Boston in AWP: Local Writing Organizations Shine

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You’re thinking, “Wait. This title should be ‘AWP in Boston,’ and my goodness, didn’t you cover that enough??” First, no such thing as too much coverage of AWP. Seriously. Second, you read the title right. Because AWP was held in Boston this year, the true litmus test of who is doing what in the literary community of Boston was going to be who showed up for AWP...and who didn’t. (And there were Boston literary organizations who did not show up to AWP.) Let’s talk a little bit about who was there and what they were doing:

Emerson College and Ploughshares: If you looked at any of the banners that weekend, you would have seen ten Major Sponsors featured, and Emerson College/Ploughshares was one of them. A long-time sponsor of AWP, wherever it happens to be, Emerson College is our hometown liberal arts/communications school that offers both undergrad and grad degrees in creative writing (our editor-in-chief did her BFA there a while ago, and is doing her MFA there now, so be aware of the bias). Emerson College and Ploughshares also hosted a number of panels and readings, including the Alison Bechdel and Jeanette Winterson reading, Major Jackson’s Ploughshares issue release reading, “Sources of Inspiration,” and “Literary Boston.” A number of Emerson professors were on various panels. And if you visited the Bookfair you would have seen what some called “Emerson Row,” filled with booths for the Emerson MFA, Ploughshares, and Redivider, the graduate lit magazine. You also wouldn’t have known this unless you knew it, but Emerson grads comprised many of the founders and editors in that Bookfair room that day (also known as the “Emerson Mafia” - Google it).

Grub Street: Boston’s local non-profit writing center that offers workshops, writing space, and a major writing conference each May was one of a handful of AWP “Literary Partners.” As Christopher Castellani, Grub Street’s Artistic Director, said in his introduction to their sponsored reading of Alice Hoffman and Tom Perrotta: “When we heard that AWP was going to be in Boston this year, we contacted them immediately and said, ‘How can we partner with you?’” Grub Street’s homey living room and fireplace (complete with a coffee table puzzle) booth at the Bookfair was voted “Best Booth” by the Huffington Post. You also found Grub Street teachers (mostly all local authors) scattered throughout the event serving on various panels, or behind the tables of local organizations, or rubbing elbows at the receptions.

Lesley University: Also on that Major Sponsors banner was Lesley University, the Cambridge-based MFA program. We weren’t made quite as aware of the Lesley University presence just because we don’t happen to know a lot of the Lesley circles. But their faculty is pretty prestigious, and they had a Bookfair table, which makes us think that they were present and participating.

Boston University and AGNI: The other major MFA in the city is at BU, along with their literary magazine AGNI. We didn’t see BU/AGNI actively sponsoring or hosting any panels, but we’re pretty sure we walked by Robert Pinsky manning the table (maybe not!).

Boston College and Post Road: The Boston College Department of English was present with their literary magazine Post Road. They had a table at the Bookfair, and we passed by, but we couldn’t get over to say hi.

Suffolk University and Salamander: Suffolk University English Department was present with their literary magazine Salamander. They had a table at the Bookfair but we didn’t pass by or get to see them. Looks like they also held an offsite AWP event at Suffolk the Friday evening of that weekend.

Boston Review and Harvard Review: Two great magazines functioning in our city, Boston Review and Harvard Review were both present (though Boston Review’s fiction editor Junot Diaz was nowhere to be seen). We got to chat with Harvard Review’s managing editor Laura Healy (who is pretty cool AND a major translator of Roberto Bolaño’s works). We also picked up the newest issue with some full color illustrations gracing the new story by Anne Fadiman.

New England Review and Massachusetts Review: We don’t know too much about these literary magazines. We know the New England Review is out of Middlebury College in Vermont (think Bread Loaf), and the Massachusetts Review is out of Amherst. Find out more here and here (respectively).

The Drum: We had heard of The Drum from last year’s Boston Book Festival, and wanted to find out more. The Drum is actually an online literary magazine that functions all in audio – as in, the writer actually reads his or her own story. We got to meet the editor Henriette Lazaridis Power, who just had a new novel come out last week (we featured it).

The Review Review: Based out of Somerville, this website provides a comprehensive compendium of literary magazines and journals and was named one of Writer’s Digest’s Best Websites for Writers. We got to meet founding editor Becky Tuch and chat about the origins of The Review Review, about managing a literary website, and what it’s like to man a booth at AWP (say goodbye to the voice by Saturday afternoon).

Harvard Book Store: One of the best independent stores in the area, the Harvard Book Store was functioning as one of the booksellers at AWP. Of course they were there: Harvard Book Store averages a ton of readings per week (this week they’re doing six in five days!).

Boston Writers Publishing: We hadn’t heard of this organization in Boston. According to their website, “Our goal is to help self-published and independent authors get their books published and in the hands of their readers.” Little else is on their website, but it looked like they’ve done some presentations in the area. More to come, most likely, when we know.

Who Wasn’t There: Well, considering the massive turnout of Boston area literary organizations, writing centers, and lit mags, it would be hard to find somebody who didn’t come. Then again, it would be very telling if an organization who functioned in the Boston area literary scene wasn’t there. There were a few. We’re not going to go tooting around who, but it was just very interesting to us that when the biggest writing conference of the year comes to your hometown, and you don’t at least buy a booth at the Bookfair much less become a major sponsor, that’s a bit telling.

All in All: Boston is an amazing literary city, and we really got to see who is here, who is doing what, where the creative hubs and niches are, and what the literary community of Boston looks like, from the authors to the teachers to the non-profit entrepreneurs to the students.