#AWP20 Featured Presenter Q&A with Donika Kelly

AWP | February 2020

Event Title: A Reading & Conversation with Cave Canem Prize Winners Major Jackson, Donika Kelly, & Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Sponsored by Cave Canem
Description: 20 years of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize: past winners read their work and discuss the impact of the prize in the world and in their lives.
Participants: Major Jackson, Donika Kelly, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Julian Randall
Location: Hemisfair Ballroom C3, Henry B. González Convention Center, Ballroom Level
Date & Time: Saturday, March 7, 1:45 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.


Q: What do you remember most about your first AWP? What advice would you give to an AWP first-timer? 
My first AWP was in LA in 2016, the spring before Bestiary came out. I attended the book festival on Saturday, and I think, for my first time, that was a good choice. I’m very introverted, and I get overwhelmed in crowds, so the Bookfair was a great space to get oriented. I made the rounds at the presses and MFA programs, bought books (I was driving back up to Sacramento, so I might have overdone it). I also found a good place to sit off by myself and take it all in.

My advice for folks at their first AWP, particularly for the introverts, is to take breaks and pace yourself. There’s so much programming, and it’s impossible to get to it all, so make a plan. Even if you end up not following it, you’ll be glad you spent some time with the schedule planner to see what’s possible.

Q: What is your favorite AWP conference memory?
Every AWP, I look forward to getting hugs from my friends who I haven’t seen because we live in different places. The hugs are the best.

This was especially true in 2017 when I lived alone in Western New York, south of Buffalo, which was a very isolating experience. When the flights were cancelled out of Buffalo, I took a 14-hour train ride across NY state, which is big, all the way down to DC. I got to eat such good food, plus the panels, featured author events, and offsite readings I attended were great.

But for me, the real gift of AWP is the occasion for connection, for replenishing the wells of friendship, and the hugs.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend? 
I really loved Asiya Wadud’s Crosslight for Youngbird, Catherine Barnett’s Human Hours, and Kyle Dargan’s Anagnorisis. I’m looking forward to spending some time with Cameron Awkward-Rich’s Dispatch once the semester is over.


Donika KellyDonika Kelly is the author of the forthcoming The RenunciationsBestiary, and the chapbook Aviarium. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow and winner the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Prize and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Donika works as an assistant professor at Baruch College.
(Photo Credit: Ladan Osman)


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