James Franco ruffled some feathers in the writing community by announcing he’d attend AWP this year. I didn’t read Franco’s short story collection and I probably won’t read his poetry collection unless someone asks me to review it. That doesn’t mean anything; there are a lot of books I don’t read, especially highly publicized ones. I’m also not a fan of his acting; I don’t believe he’s been in a single film I actually liked, or enjoyed (though I haven’t seen Milk or Oz). I say this to clarify that I’m not a Franco apologist. To be very clear, I don’t really have an opinion about him or his career one way or the other.
I don't really care what Franco does with his time, and I'm sure most other writers don't either. I'm hearing a lot of folks say that Franco is trying to legitimize himself by attending a convention of “real” writers. But the hard truth, folks, is that Franco has had and will have more commercial, and probably more critical success than most, if not all, of the other attendees at AWP. He’s been panned in publications that won’t even open the mail from the rest of us. And some of them didn’t pan him. The truth is, if anything, Franco is legitimizing AWP by putting it on the map for non-academics. He doesn’t need AWP. He's already got major book deals. He already teaches writing and has had more success as a teacher of writing than many of the AWP attendees.
This is a hard thing for some writers to realize because they tend not to see beyond their clique out to the real world that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about non-famous writers. (Remember how some Republicans were so surprised when Obama won a second term because they hadn't realized that the nature of America had changed? That’s the kind of self-absorption I’m talking about, but these folks know how to read.) Franco is lending his fame to AWP, whether that’s his intention or not. Some folks might say his books aren’t very good. They probably aren't. I could say the same thing about a lot of writers out there, especially "name" ones. Sorry. Some folks say he gets published because of his “name.” Again, I could say the same about some of the big fish in the little waters of AWP. But, of course, Franco is a big fish in big waters. So maybe that’s the real source of the vitriol I’ve seen directed at him. Or maybe people just don’t like his face.