#AWP20 Featured Presenter Q&A with Matthew Zapruder
AWP | December 2019
Event Title: A Tribute to W.S. Merwin, Sponsored by Copper Canyon Press & Write On, Door County
Description: W.S. Merwin was a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning author, US poet laureate, Academy of American Poets Chancellor, environmental activist, and translator. His impact on American literature was profound. One of the nation’s most decorated and prolific poets, Merwin published over fifty books, including The Shadow of Sirius (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2009), Migration: New and Selected Poems (National Book Award, 2007), and The Carrier of Ladders (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1971). His poetry, as well as his life as a poet, was flavored with a moral and political imperative. Merwin passed away in March 2019, at his home in Hawaii. In this memorial event, his longtime poetry editor at Copper Canyon Press, Michael Wiegers, will be joined by Naomi Shihab Nye, Forrest Gander, and Matthew Zapruder to read and discuss poems by this tremendous friend, activist, and creative presence.
Participants: Forrest Gander, Naomi Shihab Nye, Matthew Zapruder, Michael Wiegers
Location: Hemisfair Ballroom C3, Henry B. González Center, Ballroom Level
Date & Time: Thursday, March 5, 3:20 p.m. to 4:35 p.m.
Q: What are some of the conference events or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing at AWP?
I always love walking around the Bookfair, especially early in the morning, while everyone is bright and the first coffee is just kicking in. I look first for my favorite smaller presses like Siglio, who make gorgeous editions, as well as my core faves like Coffee House, Tin House, Milkweed, Counterpoint, Coach House, Anansi, so many others. Last year I ran into a new press called Foglifter that one of my graduate students worked for: it’s always so cool to see the newest things that I had never heard of. For me AWP is more than anything else a research trip for all the latest amazing writing and publications. I collect a lot of information and materials for my teaching and my own personal reading pleasure.
Q: What do you remember most about your first AWP? What advice would you give to an AWP first-timer?
I think my first AWP was in Baltimore. I was there with Verse Press, which Brian Henry and I had founded together, and I just remember that a startling number of us piled into one hotel room, which seemed perfectly normal and reasonable at the time. There were several professional snorers in there.
As far as advice, I would just say, leave plenty of time to browse at the Bookfair. It’s a remarkable aggregation of the most exciting publishers of all sizes, and you want to leave plenty of time to stop, read, chat, etc. You probably want to go back multiple times, because it’s not easy to get the whole thing in one go, probably impossible.
Q: What is your favorite AWP conference memory?
Last year in Portland, Wave Books put on two nights of readings with many of our authors, in this warehouse building devoted to the support of analog printing techniques. I don’t generally love long readings, but it felt precious to be in that space, and to have the chance to remember that, in the end, writing is really about making a present, actual, singular human connection that is truly independent of commerce, social media, etc. I felt very proud and moved. I also am now remembering a time at AWP, in Austin, when I talked for the first time to the great C.D. Wright. We were sitting with our backs to a giant pillar in a lobby, treating it like a tree.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
The most recent two books of poetry I read were I Will Destroy You by Nick Flynn, and Magical Negro, by Morgan Parker. Both were really terrific. I’ve also been rereading and loving work by Sara Nicholson and Diana Delgado. I’m looking forward to reading Maya Popa’s new book, American Faith, from Sarabande. I read Dean Young’s new book, Solar Perplexus, when it was in manuscript, and it is truly extraordinary, maybe his best book. I’m sure I’m forgetting a million things.
Q: If you’ve been to San Antonio before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
I have been to San Antonio, and remember it is a lovely city, but mostly sadly remember giant plates of incredibly good grilled meat. I look forward to acquiring some non-gastronomical memories this time.
Matthew Zapruder is the author of five collections of poetry, including Come On All You Ghosts and Father’s Day, as well as Why Poetry, a book of prose. In 2000, he cofounded Verse Press, and he is now editor at large at Wave Books, where he edits contemporary poetry, prose, and translations. He was the founding director of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series. From 2016-2017 he held the annually rotating position of editor of the poetry column for the New York Times Magazine. He is an associate professor at Saint Mary’s College of California.