AWP 2018: Dispatches from Flyover Country

Room 11, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

It’s easy to find a literary community in places like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco—but what about the rest of us? In this panel, five writers and active literary citizens from small towns and mid-size cities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Alabama will talk about their communities (both inside and outside of academia): what’s working, what isn’t, and how you might jumpstart a community if you live off the beaten path.


Silas Hansen teaches creative writing at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. His essays have appeared in SlateColorado ReviewThe Normal School, Hayden’s Ferry ReviewRedividerPuerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

Allison Joseph is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the author of several books and chapbooks of poems, the director of the SIUC MFA Program, and she serves as editor and poetry edtior for Crab Orchard Review.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released by Button Poetry in 2016. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, is forthcoming.

Brian Oliu is an instructor at the University of Alabama. He is the author of four books of nonfiction and two chapbooks, ranging from Craigslist Missed Connections, to computer viruses, to 8-bit video games, to NBA basketball. Works in progress deal with pro wrestling and long-distance running.

Mary Biddinger’s most recent collection of poems is Small Enterprise. She is Professor of English at the University of Akron and NEOMFA program, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry at the University of Akron Press. Biddinger is the recipient of a 2015 poetry fellowship from the NEA.

AWP-going friends, we would love to see you at this panel on Friday afternoon. Please join us for a conversation on creating literary community in unexpected places.


Three new prose poems in Tinderbox Poetry Journal

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I love a fresh, new month. I know it’s silly, but I don’t care. January is over! We’re a step closer to spring, even if the weather is bouncing between temperate and frigid. Next week I’ll be reading new work at the Lakewood Public Library with Caryl Pagel and Michelle R. Smith as part of the Coast Line Reading Series. I am also thrilled to have three prose poems in the new issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal:

The Haunted Minute
Hard Living
Breakout Session

Many thanks to the editors for giving these poems such a fine home. I wanted to record audio for these, but could never find a place quiet enough, which should tell you something about my life (loud animals, loud colleagues).

I know it’s over a month away, but I’m getting rather excited for AWP Tampa. We just made the order for this year’s University of Akron Press Poetry Lives button, and I can’t wait to hand them out and catch up with so many friends. Also, this reading is sure to be a blast.


We will have five new poetry books at the University of Akron Press table at AWP, and we are co-hosting an offsite reading with Gold Wake Press. We would love to see you!

I’ve been blogging again over at The Word Cage, my old haunt. So far, 2018 is behaving itself.

Partial Genius

I wrote a couple of prose poems with five stanzagraphs. Then I wrote a bunch more. Then I couldn’t stop, and they turned into a book. I named the book Partial Genius. You can read it in summer 2019, thanks to Black Lawrence Press.

Infinite gratitude to BLP, to my friends and students who are always encouraging me, and to the editors of the literary magazines where these poems have appeared so far (there are many that I’m sending out soon, too).

I told BLP a bit about the process of writing this book

On writing Partial Genius

When writing the chapbook Saint Monica, which became my first collection with Black Lawrence Press, I stumbled upon a form that felt both compelling and expansive. The prose poem in five stanzagraphs made its first appearance with “Saint Monica Composes a Five Paragraph Essay on Girard’s Theory of Triangular Desire.” I wrote this piece with the well-worn essay format in mind as a gimmick, but ultimately felt that each discrete prose chunk forged its own identity while striving to, as they say in composition class, provide support for the thesis. I decided to return to this form with Partial Genius and to create a series of these poems that align and overlap to illustrate the experiences of one central speaker.

The poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative arc, working in unison to craft a larger story where plot points shift via juxtaposition and association. Thematically, this book is post-youth, post-love, mid-epiphany. What do you do when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against other heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the ownership of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.


National Book Awards Recap


What an absolute honor to accompany Leslie Harrison to the National Book Awards in NYC, in recognition of finalist poetry collection The Book of Endings. Here are a couple of photos from the trip, which was such a memorable experience.

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I’ll be checking in again soon with some exciting news that I have to keep quiet for now. Thanks so much to everyone who cheered on the University of Akron Press last week!

Two new poems in Diode

One journal that I return to again and again is Diode, and I am so honored to have two poems in the newest issue (10.3). “Skill Games” and “Open Search” appear here.


I also have poems in past issues of Diode, now hanging out in the archives. Here are some from Diode 3.1, and a few poems from Diode 4.2.

My office and home are replete with cool Diode swag from AWP, because Diode has the best swag.

I hope that after reading this Diode love-fest you consider reading their current issue (if not every issue in the archives, too) and sending your own work along.

Three new poems + catching my breath

Over the summer I started making a real effort to send poems out to journals again, and I was pleased to find new journals with a cool aesthetic, including Grimoire. I have three new poems in the current issue of Grimoire, with awesome company. What an honor!

I could hang out with the words and images over at Grimoire for days. They even have a Spotify channel. I feel like this magazine is a retroactive gift to my wee goth self of yesteryear, sitting in workshops in my Skinny Puppy t-shirt and black lipstick. Where have you been all my life, Grimoire?

These three poems are from a couple of different projects (including a very new one), so it’s exciting and terrifying for me to find them hanging out together. Seeing poems in print makes them feel real in a way that’s different from peering at them in your own folders.


I’m still in a tizzy over our National Book Awards news at the UA Press. I am not used to being around so many flowers. I’m excited to attend the ceremony, even if it means wearing a legit evening gown. I guess, if all else fails, I can default to something goth.

All the gratitude.

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In the Midwest we love a good underdog story. Whether it’s an unlikely sports victory or the turnaround of a forgotten downtown, we find inspiration in the unexpected triumph over adversity.

Because of this, we University of Akron Press folks are especially excited about Leslie Harrison’s The Book of Endings being named a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.

In the summer of 2015, I packed up my office at the University of Akron Press, thinking I would never return. Now, in 2017, I’m making plans to go to New York and cheer on University of Akron Press author Leslie Harrison at the National Book Awards, something I would never have imagined as I boxed up my owls and post cards and books and archived correspondence and favorite AWP swag and entered a world where I was no longer an editor.

Today I’m sending gratitude to everyone who helped us bring the University of Akron Press back. To those who advocated on our behalf, to Jon Miller who took the wheel, to Amy Freels (always!) for continuing to make the most gorgeous books on earth, to Noor Hindi, my assistant editor, to Sarah Dravec, Emily Levin, Jay Robinson, Courtney Turner, and Brew Wilson-Battles, who all read manuscripts with me and offered their insights. I also thank all of our poetry and poetics authors, along with Leslie Harrison, for having faith in the University of Akron Press. And finally, thank you to our readers. Poetry lives, and you have kept it alive.