#AWP18 Event Organizer Q&A with CJ Hribal & Participants Dean Bakopoulos & Peter Ho Davies

AWP | February 2018

Event Title: The Politics of the Personal: Writing Large by Writing Small
Description: We're not all going to write dystopian novels of resistance, yet we also all know the political affects us every day. Does that show up in our narratives? How can writers express the political within the personal? How can we "write large" without being preachy or overbearing? Perhaps by writing “small.” Five fiction writers will discuss narrative techniques gleaned from some of their favorite novels where the political and the personal are intertwined.
Participants: CJ Hribal, Peter Ho Davies, Valerie Laken, Dean Bakopoulos, Lan Samantha Chang
Location: Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Thursday, March 8, 3:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.


Q: What new understanding or knowledge will attendees walk away from your event with?
Dean Bakopoulis: Everything can seem frivolous in an age of almost constant bad news and political darkness. I hope the panel offers people some freedom from writing novels that try to respond to every problem the world faces; a belief that any light you can shine in the darkness, or any darkness you can expose to the world, is worth writing about, even if it doesn't miraculously heal the world.
Peter Ho Davies: What I hope they (and I) might come away with is a better sense of how best to engage on the page with the political issues they/we care about without sliding into didacticism. Or to put it another way, a sense of why we should still write—instead of, say, manning the barricades—at a time like this? (Of course, both may be required.)
CJ Hribal: I hope people come away with a larger sense of fiction’s possibilities for engaging with the smaller moments that can illuminate the larger issues. Sometimes tackling something head-on feels like beating your head against a monolith. Rather than concuss yourself, why not use some subtler approaches—dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I’m trusting my fellow panelists will give us all some dancing lessons.

Q: What makes your event relevant and important in 2018?
Bakopoulos: To watch the news or login to social media is to be barraged by another scandal, another failure of leadership, another policy that punishes the world's most vulnerable. Writers can play both the short game and the long game—we can write political pieces that respond to the challenge of the day, and other, more mysterious and longer projects that don't seem to have a direct response to the current badness but still compel us. 
Davies: The administration of Donald Trump, or, and in no particular order, racism, crony capitalism, political corruption, gun violence, misogyny, environmental degradation, all of which, to be sure, predate the current Administration, but all of which seem to be worsening precipitously under it.
Hribal: In an age of despair (the forces of avarice and mendacity seem to be winning), and with the danger of resistance fatigue, it’s good to periodically be reminded that art offers us ways of responding, and that these responses need not be epic or overt, that the light of the personal can illuminate a lot.

Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
Bakopoulos: I'm always happy to wander the small press tables and find out which emerging writers have found a home for their voice. It's a pleasurable way to find out about writers I've not yet met.
Davies: New Intimacies: A Reading and Conversation with Min Jin Lee and Sigrid Nunez. Sponsored by Kundiman. 
Hribal: I love the small press bookfair tables, the AWP Award Series reading, and I’ll be attending as many craft panels as I can cram into my schedule, with priority given to former students and friends who are giving panel presentations, readings, or who have book signings.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
Bakopoulos: I was greatly impressed by many books in 2017, among them: Patty Yumi Cottrell's Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, Lindsey Hunter's Eat Only When You're Hungry, Megan Stielstra's The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, Rachel Khong's Goodbye, Vitamin, and Victor LaValle's The Changeling.
Davies: Alice McDermott's The Ninth Hour, Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday, andJohn Lewis's graphic memoir March, with Anderw Aydin and Nate Powell.
Hribal: Gina Berriault’s Women in the Beds, Joan Silber’s Improvement, R.M. Ryan’s The Lost Roads Adventure Club, Thomas Lux’s To the Left of Time, and Victor LaValle’s The Changeling.

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