2017 awp conference & Bookfair February 8–11, 2017 • Washington, dc


Which Comes First, Activism or Artist?



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Which Comes First, Activism or Artist? (George Higgins, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Martin Espada, Airea D. Matthews, Eleanor Wilner)

Confronted with social wrongs should we, as writers, feel obligated to use our art to advocate for our gender, race or a political cause? What goes into that choice and what is at stake? If we do so use our art, how do we face inhumanity and still craft poems that are artistically valid? Five poets explore the question raised at Fisk in 1966 between Robert Hayden and the Black Arts movement--Am I a poet first, or am I a black poet?--and explore how this question applies to all of us today.


Who Runs the World? Women with Power and Purpose. (Lori Pourier, Jen Benka, Mahogony Browne, Norma Cantu, Amy King)

Despite longstanding inequity and gender gaps, women are succeeding as nonprofit literary leaders. Panelists will share the political and theoretical stories that propel them with purpose, as well as the personal journey toward their visions. Additionally, they will provide insight on how women can attain leadership roles, find and become mentors, and be successful agents of change.


Willow Books 10th Anniversary Reading. (Reginald Flood, Vanessa Hua, Qiana Towns, Yesenia Montilla)

Tenth anniversary reading celebrating the legacy of Willow Books. An award-winning publishing division of Aquarius Press, Willow Books’ mission is to develop, publish and promote writers of color. Willow has created an international platform for its authors to engage with the public through workshops, conferences, digital streaming broadcasts, and public readings, as well as through its annual Literature Awards. Its Willow Arts Alliance division hosts residencies in historic cultural districts.


Women Directing Creative Writing Programs: Navigating the Red Tape. (Julia Johnson, Cathryn Hankla, Valerie Boyd, Lisa Williams, Jewell Parker Rhodes)

An all-women panel of current and former directors of creative writing programs—from low-residency to new and residential, to established undergraduate programs at liberal arts colleges--will discuss individual experiences and offer advice on navigating bureaucracy in male-dominated upper administrations. Panelists will suggest ways to successfully navigate the system—from lobbying for graduate assistantships and support for visiting writers, to arguing for small classes in the workshops.


Women Poets Write What History Silenced: Crafting the Feminist Historical Lyric. (Cynthia Hogue, Monifa Love, Tess Taylor, Nicole Cooley, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley)

This panel focuses on women poets who have written historical poems that investigate history’s repressed. These poets—spanning generations and backgrounds, but sharing strong regional roots—discuss the process of excavating stories lost by time, addressing questions of genre, gender, and creative method. How to bear witness to dangerous and painful subjects? Is it the poet’s responsibility to tell the tale? Is a capacity for empathy necessary? Each poet will finish by reading a poem.


Women's Caucus. (AMY KING, Ashaki Jackson, Hafizah Geter, Melissa Studdard, Lynn Melnick)

Where is the place for women writers within AWP and within the greater literary community? The women's caucus discusses questions of continuing inequities in creative writing publication and literature, issues of cultural obstacles in the form of active oppression, stereotypes, lack of access to literary power structures, and the historical marginalization of women's writing. The caucus also explores perspectives and the diverse voices of women and offers networking opportunities.


Women's Fiction: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It. (Dorian Karchmar, Maya Ziv, Elizabeth Hohenadel, Anton DiSclafani)

Female authors are reluctant to be categorized as writing Women’s Fiction, and for good reason: they are less likely to be taken seriously by critics. Yet writing such fiction offers real benefits, starting with the support of a passionate, female audience. Consisting of an editor, an agent, a publicist, and a novelist, this panel will address how authors can deliberately and selectively embrace the advantages of writing fiction aimed at women, from finding an agent to marketing one's work.


Workshopping War: The Challenges of War Writing in the Classroom. (Whitney Terrell, Jayne Anne Phillips, Matt Gallagher, Teresa Fazio, Anne Kniggendorf)

Narratives about war and military life present unique challenges in workshop. How does personal trauma become a story? How can a teacher with no military experience advise a veteran? Or vice-versa? Should war writers be encouraged to consider, say, the stories of Iraqis? How do gender and race enter the conversation? The panel pairs teachers of writing with students at work on narratives about war and the military. All have experience in MFA programs or veteran workshops like Words After War.


Writerism: The Intersection of Community Activism and Writing Within and Beyond the Academy. (Ruben Martinez, Luis Rodriguez, Dagoberto Gilb, Aimee Suzara, Michael Warr)

Panelists include creative writers who have also been founders or key players in community centers, cultural spaces, magazines, and advocacy organizations. The panel will address the conflicts and confluences of meaningful community activism with writing of skill, integrity and substance. How does one balance aesthetics, ethics, and social engagement? Where is the border between art and the pamphlet? Writers in communities of color face unprecedented violences today. Are we writers in wartime?


