By Danie Watson
One of my favorite lines is “Adventure is out there!” Yes, it’s from Up. Yes, I’m almost 22. Being an anxiety-ridden person, I don’t see too much adventure—or at least I didn’t until this April, when I boarded a plane by myself, and flew all the way from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California. I half expected myself to spend the flight breathing in and out of a paper bag—you know, the courtesy puke bags in your seat pocket—but instead I spent the time writing, and getting nervous about the next five days of my life.
I have the pleasure of calling myself a Graduate Assistant for Etruscan Press, which is affiliated with the Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program. So affiliated, in fact, that the reason I was on this adventure was to man the Etruscan/Wilkes booth at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference and Bookfair, or AWP. When the wheels hit the tarmac, it was 8:30 p.m. in L.A. and AWP started early the next morning. After an Uber ride and hotel check-in, I was finally in my room, anxious for the days ahead.
The following morning, AWP began. As Exhibitors, Associate Director Bill Schneider and I were able to get on the Bookfair floor an hour early, and beat the throngs of people waiting outside the doors. At 9:00 a.m. sharp, security started checking badges, and the conference officially began. People were running and hugging each other, names were called from across the room, and excited chatter filled the convention center—proving to me that AWP was about much more than buying books, shopping for programs, and making connections, it was about the joining of writers, students and book lovers near and far.
As the floor filled with AWP attendees, familiar faces began to appear. Fellow GAs Dale Louise Mervine, and Donna Talarico, both manned the Hippocampus booth, and my cohort members Whitney Brimat, Lisa Greim, and Sam Patterson, were some of the first people I recognized. I also had the pleasure of meeting other Wilkes students and alumni, from both the Mesa Weekender and previous graduating classes. We were in business.
My job was simple: man the booth, sell books, talk about the program, answer any questions about Etruscan, and make sure everyone showed up for their assigned shift. Luckily for me, the Etruscan/Wilkes booth was situated on a high-traffic corner of the Bookfair, which meant that none of us were able to stay still. Throughout the first day we sold books, shared our Wilkes experiences with booth visitors, and recruited members for the co-sponsored Wilkes and Etruscan event: The AWP Old School Slam. By the end of the first day I was exhausted and a little unsure of what happened, but we added names to both our Wilkes recruitment and Old School Slam lists. That evening, most of us dined together at Smash Burger before gearing up for the Old School Slam.
As an added bonus, Etruscan was sponsoring a book contest for the slam winners, and for a randomly drawn name from our Twitter feed. That first night, the slam was small, but that didn’t stop the Wilkes group from working together to put on an event. Host Jeremiah Blue slammed, and Spencer Aubrey, Luke Morris, and one of my cohort members, Chris Owens, took the stage. I even made it behind the microphone for a quick non-fiction piece to keep the momentum going. Even though the slam was small, we still had a blast, making it a night to remember, but also demonstrating the Wilkes community spirit that we all know and love.
The following day, AWP was in full swing. I had the pleasure of hosting authors for book signings throughout the day, and got to spend one on one time with some Etruscans: Renee D’Aoust, David Lazar, Bruce Bond, Laurie Jean Cannady, and Tim Seibles. It’s so unbelievably humbling to work closely with authors, because behind the pen, they are real people. It was also wonderful to put some names to faces. However, Bruce Bond probably experienced the biggest splash of adventure during AWP. He sat down for his reading, and soon after, the aisle in front of our booth was full of poets. The Black Poets Speak initiative began without many of us noticing, as most protests do. There were a few people, but the motion grew, and it soon swelled, blocking off the entrance and exit of our booth, and completely engulfing the front of it. The movement was powerful, and included a tribute to every African American man or woman who lost their life in the last two years, as well as embodied a true demonstration of free speech—and the power behind our words.
Needless to say, the protest wasn’t a quick one. It consumed all of Bruce Bond’s hour in the booth, blocking the display of his books, and filling the aisle with poems, tributes, and passion. Lesser artists might have been upset; not at the movement, but at the fact that it was blocking the entire booth, sealing them off from any publicity. However, Bond wasn’t phased in the least. During this hour, he took the time to personally discuss poetry with one of our students, coaching and guiding him for the good part of the hour. This movement brought much-needed awareness to the AWP Bookfair, but also demonstrated the importance of giving back; Bond flawlessly shifted from the role of author to mentor.
As the second day of AWP winded down, we again dined together, and headed to the convention center for the last night of The Old School Slam. We had publicized the event well enough that attendees from Oregon, Miami, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and even Ireland took the stage. The slam was inspiring, including performances that touched on culture, government, and gender roles. Boston, Mass. represented the slam well, with one of the contestants, Lyra, taking home the gold. By gold, I mean an Etruscan Press prize bag, filled with three books of her choice.
The third day of AWP was filled with panels from our talented Etruscans, book signings, and workshops. As the day came to a close and we packed up the booth, we left AWP as a group of people who had bonded so fiercely that cohort numbers just fell away, leaving us as one single Wilkes group, regardless of what level we were in the program.
The final evening of AWP, we met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant down the street. It was bittersweet, because most of us wouldn’t see each other again until residency, but our mini-reunion came to a close—but not until we danced the night away at an AWP sponsored party. I must say, the Wilkes community has some pretty sick dance moves.
The following morning, as the last of the bunch was heading to the airport, or stuffing bags of books in their cars, I was packing too. My version of packing is shoving as much stuff into one bag and sitting on it, but I had no weight requirements. Instead of making the long trek back to Newark, I had the pleasure of staying in L.A. for three more days. Luckily for me, I have a boss who encourages adventure, so I was able to call a friend and ask to borrow her couch for a few days. Throughout my few extra days in L.A. I did the quintessential tourist things.
I ate a disgusting, greasy meal at In-N-Out, I took tons of pictures of palm trees and sent them to everyone who was freezing back home, traipsed through Venice Beach, buying souvenirs and watching the skateboarders weave in and out of the bowl at the skate park, and I visited the Santa Monica Pier—which by the way, totally actually looks like Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. I spent all my money and took more pictures than I know what to do with. I even convinced my friend Yzzy to hike to the Hollywood sign with me—on an 81-degree day in April, while it was snowing in Wilkes-Barre. As I was melting behind the Hollywood sign, I stared out over Los Angeles, and soaked in the wonderful view.
Without Wilkes, I might not have taken an adventure to California. I probably would have been too scared, and too anxious to take the trip without a little push from Bill. I might have always wondered about the City of Angels, and now I know it’s no place for me.
Taking this trip reminded me that adventure is, indeed, out there only if you’re willing to look.
Danie Watson is pursuing her M.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has no idea what she wants to do when she grows up, and currently resides in Nanticoke, PA, with her dually named boyfriend and her two cats with nerdy names, Optimus Prime and Albus Dumbledore.