From March 8-11, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs meets at the Seattle Convention Center’s state-of-the-art Summit building, which opened January 25 to regional fanfare. The Emerald City’s sustainably designed building, clad in reclaimed wood and developed around a civic-minded mission for downtown revitalization, provides a heartening environment for #AWP23’s creative engagement and presentations by contemporary literary lights.
On Wednesday, AWP awarded its Small Press Publisher Award to Dzanc Books of Ann Arbor, Mich. The annual award recognizes a nonprofit press or literary journal for innovation, and comes with a $2,000 honorarium and complimentary exhibition booth. Dzanc publishes original literary fiction and nonfiction; restores out-of-print and unavailable titles through its Dzanc rEprint series; and hosts a writers-in-residence program that enables authors to teach creative writing in public schools.
Two additional nominees for the Small Press Publisher Award included Nomadic Press and New York City’s Four Way Books. It was a bittersweet nomination for Nomadic, founded by J.K. Fowler in 2011, which ceased publishing as of February 28. Four Way, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, hosted an anniversary reading on Thursday with authors Rigoberto González (To the Boy Who Was Night), Allison Benis White (The Wendys), Victoria Redel (Paradise), and Glenis Redmond (The Listening Skin).
AWP’s George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature went to poet and performer Duriel E. Harris, an associate professor at Illinois State University and the editor of Obsidian: Literature and Arts in the African Diaspora. Harris’s most recent book is No Dictionary of a Living Tongue (Nightboat, 2017).
On Thursday evening, famed Seattle librarian and Book Lust author Nancy Pearl (who presently hosts a Book Lust video series) led a Q&A with novelist Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and National Book Award finalist Pachinko. Lee talked about her appreciation for the Scrivener app and the way she outlines her fiction; her quest for meaning (“I’m constantly aware that this minute matters”); and the exhaustive research she does, even for relatively short assignments like her recent introduction to the Penguin Vitae edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
When Pearl asked Lee to talk about the best and the worst writing suggestions she's received, Lee had ready answers. Her favorite writing advice, she said, doubles as excellent life advice: “Choose the important over the urgent.” Her least favorite saying may come as a surprise: “That whole showing-but-not-telling [thing] is so stupid!” Instead, she sees fiction as “a dynamic and bilateral construction between the reader and the writer.” Too much “show-don't-tell” can feel “extraneous,” Lee believes, and that’s on her mind as she winnows a set of 120 top short stories down to 20 selections for the forthcoming Best American Short Stories.