#AWP19 Featured Presenter Q&A with Pam Houston

AWP | March 2019

Event Title: Writing the Personal Through Fiction and Nonfiction, Sponsored by Grove/Atlantic, Hugo House, and Seattle Arts & Lectures
Description: Join three highly acclaimed, award-winning writers—New York Times bestselling author Terese Marie Mailhot, New York Times notable author Pam Houston, and Hugo Award-winner G. Willow Wilson—as they discuss the rewards and challenges of depicting culture, landscape, trauma, and family across genres.
Participants: Terese Marie Malihot, Pam Houston, G. Willow Wilson
Location: Oregon Ballroom 201-202, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
Date & Time: Thursday, March 28, 1:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.


If you’ve been to an AWP before, what is your favorite conference memory?
This one goes back a long, long way to Denver in, maybe, 1979 or ’80? It was at the Brown Palace, and I was a graduate student at the University of Utah. A bunch of us had piled in a wood-paneled station wagon (truly) and driven to Denver from SLC. Our teacher, the irrepressible Larry Levis, was giving a reading to the whole group (which was about 300 in those days) one night. We were smug in our adoration for Larry, we took credit for him in a way only grad students can. We sat in the second row, all lined up, his court. He was late to his own reading. First ten minutes, then twenty. People waited, chatted. We looked around nervously. At about the thirty-minute mark the door banged open and Larry floated in in a cloud of cigarette smoke. He had that way of walking, almost like a cartoon dog, where his feet didn't exactly touch the ground. He was all in leather, of course, and a couple of chains. He floated, more than walked to the podium. The room fell silent. He patted his vest pocket, then his pants. No book. We shifted in our chairs. He smiled a little to himself, then grabbed both sides of the podium and read “Caravaggio: Swirl and Vortex” in its entirety, from memory. One of the greatest poems there has ever been and will ever be. Nobody breathed. Then he managed to locate some printed pages from some pocket or another, and gave the rest of his reading.

What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
There, There by Tommy Orange, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, and The Overstory by Richard Powers. (I realize these are not unique choices, but they were all truly great). Also, A Piece of Good News, forthcoming from Katie Peterson, Guidebook to Relative Strangers by Camille Dungy, Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies, and Wild Is the Wind by Carl Phillips.

Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
Some years ago, I was asked to judge the NEA. That was the year a hurricane shut down DC and we were all marooned there a bit longer than expected. It was an impressive list of judges, David Foster Wallace, Jane Hamilton, John Edgar Wideman. We were the only light burning on the block, talking about writers of the future. I have not won a public funded award myself (unless the Western States Book Award is publicly funded, I'm not sure), but I sure enjoyed those days in DC talking about books. I also work for a public institution, UC Davis.

If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP19, who would it be and what would you talk about?
I've always had a hankering to meet D. H. Lawrence. And I would not turn down a walk along the river with Willa Cather. I don't know if David Byrne counts, but I have truly always wanted to have a conversation with him.

If you’ve been to Portland before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
Other than the obvious (Powell’s, Voodoo Doughnut, lunch at Little Bird), I would recommend a trip out to see the tulips on Sauvie Island. Our timing should be perfect.


Pam HoustonPam Houston is the prizewinning author of six books, including Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country and Contents May Have Shifted. Her works have been selected for Best American Short StoriesThe O. Henry AwardsThe 2013 Pushcart Prize, and Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is professor of English at the University of California, Davis, teaches in the Institute of American Indian Art’s low-residency MFA program, and lives on a ranch at 9,000 feet in Colorado near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

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