Writers from AWP 2017 you need to read


My first time at AWP lived up to all the hype. The roster was mesmerizing: Jennifer Egan and Ann Patchett, Tracy K. Smith and Peter Balakian, Ta’Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Marlon James, Joy Harjo and Emma Straub.

One of the best things about AWP is the sheer depth of writing available. In the 40 or so panels I was able to attend, I heard from a lot of amazing authors I wouldn’t necessarily have passed in Barnes & Noble. The following list includes some of those writers, as well as works from more established authors whose latest novel I’m eagerly awaiting to crack open.

(In no particular order)

Frank X WalkerBuffalo Dance the Journey of York 

The poet laureate of Kentucky wrote about Lewis and Clark’s expedition through the eyes of their slave, York. My favorite quote from the panel“Historical fiction is about expanding the reality of the history we supposedly know.” Excerpt of Buffalo Dance.

Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation

Kwok’s debut novel dives into the life of Kimberly Chang, a Hong Kong immigrant who’s a sweatshop worker by night and a star student by day. Of Kwok’s many memorable quotes from the panel she organized: “Success is a revolving door. When you get rejected, have rebound sex. Go out and submit that thing to five more journals.”

Azar NafisiRepublic of Imagination

In her latest work, Nafisi makes the case for literature’s redemptive and essential function in a democracy through three American classics. The bestselling author gave a spectacular keynote address at AWP (overview here) about the role of artists in resisting demagogues: “The poet and the tyrant have always been rivals for possession of reality.” Republic of Imagination review here.

Scratch: Writers, Money, and The Art of Making a Living

Editor of one of the coolest lit mags in the world, Manjula Martin, has compiled revealing interviews and discussions with writers from Cheryl Strayed to Richard Rodriguez.

Jami Attenberg, The Middlesteins

After her first three novels sold to medium or small success, Attenberg was sloughed off to various editors and agents. This stopped when her fourth novel, The Middlesteins, became a surprise bestseller. The Middlesteins is about a Suburban Jewish family, specifically an overweight five year old and her equally overweight mother. An astute quote from the panel: “Goodreads is cutting for authors.” Review.

Mitchell S. JacksonThe Residue Years

Jackson’s debut novel alternates POV between a mother and son and centers around their struggles with poverty and addiction. Jackson’s advice to burgeoning writers:”Don’t pull out of a novel until it’s truly ready.” Review

Mira JacobThe Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing

After 10 years (Jackson took 12) Jacob completed her 500+ novel about an Indian family growing up in New Mexico. The novel inspired this adorable review. Jacob on ignoring comparisons: “Why am I comparing myself to someone you want me to be? If you’re doing the work you should be doing there’s only one you.”

Karen Joy Fowler, We are all completely beside ourselves

Fowler was droll and compassionate in conversation with Hannah Tunti and Jennifer Egan. My favorite of her many insights: “(the election of Trump) was the final nail in the coffin of realism.” Interview with Bookslut.

Nicole Dennis-BennHere Comes the Sun

Set in a Jamaican resort, 30 year old beauty Margot sells her body to help her sister avoid a similar fate. Dennis-Benn incisively explores sexuality, freedom, and familial love. Review.

Ferdowsi, The Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings 

Recommended by Nafisi, the 10th century poet Ferdowsi is a pillar of Persian literature. Amazon.

Julia FierroCutting Teeth 

An exemplary literary citizen, Fierro is the founder of Sackett Street Writers. My favorite advice from the panel: “Don’t ever expect to make anything off of writing. It’s something you do to survive, to make sense of the world.”

Writing the Motherland, Demeter Press 

This beautiful anthology from Demeter Press features the work of 43 women who tiptoe (and pass) the line dividing countries and families. Rishma Dunlop’s poem “Somewhere, a woman is writing a poem” is a must read.

Phil Klay, “What We’re Fighting For

The National Book Award winner read from an unpublished novel that shares the themes and styles of Redeployment. Klay’s reading style is as impressive as his ability to slide people into another world. “What We’re Fighting For” is his latest essay for the Times.

Helen Phillips, Some Possible Solutions

I was blown over by the intimacy Philips achieves in her latest short story collection, and The Los Angeles times will back me up. Amazon.

Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck

In truth, I’m a sinner. I hadn’t encountered this amazing poem by one of America’s best poets before. As read by Joy Harjo, it took on a mythic quality. Treat yourself to its beauty here, as well as Harjo’s poem in response.

Esmé Weijun WangThe Border of Paradise

Full of psychological excavations, Wang’s debut looks at the ramification of a suicide. Her process: “There’s no outline. There’s a lot of wondering then eventually deliberate action.” Review.

Rajiv Mohabir, The taxidermist’s cut 

Highlight: “Krishna was a slutty poet.” Review.

Kristin Chen, Soy Sauce for Beginners

Chen’s debut follows a 30 year old woman from San Francisco to Singapore where she attempts to make sense of life by working at her family’s Soy Sauce business. In this panel, Chen focused on the inciting incident, and shared this great article by Matthew Salesses about the layers of any inciting incident. Review.

Paisley Rekdal, Intimate

Poet & memoirist Rekdal wrote a fascinating meditation on mixed identity in the US using the works of Edward Curtis, who pictured Native Americans in their “authenticate” attire while refusing to picture mixed race children. Review of Intimate here.

Andres Montoya, The Ice Worker Sings

I was lucky to hear this dedication to the Los Angeles poet Andres Montoya. It was a true delight to see all the people moved by Montoya poetry and to hear it read with such passion.

Philip Clark, Persistent Voices

Persistent Voices: Poetry by Poets Lost to AIDS is moving to the top of my list. The amount of original research Philip Clark and editor David Groff have done to recover some queer literature is astounding. A more holistic review is available here. Panel info here.

Essex Hemphill, Brother to Brother

RedBone Press focuses on bringing black queer writer’s work back into print. This collection focuses on the poetry of black queer poets, including David Frechette, Donald Woods, and Joseph Beams.


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