In Search of the Monstrous

Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar is by far one of the most interesting books I’ve read in 2018. I had the good fortune to stumble upon it at a signing at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference (AWP), and I’m very grateful that I did. The book resists being fit into any box, which makes any summary painfully anemic, but here goes: Monster Portraits is a speculative memoir that explores living in a world where one is perpetually othered. In this exploration, Sofia’s text tracks in two directions at once. On the one hand, the book is a not-quite-straightforward bestiary/travelogue detailing the process of seeking out and coming to know each of the monsters it describes. On the other, this external process of finding and coming to know the monsters of the book points inward toward understanding the multi-faceted nature of the self. Sofia’s text is accompanied throughout by Del’s illustrations.

This mixture of prose and illustration becomes a high-wire act that could easily have fallen short of its ambitious aims, but Del and Sofia work together to pull the task off beautifully. The text itself creates its own need for this illustrated element: “Most monsters, I have read, have a horror of the camera, but will allow their portraits to be drawn by hand.” This mediated experience of the monstrous is crucial to the book’s success. We do not find them out in the wild as something to experience purely as an other, but rather, our experience of the monsters in this text can only come through the text—through the author.

In this vein we see the external experience brought in to the Samatars’ own lives, translated from fictional encounters with fantastic beasts into a speculative memoir. The Samatars present their own experience, not directly, not through the steady gaze of prose, but at a slant. In so doing, they create their account and a mirror for readers to consider their own otherness. A mirror that not only reflects the reader’s experience through the Samatars’ but that can provide a field guide to a life. And “a mirror becomes architecture when you pass to the other side: this is what we had understood as children.”

You can pick up Monster Portraits from Rose Metal Press here.

Summer Reads with Blue Mesa Review

The first day of the semester at the University of New Mexico is today, but the staff at Blue Mesa Review isn’t quite ready to let go of the summer. Check out our recommendations to read over your lunch break, between classes, alt-tabbed in the background of your computer at work, or just when you have a little downtime at the end of the day.


Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m a short story writer. Always have been, always will be.

It might not make much sense, then, that I haven’t read a single novel or short story collection this summer. Instead, I’ve immersed myself wholly into the world of nonfiction.

Like many fledging fiction writers, my short stories were inspired by people I’ve known, places I’ve lived or visited, or events I’ve witnessed. Fiction became a hiding place—a space from which I could tell my story without genuinely claiming it as mine. This past spring, a workshop infected me with the nonfiction bug, and I’ve been hooked since.

But because I’d dedicated my energy to fiction for so long, nonfiction seemed intimidating—a genre that demands accountability, that prohibits sloppy or incomplete rendering of real people, their flaws and their triumphs. I’d posit that fiction warrants the same, but the difference is that nonfiction forces the writer to simultaneously be character and narrator: no more hiding.

So, this summer, I’ve tried to read writers that are each doing something different with the genre. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army and This Boy’s Life, every piece in Best American Essays 2017 curated by Leslie Jamison, Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There is a Mountain and others. These are only a handful of books and essays that continue to show me what this genre can do, and I recommend each of them with enthusiasm.


Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

This summer, I caught up on all of The New Yorker issues that I didn’t have time to read during the spring semester. Much to my disappointment, I found that most of their poets are the same poets who have always been published: white, predominantly heterosexual and cisgender, male authors. I didn’t see many voices like mine. Did they not have value?

To process some of my indignation, I returned to James Baldwin’s collection, Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin’s honest examination of his own emotions surrounding persistent and brutal racial violence helped me to acknowledge and trust the part of myself that is…well, pissed off. His work’s relevance today almost makes it worse—very little has actually changed for the better. We are still suffering.

In many minority/marginalized communities, we are encouraged not to express our frustration with the injustices surrounding us. We are discouraged from taking pride in our identities or finding value in our experiences. Sometimes, the cage of silence is for our own safety. But a place for the flame of outrage and change exists—it is here. It is now.

I also saw Sorry to Bother You, which is a whole other level of “Is this seriously the world we are living in right now?”

Go see that, too.


Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

This summer I’ve been focusing on reading poetry. I highly recommend Allison Parrish’ amazing collection Articulations. The poetry in this volume was composed by an algorithm Parrish designed, pulling language from every work of poetry published through Project Gutenberg and assembling it through a process that is beyond my ability to describe well.

Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin was an absolute punch across the jaw. I read the book in a single sitting in a coffee shop, promising myself every so often, “Just one more section,” and then inevitably found myself at the end of the book. I do not remember the last time that a collection of poetry laid me low the way Hayes’ book did.

Finally, I’ve been working my way through Mark Z. Danielewski’s intimidating novel Only Revolutions. Like all of Danielewski’s work, this book is formally impressive. At its most basic, the novel contains two stories narrated in something between free verse and stream-of-consciousness. In order to read these two stories, the reader will flip the book over every eight pages, reading from each end simultaneously. And the formal fireworks only begin there.


Mitch Marty, Managing Editor

Over the summer I amassed a book list for the upcoming semester, and despite sticking my nose into a couple books (Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarisa Pinkola Estés), I made little progress reading anything. Because of how much I read during the semester and reading for our Summer Contest, I haven’t been able to sit still long enough to read anything else. For me, the summer is about exploring and writing. As the summer break comes to a close though, I steadily changed my course, still opting to deviate from the list for the semester to dive into The Recovering by Leslie Jamison. It’s phenomenally tragic, brutally honest, masterfully written, and fueling the nonfiction I’m writing in the way that only a great book can.


Hayley Peterson, Editor in Chief

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I’ve been craving memoir this summer. I just want to read about how someone else makes sense of their life, you know? So I picked up The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy at Powell’s City of Books while I was in Portland visiting family, and then read it in about 36 hours (and I’m a slow reader). I’ve read a lot of Levy’s reportage in The New Yorker, which I love, but there’s something so special about an author sharing her life on the page—the messy parts, the loving parts, the painful parts—that helps me remember why I write, and why I read.

A great memoir makes me feel I’ve connected with someone else in the world. If you’re feeling at all lonely, read a memoir; if your feelings about sexuality, gender, and love are making you feel lonely, read THIS memoir.

Going Digital

Mitch Marty Editor Photo

Mitch Marty, Managing Editor

Over the past year, I worked with the 2017 – 2018 Editorial Board to design event posters for our Works in Progress reading series in Albuquerque, read for Blue Mesa Review, and helped our Editor-in-Chief design Issues 36 and 37 of the magazine. When I think about design and how it intersects with my new role as Managing Editor, I can’t help but consider the DIY ethic most artists have to assume in the digital age. A fledgling author cultivating a place for themselves in the writing world has to learn their craft, understand how to navigate the landscape of publication, market themselves, and know a handful of other skills to get their work to all the right people to be read, let alone published. As the designer for Issues 38 and 39, I want to take the burden of wondering how your work will be represented off of your shoulders.

Our transition from a print to digital format in 2010 has impacted the way we approach every issue of Blue Mesa Review. The chance to publish for a wider audience of readers has been critical. Our readership has grown with each issue as a direct result of eliminating the cost barrier to access the print publication. Through online publication, we can now see different metrics of how many people are reading, how long they are reading for, and where they’re reading from (geographically), in a way that we could never gauge in print, which helps us to determine how to engage readers in new ways from issue to issue, while focusing more on each piece we receive from submitters.

Each year, someone new steps into the role of designer and is able to take their own approach to the magazine’s layout. I’ve thought about what has worked in previous issues and have made decisions on how to improve or change the magazine based on this evolutionary cycle from one editor to the next. Although I like my lit mags to have a clean, simple design with consistent style markers to orient readers, I think lit mag designs work best when they also engage through use of partial and full-spread images, pull quotes, and other formatting features that aren’t necessarily as cost-effective for print magazines on a small budget.

One point of focus regarding the layout of future issues of Blue Mesa Review is how readers can engage with its form in a way that highlights the content. Is it effective to hyperlink from the table of contents directly to a piece within the issue? Of course. From an author’s or artist’s name to their bio? Yes. Both of these small but important changes make the magazine more navigable, and therefore more accessible to a wider range of readers. Although it’s difficult to develop a design that balances consistency, utility, accessibility, and engagement, while considering how these function with the content of the magazine, that’s my goal for the next year with the release of our Fall and Spring issues.

In addition to layout and formatting, I’ll also be on the hunt for great artwork that compliments the nonfiction, poetry, and fiction submissions that we select for each issue. Because we choose art that works in conjunction with each piece, and cover art that highlights the overarching feel of the issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription for what we accept. If you are a visual artist or have friends who are, head over to our Submittable for the specific requirements to submit.

