I've been trying to get my feet back under me since I returned from the conference. It's been a slow process.
I spent a lot of my time at bookfair talking to people who approached the Third Coast table, but I also went to seven or eight panels and a couple of readings. Panel talks were on the teaching the literary fantastic, the future of the literary magazine, something on flash fiction, how to get real world experience while still a grad student, folklore & modern writing, and "genre" in the MFA and beyond. One other panel that bombed (name & content withheld out of courtesy). Oh, and I attempted to go to the panel on novelists teaching novel writing -- I'll explain that "attempt" today or tomorrow.
If anyone made it to the one that was supposedly about vampires and zombie literature (aka Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley) -- "Byronic Vampires and Melancholy Green Men: Harnessing Genre for Literary Use" -- let me know how it was. I thought about going but considering the first line of the panel description was "Perhaps no word can be more anathema to literature than genre" made me NOT want to go -- because, fuck you, there is genre literature out there. "Realism" does not literature make. So when lunch with a friend ran long, I wasn't particularly heart broken to miss the panel.
One thing I noticed this year was an epidemic of panel-leaving. People in the audience walked out of panels after fifteen, twenty, forty-five minutes. Seriously, how rude is that?
Now, I sat down by one poor girl who left during the panel's introduction speech because, when they started speaking, she realized she stepped into the wrong room -- I understand that. And I'm not talking about people who cut out during the post-panel Q&A, which I have more sympathy for (not all of us have strong bladders and the line for the women's room is crazy long in the 15 minutes between scheduled panels).
But people who leave after ten or fifteen minutes after a panel has begun? At that point you know you're not in the "wrong" room. You know all panel run 60 minutes + 15 min for Q&A. You know that if you sit in the front of the room everyone will see you walk out. So what the fuck gives?
I don't know if this year's panel-leaving was worse than last year's or if I just noticed it more, but I found it incredibly rude.
Presumably, if you know that you have to cut out of a panel early then you'll sit in the back by the door and grab a seat on the aisle so that people won't have to move to let you out, not halfway up and in the middle. So I'm guessing that (a) they got bored and decided to leave, (b) it turned out that the panel wasn't discussing what they thought it would and instead of seeing if they could garner some sort of knowledge from the topic they decided to leave, (c) they walked out in protest [I'm doubtful of this considering the "controversial" topics had fewer people leave], or (d) there was an epidemic of diarrhea at the conference which I was lucky enough to avoid but gave quite a few people the runs at inopportune moments.
My take: no one's making you go to panels -- no one's making you attend the conference, period. So when you choose to attend a panel that bombs, you suffer through the pain and offer it up to the gods of literary knowledge. Apparently more writers need Catholic grandmothers who make them sit through insanely long Mass on a tiny, hard, wooden pew. Comparatively a boring panel is paradise: the seats are padded and no one tells you you're going to hell.