Writing across cultures: Immigrant writers in search of home. (Reyna Grande, Alex Espinoza, Valeria Luiselli, Natalia Trevino, Gabriela Jauregui)

Mexican-born writers in the United States work within aesthetics that straddle and

scrutinize the complex relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. This panel of

immigrant writers will examine their ties to a Mexico rife with contradictions and a US deeply polarized on immigration. What responsibility do binational writers have in shaping the narratives of their two countries? How can bicultural writers bridge two countries and two cultures while belonging to both and neither at the same time?


Writing as Refugees: Collective Trauma & Impossible Return. (Fatimah Asghar, Monica Sok, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Safia Elhillo, Kenzie Allen)

This dialogue is among indigenous, African, Latino, and Asian writers whose work draws upon their experiences of being refugees, relocated, and stateless. While writers communicate their ancestors’ grief through words, they may face repercussions for breaking the silence. Considering the current refugee crisis, this panel will broaden the conversation by discussing when geographical return is impossible, people become undocumented, and war and genocide obliterates a notion of “home.”


Writing Capitalism: Chicken Shack to Cloud Corporation, Barmaid to Bureaucrat. (Julie Sheehan, Susan Briante, Timothy Donnelly, Nate Marshall, Daniel Borzutzky)

It’s the economy, stupid, and so poets are responding to how ours operates, undermines, amplifies, thwarts, defines or demoralizes the American citizenry. But why respond with poetry? Why are so many poets, like these panelists, writing capitalism, whether in terms of class, race, power structures, depersonalization or environmental impact? What challenges, obligations and joys to be found in this essential project? Perhaps, as with any national trauma, poetry is the only sane response.


Writing Centers: Building a Community of Writers Outside the Traditional Classroom. (Gerald Richards, Joe Callahan, Lacey Dunham, Kyle Dargan)

Join 826 National, 826DC, and the Writer’s Center as they discuss different ways to foster literary creativity outside the traditional classroom by bringing together community volunteers, educators, and writers of all levels. What are the challenges and benefits of building and running a community space, and what do these organizations offer the diverse range of writers and communities they hope to serve and inspire?


Writing Neighborhoods: (Re) Creating the Places We Live. (Kathy Flann, D. Watkins, David Ebenbach, Patrice Hutton, Mary-Sherman Willis)

We’re told to write what we know, but it can be daunting to portray the places we know best: our own communities. Where do we find the authority to get it right? This panel explores the challenges, responsibilities, and rewards of writing from the particular home places of Baltimore and Washington DC. The founder of Writers in Baltimore Schools, which runs workshops for low-income students, joins poets and prose writers to discuss the transformative possibilities for writers and readers alike.


Writing on the Frontlines of the Tex-Mex Frontera. (David Bowles, Amalia Ortiz, Erika Marie Garcia-Johnson, Edward Vidaurre, Daniel Garcia Ordaz)

The Texas-Mexico border is often depicted as an exotic, seedy tourist trap or as a tragic immigration battleground. Amid the confluence of cultures and languages in the Rio Grande Valley, however, there exists a welcoming hope and rich history that these multilingual authors embrace as home. This panel explores questions of what it means to be a border writer. What responsibility does a writer have to places of trauma? How does one write about it in a way that honors it but does not exploit it?


Writing South Asia, Writing Here. (Indira Ganesan, Marina Budhos)

We remember there; we interpret here. Subject matter becomes nebulous, cross-cultural, invented. We write inventing ourselves, in two worlds at once. We are accused of being inauthentic, not ethnic enough, too nostalgic, too bleak. We create fiction because we grew up on story, told to choose, declare loyalty, tally the differences. So we write, away from loyalties, tallies, and what we are told. We make up and we research, and we unlearn. If we are lucky, truth shimmers out.


Writing the Complexity of a Transnational Identity. (Nyla Ali Khan, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Sohrab Homi Fracis)

Even when one is rooted in a single country, neither life nor writing about it is simple. Expanded identity labels such as Indian American imply dual geography, culture, history, politics, etc. Such lives have added layers of complexity, and writing about them has added degrees of difficulty. Award-winning Indian American and Palestinian American authors discuss their transnational work, reflecting current pluralistic discourses that challenge monolithic concepts of identity.


Writing the Dual Self: Opening Spaces for Hybrid Identities. (Philip Metres, Tomas Morin, Samiya Bashir, Thrity Umrigar, Michael Croley)

Writers with dual ethnicities or hybrid backgrounds often struggle to find ways to tell a nuanced story of identity and community. Five writers with diverse racial, ethnic and gender identities will share experiences of the struggle and strategies for forging a space for the dual, hyphenated, multiple self—one that does justice both to our art and our ancestors, working through the liberatory possibilities of writing and to resist the urge (or to market's demand) to self-stereotype.


Writing the Motherland: A Demeter Press Reading and Discussion. (Jane Satterfield, Kirun Kapur, Adrianne Kalfopoulou, Pauline Kaldas, H'Rina de Troy)

Founded in 2006, Demeter is an independent feminist press publishing literature on Mothering, Reproduction, Sexuality and Family. Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland (2016) collects the work of forty-three award-winning writers who explore maternal landscapes. Spanning the globe, these intimate and honest narratives cross borders and define crossroads that are personal and political,old and new. Participants will read and discuss their contributions to the anthology.


