Wear a heavy, latex Planet of the Apes monkey mask swathed in mounds of fake Spanish moss, cumbersome black-and-also-mossy-winter gloves, and a ghillie suit in the name of literature?!?
“Sure, why the hell not?”
That was my response, anyhow, when one of my clever peers in the MFA program suggested this little stunt as a way to call attention to The Swamp Ape Review, FAU’s graduate student run national literary magazine. We were weeks away from launching the inaugural online issue.
I was all about getting into that Swamp Ape costume and traipsing around the AWP literary conference. I knew I could ham it up with strangers and goad them into taking a picture with the Swamp Ape and then hashtag the magazine on social media. I would have done something like this anyhow (like…just in my normal, everyday life) because I’m kind of a freak like that, so I was excited that for my first time ever attending AWP, I would be doing so “in character.” I mean, I am a writer, after all, and, therefore, pretty socially awkward around new people and big crowds.
The conference was in Washington D.C., and since I am a part-part time student (I only take one class at a time) and a full-full time high school teacher (I wish I could only teach one class at a time), I was thrilled that I was going to get to take an out-of-state odyssey with my fellow graduate students and would get to know them on a whole other level.
But back to the Swamp Ape. Let me first say that I had no earthly idea what a ghillie suit was when we were in the initial planning stages for the Swamp Ape appearances at AWP. I had to “Wikipedia” it. According to Wikipedia, a ghillie suit is “a suit traditionally donned by snipers, hunters, and nature photographers to allow them to conceal themselves from enemies or targets.” As a pacifist, this amused me. The online adverts for the suit would have you believe they are “lightweight” and “breathable.” I assure you, they are not. They are stinky, sweaty death suits. The experience of being the Swamp Ape was fun, nonetheless, a great success, even (viva la swamp!).
In addition to being one of the students behind the Swamp Ape, I also had the opportunity to attend panels with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sarah Manguso, and Paul Lisicky (to name a few); I was fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Dave Eggers, a social activist and literary hero of mine for over twenty years; I discovered what wonderfully talented, delightful people my fellow MFA students truly are; I learned invaluable lessons about writing and publishing; and, last but not least, our literary magazine gained a ton of exposure.
AWP is happening all over again in a little under a year, but this time in Florida, the home of the Swamp Ape him/herself. Let the countdown begin!