I can’t wait to read your submissions, peruse your art, and get to work designing the next issue of Blue Mesa Review to share with our readers.

On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m extremely lucky to be Blue Mesa Review’s new Fiction Editor. I have the good fortune of immersing myself in the worlds you’ve created through your stories. The writing world is a community of talented, tenacious artists, and that I’ve found myself in a leadership role of sorts within this pocket of the community is something I take seriously. Each story is a new mystery to solve, a unique conflict to navigate, an opportunity to learn something about people.

Our magazine receives a staggering number of fiction submissions, and for me, that’s enthralling, because every story contains the possibility of showing me something I’ve never seen. But often, stories with monster potential are still a draft or two away from publication, or simply haven’t done enough to stand apart from other submissions. So how can you make your story stand out in a submission pool this large?

For starters, the basics matter. Standing out through fresh prose or scintillating dialogue is one thing. Doing so through over-the-top cover letters is another. We don’t read them prior to reading your submissions, so you’re better off spending your energy revising your draft rather than trying to sell us on the story via the cover letter. Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced manuscripts are what I prefer, and you should take care to read and follow our submission guidelines.

When someone asks me to tell them what a story is about, I inevitably wind up describing its characters. Characterization is paramount. I’m not interested in labeling characters as “likable” or “unlikable.” I deeply admire writers who, instead, show me the varied possibilities for human behavior. Unshackle your characters. Do not keep them neatly tucked away, safe and removed from the conflict’s stakes. Let their flaws and desires drive the story’s plot. Have them take you where they want to go, not where you want them to wind up. I like being able to answer two questions when I can’t get a character out of my head: what makes them interesting and why do I care about them?

Above all, I gravitate toward stories with heart. It’s no secret that our current political climate is chaotic, haphazard, turbulent. I’m of the mind that every piece of writing is inherently political. So, to me, it makes sense that stories published today depict characters grappling with the many social dilemmas in our society as they are manifesting today. Show me these conflicts under new, fresh lights through the senses of characters with flawed, genuine humanity.

Lastly, thank you. Your writing and readership make this magazine possible. Reading your stories is a joy and I can’t thank you enough for submitting them. Your efforts make this Fiction Editor position exciting and rewarding. Best of luck with your submissions.

The Strange Beating Heart of the Thing

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

I was a reader long before I became a writer. Diving into a book an entire pile of books—ok my house is full of books—has always been the animating factor in my life. Whether I’m reading poetry, a history of some moment far off in time and place, or the careful exploration of a character, the best writing has the power to set the world still for a time and engross its reader in its own beautiful particularities. As the new Nonfiction Editor of Blue Mesa Review, I want to read submissions that ground me in the reality of your story and make me forget about my own.

The best nonfiction submissions will have moments that shine a brilliant gleam of light from an angle I’ve never experienced. Nonfiction provides a pathway into this that no other genre can. Each moment layers the strange particularities of this world on top of themselves. The earthly is made unearthly. This defamiliarization has the same effect on me that a strange noise might have on a dog. My head tips to the side, all life pauses around me, and then I can return to the world—some new experience in hand, shaping how I read my own life. I want to read your submissions that have this power to change the way our readers see the world.

Content, however, is not the only place where I love to see nonfiction push into new territory. I am a sucker for formal experimentation. The prose block is a solid shape. It’s served writing well for centuries and no doubt will for centuries to come. But there are so many possibilities to write into new forms, new shapes. I do not simply want writing to ask questions about its subject matter. I want it to seriously contemplate the way that its structure engages with that subject. Don’t just ask yourself “What do I want to say?” Ask how your piece wants to be said. Can your essay take the form of a furnace repair manual? Could you write lyrical prose that borrows its shape from that interminable stretch of paper at the bottom of a certain unnamed pharmacy’s receipt? Be ambitious, challenge my understanding of what an essay can be, can look like, can do. I want to read the forms that I cannot imagine as I sit here writing this.

I don’t want to just read your strange heart, I want to understand it.

Life is far too short for the safety and detachment that irony gives us. Write toward your strangeness, write toward your unique experience of the world. Wherever that writing leads you, I can’t wait to read your work.

