I am not, alas, among the thousands of people journeying to Seattle today for the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP). This year, the conference is too far away, too costly, and too heavy a tax on my vacation-day bank here at the day job to make the trip worthwhile.
That said, I’m an AWP veteran, having registered for and attended eight of its conferences since 2001. (Last year, I didn’t register, but made a quick trip to Boston on the conference’s last day to see friends and stroll through the Bookfair without having paid for registration on the conference’s last day.)
In this post, I’ll share some archival offerings describing them–and offer you an article from 2011 with advice for conference-goers (much of which remains useful!).
And now, for the promised article:
Note: A version of this article appeared in *The Writer* magazine shortly before the 2011 AWP conference in Washington.
Get the Most Out of the AWP Conference: A Guide for New & Returning Attendees
By Erika Dreifus
This year, early February will find me – and, if recent history is any indication, six to eight thousand fellow writers – converging on Washington for the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).
It will be my eighth time attending this conference, which, as its website explains, migrates around North America “to celebrate the outstanding authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers, and small press publishers” of various regions. Recent conference sites include Denver, Chicago and Vancouver. The upcoming conference is February 2-5.
One of the conference’s best features is its Bookfair, which is essentially an exhibition hall (sometimes, multiple halls) showcasing literary journals, independent presses and creative-writing programs of all stripes (graduate programs, summer conferences, literary-center workshops, etc.). Imagine a candy store for creative-writers – and I’m only half-joking here, since many booths and tables beckon with free candy as well as discounted books, subscriptions and sample copies. You’ll get a sturdy tote bag at registration, but you’d be wise to conserve luggage space to accommodate all the Bookfair loot you’ll take home.
The Bookfair also offers a chance to actually meet some of the people you may be sending your work to. (My first article in *The Writer* resulted from a chat I had at AWP conference with the magazine’s publisher, Elfrieda Abbe, who was then its editor.) That said, you’d be wise to heed the words from AWP President Dinty W. Moore: “The [conference] is not really a place to sell your work. Authors are not expected to show up with manuscripts in hand. The bookfair is a place to meet editors (and other writers) and learn what various magazines and presses are looking for and how best to contact them. So expect to leave with a stack of business cards and send the manuscripts off after you get home.”
Beyond the Bookfair, the conference offers literally hundreds of panels, readings and tributes. The program provides ample opportunity to hear from “big names” (including, this year, Rita Dove, Gary Shteyngart and keynoter Jhumpa Lahiri). If you’re looking for a potential creative-writing program to attend, you may well be able to observe faculty “at work” via panels and readings. The variety of offerings across genres and themes, spanning craft, business and pedagogy, is simply unbeatable.
Chances are you’ll have trouble deciding between concurrent events. Look at the conference schedule ahead of time to note your can’t –miss sessions.
Attending an AWP conference can be intimidating, especially if you don’t especially enjoy networking and prefer more nurturing environments. Even veterans can find the conference’s size and scope overwhelming. To keep things manageable, Moore advises, “You should be prepared to force some downtime, even if you have to miss something. I’ve made it a habit now to contact my friends who will be attending before I get there, to book lunches and dinners and coffee dates. Otherwise, we might miss one another.”
Sometimes, too, it helps to go off-site for a break. Moore favors 20-minute walks to clear his head. “All of the book talk and people can be wonderful, but at a certain point my mind and eyes just glaze over.” But you may not be able to separate completely from the conference even if you venture off-site: Each year, AWP maintains a list of concurrent literary events taking place elsewhere in the
People come to AWP for different—and often multiple—reasons. You’re bound to find the experience worthwhile.
Any of you planning to attend #AWP14 in Seattle? Please let us know, in comments, where we can find your posts, tweets, and reflections.