>The first panel of the day for me on Friday was a good one: “Severed Heads” – a discussion by Robert Olen Butler of his theory of the short-short story. Since I’ve been writing these lately, I found his articulation useful.
Then I went to another Russell Banks presentation, this one a conversation with William Kennedy sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute. I ran into Banks on the way in and we had a brief chance to talk about our shared workshop experience in Mexico from a few years ago. The presentation was interesting as Kennedy and Banks talked about their distinct New Yorks; Kennedy read a section from Ironweed and Banks read from his new book, The Reserve, which is set in in the Adirondacks in the same time period (the 30s) as Kennedy’s book.
Next I took some time to really explore the bookfair, picking up free literary magazines and purchasing some others that really appealed to me. I had to make a run back to my hotel room to unload several pounds of magazines so that I could resume. It was during this walkabout that managed to talk to a number of magazine editors and small presses.
At 3:00 I planned to go to a panel called “Fraud! The Debunking of Experimental Fiction” with Michale Martone and other experimentalists, but on the way I noticed that Martone was sitting at the Univ. of Georgia Press booth signing books. Except just at that moment he was sitting by himself so I went to talk to him, using the line I’ve been hoping to use ever since I heard him at last year’s AWP talk about his hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana: Hi, I was born in Ft. Wayne, too, I said. So we chatted for a little while, I bought a book, he signed it. The panel was peculiar, as each of the first three panelists, beginning with Martone, read an experimental piece, and then the last panelist tried to explain why it was all bunk, in an experimental sort of way. But the whole thing was interrupted by a fire alarm, which meant that after we resumed there was no time for question or discussion and I’m not really sure what the whole thing was about.
After that I thought I might go to the Jonathan Safran Foer reading, but the room was crowded and I knew I was going to have to leave early, so I skipped it (and went back to the bookfair).
At 5:00, members of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA Program – faculty and alums – gathered at a restaurant nearby for drinks and dinner. It was a big crowd.
The featured fiction reading that night (competing with a poetry reading by Mark Strand and Louise Gluck) was supposed to be by A.S. Byatt, but she was ill and could not make it. Instead, Sue Miller read from her new book, The Senator’s Wife, and although Miller’s work is commercial and not considered literary, I went anyway and even bought a copy of the book. I liked her reading and her stage presence and also enjoyed her conversation afterward with Susan Cheever.
And that was Friday.