Tobias Carroll is a Brooklyn-based writer and the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn.
I am awake, and in Minneapolis. I’m ostensibly in town for the AWP Conference–that’d be the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The conference is an annual thing that moves from city to city: last year’s was in Seattle, and next year’s will be in Los Angeles. As I have a number of friends in all of these cities, AWP’s presence there gives me an excuse to travel and to catch up with them. Plus: literary events abound. As with last year, I’m splitting my time between hanging out with my friends who call the city home and going to late-night events; last year, I headed to the book fair on one day, but didn’t go to the conference proper. This is the plan for today as well.
I’ve been in town since Wednesday. This is my sixth visit to the city since 2006, which means that Minneapolis is one of the few places other than New York and the part of New Jersey where I grew up that I can navigate with something resembling ease. And there’s something pleasant in that: the feeling of recognition when a corner is turned and a familiar sight glimpsed; muscle memory of familiar walks making its return.
Earlier in the trip, I drove in Minneapolis for the first time: specifically, I drove a Smart car on the interstate during rush hour, when it was raining and snowing. Start things off with a challenge, apparently.
I take a couple of minutes to create the social media links for a post on Vol.1 Brooklyn. Generally I’ll try to have a few posts scheduled in advance, especially for the weekend. That feels like even more of a priority with the traveling that’s underway. Since becoming a full-time freelancer last August, I haven’t done much large-scale travel: two overnight trips to Philadelphia, a weekend in Hudson for Basilica Soundscape, and some visits to family in New Jersey. Due to the close proximity of AWP and next week’s Experience Music Project Pop Conference, though, I’ll be in Minneapolis and Seattle in rapid succession.
While handling the Vol.1 Brooklyn posts, I am slightly distracted by the page that was last on Chrome on my phone. A writer friend had told me the other night about the label Analog Africa, and I’d ended up on the verge of making a number of impulse buys via their Bandcamp page on the previous night, halted only because of my inherent unease in attempting to run a late-night mental exchange rate between Euros and dollars.
I also check soccer scores on FotMob, and note that Tottenham Hotspur are losing to Aston Villa 1-0 in the 43rd minute. As a Spurs supporter, I am displeased. As a US National Team supporter, I’m at least happy to see that Brad Guzan is having a good game. Mixed emotions.
I respond to a couple of emails related to an upcoming Vol.1 event, then sit down for a bit with a collection that I’ll be reviewing.
Aston Villa is still in the lead. I ponder shouting, “Come on your Spurs!”, but as the friends I’m staying with are Chelsea supporters, I’m not sure that they’ll appreciate it.
I venture outside to sit with my friends, read, and have a boiled egg on toast. The morning sky is clear; it’s chilly outside, probably windbreaker weather, but the fact that it’s bearable to be out of doors is its own reward.
Still outside and reading. One of my friends has brought a bag of cheese curds outside. They are, not surprisingly, delicious. I am reminded of the last time I tried to make cheese curds, which did not go nearly as well–by which I mean that I ended up with oddly-tasting ricotta that I nonetheless felt the need to consume in its entirety over the course of the next few days.
I venture outside of the house to go purchase some beer to take back home. I’m a huge fan of a lot of breweries in the Minneapolis area whose work isn’t yet available in New York; on my last few trips out here, I’ve usually brought back a few cans of something to enjoy over the next few weeks once I’ve gotten home.
The neighborhood where I’m staying is very walkable. The feeling is still one of late fall: the trees are bare, and the chill in the air suggests a season winding down, not starting up. The sun is warm on my head and neck as I walk, though.
The liquor store is located about eight blocks away. On the walk over, I hear church bells in the distance, which seem memorably pastoral at first; eventually, the traditional chimes gives way to a melody. As I walk past one alleyway, I smell something burning; I take another step, and the smell is gone.
I arrive at the liquor store. About 80% of the floor is dedicated to wine, but there’s a well-stocked refrigerator case in the back with a well-assembled selection of local beers. In the end, I opt for two four-packs of beer: one of Surly’s collaboration with the hip-hop collective Doomtree, and one of Indeed’s Mexican Honey Imperial Lager. Given that I have a fondness for saying the word “Indeed” in conversation, the latter was probably a given.
I return back to my friends’ house, and gather together a few items–a book, a backup book, an external battery for my phone, my notebook–for a trip downtown. Realize that this trip has prompted me to spend a lot less time on social media, or at least a much more concentrated version of that time.
My beer purchases remind me that I need to send out two emails about a freelance piece in progress, which I do.
