Saturday, January 26, 2008

The AWP Conference: past & present

The first one I attended was in New Orleans in 2002. Since then the AWP conference has become a welcome opportunity to catch up with writer friends I only see once or twice a year. Truth be told, the panels and readings are almost beside the point. For those of us invested in fostering community among Chicano/a and Latino/a writers, the conference has become a touchstone.

Having said that, in 2002 I had the pleasure of participating on my first panel, moderated by Francisco X. Alarcón, and joined by Rane Arroyo, Rigoberto González and Eduardo C. Corral. But the night before was the highlight: a whole crew of us pushing three or four tables together at an eatery in the French Quarter, enjoying food, drink, and fellowship.

A couple of years later, Momotombo Press made its debut at the AWP bookfair in Chicago. It was a modest set-up to be sure, but the table became a sort of informal gathering place for a number of the Latino/a writers present that year, including Steven Cordova, whose chapbook Slow Disolve had recently launched Momotombo Press' Latino-focused mission. It was at that table that I met for the first time, for example, Diana Marie Delgado; and it was there that I met, briefly, Kevin A. González for the first and only time.

My room at the Palmer House that year, with the collabortion of Rigoberto González, María Meléndez, and Richard Yanez, among others, was the setting of a Chicano/Latino writers reception, with food catered from a local Mexican restaurant. It took place immediately after María Meléndez's panel that featured Chicanas Lisa D. Chávez, Sheryl Luna, Emmy Pérez, and Carolina Monsivais. Among the people I recall being in the room, among many, were Javier Huerta and Gina Franco, who was gifting her book, The Keepsake Storm (University of Arizona Press). Pictures were taken, including ones that had people piled onto one of the beds, mugging for the camera. Those of us who were present had the feeling that something special was taking place. It certainly felt that way. That reception was, in many ways, the pre-cursor of what have become the very successful Con Tinta celebrations, the first taking place in Austin, and the second last year in Atlanta--with the AWP Conference as the backdrop.

The next edition is set to start next week in New York City. In addition to the Momotombo Press/Letras Latinas table, there will be a table for PALABRA, the new literary journal I've mentioned here on more than one occasion, as well as tables for Con Tinta, the ACENTOS Foundation, and TAMEME. In short, the Chicano/Latino presence at AWP has become a solid fixture.

One of the principals who has always been at the forefront of disseminating useful Chicano/Latino-related information about the conference has been Richard Yanez. Below are the fruits of his labor: a listing of the panels and readings that will have Latino/a participation. Also announced are the two main off-site Latino functions:

WEDNESDAY, January 30th, 7:00 p.m.

A Reception Hosted by The City University of New York. CUNY welcomes the 2008 AWP conference, and all its attendees, to New York City. Murray Hill Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

THURSDAY, January 31st , 9:00-10:15 a.m.

Next Stop, Everywhere: The UWM-Poetry Foundation Poetry Film Project. (Liam Callanan, Anne Halsey, Brad Lichtenstein, Ellen Elder, Maurice Kilwein-Guevara) This panel will discuss and debut the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Poetry Foundation's joint project to create and broadcast short, innovatively produced films, each featuring a single poem. These films will initially be screened on specially equipped transit systems nationwide, from Los Angeles to Orlando. What is the most effective way to bring a poem to the screen? How do poets and filmmakers collaborate to attract the attention of an audience in transit? Stop by, tune in. Morgan Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

THURSDAY, January 31st , 12:00-1:15 p.m.

Translating Five Hundred Years of Latin American Poetry. (Mark Lokensgard, Cecilia Vicuña, Rosa Alcalá, Molly Weigel) In 2008, Oxford University Press will publish its 500 Years of Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. One of the book's editors and several of its translators give bilingual readings of selected poems and then discuss the poems and their translations. They address issues of craft, mechanics, musicality, and differing literary traditions, among others, that translators must consider in order to make a poem that is both meaningful and enjoyable in English. Bryant Ste Hilton, 2nd Floor.

The Other Latino/a: Defining a New American Landscape. (Blas Falconer, Lisa D. Chávez, Juan J. Morales, Helena Mesa) New York, Miami, Chicago, LA, the Southwest--these are what many consider to be the typical geographies of Latino/a poets. Writers often work within a literary tradition defined by place and community, but how do Latino poets reared outside this context contribute to Latino poetry? Members of our panel will consider this question as we examine aesthetics and themes, juxtaposing our own work and that of other Latino/as with poems well established in the Latino cannon. Gibson Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

THURSDAY, January 31st , 3:00-4:15 p.m.

Writing Violence. (Maurice Kilwein-Guevara, George Makana Clark, Neil Connelly, Juan Felipe Herrera, Cristina Rodriguez Cabral, Adam Johnson) At a time of war and in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, this panel explores the representations of violence across cultures and genres. Our aim is to discuss a number of related issues, including the ethics inherent in depicting violent images, the various forms that violence takes, the impact that violence has on readers, and the historical/cultural contexts in which violence occurs. Sutton South Hilton, 2nd Floor.

