Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Well, #AWP15 is long over.  It feels like it was forever ago, but for various reasons, I haven’t had room to breathe or to write until now.  Here are some stray thoughts on the experience:

1. I’ve been to several AWPs recently (Seattle, Chicago, DC, NYC), and I’ve gotten pretty good at packing for them.  (It’s no small feat because you have to pack under duress and factor in books, weight, and spatial concerns).  But you know what I’m definitely packing next year for AWP16 in LA?  A scarf and a bag of oranges.  This is the third AWP where I’ve caught some kind of horrific flu-like plague.  I think it’s the exhaustion, the extreme changes in temperature, the partying, the crowds of crowds, and the flight home, when you’re breathing the recycled exhalations of 300 other travelers for hours on end.

The first time I got sick at AWP, it was on day one in Chicago, and I was doing work for Chatham U, so being sick was not an option.  So that night, I cranked up the hotel’s heat as high as it could go and put on every sweatshirt I brought.  I yanked a hoodie over top and turned it backwards so the hood covered my neck.  I looked like an idiot and sweated through two sweatshirts, but I was fine the next day.  The sweatshirt thing is actually an old Korean technique my Tae Kwon Do instructor in college taught me.  Well, not exactly.  I think “Sweat it out, Robert” was the way he explained it.  But I honestly can’t recommend sweating it out for anyone, since this technique has probably killed more people than it’s cured.

At any rate, I’m hoping that wearing a scarf everywhere at #AWP16 will help ward off sickness, especially due to the wild temperature fluctuations.  (In March, it will probably still be snowing in Pittsburgh.)  Maybe people will assume I’m a tiresome dandy and avoid me, thereby creating a germ-free bubble.  Time will tell.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll just throw oranges at anyone who coughs on me.

2. New AWP Regulations: “The titles of proposed panels cannot contain the following words: ‘hybrid,’ ‘thread,’ ‘analog,’ ‘hyper,’ ‘agency,’ ‘agent,’ or ‘morph.”  This regulation should winnow the number of accepted panels from 550 to about 100.  Furthermore, mimicking the wording of any Raymond Carver book is strictly prohibited.  We predict this regulation will cut the number of proposed panels to 5.

The only exception will be for panels announcing nonfiction scientific coverage.  For example, if your panel is about the discovery of an exotic extraterrestrial species, then “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Hybrid Morphing Thread-Worms of Europa, whose Existence has been Proven by Several Government Agencies and Recorded via Analog and Digital Media” is a perfectly acceptable title for a prospective panel at AWP.

3. As someone whose shoulder and back are still aching from the plane ride home from Seattle, I swore I wouldn’t buy any books or journals at the bookfair this year.  Rather, I’d make a list of books and journals I wanted and buy them later (kind of like shopping at Ikea, with the AWP Bookfair as my showroom).  Here’s a Vine I made for Pitt’s Writing Program showing how well that plan worked out.  

4. #AWP15 marked the first panel I’ve ever participated in.  It was titled “How Writing Programs Can Meaningfully Utilize Social Media in an Age of Branding, Oversaturation, and Decreasing Admissions.”

The description: this panel will discuss different ways that writing programs and journals can use social media to recruit, advocate, teach, and promote literary citizenship. We’ll discuss our experiences and best practices for established and emerging digital mediums (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). In an age of “branding,” oversaturation, and decreasing admissions, how can programs and editors use social media meaningfully? This panel will provide practical advice, as well as thoughts on the digital future.

My fellow panelists were

Robyn K. Coggins

Kinsley Stocum &

Terry L. Kennedy.

At first, I braced myself for low participation because the panel was at 9AM and AWP had booked two giant hotel conference rooms for us, thereby possibly magnifying the low attendance to a soul-crushing degree.  However, as someone later noted, “9AM is a pretty reasonable time for most normal people,” and a good number of those normal people showed up.

Honestly, the whole thing was a blur, with so many smart ideas being passed back and forth between the panelists, and then the crowd.

Robyn had smart, practical things to say, especially about scheduling and connecting with audiences.  Kinsley gave great advice about personal and professional realms, as well as what does and doesn’t work on different platforms.  And Terry helped bring everything together, especially with his generous, community-building approach and different internal/external ways to use Facebook.  After the conference, we kept the conversation going with some audience members, and I even got to meet a couple future students.  I was incredibly relieved afterwards, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it going any better.

More to come soon.  In the meantime, please enjoy these photos:

Kirkus Review is live!

Kirkus Review is live!