Poems Need Teeth

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

As the new Poetry Editor of Blue Mesa Review, my goal is to look for poetry that is both well-built and takes risks. I’m anxious (in all kinds of ways) to continue the pattern of publishing excellent poetry, and I want to do my best to serve Blue Mesa’s legacy. As for what I’m looking for, I want to uphold the standard of powerful work that previous editors have chosen over the years.

I believe a poem should be greater than the sum of its parts. Imagery, narrative, and strong diction give a poem a good backbone. These things are important. But craft and form can either become a strong exoskeleton or a cage. A poem needs to find the body it will inhabit. It will develop its arms in enjambment, its ground speed in rhythm, the span of its scope in temporality. And once the poem has been given a body, give it breath. And give it teeth.

Give it teeth that sink into someone and refuse to let go. An evolved poem has a nose like a bulldog so it can clamp on and still breathe. Its jaw muscles and nasal cavities must be developed over time—to make it an apex predator, to give it the best chance to succeed in the ecosystem of poetry that it has been born into. Revision and evolution are key to putting your poem at the top of the food chain.

But a good poem also adapts to the ecosystem around it. Poetry has always been the internal language of human beings. Whether it’s music, spoken word, chapbooks or epics, poetry has flowed through us for millennia, connecting us to one another’s experiences, tapping us into universal human truths, sharing lessons and bestowing wisdom. We love movies because they are story and image, but poetry used to be our main vehicle for expression and connection. How do we do that now, in an atmosphere that dismisses art and poetry? In a world where the written word is monitored and censored? How can poems evolve past words on a page to have a life of their own?

A poem should be conscious. Poetry should be aware of the climate of the world we live in and reflect it in a way that disrupts our preconceptions. A poem, whether it dodges or takes a bullet, should teach us something about how to survive. How to flourish. Poetry is what reminds us that we are human. Poetry is what brings us together.

I’m constantly looking for ways to do this in my own work, but I look for it in others’ poetry as well. I look for poetry that corners me, poetry that I can’t stop thinking about. I look for poetry that begs to be shown and shared with others, so that it can latch onto them, too. When I recall the lessons that a poem taught me, or relate it to a feeling or a moment I’ve felt in my own life, then I know I did not escape from it. I know that others have had or will have that same experience. This is how poetry unites people, by expressing something that we don’t have the words to say ourselves, and connecting us over borders, tangible and perceived.

Now that you have an idea of what I’m looking for, please send me your best work. I can’t wait to be bitten.

A Message from the Incoming Editor-in-Chief

It’s that time of year again! As our summer contest begins, our editorial board has passed on their duties to the next round of elected editors. Before I welcome our new editors, I’d like to thank our outgoing team.

Thanks to Tatiana Duvanova and Ruben Rodriguez for their hard work and dedication over the past year as the Fiction and Poetry editors. They made sure the best work rose to the top of our submission piles for Issues 36 and 37.

Thank you to the brilliant Lydia Wassan, our Managing Editor, for organizing a successful year of Works in Progress readings, and editing and curating our fantastic blog content.

Finally, a huge thank you to Steve Howe, our Editor-in-Chief, who improved so many aspects of our magazine this year. His passion for producing a high-quality literary magazine shows through in Issues 36 and 37.

I would encourage submitters to read through our recent issues for great examples of the work we like to publish. While aesthetics can change from year-to-year based on the editorial staff, we’ve always been looking for writing that pushes boundaries, tells a complex story, and teaches us how to move through our lives in new ways.

As I move from my role of Nonfiction Editor to Editor-in-Chief, I look forward to working with our incoming team, who will, without a doubt, continue pushing Blue Mesa Review to be an inclusive magazine whose pages reflect not just one type of story, but many.

Introducing our new editors…

Mitch Marty, who has been working toward giving BMR a fresh look for the past year, is stepping in as Associate Editor. Fun Fact: Mitch can pretty much jump over anything you put in front of him. Tree. House. Car. Whatever.

Ryan Murphy, whose experimental limitations know no bounds, is our new Nonfiction Editor. Fun Fact: Ryan can read approximately a zillion words per minute. Has been fact checked.

Ari McGuirk, who has the clean prose and natural voice we all strive for in our writing, is taking over as our Fiction Editor. Fun Fact: Ari can make a mean raspberry cheesecake. Decadent AF.

