Friday, February 25, 2011

I Swear I'm Not Stalking You, Ira Sukrungruang: My Experience at AWP, Part 2

The side picture is from the Hamline University table at the AWP Bookfair.  (Check out those neat Grout bookmarks.)  For those of you who have never been there, the bookfair is kind of chaotic but a great place to spot some of your favorite writers.  Our table was two tables over from the table run by Sweet, an online literary confection, and often Ira Sukrungruang could be found working there.  I have only read a few pieces by him, but we are reading Talk Thai this semester, I heard him read at Barrie's panel last year, and he is the 2011 Hamline Summer Writing Workshop guest CNF writer, so I was really excited to see him.  Maybe too excited.  I would comment every time he appeared.  "There's Ira again!"  "Or Ira's back, I hope he doesn't notice me looking at him."  But I never had the guts to go introduce myself.

I planned to have Barrie (Barrie Jean Borich, beloved CNF professor at Hamline) introduce me to him after their panel together this year, but I chickened out and she had to dash to a second panel.  The panel they sat on, Bodies Politic, was amazing, though.  And not just because it had such great writers (along with Barrie and Ira it had Judith Barrington, Ann Pancake, Brian Teare, and Kekla Magoon).  Each of the writers said fascinating things about writing about the body and the politics involved sometimes, whether it is because of gender/sexuality issues, disability, geography or regional characters, size concerns, or the intense connection between body and memory.  I could write an entire blog posting just about this panel, but if you ever get a chance to hear these writers speak, or read some of their work, do it.

The other panels I went to were a panel of women writing about breast cancer and a panel on the intimate detail.  The breast cancer panel attracted me because Mary Cappello was one of the panelists.  We are reading her book, Called Back, for Advanced CNF and she has written some wonderful book reviews for Water~Stone Review, Hamline's literary journal.  Unfortunately, the question portion at the end got a little contentious.  It made me think of the phrase Barrie often quotes from V.S. Pritchett: "It's all in the art.  You get no credit for living."  I do not want to make light of or criticize the women there at all; it is evident that they have been through a horrendous experience.  But the questions focused less on the craft of writing about cancer, something Mary Cappello handles very well in her book, and became more of a contest about whose cancer story was the worst.  Which is unfortunate because I am sure there were writers in that room who had fresh perspectives about that, but they were not heard.

I ended on a lighter panel about the intimate detail in writing.  It mostly focused on fiction, but Alice McDermott honed in on a section of Nabokov's Speak, Memory that illuminated the intimate detail moment so well.  It is a tricky thing, the intimate detail, but certainly one that has importance in both fiction and nonfiction.  I think of it as being used more, or at least talked about more, in relation to fiction, however.  I am not sure why I think that, because I believe it could--and should--be discussed quite a bit with respect to nonfiction.  I am curious to hear what others think on this.

Here is a picture I took of the bookfair.  Yes, that is Ira on the right.  I was trying to capture the sense of frenzy, but this does not do it justice.  There are literary journals and editors from all over, university presses big and small, and tons and tons of writers milling around tables in neat rows.  Oh, and there's that bad carpeting again.

Overall, I thought this year's AWP went well.  Jhumpa Lahiri gave a great keynote speech, and all of the panels I went to covered very unique topics and brought up great discussion points about where creative nonfiction is currently and what people are writing and talking about. I look forward to seeing comments and reading future blog posts about all facets of CNF.  Thank you for letting me share my experience with you.  I hope to see you at AWP next year.  I'll be the one plugging Water~Stone and Grout.

1 comment:

  1. Ira, IRa, IRA!

    Thanks for the stupendous conference coverage Sarah, which I would say even if you had not called me beloved. -- bjb