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Amy Lou Jenkins is the award-winning author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting

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An Interview with the Originator of

The Virtual Writing Conference, A Barbaric yAWP, Meg Pokrass

Each year, AWP (Associated Writing Program) holds its Annual Conference in a different city in North America i to celebrate the outstanding authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers, and small press publishers of that region. The Annual Conference typically features 350 presentations: readings, lectures, panel discussions, and Forums plus hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings. The conference attracts more than 8,000 attendees and more than 500 publishers.

What does a writer do when she can't make it to one of the biggest and best conferences of the year? When Meg Pokrass couldn't make it this years AWP she created an alternate event on Facebook. A Barbaric yAWP quickly gained over 500 fans. Amy Lou Jenkins asks her about her creation.

Meg, can you explain why AWP is important to you and to other writers ? And why you miss the experience?

AWP is important for writers because of the incredible networking opportunities that present themselves in one place... over a 3-day period. Writers make real human connections that may last forever. For writers, connection to others in the field is everything.


How did you come to think of this alternate event? How did you come up with the name?

 I simply can't afford to go to AWP this year, and I found myself feeling very irritated. The feeling of irritation seemed to build as the event neared and my whole community of writers were talking about it... about how much fun it was going to be to "hang out" and so forth. I edit two important publications, and I was asked over and over if I would be attending. When I'd say "not this year," there would be awkward silence. It felt like having body odor.

The idea for the event came from my rebellious nature, and my desire not to feel excluded... People loved the idea and began jumping in very early. We grew to 450 fans in just 3 days. I realized how many writers feel the need for connecting but can't necessarily travel.

Why was it named "A Barbaric yAWP"? This name was suggested by a writing friend from Facebook, Karen Lillis... in reference to the great Walt Whitman quote, which is:

"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world." - Walt Whitman.

What I love: the sound of the word "yawp"... is sort of a bellow... a way of saying to the world, "hey, what about me????" Irresistible.

Serendipitously, my manuscript for a debut collection of my flash fiction was accepted by Press 53. It will be out in the Fall, 2010. My great new publisher, Press 53 founder Kevin Morgan Watson LOVED the idea of the "Barbaric yAWP". Kevin Morgan Watson had actually thought about having an off-site location for readings for Press 53 authors... and suggested that Press 53 become A Barbaric yAWP's official sponsor. This was great affirmation, and allowed us to add contests with prizes. Other magazines/publishers that got involved offering "virtual booths", discounts, etc. include Caketrain, Aqueous Books, and Unmoveable Feast.

What is happening at your facebook convention?


How can others participate?

I started posting homemade videos to welcome people to the virtual convention, and in the making of them... a story evolved! The story is about a "serious writer" and a robotic interviewer.

I ended up creating 7 videos with the robotic interviewer becoming more and more important... . These videos have been extremely popular, and became part of the Barbaric yAWP "brand" (if you will). The link to these videos can be viewed on my youtube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/megpokrass1?feature=mhw5



They were incredibly fun to make. My husband, writer Doug Bond created the dialogue for the part of "Bruce", the robot.

Any writer, editor, or publisher can join our A Barbaric yAWP fan page and be a member. It is inclusive, in every way... open to people at AWP as well. I feel strongly that writers should not be punished or made to feel like outsiders for not having the flexibility/ wherewithal to attend such networking conferences. And as my friend Howie Good says, "writers are NOT joiners by nature!"

Here is a link to the fan page:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/A-Barbaric-yAWP-Party/111970045496336?ref=ts

I still can't get over how fun this was (and still is through Saturday). Amy, somehow this really brought to many of us a sense of shared experience, and therefore... community. We are holding creative contests and doing a lot of writing at this thing! It is really working! Ironically, participation at the yAWP, brought writers to their computers... instead of bars! And creative work evolved out of it for many of us.

My friends all joined to help me put this together: Kevin Morgan Watson, Doug Bond, Grant Bailie (artwork), David Woodruff (artwork), Karen Lillis, Jeanne Holzman, Jason Henry McCormick, Gay Degani, David Lindsay, Tim Jones-Yelvington, and Molly Bond, Caketrain journal, among others.

Will you do this again?

 I will do this every year I hope:) I loved it, every minute. Thank you so much for interviewing me about this very special event, Amy.Lou

Thank you Meg. I love your originality and spirit. / ALJ

 About Meg Pokrass

Meg Pokrass is a flash fiction writer, and a poet. Her story, "Leaving Hope Ranch" in Storyglossia made Wigleaf's Top 50 List, and her story "Lost and Found" in http://www.fictionaut.com/ was selected for Short Story Month by Storyglossia. She has had over 100 stories and poems published. Meg serves as staff editor for SmokeLong Quarterly, and a mentor for Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions. She currently runs the Fictionaut Five interview series for Fictionaut. Her debut collection of stories will be released by Press 53 in Fall, 2010.