Welcome to our weekend conversation!
Next week is AWP week!
The annual conference (hosted by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) will bring together writers, lit mag editors, small press publishers, representatives from MFA programs and others for a week of panel discussions, readings, parties and a gigantic book fair. This year’s conference will take place in Seattle.
I’ve voiced my share of criticisms of the conference. (Here is an open letter I wrote to the conference organizers nearly one decade ago.)
I’ve also greatly enjoyed the threads dedicated to “Bad AWP Advice” offered by writers and editors.
All this said, I have always had a great time at this conference. I’ve attended in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Washington, DC. I’ve met fun people, discovered new magazines and presses, gotten to see the products of these outlets in their stunning physical form, and often come away with ideas for new projects and approaches to my work.
For anyone who is physically and financially able to attend the conference, I do recommend it. (And if you’re not able, feel free to sit back and enjoy these upcoming Lit Mag News events from the comfort of your own home! In your pajamas!)
The conference can also be overwhelming. The year I attended in Seattle, it was reported that there were 18,000 people there. That’s a lot of tweed blazers!
For that reason, I thought it would be good to offer some actual advice for anyone attending this year or who may be interested in attending in future years.
My main advice is this: Enjoy yourself.
It’s easy to get frazzled and panicky about feeling like you are not in the right place at the right time. There are multiple readings that take place at once, interesting panels simultaneously, and people you may want to talk to everywhere you look. Don’t worry about doing it all.
Also, take breaks! Explore the city. These few days may be hard-won time off from your day job and/or family responsibilities. You are entitled to use it any way that serves you.
In Washington, DC, a city I had never spent much time in, I took off part of the afternoon to visit a museum. It was splendid. I came back to the conference in the late afternoon enriched and restored.
In Minneapolis I arrived the day before the conference. I was six months pregnant and stiff and tired from the plane ride. I found a yoga studio nor far from where I was staying and inexpensive compared the east coast prices I was used to. The teacher was phenomenal. To this day it remains one of the best such classes I’ve ever taken.
In Chicago I spent over an hour in my room chatting with one of the hotel’s housekeepers. There was a hotel staff strike taking place down the street. This woman was more than eager to talk to me, and she gave me all the details of the strike and her job generally. It was an invaluable perspective to the space we were all gathering in and enjoying for the weekend.
All of this is to say, the best advice I can give anyone attending this conference is: Be okay with where you are. Don’t panic.
If you have a couple of good conversations, meet new people, get to know new magazines and/or presses, attend an interesting panel or two, then you’re doing great. If you pick up cool journals that you’ve never seen before and think you might like to submit to, then you’re just fine. If you come up with new ways to attempt to resolve a craft problem, good on ya.
Don’t worry about doing everything. Take breaks as you need to. Walk, rest, talk to people outside the literary world, stare into space.
If you feel dizzy, disoriented, self-conscious, awkward, obsessive over that last conversation where you think you may have said something ridiculously and irredeemably dumb to someone you hoped to impress, it’s okay. Know that there are thousands of people all around you who, at one time or another over the course of the week, likely feel the exact same way.
Be yourself, be sincere, have a good time, learn a thing or two, breathe, wear comfortable shoes, hydrate a lot, and if you stay in a hotel don’t forget to tip the hardworking people who clean your room.
That’s my advice. What’s yours?
Have you attended AWP? What was your experience?
Will you be going this year? What do you hope to get out of the conference?
What advice can you offer newcomers?
If you are an editor of a lit mag and you will have a table, where can people find you?
If you will be presenting a panel, what is it?
Love AWP? Don’t love AWP? Got questions about AWP?
Leave a comment
I've been to AWP many times--when I edited a literary journal, when I was promoting a recent book, when I was on a panel. The older I've gotten, though, the less I feel that AWP is for me. Panels seem skewed to an entirely different demographic, and the bookfair (which I love) seems to get weirder and weirder. It's also an expensive proposition for someone without institutional funding, which is a big reason I'm skipping Seattle this year. (On the plus side, however: seeing old friends, socializing, finding new books and journals.)
