Art Works Blog

Postcard from the AWP Writing Conference

What do you call it when 13,000 writers show up at the same place at the same time with nothing but literature on their minds? According to the ubiquitous tote bags, it's the annual literary convention/gabfest/"writers' family reunion" put on by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). This year the writers converged on Seattle, Washington's Convention Center to listen, take notes, and ask questions at more than 500 panel sessions and readings, and meet up with potential editors and publishers, former or future teachers and students, and, of course, each other while simultaneously browsing around 700 exhibitors in the AWP Bookfair. So who are these writers? Some come from all over the country (and the world) to attend, while others get to experience AWP--which takes place in a different U.S. (and sometimes Canadian) city each year--and play tour guide in their hometown. Some are teachers, some are students. Some run non-profit literary organizations, and some fit their writing lives around the demands of full-time work in other fields. Some are NEA Literature Fellows, and some jampack the presentations by NEA Literature staff on applying for prose and poetry fellowships. (AWP also received a grant from the NEA to support the 2014 conference.) And while some writers have been attending the conference for years, each conference also welcomes a healthy number of writers who are new to the conference. We asked Allison Joseph, poet, editor of Crab Orchard Review, and an AWP veteran, and Monica Carter, a writer, literary translator, and AWP first-timer, to share their experiences at this year's gathering.

 Post-it note that says "To make a home for myself in this world"

Another response to the question Why do you write? by an AWP participant.

 

ALLISON JOSEPH

 
NEA: What's your 10-word bio?
 
ALLISON JOSEPH: Poet and professor of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
 
NEA: How many times have you attended the AWP conference? Do you plan to go again?
 
JOSEPH: More times than I can remember/count. First time was  1989 or 1990.
 
NEA: Which three words do you think best describe the conference?
 
JOSEPH: Busy, energetic, electric.
 
NEA: What brought you to AWP this time?
 
JOSEPH: Readings to celebrate the publication of Jake Adam York's posthumous collection, Abide, and for the anniversary of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.
 
NEA: What do you look forward to most about AWP?
 
JOSEPH: Meeting my fellow writers from across this great country.
 
NEA: What's a favorite moment from the 2014 conference?
 
JOSEPH: The moment during the reading for Jake's new book where all the emotion caught up with me, and I began to sob. I prayed I had read his poems well.
 
NEA: What would you like to see more of at the conference?
 
JOSEPH: Scholarships for writers to attend the conference.
 
NEA: What's something you learned at AWP that has since made an impact on your work, or that you are excited to incorporate into your work going forward?
 
JOSEPH: Always travel with painkillers.
 
NEA: NEA: Who's someone you met at AWP that you might never have talked to otherwise? And why was that a significant meeting/conversation?
 
JOSEPH: I talk with/to anybody and everyone, so this question doesn't really fit me. I was on the AWP Board of Directors a few years back, so it was part of my duty to talk to as many people as I could.
 
NEA: What do you think the phrase "Art works" (the NEA's tagline) means when you apply it to AWP?
 
JOSEPH: Art is not static--it means movement. Sometimes that means moving a lot of books!
 
 Post-it note that says "To celebrate, ponder, lament, commiserate, and honor what it means to live with other travelers." K.A. Moon
Here's how another visitor to our table responded to the question: Why do you write?
 
MONICA CARTER
 
NEA: What's your 10-word bio?
 
MONICA CARTER: Monica Carter is a struggling writer who is never satisfied.
 
NEA: How many times have you attended the AWP conference? Do you plan to go again (and why or why not?)
 
CARTER: This was my first time attending the AWP conference and I definitely plan to attend again. The chance to share the love of the written word with thousands of other writers gathered in one place is too tempting to miss.
 
NEA: Which three words do you think best describe AWP?
 
CARTER: Overwhelming, inspiring and diverse.
 
 NEA: What brought you to AWP this time?
 
CARTER: I was asked by writer Laura Davis to participate in a panel, Peripheral Visionaries: Taking Action to Cultivate Literary Diversity, where we discussed the opportunities to broad the horizons of the literary landscape to include minority voices.
 
NEA: What did you look forward to most about AWP?
 
CARTER: I looked forward to discovering what other writers and publishers are doing to participate in the literary community, meeting old friends and making new friends, the readings, and the inspiration from the discussion and dialogues about creativity and promoting writing and reading.
 
NEA: What's a favorite moment from the 2014 conference?
 
CARTER: My favorite moment was my conversation with Ellery Washington (a great writer!) and his compliment on my reading the night before.
 
NEA: What would you like to see more of at the AWP conference?
 
CARTER: I am not sure I want to see more of one particular type of thing, but I think holding open discussions after certain panels would be very engaging so that the audience can participate and the dialogue can be opened up a bit.
 
NEA: What's something you learned at AWP that has since made an impact on your work, or that you are excited to incorporate into your work going forward?
 
CARTER: The energy of creativity I felt from other writers, from conversations, from readings motivated me to discover new boundaries in my own writing. Since AWP I have also sought to bring more diversity to my reading. Discovery of other voices always informs me, energizes me.
 
NEA: Who's someone you met at AWP that you might never have talked to otherwise? And why was that a significant meeting/conversation?
 
CARTER: Jen Fitzgerald, VIDA's Count Director, was on the same panel as I was.  She was very impressive and I probably wouldn't have met her otherwise. Meeting Jen made me much more aware of the politics involved in submitting my writing to literary journals and why it is important to challenge the male-domination in our literary landscape.
 
NEA: What do you think the phrase "Art works" (the NEA's tagline) means when you apply it to AWP?
 
CARTER: The art of writing is so significant and vital to culture and society, and AWP is place to remind ourselves as artists that no matter how difficult the process or how isolated we may feel during the process, it's impact matters.  What we do as writers matters and when we all gather together in one place, we can see the harvest of our work. Art works on so many levels and AWP is the exhibition of how it works. 
 

 

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