The AWP Book Fair

— OR —

How to Get Dizzy with Exhaustion, Develop a Backache, Worn Feet, and a Hoarse Throat, All in a Short Four Hours


I don't consider myself a terribly outgoing person. Give me a good book (or better yet—a literary magazine), some quiet space, a comfy chair and just enough light, and I'm content. If the phone rings, I will not answer it (and there's a good chance the call won't even be for me). I don't mingle. I don't brown-nose.

But this year, visiting the AWP Book Fair in Chicago, an event open to the general public on the last day of the annual writers conference, I decided to go out of my element a little bit, strike up a few conversations with staff of literary magazines and presses spread about four giant rooms of tables and more attendees than ever before.

Now, four hours later, I am left woozy, slouched in a seat at the nearest café along Michigan Avenue. The book bag beside me weighs 482 pounds. Okay, I am exaggerating. Let's just say it is heavy. There are twenty-five books in it, some of which I bought; the others I nabbed for free. I could have walked out with another twenty-five, or fifty, but I only brought a small travel bag and I am flying back to New York tomorrow.

Let's randomly look in the bag and see what we have.

The Southern Review. I bought a back issue, still in mourning over the loss of Jeanne Leiby, editor of the magazine who tragically died in a car accident last year. I spoke with the staff and they said they've yet to name another head editor. Over at The Florida Review table, the magazine Jeanne edited prior, I saw there was a writing contest being run in her name.

Ecotone. Arianne Beros, nonfiction editor, spoke to me cordially about the wonderful material the magazine was currently running, and about writing in general. She seemed very interested in my own writing and in the work going on here at The Summerset Review.

Harvard Review. Christina Thompson, editor, was warm, animated, and frank about her magazine. I asked her to point out her favorite story in any of the back issues she had on the rack, and she said they were all her favorites. Every last one.

New Letters. Long-time editor Robert Stewart was there, and I could see the pride he took in his publication as I spoke to him on some prose pieces in recent issues, among them an essay on—of all things—roller derby girls.

The Missouri Review was giving out free copies, and I was happy to chat with Kris Somerville who is listed in the masthead as being in charge of Marketing. But let me tell you something. She had been contributing to MR in recent issues, insightful essays I found very interesting.

Crab Orchard Review, Phoebe, Mid-American Review, and Third Coast were offering free back issues, and many others were also, as well as those simply asking for donations as little as one dollar.

I should say that this is not the first time I have gone to the annual book fair, and some things, as we can imagine, never change. New Delta Review once again had their New Orleans beads strewn across their table, Redivider was once again having their Quickie Contest, and Black Warrior Review had a very strange character in a suit that looked like a banana which I was afraid to approach.

I'm sure I've just scratched the surface in describing this event, and if I were to go on any more about all the excitement and friendly staff in the four huge rooms, this note would surpass the length of our longest prose piece in this issue. I shudder to think of the tables and staff I missed; this is a forum simply too large to completely cover in one blitz of energy.

Now I need to pick up this bag and make my way back to my hotel room. Aside from ripping these magazines open and devouring their content, I see nothing more necessary right now than a short, recuperating nap.

JL


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