Daryl Farmer: AWP and the Joy of Community


Daryl Farmer

I’m in Seattle joining the hordes as we ride the escalator
to the top floor of the Washington State Convention Center. This is AWP, the
Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual Conference and Book Fair. The
conference is a writer and book lover extravaganza: panels, speakers, readings,
social events, literary journals and books, books, books. I have been told
there will be somewhere around 15,000 people this year, the most ever.  
As I move through the rows and rows of exhibitor tables
(over 650 in all), I peruse new issues of favorite journals, and greet familiar
faces, many I haven’t seen since last year’s conference. The word that gets
bandied around a lot is “overwhelming.” This is not a bad thing. What the
Christmas holiday is to my gathering family, AWP is to my professional
community. So many and so much that I love all together, and only three days to
take it all in. It can be exhilarating and exhausting.
What I thought about mostly as I roamed the aisles was how
important writing community is for me. How much being surrounded by books and
authors makes me want to push myself forward. Makes me not only want to write,
but to write something that matters.
This is my tenth year attending the conference. My first, I
was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Several of us
were assigned to work at the Prairie
(the UNL literary journal) table.
Our tendency was to hover around the table, even beyond our shifts, trying to
look as though we belonged, trying not to falter behind the fear that we might
When I first moved to Alaska, and was living in the village
of Nondalton, I used to read a book a week. I fell in love with the books, and
the authors. I considered their work heroic, and I tried to emulate it as best
I could.  Some nights I would take long
walks through the snow along the lakeshore and try to imagine what it would be
to write my own books. The whole world of publishing was a big romantic mystery
to me.
I have since met many of the authors I read at that time.
Some have become friends.  The romance
has softened only slightly, and my admiration for the work has grown. Almost
all are as good of people as I imagined they’d be.
When I first started attending AWP, the joy was in seeing
and meeting “big name” writers. But it is less about that now. Last night I
went out with a group of friends, all fellow grad students from UNL. To study
creative writing is a blind leap into a murky pool. A risk with no promises. We
have all published now, and all have university jobs scattered from Arkansas to
Michigan to San Francisco to here in Alaska. Though it embarrasses me some to
use it, the word love is not too strong a word for how I feel about them.
My second biggest highlight was tonight, also a night out
for dinner, this time with a group of current students and recent graduates
from the UAF MFA creative writing program where I teach.  As I look around the table I see for them the
futures I once hoped for my grad student friends and myself. I sometimes
cynically fear the end of all this. In dark moments I think I hear the
death-knell ring for creative writing and the humanities. But I do not feel
that way tonight. Tonight I believe that the human need for art, for writing,
for poetry, for story is too great.  And
in a community that fosters them, there is a wealth that cannot be measured; a
past, a future, a depth.  That I have
inserted myself here and that I am a part of this, humbles me. And tomorrow I
will write and I will write and I will write. 
How about you fellow Alaskan AWPers: what were some of your
best moments at the conference?
Daryl Farmer’s
first book Bicycling beyond the
Divide received a Barnes and Noble
Discover Award. His recent work
has appeared in
Grist, The Whitefish Review, The Potomac Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Fourth
River. He is an assistant
professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he teaches creative
nonfiction writing.

2 thoughts on “Daryl Farmer: AWP and the Joy of Community”

  1. Joy of community is exactly right, Daryl. I attended some great sessions, was inspired by readings and writers I've long admired, but connecting with other writers and feeling part of a writing community was the highlight for me. I loved meeting new writers and seeing old friends. It helped to spark ideas and reinforce my commitment to writing.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Daryl, I missed AWP this year — all the more reason to enjoy your inspirational post. Thanks!

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