Writing the South Asian Diaspora in Young Adult Fiction. (Sona Charaipotra, Padma Venkatraman, Nisha Sharma, Tanaz Bhathena, Sandhya Menon)

In the last five years, the South Asian influence in fiction has bloomed as big and bright as the lotus flower. However, the community remains underrepresented in young adult fiction. In the next few years, that will begin to change. In this panel. five South Asian writers with diverse regional and religious backgrounds will discuss their understanding of the South Asian diaspora, the importance of fair cultural representation in fiction and how South Asians in YA are here to stay.


Writing War, Teaching Craft: Veterans and Cadets in the Creative Writing Classroom. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Kevin Powers, Ron Capps, Benjamin Busch, Katey Schultz)

The upsurge in literary work by veterans has sparked an interest in teaching writing to this population, but a less-noted phenomenon has been the recent increase in course offerings in creative writing at service academies and military colleges. A panel of writers and teachers who have worked with both veterans and cadets—those returning from war, and those preparing to serve—will put these two groups into new and enlightening conversation.


Writing while Deaf: Fill in the Blank. (Kristen Harmon, Christopher Jon Heuer, Lilah Katcher, Tonya Stremlau, Allison Polk)

Does writing instruction for hearing writers meet the needs of aspiring deaf writers? The deaf writers on this panel include both writing instructors and current (and recent) MFA students. We will share some of the challenges we’ve faced and some ways we’ve found to meet them. Aspiring deaf writers need cultural capital in the form of exposure to other deaf writers and their works, development of their bilingual resources, and non-spoken word opportunities to share work and get feedback.


Writing White Characters. (Andrea Rexilius, Daniel Jose Older, Sophfronia Scott, Khadijah Queen, Traci L. Jones)

A google search of “writing white characters” defaults to its opposite, the trials and errors of white writers attempting to write characters of color. There are numerous articles about whitewashing, tokenization, disrespectful tropes and representations, and appropriation. What there isn’t, however, is an in-depth conversation about what it’s like for writers of color to write white characters.


Writing With and About Dis/Ability, Dis/Order, and Dis/ease. (Sarah Einstein, Sandra Lambert, Sonya Huber, Elizabeth Glass)

This panel, comprised of disabled, disordered, and diseased writers, examines the ways our lived experiences impact both what and how we write. We will discuss the problematic imperative to write overcoming narratives, the contradictions of writing beyond and into the stereotypes of disability, and the lack of access to writing programs, conferences, and literary community. We will look at the ways radical “crip” writers are challenging these barriers, both in their work and as activists


Written on a (Woman's) Body: A Cross-Genre Reading of Bold Writings about Women and their Bodies. (Elizabeth Searle, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Melissa Pritchard, Shara McCallum, Debra Spark)

Birth, breast cancer, Botox, body art and what goes on behind bedroom doors: women's bodies and all they experience are being written about more frankly than ever before. DC is a fitting place for bold politically charged readings. Writing in fiction, nonfiction, scripts and poetry, the female authors in this reading/Q&A will offer samples of their most visceral works. Then, in the same bold spirit, they will discuss the unique challenges and rewards of writing about the female body, head on.


Young Adult Authors Tackle Social Justice and Activism. (I. W. Gregorio, Lilliam Rivera, Ibi Zoboi, Tanaz Bhathena, Nic Stone)

Police brutality, gender discrimination, gentrification, and immigration policies are just some of the topics being written by these five young adult authors of diverse backgrounds, ranging from the Caribbean to Middle Eastern. In conversation with an established YA author, the four debut authors will discuss incorporating social justice themes in their work, the struggle to portray honest teen responses to crisis, the path to hope, and how to write issue-based novels without sounding preachy.


Zero Chill: Writers of Color Against Respectability. (Casey Rocheteau, Rachel Mckibbens, Jayy Dodd, Franny Choi)

When Marlon James responded to Watkins' "On Pandering", it began a broader discussion of gaze, respectability and audience within the literary landscape. This panel features a diverse array of poets and non-fiction writers speaking about how they contend with respectability politics in their work & literary communities. The discussion will be rooted in writing against respectability at a time when contemporary discussions of audience, intention and gaze provoke volatile reactions across genres.


Zora’s Legacy: Black Women Writing Fiction About the South. (Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Tayari Jones, Bernice McFadden, Crystal Wilkinson, Stephanie Powell Watts)

During the Great Migration, many African Americans relocated to the U.S North. Yet southern culture survives in ancestral memories and in black women’s writing in particular. Why do so many black women writers remain fascinated by the South? This panel will feature five African American women authors who will discuss why they locate their work in the South, and how they confront specific craft issues when writing fiction about this region of profound cultural resonance






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