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  • Beyond the Classroom
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Emily Corwin, Upper School English Faculty
As an English teacher and writer, I always look forward to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. This year's AWP took place in Seattle; I have previously attended AWP in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Tampa, and San Antonio. After a long hiatus from the pandemic, the conference was back in full swing, in person. Before leaving Detroit, I downloaded the AWP app to organize my schedule for panels, book signings, and off-site events.
Panels on Pedagogy, Poems, Practices
On the first day, I attended a panel titled: "Poetic Experiments: Incorporating Play into Writing and Teaching." The panelists, all teachers at varying levels of academia, discussed the action of play as a site for surprise, accident, delight, and imagination in the classroom. They argued for play as a worthy activity for students, not mutually exclusive from "work" or "labor" in learning. Panelist Phillip B. Williams described how play pushes toward dynamic energy, a structure in the classroom not of control but exploration and sincere curiosity. A theory of “play” has always been a central part of my classroom environment: using games for learning, asking students to physically move in the space, providing unconventional and “fun” activities to challenge conventional patterns of thinking. It is reassuring to hear my own practices echoed back to me.
A captivating and popular panel session at the end of the first day was "Divine Writing: Connections between Writing Practice, Craft, and Divination." The room was totally packed, and I managed to find space to sit on the floor. Every seat was taken, standing room only; people hovered around the doorway, peering in. One woman took off her shoes and sat by the podium at the front. Selah Saterstrom, whose book I've read (Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics), spoke about divination as forming new relationships "with uncertainty, with the invisible." "How can we unlearn habituated ways of seeing?" she asked us, in "this extraordinary, humming field.” Similar to the panel on “play”, the idea of magic, chance, and coincidence opens the classroom (specifically, the writing classroom) to previously unseen possibilities.
This conference always feels like a birthday; I woke early and couldn't get back to sleep. My favorite panel from the conference, by far, was called: "Object Lesson: Activating Material Intelligence." The panelists discussed bringing a "full-body experience" to learning. Heather Jessup asked, "How might I encourage the tactile, the material, the haptic in my students?" extrapolating how physical sensation invites fun, wonder, and collaboration into the classroom. Sheryda Warrener described how material experiments or "provocations" stimulate curiosity in students, orchestrate their attention, and prioritize "emerging" over desired, predetermined learning outcomes. I especially loved this panel because the moderator passed out objects to engage with while the panelists spoke: a piece of fabric, a vintage photograph, and a hard candy. I can remember when, as a graduate student, I used to bring in a bag of objects to my creative writing classes as an exercise in metaphor; I would pass around a sequin dress, a hand mirror, and a rubber snake. I would ask students to consider the literal object in front of them, then, make a list of figurative comparisons: what does the object look like? Feel like? Sound like? I have drifted away from this “material intelligence” in my current practice, but this panel has inspired me to return to it.
On the conference's final day, I attended "From Poe and Plath to Meds and Co-Pays: Poetry and Mental Illness," featuring some of my favorite writers: Diannely Antigua, Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Chelsea Rathburn, and Eugenia Leigh. The panelists examined writing as a coping and supportive mechanism for processing pain, such as PTSD, anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. Eugenia Leigh said, "Not only do we need more narratives about mental illness, but we also need all of them" to help reduce stigma and to help those in crisis feel seen and recognized. This session provided essential tools for approaching texts on mental health both as a reader and as a teacher.
Bookfair Wanderings
The book fair is definitely the highlight of every AWP conference, not only because of the books, but because of the conversations with friends, former teachers, and even fans. As I entered the fair, I ran into my thesis chair, Adrian Matejka, the current Editor-in-Chief of POETRY magazine. I also saw my former professor, Karin Lin-Greenberg, signing copies of her short story collection, Vanished, at the Prairie Schooner/University of Nebraska table-- we hadn’t seen each other in thirteen years! I brought my copy of 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse to have Karyna McGlynn sign; Karyna is currently the Director of Creative Writing at Interlochen. While she signed my book, we chatted about living in Michigan and pop culture and working with high school students.
Author Signing
A personal highlight of this AWP was signing copies of my new book, Marble Orchard, at the University of Akron Press table. It was so restorative to meet readers and catch up with old friends who stopped by in support. Since I always have to make a fashion statement, I wore a pastel dress from Selkie that matches the cover art of my book.
At the airport, I left a copy of Marble Orchard in the little free library at the terminal. I am already thinking of ideas for next year's AWP conference and can’t wait to put what I learned into practice, both in my writing and in the classroom.


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