The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, or AWP, hosts an annual conference in a selected city each year. For those pondering what to attend in the literary world, this is THE book conference. With well over 10,000 attendees this year, AWP filled the rooms of the Seattle Convention Center and Sheraton Hotel for three days of panels, readings, a massive book fair, and more shenanigans than an episode of The Ellen Show.
There’s a lot to cover in regard to the AWP Conference, so naturally I’ll just cover my own experience. I’m not sorry in advance if I get snarky, because no one should ever apologize for snark. It’s a gift for the givers and the takers, just as the written word is a gift. That being said, let’s begin.
First of all, I think it important to note that I attended the conference as a shameless so-called writer. I’m not published outside the world of my undergrad college. I don’t have a book deal. I haven’t been discovered. I don’t know when my first book will come out. (Note: This is all my fault because I have yet to really commit to submitting my work. Hashtag writer problems.) I write words that oftentimes make little sense, and yet they’re sometimes blindly enjoyed. I have a self-proclaimed gift while also being incredibly modest to anyone who compliments said gift. My presence at the conference was simply to take in my surroundings, and take them in I did.
The book fair is what really sells me on attending AWP. To get through the entire thing is a major accomplishment, one that I somehow managed. I felt like I survived a jungle scene from Mean Girls, or the Hunger Games (the games, not the books themselves), or a less-than-mediocre book series with more books than anticipated. (I’m looking at you, Sookie Stackhouse.) After going through dozens of aisles to visit hundreds of tables over the course of three days, I somehow managed to pack my bag with 2.5 totes worth of books, journals, information cards, buttons, stickers and other forms of writerly swag. I have yet to go through everything, but I can say that I have enough information to never run out of places to submit or people to converse with via social media. Your life begins the moment you enter an AWP book fair, and it ends the moment nothing remains. You will never have nothing as long as you attend an AWP book fair. Perhaps that’s a stretch of a statement, but it’s one I’m willing to commit to.(Note: I will be reviewing my AWP book fair reads in the future. Stay tuned.)
Aside from the book fair is the overwhelming amount of wisdom you pack into your brain by listening to panels and readings as well as meeting and conversing with other writerly types. I attended panels pertaining to a variety of subjects, including unsympathetic characters, memoir humor writing, author day jobs, and what writers of children and young adult literature wish they’d known before writing said genres. Some panels will blow your mind, some will reaffirm your own beliefs, and some will just plain suck. My friends and I only walked out of one panel, so I consider the panels an overall victory. The novel I’ve been (sometimes) working on involves a character who could be considered an unsympathetic one by readers, and the panel really helped me accept that people don’t need to sympathize with a character in order to like them. I already knew this as a reader, but it convinced of that as a writer. I find that we doubt ourselves as writers where we’d never question something as a reader, so I was grateful to break through that barrier.
It’s also important to write about dance parties. First of all, no one is above attending the dance parties. I don’t care how important you are in the grand scheme of things. Who the hell wouldn’t want to get their groove on? Okay, Guy-Holding-Beer-With-Hand-In-Pocket had no interest in doing the Landshark, or any dancing, for that matter, but I digress. AWP is an opportunity to get insanely pissed (I mean drunk…trying to be British here) and shake it. I attended two such dance parties and made the greatest fool of myself after consuming all the wine. I know this has nothing to do with books, but when you’re with bookish people it really has everything to do with books. Reality: Most bookish types don’t know how to dance, and it’s fucking glorious.
Lastly, I want to talk about Sherman Alexie. He’s a fucking riot. From talking about how straight men react to gay men, to reading about an unfortunate prom night, to making the interpreter sign about him being attractive at the end, I couldn’t get enough. I’ve read his work in my Native American Literature course during my undergrad, and I’ve seen Smoke Signals a few times, but somehow neither of those experiences had prepared me for his public festival of joy… I mean reading. I don’t want to ramble on about my respect for Native American culture and literature, but I will say that I have a great admiration for anyone who can rock their culture by writing about it for what it is and open the eyes of those around them. People like Sherman Alexie are responsible for my general openness to genres that I wouldn’t have considered years prior. I didn’t read Native American literature or young adult literature (as an adult) until Sherman Alexie. He opened my eyes to new ideas as well as the beauty within his culture. There are rough edges, of course, and pain, but people sometimes forget about the beauty. He presented me with a gift that I will cherish until the end of my time.
I could go on for a very long time about the AWP Conference. I could tell many inside jokes that only select few will understand or care about. I could explain Guy-Holding-Beer-With-Hand-In-Pocket. I could also get the fuck off the internet and eat a late dinner followed by devouring my totes full of AWP goodies. I choose the last one.
AWP Attendees: What was your favorite part about the conference?
Who will be attending AWP in Minneapolis? Is it April 2015 yet?