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NCWN at AWP 2017

Terry L. Kennedy speaks at AWP

We’re back from AWP17—the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs—where we spent the weekend supporting North Carolina-based literary organizations; making new friends; and letting ourselves be inspired by the herculean efforts of countless publishers and writers making their individualized contributions to the literary arts.

We celebrated anniversaries, including fifty years of The Greensboro Review, where NCWN board member, poet, and UNCG professor Terry L. Kennedy spoke (see right) amid readings by Jim Clark, Michael Parker, and more. Durham-based Bull City Press rang in ten fruitful years with a series of readings on Friday, and TriQuarterly Review hosted a classy event in an art gallery to celebrate their 150th issue.

We celebrated diversity. This included an appreciation of and readings by members of the Carolina African American Writers Collective (CAAWK) where we were treated to haikus from Dr. Lenard D. Moore (winner of the North Carolina Award); as well as poems read by L. Teresa Church, Cedric Tillman, and others. Minerva Rising Literary Press, based partly in North Carolina (and a presence at recent NCWN conferences), is a press run by and for women; they celebrated their five-year anniversary with a raucous, SRO offsite event on Friday night that included contributor readings and a chance for attendees to write encouraging notes to disadvantaged women, which founding editor Kim Brown collected to pass along to their charitable partners.

For me, the conference ended on the highest possible note, when I attended a tribute to Edmund White, one of my favorite writers. A panel of his friends and colleagues saluted the esteemed author with personal anecdotes and favorite passages, and White himself spoke briefly at the end. For most in attendance, White’s books were a light in the darkness, a voice that, as one panelist phrased it, took their thoughts and fears about their orientation and put them on the page, and in doing so gave them courage to become the people they needed to become. Seeing City Boy on another man’s shelf, for example, let them know, by a kind of code, that they were not alone. For me, reading White’s  The Beautiful Room Is Empty at age seventeen (I had to get a permission slip from my parents to check it out of the public library), created a deep and lasting empathy that not only profoundly altered my worldview for the better but has without question opened me up to more rich and fulfilling experiences and friendships over the course of my life.

But that’s the power of books: the good ones show you something new, prepare you to receive whatever wisdom or experience they have to share, and change you forever.

Courtesy of Crystal Simone Smith

We also learned a whole lot. We pride ourselves in creating a supportive and far-reaching writing community through the North Carolina Writers’ Network, but there’s a whole lot more we want to do. We’ve got our online classes up and running (the next one is Thursday at 7:00 pm!), and part of our time at AWP was spent learning how to deliver those more effectively. We also found brothers and sisters in arms, other state and city-wide literary organizations, like ours, who face the same challenges and who are, like us, excited for the future. By sharing resources, we hope to continue to improve our programming so that you, our members, will benefit—so that all of us will be helped along as we strive toward literary excellence.

And yeah, maybe we did sneak away on Thursday night to watch the UNC-Duke basketball game with our friends from Backbone Press, Carolina Wren Press, Exit 7 out of Paducah, KY, and a roomful of people we didn’t know but from the fact they were clad head-to-toe in Tar Heel blue. But we knew them well enough by the end of the game: they were writers like us.