The first official review for my novel is in.

Kirkus Reviews calls Eighty Days of Sunlight a “moving and darkly comic debut novel.”

“Equal parts hilarity and heartbreak in an accomplished debut.”


You can read the whole review here.  Honestly, there was a long, 5-year period where I was pretty sure this novel would never be published.  It would go to the great Unread Novel Graveyard, the three people on my thesis committee the only people who would ever read it.  If Mink Choi hadn’t chosen it way back in the day, or continued to champion it for years, it never would have made it this far.  Thanks to everyone who’s supported this project through its six years of evolution, and a special thank you to the reviewer at Kirkus for this life-changing moment.  I’m feeling very blessed and lucky today.

AWP Panel Y’all

AWP Panel Y’all

If you’re in Minneapolis this week for AWP and if you’re free on Friday, April 10 at 9AM, maybe stop by a panel I’m moderating about social media and academia?  (And yes, I realize that’s a lot of “ifs.”)

The details:

AWP Panel

Here’s some intel on the panelists:

Robyn Coggins, who has worked for the University of Pittsburgh and Creative Nonfiction Magazine, currently works at Longform and Pitt Med Magazine.  She has managed social networking pages since 2011.  At Pitt, she ran the Writing Program’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Kinsley Stocum is the Founding Poetry Editor and web/layout designer for IDK Magazine.  She served as Associate and Artwork Editor for The Fourth River and was the Rachel Carson fellow for Chatham’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Terry L. Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections New River Breakdown and Until the Clouds Shatter the Light that Plates Our Lives. He currently serves as the Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at UNC Greensboro and is editor of storySouth.

For mysterious reasons, I’m listed here as “Robert Stevens,” but it’s me.  Hope to see you there!
Cover Art for my novel!

Cover Art for my novel!


I’m thrilled to finally share the cover art for my debut novel, Eighty Days of Sunlight (Thought Catalog Books/Prospecta Press). Special thanks to my friends and family, Mink Choi, Chuck Kinder, Cathy Day (my thesis chair at Pitt), Hannah Johnson, Geeta Kothari, Nick Kinling (who designed the cover!) and so many more I forgot because I’m delirious with joy right now. More details (including the 2015 release date) to come soon.

New Story up at Thought Catalog!

New Story up at Thought Catalog!

“Remember that clerk at the convenience store? It was late at night, near a generic exit on the weed-choked part of the interstate. You bought some gas and the clerk took just a little too long to swipe your card and hand it back to you. A few days ago, a bird mask arrived at his house.”

I wrote a short story, in the vein of Poe-meets-Buzzfeed, for Thought Catalog.  It’s called “8 of the Creepiest New Photos on Streetview.”  Maybe I should have titled it “Captions from 8 of the Creepiest New Photos on Streetview.”  Maybe I should have just included the photos, LOL.

Special thanks to Mink Choi for soliciting my work and for Chrissy Stockton for publishing it!  I’ve been interested in writing straight-up horror stories, in the vein of Turn of the Screw or “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” for awhile now, and it’s really neat to have an outlet.

My full blurb for I AM BARBARELLA

My full blurb for I AM BARBARELLA


It’s not every day that you get to celebrate a former student’s book release.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of Beth Gilstrap (pictured above), who was in my graduate publishing practicum at Chatham University.  The full blurb for I AM BARBARELLA had to be condensed for obvious reasons, but I’d like to post it here, since it nicely sums up how I feel about this collection:

This is a leathery, beautiful, steel-toed collection.  Each story is a labyrinth—tall, weathered, and covered in vines—containing at least one Minotaur in the form of an oddly heartbreaking description or a perfect Southern turn of phrase or a mother’s surprising-yet-inevitable gesture.

Ranging from damaged, unforgettable characters to sharp portraits of Southern landscapes to family intrigue and wicked flashes of humor, the delights here are spring-loaded, carefully placed, and patiently waiting.

Despite her attention to setting, the (often-interconnected) stories here are ultimately about people contemplating the hidden costs of their own “magnificent mistakes.”  Just like us, they struggle to do right and come surprisingly close at times, and this collection has some remarkably powerful moments as it examines the beauty and heartbreak that stem from our unique frailties.  This book is both an indictment and a celebration of “how similar we are to porcelain on the inside,” and it’s definitely a ride worth taking.

I was happy to read it for the blurb, and I can’t wait until my pre-ordered copy arrives so I can read it again.  There aren’t many books I can say that about, period.


Author photo by Tatyana M Semyrog.