But some of that travel has been, er, blog-worthy (now that doesn't sound very Bronte-like), especially my trip in mid-February to the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago. In format, the AWP Conference is was more or less like other large academic conferences I have attended as a faculty member over the years--continuous, simultaneous panels, a big and heterogeneous book fair, bustle in the hallways as people reconnect with colleagues they don't often see, etc.--but I have to say that the vibe (if I can be forgiven for sounding not like a Bronte but like a Beachboy for a moment) was entirely different. The sessions I went to were mostly people reading from their poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction to appreciative audiences instead people of presenting difficult critical arguments to skeptical or exhausted listeners. The UIUC creative writers did themselves and all of us proud in a number of sessions. Some highlights for me included a session in which three of our writers (Philip Graham, John Griswold, and Audrey Petty) each read lovely and thoughtful creative non-fiction pieces, all of which hinged on father/child relationships and so went unexpectedly well together, a fiction session featuring readings by Alex Shakar, John Rubins and LeAnne Howe, and a session for Illinois poets featuring Janice Harrington, Steve Davenport, Tyehimba Jess, and Mike Madonick in which Tyehimba provoked the crowd into unsolicited and spontaneous applause in mid-reading with a powerhouse poem on Detroit and Janice had the crowd rolling in the aisles with an introduction-cum-roast of Madonick that may have been the most perfectly pitched piece of writing I heard all weekend (sorry, Mike: couldn't resist). I was also able to attend a lovely event one evening hosted by The Ninth Letter and to get a sense of the extended academic family of our creative writing program at a reception where I dined and drank with current students, alums, and friends. Definitely worth the trip.
On another matter entirely, Smile Politely, the local online magazine that is quickly becoming a must-read for everyone in Champaign Urbana, has a nice profile this week of Michael Burns, a PhD student in our Writing Studies program, focusing on his volunteer work for The Bike Project as well as his academic interests. I love this in particular, from one of his fellow volunteers: "Michael is one of the main reasons I show up on Saturdays.... He's one of the nicest guys and best teachers of all-things-bike. Plus, he's ridiculously smart. It's not often that you get to chat with someone who will effortlessly switch from a conversation about Aristotle and Frederick Douglass to one about the mechanics of bending a steel frame back into alignment after getting run over by a car."
A tip, unrelated to English: if you live in Champaign Urbana or are considering coming and have not yet looked at Smile Politely, take a look. I think they do a really nice job keeping up with local food and music and so on. Frankly, dear reader, I'm too old and tired to get out much, but I do read their restaurant reviews and so now I have a backlog of local places I'm eager to explore.