Tori Cárdenas, master of pun and wit, and also of tackling some of our most complex social issues with words, will take on the role of Poetry Editor. Fun Fact: This is what Tori’s dog looks like. 15/10 will invite to be BMR mascot immediately.

Be on the lookout for the next few blogs, where our genre editors will discuss their aesthetic and tips for submitting this year! For now, you can learn more about the team on our Staff page.

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to publish your work and can’t wait to see what you send our way.

Check out our summer contest submission guidelines here.

Announcing Our 2018 Summer Contest Judges!

As we make our final selections for the spring issue, we’re excited to announce our summer contest details for 2018! Beginning June 1, contest submissions will be open on Submittable. We’re proud to share our awesome judging line up for 2018:

Leslie Jamison for Nonfiction, Luís Alberto Urrea for Fiction, and Franny Choi for Poetry. See below for bios.

Contest winners in each genre will receive $500 and publication in Issue 38 later this year. Second place will also be published in the issue and receive our standard contributor payment.

We accept previously unpublished work in Fiction (up to 6,000 words), Nonfiction (up to 6,000 words), and Poetry (up to 3 poems). We’re seeking strong voices and lively, compelling narratives, and of course, a fine eye for craft.

For more information on the contest and submission guidelines, click here.


Leslie Jamison – Nonfiction

Leslie Jamison was born in Washington DC and grew up in Los Angeles. Since then, she has lived in Iowa, Nicaragua, New Haven, and Brooklyn. Leslie has worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they’re still in her. These days she teaches at the Columbia University MFA program, where she directs the nonfiction concentration and leads the Marian House Project.

Her new book, The Recovering, comes out in April 2018. Leslie has also written a novel, The Gin Closet, and a collection of essays, The Empathy Exams. Her work has appeared in places including The New York Times Magazine,  Harper’s, Oxford American, A Public Space, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer. For several years she was also a columnist for the New York Times Book Review. Leslie lives in Brooklyn with her family.


Luís Alberto Urrea – Fiction

Hailed by NPR as a “literary badass” and a “master storyteller with a rock and roll heart,” Luis Alberto Urrea is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea is most recognized as a border writer, though he says, “I am more interested in bridges, not borders.”


Franny Choi – Poetry 

Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and the forthcoming Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), as well as a chapbook, Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program. Her poems has appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New England Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow, Senior News Editor at Hyphen Magazine, co-host of the podcast VS, and member of the Dark Noise Collective.



Man Out of the Woods

By Josh Tise

Justin Timberlake has returned from his hero’s journey and come back as a “Man of the Woods” – or so his latest album would have us believe. It is a storied process meant to incite some creative stroke of genius: the artist isolates themselves in the woods, and something or someone (maybe a friendly forest sprite) grants them breathtaking inspiration. Whitman, Auden, and Thoreau were sure of the method’s success. But while there’s no doubt that it has produced some fantastic work, it’s also produced some clunkers (sorry, Justin). I say, the isolated artist misses the many varied stories found in the hustle and bustle of humanity when they decide to take a one-person journey into solipsistic solitude. The most interesting writer is the writer who is interested in the world. Their task is to translate and interpret that world, with empathy, to the reader.

We live in the age of the internet, so it’s easy to access a myriad of raw human data. A short exercise of the finger muscles away, float countless examples of fascinating humanity, without leaving your chair. Of all the interesting stories and characters to be found in comment chains, news stories, and social media feeds, I think the coolest corner of the Internet may just be Craigslist. An updated version of newspaper wanted or personal ads, it is impossible not to find something unique each time you visit a Craigslist “missed connections” page. To prove it, I’ve included some particularly intriguing ad excerpts, featuring some seriously compelling (and fantastically real) features of literary craft.

