This year’s annual conference for the Association of Writers & Writing Program, commonly known among writers as “AWP,” was held March 23-26 in Philadelphia, PA.
Billed as the “annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers of contemporary creative writing,” it’s THE main event for writers. If you follow writers on Twitter, “Who’s going to AWP?” was a common thread all last month.
Q: So this was your first time attending AWP, what convinced you to go this year?
A: I was just curious to see what AWP was all about. I heard writers on Twitter talking about this giant gathering of writers and I was intrigued. I looked at some of the panel descriptions and there were several memoir-specific offerings. I’m currently working on a memoir. Also, I’m a PEN America Emerging Voice fellow and my cohort leader, Natalie Lima, was attending. I knew that it would be a great opportunity to meet her and connect with some of the other writers from my Creative Nonfiction group.
Q: Was the conference as you expected or did something surprise you?
A: The book fair really surprised me! It was huge! I had imagined it would just be like an aisle of books for sale, like a school’s book fair. Yes, there were books for sale, and yes, there were authors signing books, but there was also so much more. There were tables of literary presses and magazines along with some creative writing colleges and writing programs. It was so big, that if there was a specific lit mag you were looking for, you definitely had to refer to the map to find it!
As someone who submits to literary magazines, I was able to meet the people on the other side of Submittable. Everyone I met was really friendly and down-to-earth. It showed me that all these editors and writers are regular people. If you see a famous editor of a prominent lit mag eat a sandwich, you can’t help but think “oh, he’s just a normal guy.”
Recently, I had a piece published in the Crazy Horse journal so I went looking for that table, and I found an author I admire, T Kira Madden, manning the table! I wish I had my book with me so she could have signed it.
I was also able to go talk to some indie presses that I’ve been considering querying.
Making those connections at the book fair was invaluable!
Q: Wow, the book fair sounds awesome! What other programs or events did you think were most valuable?
A: After the official event, every night there were off-site readings, often held at quirky coffee shops or bars. You got to hear people’s stories and hobnob with writers. It was fun!
Q: We understand you participated in an off-site reading yourself. Can you tell us a little about that?
A: Natalie Lima organized a reading with some writers she knew. I appreciated the invitation to read. It was nerve-wracking but also very cool. The place was packed and there were editors and literary agents in the audience. As writers, we have to get used to reading and promoting our books to audiences. It was a great opportunity.
Q: Would you recommend writers attend AWP? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely! It is an opportunity to engage with writers from across the nation: California, Texas, Chicago, Atlanta, all over. I felt connected to the writer community on a national level.
Even though the event was a lot—I was definitely worn out from the book fair, panels, and readings—I left feeling reenergized with my craft. And it was educational. At the panels I attended, I learned new techniques and ways of thinking about writing and my memoir specifically.
Q: What advice would you give future attendees on how to best navigate the event?
A: Well, first I would say, save up! It’s in Seattle next year. Also, when you register, make sure to review all the panels and make yourself a daily schedule. It’s important to go into AWP with a daily plan, even if you go off-script sometimes. And finally, make sure you bring a back-friendly bag to the book fair. I had an over-the-shoulder satchel and by the end of my book fair tour, my shoulder was killing me from carrying all the books. And don’t forget to save room in your suitcase on the return trip for all the books you’ll have purchased.
Q: Do you plan on going to AWP 2023 in Seattle?
A: We’ll see … I am saving my frequent flyer miles. I would really like to go!
Thanks, Shanda, for taking the time to answer our questions about AWP!