I post a guide for AWP survival, including my best tip, which is to early on find the secret, out of the way bathroom that won't be crowded. The conference is wild and overwhelming, but also inspiring and my way to see writer friends from all parts and places of my life. Here are more thoughts: http://www.workinprogressinprogress.com/2023/03/awp23-survival-guide.html?m=1
A great account, Becky. I've lost count of how many AWPs I've attended (along with book fairs). But those were when as a full-time faculty member my travel, hotel, and expenses were reimbursed as a faculty benefit. I retired in 2016, and the last AWP I attended and probably ever will was the first I had to pay for on my own dime, but with a new book out from a small press that couldn't afford a table, it seemed worth the investment to mingle at the book fair and to display, sell, and sign at the Solstice table (in exchange for helping to maintain it). But having arrived in Portland, OR, settled in my hotel, and spent a few hours at the bookfair, as I left the hotel next morning for my signing, I mistook a high curb at the entrance for a convenience lip, and as I looked out for traffic and started to cross, tripped, fell and ruptured glute tendons in both knees. A far-away-from-home (Boston) disaster. I was helpless and marooned, yet immediately helped by a poet, Kimberley Grey, who became my Good Samaritan and friend. She'd been on my flight from Denver and was traveling to AWP via Cincinnati from Stanford, and we'd shared a ride from the airport to the hotel, but otherwise were strangers. She too had a new book and was chairing a panel about mindfulness. As we'd chatted, besides AWP, we had friends and acquaintances in common and I'd meant to buy and read her book. But here, by chance, she had witnessed my fall and rushed to help as I lay in the street, an ambulance was called, and soon EMTs arrived. And despite the panel she had for that afternoon, she rode with me through these unknown Portland streets and up some mountain to the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital and, a former nurse, she stayed with me as my advocate in the ER as I was diagnosed and admitted. She held my shoulder bag of books, fliers, and wallet; she called my wife in Boston. Since she was a poet, I told her about a poem I just had out in On the Seawall, where it turned out she was a contributing editor. I needed immediate surgery here, the doctors told me. I consented, and on Kimmy's iphone, told my wife, who needed to absorb the details. She'd fly out immediately, but couldn't arrive until after the surgery. As it turned out, Kimmy somehow made it to her panel. I made it post-op into a private room. Kimmy got my hotel room cancelled and luggage stored. She told my Solstice friends and others about my accident. All five of my books sold out. She brought a get well card signed by friends at the bookfair. And she brought a few of her friends to meet me, before they all left AWP for their homes. My wife Connie arrived after they'd left and would board at a nearby B&B and stay with me for another two weeks after I'd been moved to a rehab facility and recovered enough to manage braces, crutches and a wheelchair to the point I could stand the long flight back to Boston. Among lessons learned, I remain grateful for the kindness of strangers, the concern of writer friends, my health insurance and the systems of care. My long recovery, first in another rehab at home, and then at home, taught me Dorothy's lesson about her Kansas farm.
As for AWP, I agree with your advocacy for adjuncts. The panels, although some evolve into worthwhile articles in the Chronicle and elsewhere, strike me as overly pretentious and an excuse to get academic travel funding for the panelists. The book fair is the big event, and it remains a shame that it can't be open for at least one day to the general, local publics around the country. I also wish that ageism could be better addressed and more allowance made for retired faculty no longer eligible for institutional support.
For larger context, I suggest my article: https://pages.emerson.edu/faculty/d/dewitt_Henry/history.pdf
Hi, I'm going for the first time, and only for Friday and Saturday (arriving late Thursday night leaving late Saturday night. I'm not planning on registering for the conference itself. Is that a bad idea? There are so many off conference events, even just those are overwhelming. I'm going specifically for a party for a journal my story is going to be in this month. Thanks for the advice!
My first AWP was in 2018; it was Tampa, not far from where I live in Gainesville. I'd recently had my first chapbook published (at the age of 58) - and I felt energized, plus had also been invited to read by a journal I'd contributed work to. Such a high! A few great panels, Mary Ruefle reading, spottings of many poets I had come to recognize. Yes, I was dazzled, but by far the most rewarding thing for me was the bookfair. I made the rounds, stopping at the booths of every journal that had published me -- some of them years ago -- to thank them for supporting me and publishing my work. I found the Florida Review, which published my first poem ever when I was in my early 20s, and they actually have images on a carousel of previous issues going back even that far, and found the issue I was in. It was so cool! Things like that, and meeting other poets at the reading I participate in, made for a thrilling experience. I am heading for Seattle Wednesday and will be there all three days plus, but to be honest, the panel discussions don't look as appealing to me as they did the last time I went. I'm planning to be at the bookfair as much as possible. I've got a new manuscript circulating, but no new book to promote, no readings on tap, so I suspect I'll get most of my satisfaction much the same way I did in 2018 -- connecting with editors of journals who have published me and thanking everyone I can for supporting me. Aside from the conference, I built in extra time to reconnecting with an old family friend who lives in the area, along with a half-sister I seldom see. So I'm excited for all it may hold. Biggest stress for this Florida girl, looking at the cold temps, is: what to pack!!