Take this gem:

About me: when I was 13- I lived on a dive boat in the Caribbean learning to scuba dive. At 14 I studied Chinese in Shanghai and traveled around S.E. Asia by myself. In my 20s I went to Bosnia during the war to volunteer as medic in Mostar and Sarajevo. I’ve traveled and lived or worked in 48 countries, delivered babies, saved a few lives, lost others, learned to speak several languages, fly airplanes, do blacksmithing, and just finished a History/Philosophy degree. In my spare time, I’m translating the 17th century diary of a Russian ambassador to the Qing emprise, [and] write articles on law…

There’s enough content here to create a series of thrillers to put Dan Brown to shame. I would read a book about the person. In fact, I would read several. This is the sort of character that can’t be made up – and that’s exactly the sort of inspiration and excitement that Craigslist personal ads can provide. There’s something moving about opening a link and finding oneself face-to-face with a linguist-medic-pilot-scholar-blacksmith. And character isn’t the only literary element that these Craigslist ads can provide inspiration for.

Read this one:

Waffle House at 2am is awesome. Weird, very sketchy, but really an awesome place to have a coffee and shoot the bull/philosophize/play cards. I’m pretty good at least two of those things, btw.

Here’s a scene lifted straight out of a “Best American Short Stories”– only this time, it’s real. It’s local, specific, and already sketches out both the conflict and the reward the scene can offer. I want to read this in long-form, preferably sitting in a booth at Waffle House at 2 AM, with someone who is “good at least two of those things, btw.”

The old adage “truth is stranger than fiction” proves itself to be true. The truth is more empathetic too. For me, the point of combing through Craigslist personal ads is not to laugh at or mock them, but to wonder about the humans behind them. It is also to begin to care about someone I’ve never met, and find myself in situations I may never have experienced.

As a reader, I’m looking to be communicated with. More than that, I’m excited by things that are unknown and surprising. I don’t know how well self-imposed isolation achieves either of those things. Rather than retreat to the woods, writers should be rushing into the thicket of humanity. The world is too interesting, and empathy too important, for me to be in awe of the “Men of the Woods” anymore. If they fall in the forest, no one is around to hear them.


Josh Tise is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review

AWP After-Blog

We’re all feeling a little exhausted after this year’s Association of Writers and Writers Programs (AWP) Conference in Tampa. A lot of us traveled from across the country, and spent hours in panels and on the book fair floor, and drinking and hanging out at the after parties. It felt a little bit like a vacation actually. But when I got back home, it felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. Here are a few things that might make next year’s AWP even better.

An augmented reality map. It’s the way of the future. But it would be great to have step-by-step directions to all of my favorite panels and booths, a menu for the café inside the convention center that mysteriously doesn’t have one, a gauge for how many people are in the bathroom or Starbucks, and maybe an estimator for how long it will take to walk from one panel to another when they’re in different buildings and I still have to pee, and grab coffee to stay awake.

More quiet rooms. Let’s face it: A lot of us are a little crazy—that’s why we’re writers. Some of us make great connections and have good conversations at the book fair that covers a floor of the entire convention center, but the noise-level was so overwhelming that I was constantly running outside to catch some rays and just have some quiet time. If more quiet rooms are not in the cards, maybe the AWP tote bags could include a pair of earplugs.

A disclaimer before panels: Please don’t bring up your own work during Q&A time. Panels aren’t a chance to pitch your own work. Writers go to AWP to learn from other writers and support each other. If you talk about your own work during question/answer time, I also assume you like your own Instagram posts and have annoyed a lot of teachers over the years.

Food trucks inside the bookfair. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I don’t want to pay $10 for a sandwich I could slap together at home in between revisions. I’m not saying I need a food truck with literature-inspired dishes (like the Crepes of Wrath, A Raisin bran-muffin in the Sun, or the Leaves of Grass iceberg wedge) but that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Time-Turners: There is no way one mortal can attend every single panel they’re interested in. Most of the coolest panels are at the same time, and when I was going to a bunch throughout the day, I was too tired for later ones (A nap at the hotel room would hit the spot, but can’t miss the panel on Suspense at 4:30!). This is where Time-Turners would be perfect— Pick up the device at the Information Desk and simply turn back time, and then I can attend as many panels through the day as I like. And later, maybe hit snooze and the dancefloor at the same time. Problem solved.

Maybe next year, I’ll get a couple of these features. But even if I don’t, I’m still coming back. Where else can I stand in line two hours for the one-hour of open bar?


Tori Cárdenas is an MFA candiate in Poetry and incoming Blue Mesa Review Poetry Editor for 2018-19. Her poetry explores folklore, science, and the collective unconscious, and has appeared in Conceptions Southwest, Cloudthroat Journal, Lavender Review, and the Taos Journal of Poetry and Art.