair and bought four chapbooks: Field Guild to Writing Flash Fiction, edited by Tara L. Masih; Betty Superman, by Tiff Holland; I Take Back the Sponge Cake by Leon Erdrich and Sierra Nelson; and an anthology of chapbooks, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves by Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Velvington, Jean Lovelace, and Mary Miller. I’m looking forward to delving into them.
The next seminar I went to sounded right down my alley. I love apocalyptic writing. From Harlan Ellison to Margaret Atwood, I savor these stories of what would happen to us as humans were the unthinkable to happen. “Apocalypse Now: A Multi-Genre Reading of Apocalyptic Literature” featured two prose writers and two poets who have written about the end of the world. The poets were Brian Barker (The Black Ocean) and Judy Jordan (Hunger), and the prose writers were Pinckney Benedict (Miracle Boy and Other Stories) and Kevin Brockmeier (The Illumination).
I’m not known to collect poetry, unless it’s Seamus Heaney, but Barker’s reading, from The Black Ocean, of his poem, “Gorbachev’s Ubi Sunt from the Future That Will Soon Pass” was so dramatic, I went right to the Book Fair and bought it. The same with Miracle Boy by Benedict. And I got them both signed.
Jordan’s reading of a long poem about the time she was homeless was, she admitted, not technically apocalyptic, but the raw dread the poem evoked could have portrayed the end of the world. It was transportive. Brockmeier brought us the unusual concept that whatever has happened to the world makes our pain shine literally from us. He only read an excerpt, but it was easy to envision how the illumination could become too bright for us to look at.
The Book Fair could stand alone. I never knew there were so many literary magazines and specialty publishers, and, so, there are twelve new books to add to my already-laden shelves. But, where else could you find a fascinating book entitled, From Three Worlds: New Writing from Ukraine?
Then, my feet said, enough, and I retired to my hotel room to do exactly what this conference is all about–write.