≈ Con Tinta Celebration ≈
Mojitos' Bar & Grill
(227 East 116 Street between 2nd and 3rd Ave)
Thursday, January 31st
6:00 -9:00 p.m.
Free - Open Buffet - Cash Bar - Public is Invited

FRIDAY, February 1st, 10:30-11:45 a.m.

Hablando con Acentos: Building a Home for Latino and Latina Poets in the Bronx and Beyond. (Richard Villar, Raina Leon, John Rodriguez, Sam Vargas, Aracelis Girmay) In March 2003, two Latino poets founded a reading series and open mic in the South Bronx called Acentos. In much the same mold as the early Nuyorican movement, the series provides a safe haven for writers of Latino/a descent to create and present work in both English and Spanish. Poets from the Acentos community document the history and importance of the series, the vital group of writers and teachers behind it, and its current expansion into a national Latino/a writers's forum and workshop. Clinton Suite, Hilton, 2nd Floor.

"Any Number of Old Ladies": Writers Revealing Family. (Joy Castro, Bich Minh Nguyen, Lorraine Lopez, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Susan Ito) Drawing on Faulkner's line about a real writer's being willing to rob his mother for good work ("the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies"), our panel investigates the impact that writing about family members has had upon writers's relationships with their own. Where and how do we draw boundaries? When and why have we chosen to write about family--and when have we refrained? How have we negotiated ethical dilemmas? What fallout and benefits have we experienced as a result? Mercury Ballroom Hilton, 3rd Floor.

FRIDAY, February 1st, 1:30-2:45 p.m.

Writers at Rutgers-Newark. (Rigoberto González, Rachel Hadas, Alice Dark, Dennis Nurkse, James Goodman, Lewis Porter) This is the inaugural year of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University-- a cross genre and interdisciplinary program. Come hear readings by our faculty in fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and even a performance of jazz piano. Morgan Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

Canta Pueblo: Building and Serving Audiences in Latino Communities.
(Richard Yañez, Francisco Aragón, Amit Ghosh, Irasema González, Elena Minor)
The proliferation of Latino literature reflects the broadening of audiences within its communities and beyond. Panelists represent groups actively expanding the Latino literary landscape. Committed to celebrating diverse voices and a collective vision, they share a responsibility of service to their proud community. These writer activists will detail how they foster dialogue and promote expression through bilingual readings, book discussions, free writing workshops, and publication of new work.
Conference Room E, Sheraton, Lower Level, Executive Conference Center.

FRIDAY, February 1st, 3:00-4:15 p.m.

The Crisis in Literary Criticism. (Jane Ciabattari, Jabari Asim, John Freeman, Rigoberto González, Lizzie Skurnick, Elizabeth Taylor) Literary publications, often the only outlet for reviews of small-press books, are disappearing from library shelves, replaced by databases. Newspapers are cutting book pages, eliminating stand-alone book sections and book editors, and shifting some book coverage online. The National Book Critics Circle board is sponsoring a nationwide campaign to support book criticism, and hosting an ongoing discussion on the NBCC board blog, Critical Mass. Where is literary criticism headed? How do we preserve book culture as the outlets for free-ranging critical commentary grow more limited? What is the best way to present book coverage online? Come hear the latest and consider the future. Conference Room E Sheraton, Lower Level, Executive Conference Center.

FRIDAY, February 1st, 7 PM
Rutgers Newark MFA in Creative Writing Reception. Come celebrate the Rutgers-Newark MFA program, selected as 1 of 5 up and coming programs in the nation by The Atlantic. Join us for a drink, meet our faculty. All are welcome. Sutton South Hilton, 2nd Floor.

ACENTOS: A Gathering and Celebration of Latino & Latina Poets
The School of Social Work @ Hunter College
129 E. 79th Street (Corner of 79th St. and Lexington Ave.)
Friday, February 1st @ 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Free and Open to the Public
Co-sponsored by El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 10:30-11:45 a.m.

Split This Rock: Poems of Provocation & Witness. (Sarah Browning, Martín Espada, E. Ethelbert Miller, Alix Olson, Alicia Ostriker) Split This Rock Poetry Festival, to be held March 20-23 in the nation's capital, will bring together poets of national prominence and local poetry communities to celebrate poetry as an agent for social change. Transformation of our political and social climate cannot occur without art that speaks from the conscience, names the unnamable, and imagines alternatives to a world based on conflict and fear. Four of the festival's featured poets read work in the spirit of Split This Rock. Beekman & Sutton North Hilton, 2nd Floor.

The Price of the Ticket: Writers of Color & Writing Programs. (David Mura, Tim Seibles, Patricia Smith, Gina Franco, Natalie Diaz, Marilyn Chin) Many writers of color have found writing programs to be alienating and inadequate to their needs as writers. Often we encounter a refusal to recognize our cultural and literary traditions and the communities that have formed us. To explore how programs might become more open to writers of color, this panel will address such issues as aesthetics and the canon, multicultural pedagogy, and personnel and institutional changes (for example, organizations like Cave Canem, VONA, Kundiman, Macando). Clinton Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 12:00-1:15 p.m.