I leave the house again in search of a car: I’ve been making use of a car-sharing service while out here, which has served me pretty well so far.
The car is located a few blocks away. I get in and turn on the radio: the station is set to The Current, Minnesota Public Radio’s music station. Not surprisingly, I’ve been hearing a lot of Sufjan Stevens’s “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” on said station. I am amused by the radio edit, which takes the “fuck me I’m falling apart” line and renders it as something that sounds more like “huff me I’m falling apart.”
I don’t drive much these days, and the pleasure of being in motion with music playing is something I don’t realize that I crave until I’m in the midst of it. This realization is paired with my recent reading of Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head–specifically, the section on distracted driving, and on how cellular conversations, even those on a speaker, cause drivers to be less focused than when they converse with passengers who are in the car with them. Between this drive and my earlier thoughts on social media, it’s clear that I’m still digesting Crawford’s book, and will likely continue to do so for some time.
MGMT’s “Electric Feel” comes on the radio as a Lamborghini passes me on the left.
I arrive at the area around the convention center and look for a parking spot. I arrive on Nicollet Avenue and am reminded, as I always am when I see the street name, of Elmore Leonard’s character Ray Nicolette. My brain is strangely wired.
I arrive at one side of the convention center, but can’t find an entrance.
In search of the entrance, I walk past two men returning from lunch who are talking about Lorca.
I enter the Minneapolis Convention Center. Immediately, I see a sign reading “REMODELING EXPO.” Beside it stand a number of small children who appear to be tap-dancing. I am reasonably certain that this is not AWP.
Having found the correct area of the convention center, I enter the book fair. It is huge: eighteen long aisles of tables featuring publishers large and small, academic writing programs, and literary journals. Having bought an ungodly amount of books at last year’s AWP book fair, I vow not to do the same this time out. But this is the last day of the book fair, which means that “ALL BOOKS $5” signs are in abundance.
I arrive at the table of Civil Coping Mechanisms, the publisher who’ll be releasing my short story collection Transitory next year. I catch up with a number of writers I know over there. As we speak, a woman walks past dressed in what might be a Mad Hatter-inspired outfit. This appears to be the only example of cosplay visible at the book fair.
I stop by the Nightboat table, as a friend is one of two people handling it. I help handsell a copy of Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, and end up buying a trio of books, including one short novel from Hilda Hilst. One exchange that I hear beside me: “Do you have anything heavy?” “We have a lot that’s heavy.”
I stop by the Sarabande Books table, where I am given a shot of bourbon. It is only then that I realize that I should have had some coffee earlier in the day.
I stop by the Razorcake booth and am given a zine and a pin reading “I [heart] Drinking Coffee + Reading Zines.”
I get a cup of coffee from one of the kiosks located in the far wall of the room where the book fair is being held.
Based on the taste of the coffee, I add some milk and sugar, slightly spilling the latter.
I make my way up and down the rows of tables, checking in with friends, buying books, and saying some hellos. I end up meeting a critic I interviewed as part of a freelance piece in October; I am handed a mug from the journal that a friend publishes; I catch up with another writer with a book forthcoming on Civil Coping Mechanisms.
Throughout, low murmurs can be heard from areas where events are taking place: there are three bleachers facing one wall where panel discussions are taking place as the book fair continues.
Some publishers have sold out completely of their wares by this time; some have cleared out entirely.
My publisher and I discuss the abundance of whiskey shots available on the book fair floor. We note that one could probably get very drunk as a result of this; we both agree that this sounds like a deeply unpleasant way to experience the book fair.
Two hours of being in the book fair has left me feeling slightly wrong. While not necessarily sweaty, there’s a kind of dryness in my skin, and a film on my forehead that isn’t quite sweat but seems like a kind of prototypical perspiration. Whatever it is, I don’t like it at all.
The book fair enters its last hour. Looking down the rows, I can see people starting to pack up their tables, loading books into boxes, taking down displays.
A few rows away from me stands a woman wearing a rubber chicken mask and holding a sign at an angle that makes it impossible for me to read.
I’m sitting at a nearby coffee shop, the Muffin Top Cafe, reading a bit more of the book that I’ll be reviewing. I’m also killing time before meeting a writer friend at a nearby bar; also, having a cup of coffee and some sort of baked good seems essential.
The barista is quiet. i order an iced coffee (to which I then add too much half and half) and a banana nut muffin (top). The coffee shop’s soundtrack is provided by The Current, and partway through my reading, I can hear The Replacements’ “I’ll Be You” play.
As I leave the coffee shop, a song from The Beta Band’s The 3 EPs begins to play. Doesn’t seem like the worst exit music in the world.
