Wednesday, February 29, 2012

AWP 2012: On My Way

Today I am flying to Chicago for this year's AWP conference. I'll be presenting on Friday and otherwise trying to do as much as possible: catching up with writer friends, wandering through the book room, attending panels, and going to readings off-site. If you're going to be there, I'd love to see you (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.)

This will be my fifth year attending AWP and I've gotten better at "AWP-ing" each time. The first time, I was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears in my hotel room after getting through the long elevator line and back to my expensive, shared room. It wasn't clear to me why I should keep writing if there were so many of us (this year is sold out with over 9,500 participants!) It was all too much. I went through most of the conference in a daze and later dragged home my luggage heavy with literary journals and handouts, some of which I didn't really want.

If you buy me a beer at the hotel bar, I might admit to a few tears in future years. In general, though, the conference has become less overwhelming and more exciting. The sheer attendee numbers resemble a national community, as do the wide range of panel and reading presentations. Sure, maybe I'm an optimist at heart, but it is inspiring to learn about what your colleagues are doing and all that is possible to do.

Here are some things I try to do that help to make the conference not only interesting, but inspiring, fun and helpful:

I make a point to attend some panels on subjects that are unfamiliar to me and learn something new. (Try using the new online Planner.)
I allow myself to leave a panel if it really doesn't seem interesting/useful/well-organized.
I try to overcome my shyness and talk to more people.
I don't pick up everything that is offered to me. If I do, I don't need to carry everything home.
I make a point of meeting up with friends and catching up on our projects.
I go to panels and the book room with particular goals: Is there a kind of literary journal/publisher that I want to discover or, better yet, one in particular that I'm looking for? Do I have a question for the panelists or editors?
I take notes as I meet people and go to panels so I can better keep in touch and follow-up on what I've learned.
I carry business cards so people can keep in touch with me.
I pack some healthy snacks and try to get some sleep during the conference.
This year in Chicago, I'm going to eat deep dish pizza, even if we have to stand in line forever.
And if I start to get overwhelmed, I'll read through the Facebook AWP Swami page and laugh.

Here are some additional suggestions on what to do - and not do - at the conference.

I'll be back to blogging next week! Until then... I hope to see you in Chicago! I'll have postcard poems with me, too, if you're interested in buying one or a set. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Best Places in D.C. to Bring Your Laptop and Write?

Do you have a favorite place in Washington, D.C., where you like to bring your laptop and write? Maybe a bookstore, coffee shop, diner or someplace else?

Here are some standbys with internet and plugs:

Busboys & Poets

D.C. Public Library

Library of Congress

Modern Times Coffeehouse inside Politics & Prose Bookstore

Silver Diner

Tryst Coffeshop

This list can also be found on the right side of the blog with the other resources. What's missing?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Blog: Amanda Seligman on the Question of Graduate School

Thanks to Amanda Seligman, Associate Professor of History at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for sharing her thoughts about an enormous decision many undergraduates and adults face: Should I go to graduate school? For more insight, I recommend her recent book Is Graduate School Really for You? The Whos, Whats, Hows, and Whys of Pursuing a Master’s or PhD (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

Should I Go to Graduate School?
Amanda I. Seligman

            Imagine the student in my office: smart, disciplined, organized, and chipper. “Professor Seligman, I love studying history, and I would like your advice. Should I go to graduate school?”

            How should a responsible college instructor respond to this question in the twenty-first century? For folks in STEM fields, this question is not quite a no-brainer, but it is close. Graduate students in the sciences for the most part have their educations financed by their advisors' grants and can readily find work in industry, government, or education when they graduate. Women slip out of the pipeline more often than is healthy for the future of science, but that fact only encourages scientists to encourage more of them to enter the field.

For scholars in the humanities, the answer is not so clear. Many of us count ourselves fortunate to make a living teaching history or literature or language or writing. We love our fields and our daily labors and know that we are lucky to be able to piece together a living at a time when academic life undergoes a fundamental reorganization that has left all too many of our talented, passionate colleagues at the wayside, many burdened by the kinds of debts that place us firmly in the lower tiers of the 99%. What should we say to a promising student who wants nothing more from life than to emulate our own paths?

            For many humanists, the only responsible move is to dash the dreams any student bold enough to ask this question. A “just don’t go” approach wins the day: professors explain to students the difficulty of the work, the crushing costs, and the terrible job market, concluding with the advice that anything would be smarter than pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. Some keep copies of Thomas Benton’s 2003 polemic “So You Want to Go to Grad School” to hand out to their aspiring junior colleagues.

