That’s Dr. Bitch To You: WILA Conference Proposal

Cross-posted from the WILA group page on Facebook. Have at it!

I don’t know anything about AWP‘s panel selection process, but I have been surprised in recent years by the vocal (and I believe misguided) anti-AWP sentiment. I’m ignorant of the inside politics, but suspect the selection process has less to do with conscious gender discrimination than it does with trying to address the very vocal (white) men who complain about how AWP represents “the man.”

AWP has been the single most helpful resource for me as a professional writer (aside from West Chester, admittedly aimed at a much narrower specialty audience). At AWP, I’ve made lifelong friends and helpful connections, heard some of the greatest readers around (Lucille Clifton, for example), and learned tons of practical information that puts food on my table and a roof over my head.

I’ve also been surprised by how some people who never miss an opportunity to bash so-called “academic poets” (which they define as any poet who has ever been paid to teach anything at a college or university) pay to attend the conference they demonize–and get slots for relatively weak panels at the expense of clearly more substantive lineups and topics.

In a culture that privileges blowhards, it may be instructive to recall Deborah Tannen’s work. Stridency and volume, particularly when delivered in a basso profundo tone, too often gets a free pass. I would hope that a women’s writing conference would address communication issues between genders. Unfortunately, these matters–both inside and outside the academy–have never been resolved. I find it no surprise that the voices calling for revolution against “academic poetry,” which only in recent years has admitted significant numbers of women, are overwhelmingly male and often comfortably tenured.

I also find it extremely disturbing that women bash “the academy” and thus, by extension, real women like me who have worked our butts off and made enormous personal and economic sacrifices in order to hone our craft and exercise the human right to improve our minds. Such efforts deserve praise and support, not discounting from those who have chosen different paths. If higher education is your dream, but you can’t figure out how to make it work, then talk to some of us who have been there. We would love to share our stories. Now there’s a panel proposal. Who’s game?

Another SRO panel would be “That’s Dr. Bitch to You: Historical Stereotypes of Intelligent Women.” Invited panelists include blogger BitchPhD, Ms. Mentor, and Rita Mae Brown. Fire-eating performance poetry by Jessica “DangerDyke” Hand, blue-stocking fashion show, and free-trade organic herbal tea to follow in the atrium.

I hope that our conference would not perpetuate false divides between so-called “academic” and “street” poets, the zombie legacy of some of American poetry’s worst macho territorial posturing.


Oh, one more thing: Three-digit-per-night hotels are prohibitively expensive for many women writers (myself included). How and where will we be able to make attendance affordable to as many people as possible, short of pitching tents (not always an option for everyone)?

(N.B. Here’s another take from Susan Schultz over at Tinfish Press. Whatever the reason, many of “the ladies” are not pleased with AWP of late.)

One thought on “That’s Dr. Bitch To You: WILA Conference Proposal

  1. Robin–it’s not just “the ladies”: Joe Harrington, Phil Metres, Craig Santos Perez have all blogged on AWP, too. It’s not that AWP is a bad thing–far from it. It’s that their procedures for picking panels are mysterious and thus seemingly capricious. They choose panels based only on a title, a brief description, and a list of names. At least MLA asks for abstracts. It perpetuates an insider ethos, which encourages certain kinds of writing over others (more experimental, less aligned with MFA programs).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s