#AWP20 Featured Presenter Q&A with Melissa Faliveno

AWP | February 2020

Event Title: Jill Soloway Presents TOPPLE Books in Conversation with Melissa Faliveno, Moderated by Hafizah Geter
Description: Launching in fall 2020, TOPPLE Books spotlights the voices of woman of color, gender-nonconforming, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer writers. TOPPLE Books editor-at-large Jill Soloway sits down with Melissa Faliveno (author of TOMBOYLAND, forthcoming from TOPPLE in August 2020) for a candid conversation on the imprint's forthcoming list of titles, how TOPPLE's editors are discovering new voices to share with readers, and the revolutionary importance of feminist storytellers. Moderated by TOPPLE Books editor Hafizah Geter.
Participants: Jill Soloway, Melissa Faliveno, Hafizah Geter
Location: Hemisfair Ballroom C3, Henry B. González Convention Center, Ballroom Level
Date & Time: Saturday, March 7, 12:10 p.m. to 1:25 p.m.


Q: What are some of the conference events or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing at AWP? One of my favorite things about AWP is geeking out over panels about the essay, listening to writers who are as excited about the form as I am geek out over it too, and getting to feel like a student again (I take a lot of notes). A few I’ve got my eye on this year include “Queering the Essay/Queer Essayists Consider Genre,” “The Lyric Essay as Resistance: Truth From the Margins,” and “You Write What You Eat: Essayists on Their Food Obsessions.”

One of my other favorite AWP pastimes is just wandering the bookfair, running into friends, and discovering all the interesting, transgressive new work that’s being published by so many magazines and presses. I’m also involved in something awesome called March Badness, an annual tournament of essays about music, which will be in high gear during the conference. We’ll be having some kind of meetup/event, which will essentially be an opportunity to drink beer and talk about the worst songs of the ’70s and ’80s to chart and the weird essays we’ve written about them. So if you see me and all I can talk about is Starship, now you know why.

Q: What do you remember most about your first AWP? What advice would you give to an AWP first-timer?I believe my first AWP was in Chicago, in 2012. I had just finished my MFA at Sarah Lawrence, was working at Poets & Writers, and spent most of the time either working the P&W booth or hanging out with friends (I’ve got some good ones in Chicago). It was a whirlwind, and I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember being overwhelmed by the size of the conference, and having to make wrenching decisions about which readings and panels and events to go to (I’ve gone almost every year since, and this is still hard). I also remember being dehydrated and a little hungover all the time, so my first piece of advice to first-timers is to drink a lot of water. You can’t go to all the things, and that’s okay. There are a lot of parties, so pace yourself. Take breaks from the Convention Center for fresh air and sunlight. Get some sleep. And don’t forget to eat.

Q: What is your favorite AWP conference memory?Seeing Jeanette Winterson speak a few years ago is definitely near the top. But honestly, one of the things I love most about AWP is that it’s essentially a reunion, and I get to see so many friends, teachers, students, colleagues, and writers I love—many of whom I only see this one time a year. Last year some friends of mine put together a pretty killer karaoke event, and that’s at the top of the list too.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?So many! I just finished Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House and will be thinking about it for a long time. Other life-changers I read or revisited in the past year include Hanif Abdurraqib’s Go Ahead In the Rain, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body, Randon Billings Noble’s Be With Me Always, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, Jeannie Vanasco’s Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, and Ada Limón’s The Carrying. I also got deep into Tana French last year, when I needed a break from writing or thinking about writing, and now of course I might be writing a novel that’s kind of creepy and takes place in the woods.

Q: If you’ve been to San Antonio before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?I’ve never been, but I’m looking forward to exploring the city. Whenever I’m in a new place I take some time to scope out the independent and used/antiquarian bookstores, so I’ll definitely be doing that, and might try to catch some music. Obviously I’m also planning to get some good food—namely barbeque, and something I’m very excited about called the puffy taco.


Melissa FalivenoMelissa Faliveno is an essayist and former Poets & Writers Magazine senior editor whose debut collection, Tomboyland, is forthcoming in 2020 from TOPPLE Books. Her essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, Midwestern Gothic, and others, and received a notable citation in Best American Essays 2016.
(Photo Credit: Maggie Walsh)

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