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AWP Friday: Following Marilynne Robinson

PUBLISHED: February 15, 2009

At AWP, the audience can be just as interesting as those on the dias. My first panel of the day was a reading celebrating the voices of the Austin-based literary magazine, American Short Fiction, which caused a minor stir a few months back when they started charging a reading fee to submitters. This reading featured Ethan Rutherford, Ben Percy, Tiffany Yanique, and Don Lee. The post-reading discussion, which began with a unanimous endorsement of Paul Yoon’s upcoming story collection, turned to the subject of Charles Baxter, who was standing in the back of the room listening to himself be called a “genius” and “the short fiction establishment.”

From American short fiction I turned to the novel and a National Book Critics Circle/Chicago Tribune/NEOMFA sponsored reading with Marilynne Robinson, Alexander Hemon, and Bharati Mukherjee. Robinson gave a stunning reading from Gilead (which I’m embarassed to say I haven’t yet read) then left to catch a plane like the literary rock star she is. She was a tough act to follow and what would normally be great readings from Hemon and Mukherjee felt flat in the shadow left by Robinson. Rumor has it that Dorthy Allison cast a similar shadow over ZZ Packer and Joe Meno at the Friday night reading at Columbia College.

Dipping back into the Bookfair before dinner, I discovered two books that I’ll be reading once I finish Gilead: Jeddeiah Berry’s metafictional detective novel, The Manual of Detection, which comes out from Penguin Press next week; and my friend Nomi Stone’s new book of poems, Stranger’s Notebook, which traces her experience living with one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world on the Tunisian isle of Djerba and just came out from TriQuarterly.

Due to the constraints of public transport between Chicago and Madison and the pressures of Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t able to make the conference on Saturday, but if anyone went to any great readings or panels, feel free to post them in the comments.

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