#AWP19 Featured Presenter Q&A with Camille Dungy

AWP | March 2019

Event Title: Consequences of Silence, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts
Description: As poets, we love language—and fight with it. Language (in the mouth, on the page) is one way humans can experience and express the world: not only words on a page, but a bodily feeling as one speaks and hears poetry. These are ways language creates meaning, and helps us define ourselves and belong. The illusion of belonging is when language fails us: draws us in, but holds us at a distance. True belonging is when language connects us across time, languages, cultures, and emotional divides.
Participants: Simon Armitage, Samiya Bashir, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Camille Dungy
Location: Oregon Ballroom 201-202, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
Date & Time: Thursday, March 28, 4:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.


What are some of the conference events or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing at AWP?
Oh, I so love the Bookfair! Partly for the surprises it offers every year. I like to go in a few times during the conference with no set agenda. I just walk three or four rows and see what the world of literature is offering these days. I am never disappointed. I also love going to readings. It's always a joy to get to be in the same room with writers I admire, and to hear them share their work with the crowd. Because of the way AWP is set up, I usually have the thrill of being introduced to the work of writers who are new to me at the same time I have a chance to listen to old favorites.

If you’ve been to an AWP before, what is your favorite conference memory?
I'll date myself if I admit how many times I've been to AWP. It's possible that my favorite memory was sitting by the pool in Palm Springs chatting with all the other people who were sitting by the conference hotel pool. I love the easy conversations that could happen at the conference, where I met all sorts of people I might not have known and I had a chance to connect more deeply with others I have long adored. I also remember the year—was it 2012?—Nikky Finney was one of the featured readers. The sizzle in the audience was palpable. It was one of the best readings I've ever witnessed.

What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
This is an absolutely impossible question! Seriously, there were so many breathtakingly good books published this year, I'm afraid I'll leave too many out. Here are ten: Holy Moly Carry Me, Erika Meitner; Girls are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi; I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood, Tiana Clark; Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng; An American Marriage, Tayari Jones; Extra Hidden Life Among the Days, Brenda Hillman; Exploded View, Dustin Parsons; How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee; Monument, Natasha Trethewey; Not Heaven, Somewhere Else, Rebecca Brown.

Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
It certainly has. Here's one very important way: it has funded the many presses and museums and festivals and arts centers and arts initiatives that keep our communities thriving and vibrant and alive. I can't imagine a world without these offerings, and public funding for the arts helps to make them possible. What kind of a writer would I be if I couldn't be the kind of reader I am? What kind of a citizen would I be if I couldn't walk out of my door and be in the company of other artists and people who appreciate the arts? I am grateful everyday for the ways that public funding for the arts keeps the country in touch with its best self.

If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP19, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I'd love a chance for a long, deep chat with Phillis Wheatley. I bet she would be super hip and sassy (and also deeply thoughtful) if she were alive today. I bet she'd be publishing a new, amazing book every other year. Wow, would it be cool to see her mind at work in person.

If you’ve been to Portland before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
There's a little wine shop in the Kerns neighborhood (455 NE 24th Ave) called Pairings Portland, "Portland's Weirdest Wine Shop and Bar." Jeff Weissler, the owner, pairs wine with the many wonders of our world. He has wines paired with astrological signs, wines paired with dog breeds, wines paired with winter Olympic sports, and—in honor of AWP—wines paired with books! I highly recommend a visit. (For an added literary bonus: Megan Wilkerson, the woman who helps design the look of the shop, is the set designer of the stage production of Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things, which will be running at Portland Center Stage at the Armory through the end of March 2019.)


Camille T. Dungy Camille T. Dungy is the author of four books of poetry including Trophic Cascade and Smith Blue. Her book of essays is Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History. She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, and coedited two other anthologies.
(Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)


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