Dispatches from AWP: Inside Dope

CHICAGO — After announcing the news of signing upstart Colin Winnette to a book contract for a 2013 release, I should be content to lay low and see how the rest of the week at AWP plays out. You would think.

But no, I’m an animal and apparently the AWP conference just brings out the literary beast in me. Last year at AWP in Washington, D.C., Matt Mullins and I reached a gentleman’s agreement on Three Ways of the Saw as we drank nightcaps at the bar after the inaugural Atticus Happy Hour reading at Bourbon. A few weeks later, Jared Yates Sexton and I came to terms with his debut story collection, An End to All Things (forthcoming in November 2012).

Jared, like Matt, is a Jedi. And if you’re a Star Wars constituent among our readers, you know that Jedi have the gift of “Force sensitivity.” The Force, in this fictional universe, is an “energy field that connects all living things, it surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.”

It’s just the way these things go; buy me enough shots of whiskey (just kidding) and convince me that your book is the next coming of Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (just kidding, sort of) and we’ll figure out a way to get it done.

Atticus Books has reached an agreement in principle with Luna Park Review founder and editor Travis Kurowski on releasing a 2013 publication on the literary magazine. We plan to launch the book next March at AWP in Boston and we are truly pumped up about taking the concept of a special issue of Mississippi Review to the next level and creating a legacy pub that could be applied to college course instruction for years to come.

I also rapped with Chad Prevost of C&R Press about his debut novel, The Director of Happiness, at Buddy Guy’s Legends across the street from the Hilton Chicago. After ongoing talks of online serialization of his work, I asked Chad to revise the manuscript and bring in a second perspective to the narration; I then offered him a contract conditional upon said revisions, while musicians warmed up for their act. I’m confident that Chad and I will reach an agreement on the book, partly because he digs the same kind of music I enjoy, but mostly because I think he’s a writer who has fallen through the cracks of an unforgiving book trade.

My primary objective of starting the Atticus Books imprint was to discover writers like Chad whose writing style kicks me in the rib cage and demands attention. His engaging and innovative approach to blogging and publishing in general have been a welcome departure from the same old, same old.

I met several writers today at our table who appeared genuinely jazzed to share their work with Atticus Review, if not a full-length manuscript with Atticus Books.

I have my eye on a few women writers while I’m here, with one in particular who has caught my fancy. She’s young, vibrant and a Chicagoan. She doesn’t yet know how serious I am about signing her, but I mentioned her work today to Steve Himmer at the table – and I’m keen on speaking to her about publishing her debut novel. This is one of the many reasons I am stoked by this profession. You get to make dreams come true, even if those dreams turn out way different than the author had imagined.

It’s all a matter of trust. Every publisher-author relationship is built on trust; we have nothing else to count on.


I attended the Propaganda reading tonight with two dear friends at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery on West Randolph Street. Matt Bell, Molly Gaudry, and Blake Butler were among the main attractions in a rapid sequence of readings.

Nothing like celebrating a friend’s birthday at an unpredictable reading. If Lynda wasn’t a member of an improv theatre in Chicago, perhaps she wouldn’t understand. But she gets it:

When it’s done well, performance art (e.g., reading poetry in public), in all its earnestness and all its realness and all its unseemliness, surpasses all forms of infotainment, if just for the pure spectacle of writers seeking affirmation and the audience giving it to them. Freely conjoining with their pain and precision.

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