Two Women Writers to Inspire You

This year’s AWP (Association of Writers & Writers Programs) Conference, which wrapped last week in Los Angeles, came on the heels of a host of literary world controversies over the past few years. Last year was especially volatile (and energizing, inspiring…) as writers of color (men and women; LGBT and heterosexual) pushed back against the institutional, historical and ongoing racism/sexism/homophobia of the literary world and its gatekeepers and many of its “stars.” This year’s conference, filled with panels and panelists of color, and across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, was a pointed attempt by AWP to not only address criticisms leveled at the organization over the last several years, but to be on the right side of the conversation about the future of the literary arts in America. (There’s still a lot of room for improvement.)

Though the vast majority of what transpired at the conference wasn’t taped or preserved for posterity, below is a fantastic conversation between poets Elizabeth Alexander and Robin Coste Lewis, moderated by Rich Fahle.

Elizabeth Alexander. Photo courtesy Yale News.

Part of the magic the two women perform is taking unformed questions and fleshing them out into something rich and insightful. At the start, as Fahle stumbles his way through the commonality of their work, but doesn’t seem to really know what he’s after, Alexander gives a beautifully layered answer on the history of black migration, how varied and complex are the various subcultures within black culture, and that what she and Lewis really have as common ground is where they and their works sit within the realm of black cultural production that straddles academia and the art/literary worlds. And that’s just the beginning of this enchanting twenty minute conversation.

Top photo of Robin Coste Lewis by Amanda Schwengel; courtesy Hampshire College.