            Although I realize that the odds look bad for many of the potential graduate students who sit in my office, I cannot bring myself to crush their aspirations. It seems to me that using a cold economic calculus to decide a person’s life course is contrary to the philosophical impulses that inform humanistic inquiry. Our disciplines teach us to value the good life, beauty, pleasure, social contributions, and personal satisfaction, not just the money in our pockets.

Instead of saying “just don’t go,” what I do is to explain to my students—firmly, sympathetically, and impersonally—what the landscape looks like. In my undergraduate history methods class I show students examples of theses and dissertations so that they know what the object of graduate study is. Then I watch their horrified faces as they realize that they have to “write a book” if they want to be a professor after all, and I count myself as having accomplished something when they confide to me that I scared the, ahem, “crap” out of them. When students come to me for individualized advice about graduate school, I describe the shape of the job market. I tell them that they should go to graduate school if they love the work for its own sake and if they can get someone else to pay for it, without having the expectation that it will “pay off” in the end.

            It is not the work of faculty members to dictate to students what they can and cannot do. It is our work to give them the tools they need to make sound, reasoned, and informed judgments about their own life paths. It seems to me that we should indeed tell students what the world looks like—but trust them to make their own decisions about whether graduate school is right for them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thinking about Summer Writing Conferences?

2009 Ghost Ranch, New Mexico (A Room of Her Own's retreat)

'Tis the season to finalize those summer writing conference applications. Where would you like to go this summer to write, meet other writers, workshop or take other related classes?

To find a program close - or far! - from home, I invite you to click through the resources on the right hand side of this blog under Conferences, Residencies & More.

Have you attended an amazing summer (or fall, winter or spring) program that you would recommend? I would love for you to share your experiences with readers through a guest blog post. Please email me: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Job Search: Adjunct Pay & Rights

Adjunct work is not glorious. Students may call us "professor," but we do not receive the benefits or equal pay or benefits of full-time faculty. In response to MLA's recent Recommendations on Minimum Per-Course Compensation for Part-Time Faculty Members, Josh Boldt is gathering information, through a public, shared Google document, on adjunct pay and other (possible) benefits.

If you teach full-time, part-time or are considering teaching on the college level, I strongly encourage you to read the article carefully, look closely at the google document, and, if appropriate, share your experiences. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poem for Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I’d like to share my poem To Learn. This poem was originally published in the anthology The Poetry of Place: North Jersey in Poetry by The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, N.J., in 2008. The poem draws from stories my great Aunt Dora shared with me about her parents who were born in Sala Consilina, a town in southern Italy. If you are interested in Italian and Italian-American culture, language and food, you might enjoy my blog Fare La Scarpetta

To Learn
Newark, N.J.

Monday through Saturday,
Antonio mapped Newark’s streets collecting garbage.

Sundays, Antonio pulled his carriage to one side, tied up his horse,
greeted Carmela’s uncle;
did Antonio think of his late wife?

Lemonade balanced on wide-armed
wooden chair on the grass,
Antonio slept.

Carmela’s young face, veiled by kitchen curtains,
studied her husband to be,
invented his twenty-five years of memories.
He called on her weekly.

Carmela was asked to marry
or return to Italy.
In three working years, she’d repaid the cost of her journey.
She crossed herself, said
one day she’d have the dollars to see her mother again.
Instead, a telegram arrived years later with a black border.

Carmela and Antonio did not speak
until it was agreed they would marry.

Years later, Carmela rinsed dishes,
told her daughter the story.

But ma, didn’t you love Pa?

Yes, but I had to learn.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Job Searching: Constructing a resume & applying for work after some time away from working

There are so many possible paths... 

I’ve been helping a friend revise her resume after she's spent a period not working outside of the house. Here’s some advice culled from my experience working in the Sarah Lawrence Career Counseling office, recent online research and a frank discussion with a staffing industry specialist:

First, the staffing industry specialist said that when she looks at a resume, she looks first for two things:

1. Relevant experience
2. Duration of jobs

The resume must stand out. The specialist confided that she looks through a stack of 50 resumes in ten minutes. (Ten minutes!) That hurts, but, it is helpful to know the truth. Make sure your resume doesn’t get passed over.

Since fields – their expectations, computer programs, laws, etc. – change, it is ok to focus on the last ten years or so, rather than digging much further back into your employment or skill history.

The resume shouldn’t just be focused, but also customized for jobs. If you are thinking about applying for a few different kinds of jobs, you might craft separate resumes geared towards those industries.

A clearly stated objective helps to focus the reader’s attention. Here are some tips from about how to do that.

Keep your resume with you at all times. Talk about your job search with everyone you meet and network as much as possible. You never know who might know someone. Network with friends, former colleagues and contact any alumni associations you belong to.

