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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.)

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And I met Cliff, I think at the AWP in DC, as we celebrated the publication of another volume of Everywhere Stories in which one of my Holocaust-related short stories appeared. Thanks, Cliff!

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Having done so many conferences, I stopped because panels started sounding too similar ("Can Murder be Funny?"), and I was getting paid well to speak at colleges, universities, libraries, synagogues and other non-book store venues. It came down to a simple choice: spend money with little tangible result in terms of sales, however much I enjoyed meetings fans and other writers, or earn money with a guaranteed audience and see some book sales?

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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

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It's the best guide out there -- read it!

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XOXOX

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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

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author

Holy cow what an ordeal! Thanks for sharing this.

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Thanks for sharing. Ageism is a whole other topic we could discuss.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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!

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I think you can get a lot out of doing just one thing, meeting people in person and attending the book fair on Saturday. Have a most wonderful time, Susan.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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!!

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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.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

Also, came across these tips for attending AWP:

http://www.workinprogressinprogress.com/2023/03/awp23-survival-guide.html?m=1

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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?

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Yes, in fact the day that article went live the conference director called me on the phone to discuss these issues. The following year there were a few panels dedicated to the experience of adjuncts. I stopped going to the conference after that (for other reasons), so I'm not sure if they've continued to address this in any meaningful way.

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I've been an adjunct now for eleven years. I attend AWP not as a professor but as a writer. I think I did attend an adjunct session once, either in 2012 or 2013. I don't remember finding it useful. At a recent non-writers conference in December, I attended a reception for "contingent faculty." Most of the attendees were 20-somethings with newly minted PhDs, not like me, teaching six distinct courses at four schools each semester just to keep the roof over my head. I'd be willing, though, and even maybe eager, to attend an AWP session for adjuncts.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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.

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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.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

Good advice!

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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.

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Mar 4, 2023·edited Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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.

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

Sounds gruesome!

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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.

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Mar 8, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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.

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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. ❤️

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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.)

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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/

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Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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 :-(

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Mar 4, 2023·edited Mar 4, 2023Liked by Becky Tuch

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

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