A (Possible) Conferencegoer Asks for AWP Insights

A few days ago a commenter left these remarks here:

Thanks for all of the info you generously share in your blog. Are you willing to expound on the benefits of going to the AWP conference, particularly for someone coming from the west coast? I have a spot, but debating if it is actually valuable enough to warrant the expense and time. Thanks for any thoughts — I don’t know anyone else who is involved enough to ask.

I promised to respond, and now I’m going to. I’ll try to keep my comments general, in part because I don’t know the person who posted the request so I have no idea what her writing background may be, and in part so I’ll (hopefully) have something useful to offer everyone else who reads this.

1) First, you can find many more comments (including some from me) about AWP (past and present) within the Poets & Writers Speakeasy. Here is one thread and here is another. You will need to register (no charge) to access the posts.

2) Similarly, you can search this blog for timely posts about my most recent AWP experiences. You’ll find some here, here, here, here, and here.

3) In my view, one of the best–if not the best–aspect of AWP is the Bookfair. Essentially, the Bookfair is an exhibition hall featuring literary journals, independent presses, and creative writing programs of all stripes (MFA, conferences, literary centers, etc.). Think candy store for “literary” writers (I’m only half-joking about that–many booths and tables beckon with free candy as well as discounted books and subscriptions). Editors and publishers show up en masse. It’s a chance to actually meet some of the people to whom you may be sending your work. Pick up sample copies, catalogs, calls for submission (and, again, candy).

4) The panels and readings are numerous. And sometimes, they’re truly inspirational. Chances are you’ll have trouble deciding between concurrent events that interest you. Sometimes (and I fear this may be the case this year), some events are far too crowded for those of us who like our personal space. On the other hand, it’s an amazing opportunity to hear from “big names.” (And if you’re looking for a program, you may well be able to observe some of the faculty “at work” via panels and readings as well.)

5) This year, obviously, you also have the chance to visit New York. For some people, that alone would be a draw.

6) The first year attending an AWP can be intimidating, especially for someone who isn’t necessarily fond of “networking” (that would be me!). I have to say, though, that I’ve met some wonderful people at past conferences, and now I look forward to seeing them each year. Again, this year’s anticipated hordes may be so crushing–and so full of mass populations coming from individual MFA programs and so forth–that a “newbie” may feel isolated. If you prefer more “nurturing” environments, AWP isn’t necessarily going to do it for you.

7) And finally–I can’t leave this out–I’ve been much happier at AWP in recent years/locations where the smokers (remember, this is a writing conference) have been barred from the hotel bars/restaurants. New York gets a thumbs-up from me in this respect, too.

Anyone else with AWP insights to share? Please contribute, in comments.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Even before I received a request in comments yesterday to participate in The Generous December Writing Group Project, I’d planned to dedicate today’s post to my sister’s own eloquent write-up about an organization on whose board she serves: The Blue Card. My sister said everything better than I could, so I’m going to quote her post in its entirety:

Since it’s the season for giving as well as receiving, I’d like to tell you about two non-profit organizations here in New York which are close to my heart (I serve on the board of each). The first one (I’ll post about the 2nd one soon) is The Blue Card, an organization I learned about from my late grandparents (they were the “original” R & S, and my children are named in their memory). They escaped Nazi Germany at the last minute in the late 1930s and met and married here in NYC. They arrived penniless and The Blue Card- established in 1934- helped Jewish refugees just like them. These immigrants faced enormous challenges in building new lives, but did so with a deep appreciation for their freedoms. To this day, The Blue Card serves the needs of Holocaust survivors and refugees from Nazi persecution, a group of elderly people whose needs skyrocket as they age. Many Blue Card clients live at or below the poverty level, and cash grants from the Blue Card pay for things as simple as groceries, eyeglasses, and transportation to and from doctors’ appointments. Many of them suffer mental health problems such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by the events of 9/11.

I have proudly served on the Board of The Blue Card for four years now, and I take seriously the job of spreading the word about this small but outstanding organization. I do this especially in memory of my grandparents, and especially on a day today- the 1st night of Hanukkah- when I am lucky enough to have the freedom to celebrate the holiday with my own “R & S”.

Please take a moment to visit The Blue Card and learn about how you can help. Happy Hanukkah.

Those of you who know this practicing writer and my writing know how much my grandparents meant to me and how much they’ve inspired my work. So there you have it: My contribution to The Generous December Writing Group Project is The Blue Card.

A Look at Lapham’s Quarterly

There’s a new journal out, and it has definitely caught my interest. Lapham’s Quarterly, which describes itself as “the journal that enlists the counsel of the dead,” made its debut earlier this month. I haven’t seen a hard copy yet, but I’ve spent some time at the journal’s Web site. And I’m hooked. Almost–but not quite–hooked enough to shell out the $60 subscription cost (for a quarterly!).

How has this journal, the creation of former Harper‘s editor Lewis Lapham, managed to tempt me so? It’s all in the premise. “Four times a year the editors seize upon the most urgent question then current in the headlines – foreign war, financial panic, separation of church and state – and find answers to that question from authors whose writings have passed the test of time.” Truly a concept tailored to my pre-MFA academic background.

The current issue’s theme is “States of War.” Click here to see the amazing range of contents. You’ll notice among the writings some “further remarks” apparently penned just for the journal. (Alas, I don’t see any freelance guidelines on the site.) And if you happen to have seen the actual journal up close and personal, please share your impressions.

My Grandma Rose

I just want to post a few words today about my Grandma Rose, who passed away on September 30, 1984. I was fifteen at the time, and her death marked my first experience of losing someone close to me.

Grandma Rose was my mother’s mother. She was born in Eastern Europe (she liked to say she was born in Vienna, but genealogical research–some by me and some by one of my mother’s cousins–suggests a Polish village is more likely). She came to this country as a seven-year-old who spoke no English and hadn’t seen her father in six years. She was the oldest of five sisters who survived to adulthood (another baby girl died at 13 months, and another was stillborn). She was a divorced mother raising two children at a time when that still raised eyebrows. She faced plenty of struggles in her life, yet took great joy in her family, her opera records, her Jewish heritage, and her painting. And she was an early and devoted fan of my writing (especially one story I wrote in fifth grade about the Mona Lisa).

If she were here today she’d be 94 (probably still looking far younger than she really was), and great-grandmother to nine beautiful children, ages 6 months to 7 years. I see bits of her in all of them.