The Smith College Career Development Office has some great downloadable worksheets to help you to put together your resume and portfolio: sample resumes, sample cover letters, interview questions, industry specific information, etc.

If you are listing computer or other skills in a section, make sure that those skills are still relevant. First, does the computer program still exist? Does an industry still follow the regulations you were once an expert in?

Staffing agencies or college career counseling offices can help you know your skill levels by giving you tests. Once you know your level (perhaps your typing speed and accuracy or proficiency level using a program such as Excel), you can decide if you need to improve those skills through tutorials or classes. Staffing agencies, college career counseling offices, public libraries, community centers and community colleges offer classes.  For example, the D.C. public library system offers “Job Seeker Drop-in Clinics”

Staffing companies or college career counseling offices can help you with mock interviews, resumes, tests to see your level of proficiency with computer programs (or tutorials to help you improve) and more.

Before an interview, think about what you questions you might be asked. CNN has a clear and short article about how to answer some difficult interview questions.

The staffing industry specialist said that the average person has been out of work 18 months to two years and it is common to have those sorts of gaps on your resume in this economic period. It can be explained in a cover letter or in an interview.

Questions to ask yourself as you apply for work:
How many miles would you commute?
What is the minimum income you’ll expect?

Some general job search sites: (this site culls various human resources pages and newspapers for listings)

See what services professional organizations in your industry offer. For example, The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) offers free links to articles about job searches and, as a paying member, job openings.

For more on writing jobs, you might be interested in my blog post Job Searching for Writers.

What other advice would you recommend? Do you have a question that isn't answered here? Let me know; maybe I can help. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Split this Rock Poetry Festival

Have you registered yet for Split this Rock Poetry Festival? It will be in Washington, D.C., March 22 - 25.  Register before Feb. 22 for the early bird discount. It comes around every two years and is not to be missed. I'm very excited to be attending for the first time.

More about the festival from their website:

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness invites poets, writers, activists, and dreamers to Washington, DC for four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation. The festival features readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, parties, activism—opportunities to speak out for justice, build connection and community, and celebrate the many ways poetry can act as an agent for social change.

As people’s movements ignite here at home and throughout the world in response to economic inequality, political repression, and environmental degradation, the festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power. We will also celebrate the life and work of poet-essayist-teacher-activist June Jordan on the 10th anniversary of her death.

Split This Rock calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of socially engaged poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation & witness from our home in the nation’s capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination. Please join us in March!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where Do You Write?

Near Vermont Studio Center, 2007

Where do you write? 

Do you hide in the basement to sit at that old table under a bare lightbulb? Scoot off to a special coffee shop or park bench?

You can write anywhere, but you must write somewhere. You don't have to wait until the weather is a perfect temperature or you receive an invitation from that residency program you applied to months ago. 

Sit down, wherever you are, and write. Here. Wherever that may be. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writers' Room in Washington, D.C.?

I was excited to see (anonymous) folks posting about a possible “Writers Room DC.” They are looking for feedback about what local writers might be looking for in a space like this. And, very kindly, they offer a free week to anyone who offers some feedback in response to their posted questions.

While I don’t know who is behind it or if they’d be excited about poets (their page only mentions research and fiction writers), I’m pretty thrilled at the prospect.

The idea behind it is essentially a workspace for rent in an office with other writers. If it is like other writers' rooms, it would be inexpensive, flexible and as long-term/short-term as you like. You, the writer, gains a dedicated work space for creative projects and a community (or, at least as much as you’d like of one.) 

Do you belong to a writers room/space/collective in another city? 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tidbits from a Poetry Reading at the Lannan Center: Meena Alexander and Ishion Hutchinson

Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice hosts a wide range of poets and events. Last week I heard Meena Alexander and Ishion Hutchinson read poetry.

Here are a few highlights from the question and answer period:

In response to a question about living in the US, away from his native Jamaica, Hutchinson said that being here gives him the “necessary distance” to understand his home and be riskier in his writing. While he may take the risk to be nostalgic, he added that it’s ok to be a bit dreamy.  He rightly asked, “poets really are dreamy, right?”

About first coming to the US from India, Alexander noted that the US is “built on layers of migration and one could be a part of that. At the same time, it was hard to encounter the idea of race.”

Regarding writing in another language, Hutchinson said that when something is untranslatable, he looks for “sound and texture. Even if a word means what it should, you look for accidents of sound.”

And my favorite quote of the evening, Alexander described poetry as a “dance with the unsayable.”

Click on the Lannan Center’s calendar for upcoming events.