U.S. Latino Writers Speak Out: A Literary Response to the Immigration Crisis. (Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Denise Chávez, Dagoberto Gilb, Luis Urrea, Ruben Martínez) We are poets, novelists, and journalists who feel compelled to unite in a public forum to read from our work that addresses an issue that is tearing this country apart. Our literature, our books, our novels, our journalism, our poetry, our urge to write has sprung from the fact that we belong to an immigrant community in struggle. With our words, we wish to bridge the chasm between the literature we write, the writing community of which we are a part, and the country that is our home. Empire Ballroom Sheraton, 2nd Floor.

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 12:00-1:15 p.m.

No Humor in Heaven, but Hell Can Be Hilarious: Risks and Rewards in Writing Humor. (Lorraine Lopez, Heather Sellers, Crystal Wilkinson, Julia Watts, Mary Clyde, Lynn Pruett) "The secret source of humor," Mark Twain stipulated, "is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven." Thus, humor erupts with force and frequency from the margins of culture, class, and sexual orientation, and despite Christopher Hitchen's declaration that females lack wit, from women. Panelists examine how humor forges human connections and how it can also colonize literature, prompting critical reaction and hype that shunt writing back into the margins by ignoring its "secret source." Mercury Ballroom Hilton, 3rd Floor.

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 1:30-2:45p.m.

Voicing Needs & Creative Survival: Writing in Multilingual, Community Spaces. (Emmy Pérez, Michelle Otero, Sehba Sarwar, Carolina Monsiváis, Minerva Laveaga, Lecroy Rhyanes) Writers of color teaching community workshops will discuss pedagogical strategies and experiences working with incarcerated youth and adults, survivors of domestic violence, survivors of sexual assault, migrant farm workers and immigrant youth. What are some effective methods for teaching participants with a range of educational and life experiences in multilingual settings? Writing for social action comes full circle when we publicly distribute work via performance, radio, recordings and print. Bryant Suite Hilton, 2nd Floor.

Poets in the Hood. (Richard Michelson, Martín Espada, E. Ethelbert Miller) Neighborhoods in Brooklyn and The Bronx were, and still are ethnic and racial enclaves. E. Ethelbert Miller, a black poet, was born in 1950 in the South Bronx. Richard Michelson, a Jewish poet was born 1953 in East New York, Brooklyn, and Martin Espada, a Hispanic poet was born in 1957, just a few blocks from Michelson. All three poets will talk about the racial and political overtones of their poetry, and how the neighborhoods of their birth have affected their outlook and their voice. Mercury Ballroom Hilton, 3rd Floor

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 3:00-4:15 p.m.

Dreaming the End of War: One Poem, Many Voices. (Benjamin Alire Sáenz, C.D. Wright, Matthew Shenoda, Emily Warn, Richard Jones, Cyrus Cassells) In Dreaming the End of War, poet Benjamin Sáenz writes to overcome the very idea of war. "I don't believe a flag is important enough to kiss-or even burn. Some men would hate me enough to kill me if they read these words." Rooted in an artist's impulse to speak, to say enough, six poets give voice to the entirety of this gripping suite that confronts the major issues of our day: immigration, borderlands, poverty, and humanity's addiction to war. Metropolitan East Sheraton, 2nd Floor.

SATURDAY, February 2nd, 4:30-6:15 p.m.

Avant-Garde Latino/a Poetry. (Gabriel Gomez, Roberto Tejada, Valerie Martinez, Monica De La Torre, María Meléndez, Francisco Aragón) The reality of a U.S. Latino/a Avant-Garde is virtually non-existent in contemporary literary discourse about "Latino/a Art" as well as across the literary spectrum. The objective of this panel, made up of Latino/a poets, critics, and publishers, is to interrogate the very terms "Avant-Garde" and "Latino/a experience" as intersecting locations of poetic practice so as to bring forth work that bears witness to our varying aesthetics as artists and thinkers. Conference Room D Sheraton, Lower Level, Executive Conference Center.


If anyone reading this will be at the conference this coming week, come by table #400 and say hello and persuse (and purchase) past and current Momotombo Press titles. OCHO # 15, featuring the work of 15 Latino and Latina poets will also be available. If you're not registered, the bookfair will be open to the public on Saturday.


C.M. Mayo said...

Hola Francisco-- great post. I remember that party in Chicago, the trays of enchiladas... Rich Yanez and Carolina Monsivais, and also I remember Lex Williford and Jose Skinner... You know Momotombo Press has been an inspiration for me with Tameme's new chapbook series. We're going to be at table #85 in the AWP bookfair this year--- hope to see you there!

Francisco Aragón said...

Thanks, Catherine. Momotombo Press/Letras Latinas will be at table #400 and we have a brand new chapbook of fiction I'll be announcing shortly. Catherine, I work out of an office in DC now on Rhode Island Ave. Don't know if I told you that or not.