I had the extreme pleasure of attending the 2015 AWP Conference & Bookfair Thursday through Saturday of last week. For the uninitiated, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs holds an annual conference for writers, educators, editors and others involved in the publishing community. Attendees are given the nigh impossible task of whittling down the available 500+ on-site events (panels, readings, caucuses, meetings, etc.) to about 20 or less. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. There were also hundreds of off-site readings and parties to choose from over the course of the week the conference was in town. I am only now ready to talk about it all. What follows is an account of my experience at the 2015 AWP Conference.
I decided rather late in the game to attend the conference. I had some cat related scheduling conflicts, but since it was being hosted in my own backyard it seemed silly not to be there. After some gentle prodding from someone very dear to me, I saw the error of my ways and decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’d never been to an AWP Conference and didn’t know quite what to expect, but after looking at the list of panel topics, I knew I would get a lot out of the experience.
Over the course of those three days there were highs and lows felt throughout the ranks of the gathered literary enthusiasts. There was snow. There was sun. There was existential crisis. We had it all.
In order to take off work on such short notice, I had to come in early and race back and forth from my place of employment and the conference (6 excruciating blocks) to keep caught up on things. This worked out quite nicely aside from being physically and mentally draining.
Upon arriving at the conference with my official lanyard badge, I marched directly to the first panel I planned to attend on the subjects of how to find employment in writing and the gentrification of the publishing industry. I imagine at some point I will have more to say about a handful of the topics discussed in these panels, so keep an eye out for future missives. Exactly what the three readers who have made it this far into the post were hoping to hear. (Hi, Mom.)
Truth be told, I felt ill at ease without a fancy notebook portfolio. Look at me, walking around with my backpack like a plebe. My legal pad flopped here in my lap, naked, when it should be sheathed in classy pleather. Disgrace, embarrassment…shame.
[Insert first existential crisis here.]
With a day full of panels in the books, it was time to forge ahead into the rainy world outside the Convention Center for some of the famed off-site events. I chose the New American Press reading at the Local, which was held in a cool secret room and had free cheese (four types!) and grapes (only one type). I had a writer friend in tow and a poet friend met us there. This was the only off-site reading I attended and, if I may say, I picked an excellent one. Each author was just as funny and engaging as the previous one…until Halle Butler came on the scene. I purchased her book Jillian immediately. She was and is brilliant.
At the close of an exhausting but exhilarating first day, I was whisked home in a silver electric chariot by the most beautiful angel who came bearing, of all things, a fancy notebook portfolio for me to have as my own.
Friday. I was dragging. And I was already experiencing panic over the conference’s imminent end. But the game had changed. I’d slimmed down my personal effects considerably. I had a fancy notebook portfolio. I was somebody.
The panel I attended that morning was incredible (novels of expertise was the topic) and by the noon hour, I became infatuated with the community I was a part of and even life itself. All the things were happening.
It had snowed briefly the previous day, but the gods of winter really decided to show the out-of-towners how ridiculous Minnesota’s weather can be by bringing the pain, snowflake style, on Friday morning.
I should take some time to mention that, by this time, I had become involved in the Tweeter. With a tweet, tweet here and a tweet, tweet there, I had hashtagged my way into the bustling Twitter conversation surrounding #AWP15. I think I quintupled my total tweet count in those three days. This was especially instrumental in sharing ideas (and witty quips) and learning about the experiences of the other folks at the conference since there wasn’t much time for hobnobbing around the wine stand.
Day two needed to end a little early for me. I had experienced literary overload and so cut out of the Louise Erdrich and Charles Baxter interview a bit early (don’t look at me like that) and headed for home where I lay in repose for approximately fifteen minutes before readying myself to embark on a journey to a birthday party.
And on the third day… No. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I just wanted to sleep and never think about books or writing again. Just kidding, but I was pretty sleepy and would shortly become very grouchy.
I started things off as right as possible with a maple bacon donut down the ol’ hatch and a second donut in the offing. Almond buttercream, for those wondering.
I know it doesn’t seem possible, but things took a sharp turn for the worse. I was presented with the not-so-rare opportunity to question my career plans. And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Suddenly, everything I had been working for seemed fruitless and downright ill-advised. I also had only eaten donuts that day, in my defense. I wasn’t properly nourished to hear the things I heard and come out unscathed.
Oh and people die. That’s right. You and all the people you love will die. Maybe soon! This is a great time to be reminded of our mortality, wouldn’t you say?
[Insert existential crisis #267 here.]
After a series of breathing exercises, wandering aimlessly through the bookfair, feigning interest in a continued existence and hearing the great Roxane Gay speak…I was feeling better.
Then I bought all the books and got the hell outta Dodge.
Overall, the AWP Conference was expensive, exhausting and inexplicably frustrating. And I wish I could do it everyday for the rest of forever until my untimely demise. I can’t describe the sadness that came over me on Monday morning after realizing I officially had to return to my real life. I am so glad that I attended and made the most of every moment. It was a learning experience unlike any I had previously had. Just being around people who speak the same “language” as I do when it comes to writing was so refreshing. I came away more inspired, informed and determined than I ever hoped to be.
Next year’s AWP Conference is in Los Angeles at the end of March. I highly recommend it. Remember to pack your fancy notebook portfolio. And maybe a stress ball.