Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The writer's life: a portrait of a not so young writer at her first AWP conference

I woke up yesterday exhausted. Not merely tired. Beat. Run down. Haggard. My feet hurt. My back hurt. This is what forty-something looks like.

Work has been crazy, pun intended. As a deputy public defender, I represent incompetent clients at Patton State Hospital as well as probationers/mental health clientele and it was a rough week with one fire drill after another. And, I had to interview for a promotion.

As a result, I missed the first three days of the annual AWP writing conference, a conference that was in LA, a mere hour away. I knew I should have planned it better and took the days off. Of course, my promotion interview would land on the first day of AWP. And a mandatory immigration training on the second day. Doesn't life always happen that way when you are making plans (paraphrasing John Lennon here)?

That said, I had promised myself I would attend on a Saturday day pass. Plus, I had agreed to man the book fair table for VONA.  So, when I woke up at 6 am I groaned. The weight of my pledges to myself and others heavy on my shoulders. But, I took a deep breath and got up, walked the dogs, drank my coffee and got dressed (which consisted of me tying my hair back and putting on some leggings and a punk rock tee with boots) and got on the road. Sometimes you just have to get the fuck up.

I arrived to the LA Convention Center a little early but not too early. My first seminar was originally supposed to be writing the spiritual memoir but I was too lazy to walk over to the Marriott blocks away so I chose what turned out to be the perfect panel, on sex, drugs, violence and rock and roll in YA. It was kismet. I sat through the panel aghast. It was as if God had made a panel built for me. After all, I am a punk rock girl from the IE who writes in child voice and whose family cursed a lot (I mean a lot, the F bomb was a very common occurrence, no exaggeration needed) and who is trying to incorporate music and YA books into her memoir. I even took a deep breath and raised my hand to ask a question. I felt proud of myself afterwards. Maybe I did belong.

The next panel was a reading by queer and straight mujers and again, it was an amazing experience. My friend Liz was reading and she brought down the house along with the four other Latinas. One woman's story was even about trying to get pregnant as a Queer woman and my reaction to her piece was immediate and visceral due to my own fertility struggles. I talked to her after the reading and it was amazing to feel that immediate connection with another writer. To feel the bridges form.

The rest of the day flew by. I ran around grabbing as many of the for sale books as I could, some were even free. I talked to old friends, made small talk with editors of literary journals, sipped on a beer, sipped on a coffee, ate a piece of pizza in a "We Need Diverse Books" panel listening to a VONA faculty member stress the need for change in the world of all white publishing houses. I manned the VONA table at the end of the day and made a new friend, a fellow Inland Empire girl who has read my work and who loves punk rock just like me.

I found myself, saw myself, motivated myself and began believing in myself as a writer at AWP. It was as if I was being reborn. James Joyce wrote Ulysses about the day in the life of one man and for me, my first AWP conference has that same significance.  It means I am here. For good.


  1. It was so good to see you and have your love-energy at our panel, Juanita, especially since you're my friend and IE connection and the piece I read takes place in the IE. Below is info. about our panel in case anyone is interested. The author who read about trying to get pregnant in Karleen Pendleton Jiménez.

    Looking forward to hanging out with you and seeing you read soon.

    liz gonzález

    S157. Puentes=Bridges: A Queer-Straight Mujeres Reading
    Melinda Palacio, Olga García Echeverría, liz gonzález, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, and Estella Gonzalez

    Anzaldúa and Moraga taught us: puentes. We must build bridges. This is a Queer=Straight Mujeres reading by Chicana/Latina writers from this big frontera called Califas. They are fierce poets, writers, and playwrights of this generación. Their writings reflect their politics, beliefs, and lived experiences existing within el otro lado. They build bridges within all their communities: Latina, LGBTQ, de color. They stand proud. ¡Que Viva La Mujer! ¡Viva! ¡Que ¡Viva la Jota! ¡Viva!

    1. Thank you Liz! I am so glad you included this info as we need to promote the mujers!

  2. Juanita, this was my first AWP conference too. I've wanted to attend for years, but the lack of both time and money have been an issue. This year, since the conference was local, I said I'd make it happen. I kept arriving to the conference half-asleep, greñuda, sipping on cafe, but each day I attended was worth the extra effort. Veronica Reyes organized our panel and being able to share work and connect with other escritoras that I admire was wonderful. Also, great to see you there. I agree with liz, you were radiating buena energy at our panel.