#AWP18 Event Organizer Q&A with Michael Fischer

AWP | November 2017

Event Title: Redemption in the Pen: Insights from the Journeys of Formerly Incarcerated Writers
Description: Over two million Americans live behind bars. Many write to ease the pain of confinement and forge paths to reinvention. This panel offers perspectives from formerly incarcerated writers of both poetry and prose, discussing how they chose language to express such personal and stigmatized experiences. Topics include how to write an ongoing trauma, maintain a healthy writing practice in a toxic environment, and discussion of how writing programs and journals are incorporating these new voices.
Participants: Michael Fischer, Alexis Paige, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Juan Peterson
Location: Room 18 & 19, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, 4:30–5:45 p.m.      

Q: What new understanding or knowledge will attendees walk away from your event with?
A: Writers are masters of finding excuses for why the present place and moment isn’t conducive to our writing. Each of the formerly incarcerated writers in this event found a way to be open and vulnerable in their work, despite finding themselves in a situation designed to crush the human spirit. I think the mindset and practices used to turn prison into a space of creativity and hope speak to the difficulties faced by any writer, in any context. I hope attendees walk away from this event not only inspired by what each of us is capable of, regardless of circumstances, but equipped with new tools to confront deep-seated stigmas and work through their own darkest moments—even if those moments are still unfolding, inside and around them.

Q: What makes your event relevant and important in 2018?
A: Our culture is finally starting to turn the corner on the issue of mass incarceration. People are beginning to understand the degree to which the prison industrial complex victimizes generations of Americans, especially Americans of color. Usually, the focus is on what civilians on the outside can teach inmates—people going into prisons to run workshops, etc.—and that work is very important. But there are also many valuable lessons that current and former inmates have to share, in matters of both art and spirit. This event speaks to that equally important truth.

Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I’m obviously very keen on “Bringing Creative Writing to Prisons,” especially since it features Mitchell S. Jackson, who once found himself locked up and is now finding such well-deserved success. I’m also very excited to see Matthew Komatsu, who I met at last year’s AWP and is on his way to big things, in “Sum of the Parts: Creating Cohesion from Fragmented Narratives.” Finally, I’m hoping to learn quite a bit from “Have MFA, Will Teach: Create Teaching and Outreach Opportunities Outside Academia.” After I graduate, I’m hoping to use my MFA to teach underserved populations; I think this event is going to be a great opportunity to learn more about ways to do that.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: I saw Sarah Manguso give a reading at an AWP event last year in DC. Needless to say, I read all of her books when I got home, and was especially enamored with The Two Kinds of Decay and The Guardians: An Elegy. At a time when the tone of public discourse is so full of hysteria and vitriol, hers is such a sharp and steady voice. 

I also highly recommend the work of Kiese Laymon and his essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Professor Laymon’s words never flinch, and his mind is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

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