Andromeda/Your Turn: AWP, Yea or Nay?

Anyone going to the AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference, Feb 2-5, in Washington D.C.?

I’m dedicating today’s post to AWP because I figure other Alaska writers, especially ones without a strong university affiliation, may be as unfamiliar with the conference as I was before last year, when I first attended the Denver conference. I’d had friends urge me to go several years running, but I misunderstood the conference’s themes. I thought it was all about academia — professors talking to other professors about writing within academia’s walls. Yes, there are indeed panels on pedagogy, as well as an enormous bookfair that demonstrates how many literary journals and small presses are still joyfully cranking out the printed page. But it’s waaaay bigger than that.

Picture something like 6,000 participants (rough estimate) wandering several hotel floors, choosing from between about twenty different panels/seminars each 75-minute time block. The printed schedule alone runs about 50 pages. Typical seminar titles: “Ripping More Than a Bodice: Historical Fiction as Inquiry.” “Seriously Funny.” “Status Update: The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook.” “Undivided: Poet as Public Citizen…” There is no way to attend it all. In fact, there’s no way to attend more than about five percent. But that embarrassment of riches is part of what makes the craft-conscious conference such a good deal.

Alaskans will be giving some of these talks. On Thursday from noon to 1:15 pm, Nancy Lord and Sherry Simpson will be on the panel “Imagining Ourselves: The Narrative Stance in Memoir.” On Friday from 10:30 to 11:45 am, I’ll be on the panel, “How to start a literary center and thrive through the decades.” Our 49 writers friend, David Vann, will be doing a reading with other AWP award winners on Friday at 1:30. Out in the bustle of the Bookfair, I expect to spot Ken Waldman — and no doubt many other Alaskan writers and independent publishers as well. Many, many U of A writers and teachers (Peggy Shumaker, David Stevenson, Kathy Tarr, lots of MFA students) were at the Denver conference, and I expect many of them will be in D.C. as well.

Are you going? Speaking? Selling? Let us know.

And if you can’t go this year, the 2012 conference takes place in Chicago.

4 thoughts on “Andromeda/Your Turn: AWP, Yea or Nay?”

  1. The first AWP conference I went to was in Seattle around 1978. About 600 writers attended and it was possible to get to know many of them. Over the years quite a few close friendships have started at AWP. Size is now a problem, though–too many people, too many events. Even though the conference is always well-organized, it can feel chaotic at first. Fortunately, the average quality of events is good and many are excellent. But it's best to check the schedule on-line (see Andromeda's post) and do some planning in advance. Be aware, however, that not all the events are listed there. Many off-site readings take place at nearby bookstores, churches and bars. These can provide a pleasant break from the glitzy conference hotel. Check them out on-line at
    The bookfair shouldn't be missed. Prices tend to be low and they get lower as the conference proceeds. Besides good things can happen there. Three years ago in NYC, Jessie Lendennie of Salmon Poetry asked if I had a manuscript she could look at. I said, "Do you want to see the long version or the short one?" She said to send the long one and that's how Spear-Fishing on the Chatanika, my new and selected poems, found a home.

  2. Also on the schedule is a tribute to Alaska poet John Haines by a distinguished group of writers, including poet and past National Endowment Chair Dana Gioia. The Alaska State Council on the Arts is providing travel support for Mr. Haines to attend this conference, and we're delighted to do so. Although I won't be there, it sounds like it will be a wonderful event – and very fitting for one of Alaska's best known poets.

  3. Great comments! I'm very happy to hear that 2013 is in Seattle. I'll skip windy, cold Chicago in favor of the Pacific NW.

    Thanks for your memories, John — wow, it used to have only 600 attendees?! And what a great example you provided of opportunities that can happen when you're in the right place.

    Charlotte — the John Haines tribute! Essential! So glad you pointed that out. I'd love for someone to write us a post about it, post-AWP.

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