Heart Shaped Odd: AWP in Photos & Thoughts

by Jennifer Sky

Did you know that my heart is oddly shaped and it beats in an irregular way? This is why I can fall in love with so many people at the same time (and use so many exclamation points.)

Day One: AWP began for me in the antiquated terminals of LaGuardia Airport. The low hanging popcorn ceiling and two stall ladies’ room makes me think of my preteen days watching Grape Ape on the Cartoon Network, neon culottes, and trading Garbage Pal Kids cards with the neighbors. The whole place needs a massive redo. Yet behold! Waiting at the gate, her in perfect leather pants, him in an of-the-moment man’s striped blazer, are my favorite lit couple in the universe: Elissa Schappell and Rob Spillman. I have a big time secret girl crush on Schappell who had the best short story collection out last year, Blueprints for Building Better Girls. I’m of course in slouchy hobo-chic plane garb, emphasis on ill fitting and boxy, but I did shower that morning so that was a plus. We fly, we land. We get a cab together (after I invited myself along, oops). We pull up at our separate yet parallel hotels and hey, lookie here! It’s my AWP roommate loitering outside, wearing a 70’s style white rabbit fur coat with shoulder points and she’s really drunk on spiced rum…and it’s four in the afternoon. It’s day one of AWP! (Photos blessedly missing for all of the above).

It’s AWP 2012 at the Chicago Hilton!

I’m legal, I got a lanyard.

Reading number one! "Tin Housed" hosted by Courtney Maum and Thaddeus Gunn.

The lovely Mrs. Maum who gets the award for best fashion, comedy writing/reading, and listener.

My very good pal Paul Morris, with his “I’m not being photographed, I’m thinking face on.”

View from the Tin Housed reading suite. Yeah.

Day Two: The Boring Store (best name for an off-site reading location) where The Rumpus hosted their official party and where my new BFF (Los Angeles Review of Books and next Rumpus “Letter in the Mail” author) Matthew Specktor and I busted up the place by sitting on an IKEA table and cracking it right down the middle with while drinking dollar Pabst.

Rumpus Editor Stephen Elliott reading his own “Letter in the Mail” at 826 Chicago.

Cheryl Strayed reading for the first time as Dear Sugar from her “Write like a Mother Fucker” column.

After the Boring Store closed…

We headed over to Karaoke Idol, where a fanny pack wearing Elvis was one of the hosts and Ben Percy and Lauren Groff were in a warble to the death. Ben was the eventual winner.

Day 3: The main reason I headed to the Midwest was to interview (stalk) Cheryl Strayed. She was going to be on a panel about first memoirs and I would be there to hear her words (and stare at her beauty). We had actually met at last years’ AWP in DC at an off-site party and ending up walking down a vacant and misty road together looking for a cab, we’ve been pen pals ever since. Running late, I took my place along the ground of the front row, sitting basically at Cheryl’s feet. Here was my view:

I stopped by some of my favorite booths (aka the ones who publish me) to give hugs to old friends and beg for candy. I visited Electric Literature, Tod Goldberg at the Palm Desert Low Res MFA Program (my first professor didn’t ya know), PANK (to kiss on Roxane Gay), Tin House (hotties), and The Rumpus, where I highfived the heartthrobs and bought the best mug in the world!

The events kept piling up like the bags under my eyes as I headed over to cheer on Roxane Gay at The Literary Death Match, where she was the big time winner of the night/AWP universe!!! Here’s Todd Zuniga upstaging Jane Smiley.

Day 4: After fortifying myself with a hearty and actual breakfast (not the mystery Chicago style pizza I found in the baby fridge the morning before, I hope it was my roommate’s. Eek) I check over my equipment (moleskin, crappy recorder, iphone recorder, ARC of book) and head to meet up with Sugar/Cheryl /my superhero idol to interview her for Interview Magazine about WILD, her forthcoming first memoir. We talk for an hour and a half and we both actually cried a few times. By the end I was firmly in love.

Strayed and me getting cute (and cuddly).

Later, The Percy kids, Ben and Jen, invited me out with a group to eat deli. Here’s a painting in the deli front case. By the look on his face I think he is reading Anais Nin.

Day 4:By now almost everyone has left, but I have one last very special event: Cheryl Strayed’s book party for WILD.

Rachel DeWoskin introduces Strayed.

The WILD gathering

Strayed and a “rattlesnake” which makes appearances in WILD.

An ARC of Wild and a child's pair of socks.

This guy…(!!!)

And to end the party and AWP in the right way, managing editor of The Rumpus Isaac Fitzgerald and I practice dance moves for Dancing with the Literary “Stars.” Our song choice: Sugar in my Bowl.

Jennifer Sky is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, a student, and believer in magical things. Her work has appeared online at The Rumpus, Tin House, Interview Magazine, Freerange Nonfiction’s “Freshly Hatched”, Electric Literature, AOL, 12th Street, and in short story anthology Love Magick. She lives in Brooklyn and is working on a memoir.