I attended AWP last year, in Philly, and had fun. I judged the Intro Journals contest for CNF--where I met Cliff, who also commented here (hi, Cliff!). I was glad I went to that dinner event, which was smaller, and this introvert could get up the gumption to speak to people. I'll probably spend the money to go back when I have another thing to do--sell a book, serve on a panel. But it's a lot of money to just go as an attendee, I think. For those who do, my advice is to have a list of panels you want to attend, but sit by the door so you can sneak out if it's not what you want to spend your time on. I was a little disappointed with the quality of the panels last year. For my money, there are smaller conferences that are better. I'm on the planning committee for Lit Youngstown's Fall Literary Festival, which is excellent (and very affordable)--for anyone who can make it to NE Ohio in the fall. Another tip for AWP newbies: leave room in your suitcase for the piles of books you'll be bringing home. And wait to buy until the last day, when presses often slash their prices.
Also, came across these tips for attending AWP:
And thank you for sharing your letter to AWP, Becky.
"Nonetheless, at your conference each year, we see panel after panel dedicated to 'best practices' in creative writing pedagogy. How to teach comics in the classroom, how to 'redesign your comp class,' new ideas for 'challenging poetry students to think clearly…' As if it were just up to the individual teacher to make this all go smoothly. As if a well-run workshop has nothing to do with the economic realities faced by the person leading it."
Has AWP ever addressed the situation facing adjuncts and graduate students in academia?
Be bold. I've only attended once when it was in DC. It was the year that Jhumpa Lahiri gave the keynote. At one point, she was in the lobby alone leaning against a pillar in the center of the room, looking a little forlorn, I thought. I so wanted to go up and say hi and invite her to sit where my little group was sitting, but I was too shy. I regret that. So, yeah, be bold. By the way, her keynote talk was worth the price of admission. She talked about her upbringing and beginnings as a writer.
I used to go when I had institutional funding, but it's just too expensive for only four days. It's big and messy and can be daunting socially and psychologically, but the book fair is wonderful (especially on Saturday afternoon when there are DEALS to be had) and reconnecting with other writers is a lovely thing, especially after the years we've been through. I'm puzzled by those who absolutely hate it and go anyway and endlessly post on SM about how much they hate it. I wish I could afford to go.
Given the price, I think of AWP now as just one step above the kinds of literary scams you wrote about recently. If you love it, I'm not here to tell you that you shouldn't, but I can't imagine what people think they're getting for their money at these things.
After talking with people who have gone, AWP sounds like it is must-visit for someone looking for a teaching job in an MFA program. I've heard some funny stories about awkwardly interviewing in hotel rooms, etc. I'm not sure what's really in it for a writer who isn't affiliated with a MFA program. It sounds fun, but for the money it costs, a residency or a conference seems a better bargain. Fortunately, many panels from past AWP conferences are available on YouTube for anyone to watch.
I've attended three AWPs--Chicago, Boston, and Washington (and I attended the last two years virtually). I only attend when they're on the East Coast to minimize my costs. I led a panel in Boston on Jewish children's lit. In Chicago I received inspiration from a panel on Historical Sources, Contemporary Poetry to revise a prose ms. into a novel in verse. But by the time I attended in Washington, the panels seemed redundant. The real value, I think, is in the people you meet (either the ones you already know or new acquaintances) and the book fair. I logged 12,000 steps one day in the Book Fair. It's a great way to see all the journals you've heard of and ones you haven't yet heard of. A place to pitch a book proposal. My recommendation is to attend as many sessions as possible but also practice self-care or you'll fry. The conference is huge and can certainly be overwhelming. Set up get-togethers with friends before-hand. Attend readings, hosted receptions, and off-premises events.
I agree with the "it's your city and time, be creative and please yourself" advice. I tried this in San Antonio during the infamous last-week-before-COVID, this is a shambles and yet still kinda fun AWP. What made it fun for me was finding people to play whiffle ball at a semi-abandoned park near the Convention Center. This year I am hoping to find folks who would like to play outdoor tennis in Seattle even though the relatively sunniest day, Thursday, is supposed to be 34 degrees and overcast. HMU if tennis under these conditions sounds like your idea of highest & best use of your AWP experience.
