This piece is cross-posted over at The Minnesota Review blog.
Near the conference hotel, a lakefront Hilton, in a line for coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts, a young woman stares at my nametag. For what seems like a minute, her eyes are fixated on my name. She thinks: Is he a writer? Somebody I should know? Or want to know? Can he get my story/poem/manifesto published? Can he get me a six-figure book deal? Or point me to someone who is able? I blush and tuck my nametag under my shirt. Sure, I’ve had a few things published in my time, but I’m still a bottom feeder, lowest on the rung: the plaid-wearing M.F.A. student.
The hotel bar is where AWP veterans, publishing bigwigs, established poets and writers congregate on the padded leather couches. These people have made it. You can tell by the absence of a nametag. They’ve been put away. Buried in their tote bag underneath a free pile of swag. Together—in a swirling mass of ten-dollar Budweiser, warm Chardonnay, and half-hidden hip flasks—the “made-its” laugh and hug, tell stories and gossip: Is that Tao Lin in the corner? What hair product does Michael Martone use? What do you mean Poet X won the Ruth Lily?! Don’t you owe me a beer from D.C.?
I vandalize my nametag. At the McSweeney’s booth, using a No. 2 pencil, I write “Tony Morrison” above my name. I tell people: I’m the other Toni Morrison. The one with a Y; the one who didn’t attend Cornell; the one who didn’t write Beloved; the one who didn’t win the Nobel Prize; the one who didn’t teach at Princeton; the one who didn’t get paid less than Snooki; the one who didn’t avoid this conference like the plague. I’m him. Tony. You know, the one stared at by a woman in Dunkin’ Donuts; the one picking up free literary journals; the one talking to hungover editors; the one attending panels; the one hoping for insights into the machinations of the publishing world; the one flailing in the hotel bar; the one trying to marry Sandra Beasley; the one plagued by a Y. A question he’s desperately attempting to answer.