AWP 2013: Ruminations
I moved to Boston for grad school nearly seven years ago, which is crazy to think about. It was my first time living away from home as an adult, the first place I had my own apartment, the first city I got to know on my own terms. I lived there for four years, and sometimes I miss it. I don’t go back nearly enough, but I returned this weekend for the annual AWP conference.
For those who don’t know, AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and each year they put on the country’s largest literary conference. My first AWP was in New York, back in 2008. I was still a grad student at that point, and AWP was basically a big party. I attended many, many panels, wandered around the massive book fair probably ten times, and went to the dance party every night (yes, there’s a dance party with an open bar every night at these things…just use your imagination)…before going to find another bar. It was overwhelming, frenetic, and tons of fun.
I went back for another round in 2009, this time in a more official capacity, as I was manning the booth for my company. I was out of school, working full-time in textbook publishing, and this made for quite a different AWP experience. (Also, it was February in Chicago…yeah.) I took an author out to dinner for the first time, had work meetings, and set up and took down the table all on my own. I also found time to go to a few panels and explore the book fair. I may have even visited the dance party. Many of my friends were also in attendance, so it was still fun, but more exhausting than the year before. It was less about writing and more about working and the business behind the writing.
So it’s been four years since my last AWP experience, but this year was in Boston, and I couldn’t resist at least checking it out for one day. The last day of the conference, the book fair is free and open to the public, and there are also many events that are public. I met a friend to take on the book fair, and we ran into another friend at the entrance. Neither of my friends had ever been to AWP before and I think they were a bit shell-shocked, and I was too. Somehow, it seemed bigger and more daunting than it ever had before. We circled around all THREE cavernous exhibit spaces, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. After a few aimless circles, we staked out a table and just talked–catching up, talking about writing. In many ways, that part was more helpful than the book fair itself. My comrades decided they’d seen enough, and left, but not before two more friends came to meet me. So we circled some more. And I still failed to stop at any tables or talk to anyone (beyond the people I already knew, who were sprinkled around in various capacities, it being a literary conference in Boston). I don’t know what I was looking for, but I think at the back of my mind, I had been hoping to talk to some journals, scope out possibilities for submitting, discover new publications. Instead, I just walked around goggle-eyed and overwhelmed. I let it all intimidate me, just like the process of writing itself.
I went to Boston to see friends and be in the city, primarily. But I also wanted to go back to AWP as a kind of motivational tool for my writing, fledgling and fragile as it is right now. This blog has been one of my only writing outlets for the last few years, and while that’s been helpful, it’s not enough. Luckily, I joined a few of my friends in a writing group a few months ago, and that’s been a huge motivator in terms of getting writing again. I’ve been working on a couple of short fiction pieces, and I hope to someday actually get up the courage to submit something…somewhere. Maybe even get it published.
This is all to say that yes, I was intimidated by AWP and I didn’t exactly do what I set out to do at the book fair. But I had the opportunity to hear about and talk about writing for a weekend, and be in the place where writing became a bigger part of my life, and listen to some of my favorite writers talk about writing (more on that later this week), and all of that has actually inspired me to persevere and keep writing. And if that’s not the ultimate goal of being a writer, then I don’t know what is.