I can’t afford to go this year, but as someone from Seattle I HIGHLY recommend catching a bus from downtown to Discovery Park. It’s one of the best parks in Seattle and there’s a cliff overlooking the ocean. ❤️
Thanks, Becky, for initiating another excellent and well-examined thread!
This will be my third AWP. I live in northwest Washington and have attended Seattle 2014 & Portland 2019. Since I don't have institutional funding, I limit my attendance to west-coast conferences I can drive to. (Those sometimes-bland panels we're talking about? Many academics *don't* receive institutional support unless they're presenters. Their sesh is their ticket to the conference. And at my local community college, adjunct faculty aren't even eligible to receive travel funds, further amplifying the inequities.)
I don't have a new book to promote this year, but at past AWPs, it's been a delight to be hosted for signings of my chapbook by journals and small presses which had recently published my poems. The bookfair is truly a wonder--awkward and overwhelming, yes, but also site of many warm reconnections, happy discoveries, and chance conversations that can lead to opportunities. (And this year, my time at the bookfair will have a particular focus: to talk with reps from small & university presses about how to submit my weird hybrid researched/personal essay-collection manuscript.)
A confession and caveat: I'm having some trepidation about the city itself. Seattle has had a LOT of street violence recently. Large areas downtown have been boarded up since Amazon, Google, and other tech giants abandoned their office buildings, and small businesses dependent upon office workers didn't make it through the work-from-home years. It's not the proliferation of unhoused & addicted people I'm talking about; they are tragic but unthreatening. It's the drug gangs and armed robbers who prey upon them that I'm concerned about. The new mayor pledged a greater law-enforcement and social-support presence after a severe spate of gun violence last year, but Third Avenue between Pike & Pine is still to be avoided, even in daylight, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get to & from the nighttime events safely. Maybe I'll hold up a sign saying "Let's walk back to the hotels together?" after Min Jin Lee's keynote on Thursday night. And offsite events after dark? No thanks, unless I can gather a sizeable group to walk with. (I feel ridiculous paying for a cab or Uber to drive me half a dozen blocks.)
Becky Tuch, I like your 2014 essay about the omission of discussion of exploited adjunct labor in academia at the AWP conferences. I have published several articles about the topic of nontenure-track faculty, and I organized a successful union of adjuncts at Western Michigan University. My published essays about abuse of adjuncts and what to do about it are the following:
“Franchising the Disenfranchised: Improving the Lot of Visiting Faculty and Adjuncts” (essay). Gypsy Scholars, Migrant Teachers and the Global Academic Proletariat. Ed. Rudolphus Teeuwen and Steffen Hantke. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007. 79-85.
“Forum on Organizing” (essay). College English 73.4 (March 2011): 450-65.
“Contingent Faculty and the Evaluation Process.” Forum 16.1 (Fall 2012): A8-A12.
Best wishes! Janet
My website is https://www.janetruthheller.com/
Don’t worry, Becky. Very soon, universities, and everyone working in them, will be replaced by bots that don’t require food, shelter, or any compensation at all :-(
I've been to dozens of mystery conferences as tourist, then panelist, finally panel moderator and even the smaller ones can be intimidating. My publishers urged me to go because I was launching the Nick Hoffman mysteries in the 90s, and I did. Showing up again and again got me better recognized in that world of crime fiction and invited to a conference in Oxford, another in the Bahamas (!), all expenses paid for me and my spouse.
They can all be intimidating to a different degrees. I recommend taking time to get outside of the hotel and do even minimal sightseeing. I also recommend that if you know a favorite author is going to do a reading, bring a book to be signed. And if you forget, it's still cool to connect even briefly with a writer or writers you admire.
If you write in the crime fiction genre, look into the smaller cons first. They're less stressful and can be more fun, plus you're more likely to enjoy meeting people when you're not in a crowd of thousands.
Here's a list of mystery cons for 2023:
Bouchercon 2023 - San Diego, California, August 30 - Sept 3, 2023
Crimefest - May 11 - 14, 2023, Bristol, UK
Left Coast Crime - Tucson, Arizona, March 16 - 19, 2023
Midwest Mystery Conference - A one day in person con. in Chicago
Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention - Hunt Valley MD, September 7 -9, 2023.
PulpFest - Pittsburgh, PA, August 3 - 6, 2023.
Noir Con - A conference dedicated to the celebration of Noir. A virtual conference will be held Oct. 21 - Oct. 23. 2022
Malice Domestic - April 28 - April 30, 2023, Bethesda, MD.
Nancy Drew Convention - October 4 - 8, 2023, Salem, MA