How To Survive In Literary Space Without a Book: a run-up to AWP

by Jeff Oaks

I was talking with my friend Noah the other day about what kinds of panels we might propose for next year, when the conference meets in Washington, DC, its fiftieth anniversary. We’ve both been to panels that were unorganized snooze-fests or self-congratulatory circle-jerks or, a pet peeve of mine, asked merely rhetoric questions–Is anyone reading nonfiction? (Duh–yes, now what’s your real question?) 

Every so often, though, comes a panel that is amazing, that really does change the way we view writing, publishing, teaching, or some important facet of the writer’s life. 

So, dear friends reading this, one reason I’m writing this post is to find out if there are any panels you’d like to see offered.  What are the burning questions you generally want to think about? 

Here are some we were thinking might be of interest and doable: 

How to survive in the literary world without a book.

Finding sustaining work as a writer or teacher or editor after 40. 

How to break into teaching after 40.
How does the older writer emerge into the world of teaching, publishing, networking, etc? 

(Our answers to the latter:

1. Buy your clothes at H & M

2. Tweet

3. Learn to be young! (Until the strain crushes you…)

4. Stop talking about your health

5. Stop picking at that freckle on your arm! It’s not cancer.

6. Stop telling kids about the old days.

7. Stop making references to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

8. Don’t ask out loud “What’s snapchat?” Don’t ask “What’s a Google?”

9.  Replace Heathers in your movie quotes wheelhouse with Mean Girls.)
Then we both realized no one would let us do old jokes for a half hour. Even though AWP now was itself turning 50, and might very well need to laugh at itself a bit more.

Then I asked,  Why don’t we just concentrate on our own work, instead of trying to be helpful? 

(How to stop being helpful to others at the expense of yourself, might be a good panel, now that I think of it.)

Then we talked about friends who were publishing at last, friends over 50. After lives of being helpful, of feeling frustrated.

Then we talked about eating our feelings–cake and Doritos for me, burgers and fries for Noah.

Then we both agreed we had to go now and buy some comfortable shoes and clothes for next week. 

Because we were no where near our ideal AWP weight. Because AWP has many of the same anxieties surrounding class reunions.

Then we both decided that, though it was the middle of the afternoon, we were both suddenly exhausted and needed naps.

And we did.