Over a couple of beers, I catch up with a friend who’s also in town for AWP. There’s a lengthy discussion of book tours, as we both have books due out in the next year and change; also up for discussion are assorted northern cities and poetry. We make it our mission to convince a mutual friend to read Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, because it is excellent, and because it seems to line up with a lot of said friend’s thematic concerns.
I arrive at Nomad World Pub to meet up friends there and watch the Minnesota United/Tampa Bay Rowdies game with abundant members of Minnesota United’s supporters group, the Dark Clouds. I cannot argue with a good soccer bar, and Nomad is a particularly excellent one, with an abundance of scarves above the bar, numerous televisions showing the game, and a fine beer selection. I’m keeping tabs on another soccer game on my phone, as the New York Red Bulls are playing DC United in Washington.
The game is happening in Florida, and I had not realized until now that Tampa’s home games were played at Al Lang Field. When I was young, I would go down to St. Petersburg to visit my grandmother, and would occasionally check out the St. Louis Cardinals, who used it for spring training until late in the ‘90s. Strange how things like that line up.
In the end, the game we’re watching at the Nomad ends in a 0-0 draw. The Red Bulls come from behind to end their game with a 2-2 draw. And I call a car to head to what I believe will be my last stop of the night.
I arrive at Public Functionary, an art space in northeastern Minneapolis, which will be hosting a reading this evening. Once I arrive, I realize that I do not have cash in my wallet (there’s a $5 cover), and head out in search of an ATM.
I walk on a bridge over the interstate, which seems pretty busy at this hour.
I arrive at a gas station; a Home Depot is visible in the distance. I get some cash from an ATM, and also buy a package of almonds, which I eat on the walk back over to Public Functionary.
Strange sculptures hang from the ceiling of Public Functionary; they resemble large, bleached pieces of seaweed. I link up with a few writers I know and catch up between readings. In terms of ages, it’s a fairly diverse crowd: I seem to be older than most, but then a man who looks to be around my father’s age wanders past me. Here’s hoping that when I’m that age, I’ll still be investigating weird art.
The readings go well: they’re uniformly short and punchy, delivered by writers who know how to hold an audience’s attention. At one point, a line for free beer occupies much of the opposite wall. I avoid the free beer line until it is reduced in size to something sensible.
Amelia Gray, the night’s headliner, closes things out with a deeply visceral selection from her collection Gutshot. I start to think about listening to Steven Jesse Bernstein on Sub Pop compilations in the early 90s, which were probably my first exposure to hearing someone read their own work in such a dramatic fashion. Bernstein’s been on my mind a lot lately; there’s a reference to him in Sean H. Doyle’s This Must Be the Place as well, which I suspect is what turned my thoughts back onto him, onto his work, onto how haunting his intonations could be.
The reading portion of the night has ended, and the dance party portion has begun. Cue “Miss Jackson.”
I step outside and note people gathered around a fire. A few hundred feet away is a bridge with freight railroad tracks atop it. Cars carrying various cargo have been proceeding on it since I stepped outside several minutes ago. There’s a dirt incline; I debate walking up it to head towards the fire, but then realize that I have no desire to fall on my ass, which would almost certainly be the result. I take the more roundabout way instead.
I end up going on a pizza run with another writer friend who’s in from out of town, along with his dog. We end up at a pizza place on a hill, with a brilliant view of downtown Minneapolis. We stand there and talk about books; after twenty minutes, the pizza is ready, and we get back into the car.
We arrive back at Public Functionary with pizza and carry it across the dancefloor to a back room. Quickly, the six or eight of us gathered there make short work of about ⅔ of the two pizzas.
The party is winding down. People seem very confused as to why the music has stopped. I call for a car and head back to the downtown with the aim of meeting up with friends at the hotel bar where many writers in town have gathered.
We take one interstate to another interstate. I can see the Stone Arch Bridge in the distance, illuminated from below, looming over the tranquil river.
I arrive at the Hilton, which abounds with writers in conversation at the bar, in the lobby, and out front. “Sprawling” is a word that does not do the situation justice. Plans begin to be made for next year’s AWP. I realize that I’m more exhausted than I had thought, and leave not long afterwards. I walk with friends towards another hotel; we go our separate ways, one group to one hotel, one group to another, and me to a car theoretically bound for my friends’ house.
The car I’d called comes to a stop at Nomad World Pub, and I realize that I’d selected the wrong destination address when using the app to request a driver.
I arrive at the correct destination, get a few things in order for the following day, when I’ll be traveling back home, and call it a night.