It’s been a hectic week, readers; I went to my first ever AWP, otherwise known as the yearly conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. This year it was in Boston, so I could hardly miss this massive convocation of literary magazines, small presses, panel discussions, and readings by distinguished authors. Two arena-sized ballrooms at the Hynes Convention Center were entirely taken up by the hopeful endeavors of small presses and magazines; I found it enormously inspiring to walk among so many other eager writers and editors of writing, but also overwhelming. This was a three-day extravaganza of writing talk, but also three days of conflicting advice, of doomsaying, and of concern about the future of the writing life.
There was plenty to be hopeful about; for one, small magazines continue to thrive, with the help of the internet. On the other hand, many professional writers seemed increasingly frustrated about the financial dead ends that publishing your work for free online, or teaching as an adjunct with no sign of moving up, the only routes. There were roads through the forest — but they were few, and dangerous.
After the jump: What I got out of AWP.
At the very least, I found myself inspired by the writers I got to see, including George Saunders, Jeanette Winterson, Don Delillo, and others. Their work was stunning, or funny, or deeply heartfelt, and it was deeply gratifying to see such massive crowds as moved as I was. In a talk by Jeanette Winterson, a lesbian writer who spoke of some of the profound challenges she had encountered in loving whom she wished to love, I saw many women crying and holding hands; after her talk, many couples around me hugged each other, suddenly free to show their affection. I’m glad I didn’t miss such a free sharing of emotion.
And the other nice thing about AWP was that it enabled me to re-connect with writer friends I hadn’t seen all year; fellow writers from my MFA program in New York had come, and I got to gossip and swap writerly stories. The act of writing might be a lonely pursuit, but it also requires community, I think, and it was deeply satisfying to re-find these friends. I also made some new friends, and got fresh ideas for my own writing.
In short, I didn’t trade business cards or make publishing contacts, but I did refresh my writing energy and see some people I wanted to see — the kind of people who push you to be better, to write more, to think harder. It was worth that.