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Long flight from San Francisco International Airport to JFK in New York. Still can barely believe that I won this award. So grateful and excited. Flight a bit delayed because of the rain. Arrived safely at the hotel—the Chelsea Pines Inn—a cute boutique hotel with rooms named after old movie stars. I’m in the Tony Curtis room. Exhausted.
The Poets & Writers LA staff, Cheryl Klein and Jamie FitzGerald, arrive around 8 PM and we all meet up—and I meet the fiction winner, Sean. We dine late at a yummy Vietnamese/French restaurant near the hotel & chat. It’s gonna be a crazy week is all I keep thinking!
Wake early and head to the P&W office near Battery Park. We meet all the staff and they prepared a breakfast for us. The staff introduce themselves, congratulate us, and ask us many questions. Everyone is really friendly. I take a few pictures of their office—including a stack of boxes of Poets &Writers Magazine ready for AWP next month!
After the meeting, we walk around Battery Park and see the Statue of Liberty from afar. Rain. Then, I go with Jamie to meet Cathy Park Hong, poet and editor of Jubilat. I’ve been a fan of Cathy’s poetry for a few years, having read her two collection of poetry. Cathy is very personable and down to earth. She tells us about the New York poetry scene, her experiences teaching creative writing, and her work with Jubilat. We eat at a wonderful place called Momofuku Ssam Bar. I drink two glasses of sake.
At 3 PM, the crew (Sean, Cheryl, Jamie, and I) meet with Joshua Kendall, senior editor at Viking. Joshua gives us insight about what it’s like to succeed as a fiction writer in terms of finding the right agent and publisher. He also paints a vivid portrait of how much work he does when editing a writer’s manuscript. He seems like a great person to have as an editor—but I leave the meeting feeling really happy that I am not a fiction writer—the whole agent thing just seems so complicated!
We end the day with a lovely dinner with the lovely Martha Rhodes, founding editor and director of Four Way Books. Martha has fantastic energy and I really admire her approach to publishing, her commitment to her authors, and her independent spirit. Although I’m not looking for a publisher, I think any poet out there would be lucky to have their book published by Four Way. Back to the hotel after dinner. Drop dead.
Freeeeee Time! Sleep in. Go to Murray’s bagels and run into Elliot Figman of Poets & Writers! Go to Natural History Museum to see their Pacific Peoples exhibit. Dinner at Tom Collichio’s Craftbar. I heart free time.
Arrive at Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem. Browse their fantastic collection of African American texts. Before the reading, Sean & I have a photo session with photographer Aslan Chalom. Aslan is very enthusiastic and has us do a myriad of poses. I don’t like having my picture taken, but he is very friendly and casual about it.
The reading starts around 3 PM, and Sean reads first from his winning fiction entry. I read last and read two poems from my first book: “from achiote” and “from ta(la)ya.” I feel happy because this is not only the first time I’ve read in New York, but the last time I will read from just my first book—since my second book was accepted shortly after winning the California Writers Exchange contest and published about a week before the New York trip. After the reading, I have a great time chatting with members of the audience and chomping on some of the tasty wine, cheese, and fruit provided by P&W. Happy that reading is over. Relax & sleep!
Early morning wake-up to breakfast with Monica de la Torre, translator, writer, and editor of BOMB magazine. I am also a big fan of Monica’s poetry, having read both her books published in the U.S. We talk about the New York scene, how much work goes into editing a magazine, her experience with small press publishers, and her life as a PhD candidate. It is nice talking with Monica because I feel we have a lot in common and she’s really easy to talk to.
At 1 PM, the whole crew meets with literary agent Renée Zuckerbrot and fiction writer Meg Wolitzer. Like the meeting with Joshua Kendall, I am mostly silent during this meeting. Even though we don’t talk about poetry, it is interesting to learn how the fiction world works. I am now even happier that I am not a fiction writer.
At 6:30, we meet up with Joseph Legaspi and Vikas Menon, two members of Kundiman, an organization that fosters Asian American writers. Joseph & Vikas talk about their writing process, their work with Kundiman, and how they both became involved in the organization. I admire the passion that both these poets express. Returned to hotel late. Drop dead.
At this point, my lower back is killing me. Too much sitting! So I am walking slowly, struggling to sit & stand. Plus, I think I’ve gained ten pounds from all the delicious food we’ve been eating.
So we wake up early today and walk literally down the street to the offices of New Directions Press, one of the most important poetry publishers ever. Poetry editor Jeffrey Yang gives us a tour of the office. So much history! They have shelves and shelves of their publications—almost every major American poet and so many important international writers! They even have a whole library of first editions. (I want to steal all the books!) One of the funniest things is a framed prescription that William Carlos Williams wrote for James Laughlin. On our way out, Jeffrey was kind enough to give us a New Directions T-shirt and some free copies of their new publications!
At 1 PM, we have lunch with one of my favorite people in all the world: Rigoberto Gonzalez! He talks to us about his writing process, his numerous publications, his publishers, and his hectic traveling schedule. He also tells us about all the work he does as a critic. I admire him so much because he is able to do so much. So disciplined. One day I want to be like Rigoberto!
Although we have a 3 PM appointment with the editor at Little, Brown, my back is hurting so badly that I had to go back to the hotel to rest and stretch it out. I meet up later with the crew for our final dinner—where we have great food and reminisce about the crazy week! Wow, it went by so fast. I am so grateful to P&W. I am so thankful to Jamie & Cheryl for organizing such an unforgettable trip!
On my way to the airport. Wearing my New Directions T-Shirt. Arrive in San Francisco. Drive to Berkeley. Drop dead. xoxo.