Monday, March 5, 2012

AWP: Finding Myself Again

Every once in awhile everything falls into place and you get exactly what you need. Call this luck or chance or karma, it doesn't really matter. It happens. I've just returned from an amazing few days in Chicago for the annual AWP conference, but this trip was more than just a conference for me. It was exactly what I needed.

I've spent the last few years with a really big void in my life. While living in Orlando has provided its fun, it's also left me feeling rather empty a lot of the time. I've not found a great poetry community here or academic community and I've felt more and more isolated as time has gone forward. I can't say that I regret any of this, because perhaps I wouldn't have written He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices had I not moved here a few years ago. Regardless, I've known for quite sometime that I'm ready to move on and to find a new community. As many of you know, Dustin and I have plans to move to New York in the next six to eight months.

My trip to Chicago confirmed just how much I need to move on and find a place that fits me better. I went to Chicago for a very brief time, but I felt more like myself in those three days than I have in a really long time.

Going to AWP let me remember how good it feels to sit down with other writers, teachers, readers, publishers, and just talk. In the last few years, I've done a good job of networking and connecting with many writers through Facebook, Twitter, and publications. Chicago provided me with the chance to meet so many of these people face to face and to help solidify an actual relationship.

To be honest, I was pretty anxious about this trip. I went by myself and roomed with my publisher Bryan Borland. Bryan and I have communicated for about three years now. We've exchanged countless emails, poems, texts, etc., but we had never met face to face. In fact, this was true of most of the people I ended up talking to over the course of the trip. It's a lot of pressure to suddenly face people who know you mostly through your virtual existence and your work. I feared I wouldn't live up to their expectations.

Of course, the second I met Bryan I was immediately comfortable with him and we got along great. He's a really nice guy. By the end of the trip, our relationship had hit new levels. You can't go back after you've seen your publisher in a zebra print robe drinking tea in bed (he would probably say more embarrassing things about me, so I'll leave that alone). This was actually true of every person I met. Some, like D. Gilson, felt like old friends immediately. Others I was simply honored to meet for just a few minutes like Steve Fellner, Randall Mann, Christopher Hennessy, Charles Jensen (who I need to drink with next time clearly), and Matthew Hittinger. I also got to spend a bit more time with Michael Klein who is absolutely hilarious and I had a great lunch and afternoon with Paul Romero who heads up the Bryant Park Reading Room. I also got to catch up with a few old friends, which is always nice. Thanks for making time V and Brianna!

Being there in Chicago was everything I wanted it to be. I made connections. I helped promote my work. I got asked to sign my book by a stranger who was very attractive. I bought work by others. I saw a few panels on great topics with accomplished poets (like Nikki Giovanni, David Trinidad, and Mark Doty). I got to just be in a big city full of people and culture. I felt alive (but cold).

I'm thankful to everyone I met and I hope to see all of you again very soon. I'm most thankful to Bryan Borland. I got to finally see first hand how much he cares and loves poetry and his press. He's done an amazing job and I'm extremely proud to be one of his authors.

Next up, I'll be heading to New York for the Rainbow Book Fair. I hope to see and meet even more people there.

-Stephen (Alive)


  1. Great post, Stephen. Glad you got so much out of the trip and got to meet fearless leader Bryan in person. :) See you in NYC!

  2. It was so good to see you. I'm glad you had a great time!

  3. I agree with Mr. Kelley...Great post. :)

  4. Congratulations! You sound recharged and reinvigorated. :) And you make me want to go to AWP myself.