Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You: AWP Memories

I am about to go to AWP, the largest literary conference in North America. For the past ten years I’ve had small children and no literary conference budget and have watched other people attend AWP via social media, but amazingly I now find myself preparing to go. I recall how the last time I went, I did it all wrong — all panels, no parties, gosh I was serious. But I did blog about it (blogs, remember?) and I found rereading this to be amusing so maybe someone else will too?

By way of context, in 2008 I was a soon-to-be-debut-novelist (my first book would come out that July), and working at a magazine; AWP was in New York City, where I live.


Dispatch from AWP, Day One: Landscape is a Verbal Music.

AWP, Day Two: Someday this pain will be useful to you.

I feel sort of high, almost. At this point I leave and wander around in the rain and blink. I am feeling very overstimulated. I eat Thai Food on 9th avenue. I stare blankly and blink some more.

Better get back to Nerd Town, though! Amy Hempel and Peter Cameron are reading! Peter Cameron reads from his book Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, which is really funny and charming and he also tells a funny anecdote about how he once was banned from the very Hilton in which he now stands. Uh-oh! Then the fire alarm goes off! And I think, well, here we are, listening to Amy Hempel read as the building burns down. But the building doesn’t burn down and her reading is great. Afterwards I sit slumped in the hallway, hypnotized by the psychedelic carpet patterns, wondering how I am going to survive the cocktail thing I’m supposed to go to. Then my friend who was going to the cocktail thing with me calls and cancels! Yay! I can go home and nap for hours. Perfect.

AWP, Day Three: We live in the impermanence.

I go out into the lobby with a friend. She asks if I want to go see Cynthia Ozick read. I think that I never want to see anyone else read or talk about writing ever again, and there are just too many of us in this world, and too many books to read, and so many people trying so hard to do so many things, and I am filled with despair, and I say, No thanks.

I go outside. It is a beautiful day. I get a hot dog from a street vendor. I eat it and start walking down 6th Avenue. I keep walking and walking, past Radio City Music Hall, past Bryant Park. I can’t stop walking! I walk down through Herald Square and past the Manhattan Mall. And I think: What a beautiful city this is, full of beautiful people! And what a great thing AWP is! Now that I am no longer starved and oxygen-deprived I am able to remember that it was actually really fun. I have a notebook full of notes and scribbles and ideas and books to read; I have found out about some writers I hadn’t known of before; I have learned some things; I have spent some days among my people.

By the time I have walked down to SoHo I am sad that it’s all over.

Content Lead for Writing @ Medium // Editor of Human Parts & Creators Hub // Novels: Unseen City; The Mermaid of Brooklyn; How Far Is The Ocean From Here