#AWP20 Featured Presenter Q&A with TC Tolbert

AWP | January 2020

Event Title: A Reading with Robin Coste Lewis, Raquel Salas Rivera, & TC Tolbert, Sponsored by the Academy of American Poets
Description: Join the Academy of American Poets for a reading by Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis, Philadelphia Poet Laureate Raquel Salas Rivera, and Tucson Poet Laureate TC Tolbert. Executive Director Jennifer Benka will introduce the event. Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the nation's largest membership-based organization promoting contemporary poets and poetry.
Participants: Robin Coste Lewis, Raquel Salas Rivera, TC Tolbert
Location: Hemisfair Ballroom C1, Henry B. González Center, Ballroom Level
Date & Time: Friday, March 6, 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’m a student at heart so I love going to the panels where I take copious notes and geek out. I’m also hopelessly analog so one of the most exciting moments of AWP for me is getting the paper schedule, hunkering down with it—going through each page, circling, making notes, and coming up with a plan for my days. I also always schedule in several hours for time at the Bookfair because I love the serendipity of wandering, the tactile experience of holding books—especially text-objects, handmade books, letterpress, and small press creations.

Q: What advice would you give to an AWP first-timer?
Drink lots of water. Eat at least one salad. Get outside a little and see the sun. Give yourself permission to be present wherever you are—FOMO will try to destroy you so you might as well leave that behind. Try to remember that almost everyone else is feeling anxious about being there too. Go to learn and create and celebrate community—networking is for stockbrokers and devices.

Q: What is your favorite AWP conference memory?
At AWP in LA (in 2016) I moderated “In Whose Image: Trans and Genderqueer Writers on Magic, Spirituality, and (the Bodies of) G-d” alongside panelists Ryka Aoki, Ian Ellasante, CA Conrad, and Joy Ladin. Even though it felt vulnerable to attempt to bring together these (seemingly) disparate parts of my being (transness and spirituality), I wanted to cultivate a space where vulnerability was allowed, acknowledged, even celebrated. Then, at the very last minute, due to illness and travel snarls, neither Joy nor CA could be there in person so I walked into the room feeling doubly anxious—more vulnerability than I’d bargained for. But it became this truly lovely collaborative effort—friends helping me gather and set up a projector and screen, Joy and CA making videos of their presentations, and Ryka, Ian, and I quickly rearranging. And then we looked up and the room was packed, people standing along the edges—a wondrous and beautiful legion of trans, genderqueer, and queer folks truly hungry for this conversation. There were tears of joy and laughter and a lot of nods and comments of recognition. I often return to this memory for how it unfolded into such a deep experience of community and connection.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
I’m a voracious reader and first I want to point readers to this constantly evolving resource of trans* and nonbinary poetry – all of which I recommend with joy. And I’ve been reading and returning to these this year:

  • Billy-Ray Belcourt, NDN Coping Mechanisms (House of Anansi Press, 2019)
  • Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, Slingshot (Nightboat Books, 2019)
  • Hannah Ensor, Love Dream with Television (Noemi Press, 2018)
  • Diane Glancy, It Was Over There by That Place (Atlas Review, 2018)
  • Trevor Dane Ketner, White Combine: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg (Atlas Review, 2019)
  • Joshua Whitehead, full-metal indigiqueer (Talon Books, 2017)
  • Xandria Phillips, Hull (Nightboat, 2019)
  • Vivek Shraya, Even This Page is White (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017)
  • Jennifer Tseng, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness (Europa Editions, 2015)
  • Diana Khoi Nguyen, Ghost of (Omnidawn, 2018)

Q: If you’ve been to San Antonio before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
Never been!


TC TolbertTC Tolbert is the author of Gephyromania and four chapbooks of poetry and is co-editor with Trace Peterson of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics. Tolbert is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and an Arizona Commission on the Arts Individual Artist Award. In January 2019, s/he was the guest editor for Poem-a-Day. In 2019, s/he was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Tolbert was appointed the poet laureate of Tucson, Arizona, in 2017.


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