The first thing I realized in stepping into the book fair of AWP ‘17 was how underprepared I was. I didn’t have the right shoes on, for one thing. I got really hung up on that. I also was unprepared to interact with people I knew through social media but not in person, and the amount of times I had to explain who I was, and what I did.
I think it might be systemic in getting thousands of writer-introverts to gather in one place – this awkward dance of getting to know each other in the flesh rather than in ones and zeros.
AWP (or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) hosts an annual conference where publishers, presses, writers, and writing teachers from all over the country gather to discuss craft, recent trends, and the pedagogy of teaching writing. Alongside the panels and discussions is a large book fair which allows attendees to purchase all sorts of literature they might otherwise not have access to.
As a newcomer, I didn’t know what to expect from the panels and discussions. But, I decided early on to attend those which included information on working as a publisher (as I’m the editor in chief of Third Point Press) and those that addressed writing short stories (as I used to do that, and might do so again). There are dozens of panels that happen every day (a full listing of these can be found here – point in fact, the whole site is worth exploring if you’re unfamiliar) so it’s with the help of the AWP app and the common sense of those I traveled with that I determined the what and the where.
The first panel was about structure in short stories – and if we’re being honest, it was perhaps a level below where I currently am in my learning. I don’t mean this to be an insult to the panelists or to the panel discussion itself – point in fact, I think it would be immensely useful to someone who maybe didn’t have the years-of-experience or graduate-level understanding of structure. I found myself enjoying the quips and “read this” statements more than the more basic information being shared.
I found this to be consistent with a few of the panels that dealt with stories specifically – they seemed generic, and at times seemed more applicable for a newcomer to writing fiction. Again, not a bad thing, but an unexpected one. Seeing as this was my first AWP, I chalk it up to my own assumptions.
That being said, the panels I attended on diversity (one on how to publish diversely, and another on “what writers of color want white editors to know”) were stunningly useful, and as an editor I found them to perhaps be the most useful of all.
Both of these panels were challenging, and made me feel both fragile and empowered to do more. The panelists were incredibly approachable and frank about the concerns they felt around publishing and how an all-white masthead might give a writer of color reason to pause. If nothing else, AWP was worth it for these two panels, alone.
What I think would be most beneficial – and what I think I’d like to leave you with, is a few pieces of advice if you plan on attending next year. First and foremost: consider what you want your overall goal to be, and then find the panels that best fit that goal. If you’re hoping to make connections, linger in the book fair and find your favorite publications and editors – I did this by searching out Amanda Miska of Split Lip Press, Troy of Little Fiction, Beth Gilstrap, and a whole slew of others. Honestly, I met Carmen Machado (who wrote The Husband Stitch), and kinda lost my mind. But having that plan in place helped me do well over the course of the 3 days
I also rolled in with the hope of learning more about being an inclusive editor, and I feel I gained some insight on how to do just that.
I would also suggest that you use the book fair to find voices you might otherwise not have contact with – to buy up as many books from diverse voices as possible – those voices one can’t find at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
The real gem of AWP is the ability to step out of one’s circle of experience and venture into another – it’s a rare opportunity in an industry that generally happens in our own, private circles.
Overall, it was worth the time and money (though I cut some corners there, too). I feel invigorated as a writer and editor, and I’m hopeful the lessons learned are applicable to the future of my publication and craft.