AWP Checklist: Reading, Drinking, Solving the World’s Problems

The colossus known as the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair descends on the Twin Cities this year.  I hope to see you there.  I hope you hang with as many of the local lit orgs there as you can, for they are numerous & bad-ass & the most likely to know where the really cool sh*t is in town (see: Rain Taxi, Paper Darts, Coffee House Press, Graywolf, Milkweed, etc.).  You can bet your sweet ass I’ll be checking out Open Book while I’m there.  Not to mention: the Guthrie Theater & the Walker Art Center are totally on my bucket list.  And there’s even a bunch of indie bookstores if you’re completely insane & think the bookfair is somehow insufficient for your purposes.

But amidst all the liberal literati in Minnesota, I wonder how many conversations there will be about inequality—specifically the economic kind, which is also to say the racial kind.  In case you missed it, the AWP host city was the star of a February article in The Atlantic, “The Miracle of Minneapolis,” in which it was praised for its mix of affordability, high employment, and economic mobility.  And let me say: I do love that city & think it deserves some acclaim.  But no less an authority than the Minneapolis mayor herself, Betsy Hodges, was quick to admit that those aforementioned advantages were not universally enjoyed: “We have some of the biggest racial disparities in the country. Our floor might be higher than others, which is good, but the gap is bigger than others.”

The Washington Post also wanted to know “If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African Americans?”  And blogger Mike Spangenberg was even more pointed in his response, citing studies that labeled Minnesota as the second-worst state for black people to live in, and the state with the worst educational inequity for Latino students.  A lot of this struck awfully close to home for me, rather literally.  Illinois was labeled as fourth-worst state for blacks in that same study.  The restrictive covenant housing deals that Spangenberg wrote about in Minneapolis mirrored Chicago’s own disgusting history (so well-documented in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ own piece in The Atlantic last year, “The Case for Reparations”—which really ought to be required reading for every social studies class in America).

The exact same week as AWP, there’s a municipal election in Chicago—a legitimately close race for mayor for the first time in decades—and yet I’m afraid the inequality conversation here will be no better than there.  There seems to be a disconnect between our collective exposure to the topic (even Forbes is writing about it, for f*ck’s sake) and our ability/willingness to do something about it.  A CNN op-ed suggested that inequality was precisely the thing artists should be talking about, but I didn’t see a single panel or event about it on the AWP schedule.  So here’s to hoping we can raise a glass of whiskey (or two, or three) in Minneapolis and make inequality the hot topic decidedly not on the program.

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