The Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference will be held in Minneapolis, MN April 8-11, 2015. Literary Mama wants to help you make the most of it! In the months leading up to the conference, and also during it, we’ll share some perspectives and personal experiences. If you’ve been to the conference before, or plan to go this year, drop us a line, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Two Takes on AWP
My first AWP I attended as a novice, shrugging and murmuring, “Sort of,” when asked if I was a writer. The conference was held in Denver, my home town, and I made a vacation of it, meeting up with siblings for dinners, smuggling friends into evening readings, spending time with my parents afterward. I stayed at my sister’s apartment and walked to the conference in the shining April mornings, beneath the shadow of the city’s skyscrapers.
At the conference, I attended every possible panel and reading, took reams of notes, and wandered the book fair, loading up with so many journals that I had to ship a box home. Other than a memorable conversation with a capital-W writer as we made our way to our respective sleeping quarters late one night, I barely spoke to anyone, and from within that bubble of self-imposed loneliness-in-a-crowd, creativity surged. I wrote from that well of inspiration in the mornings on the futon, sun slanting in stripes through the blinds, in the gap between an afternoon panel and a dinner rendezvous, late at night after listening to a world-famous poet read.
I had gone to the conference to figure out whether it would be possible for me to complete an MFA while working full time and caring for three children. When I returned home, I still didn’t know the answer to that question, but I knew I had to try.
The next time I attended AWP, three years later, I was halfway through my MFA program. I shared a hotel room with my MFA BFF, and ran into fellow students at panels, in thronged hallways, and at receptions. I again attended as many panels and readings as I could jam into three days, but I didn’t experience the same jolt to my creativity that first AWP had inspired. Maybe it was because I was already saturated with writing advice after three MFA residencies. Maybe it was the crowds, each panel so over-booked I found myself sitting on the floor more often than not. Maybe it was because I was expending my otherwise creative energy socializing with my new writer friends. Maybe it was because the structure of the conference reinforced my growing suspicion that the writing business is one big pyramid scheme. Or maybe it was just the weather–gray, slushy March in Boston.
I won’t be attending AWP this year–it’s too far from home and I’ve decided I need to earn some money on writing before I expend any more on it. But I will attend again in the future, when the time and location make sense for me. The experience of listening to the big-name writers read and speak is by itself worth it (Terry Tempest Williams, Seamus Heaney, Anne Waldman, and Jeanette Winterson are just some of the writers I had the good fortune to hear). And, a year out of my MFA program, I am hungry for that kind of immersion in a community of writers—even an overcrowded one—that I don’t experience in my “real” life. In the meantime, I think I’ll dig out my notebook from that first AWP and try to recapture some of the creative energy that the conference inspired.