AWP Part 1: The Decision

“Do you want to go to AWP with me?” Michelle asked. “I need to know soon. Like by today.” 

That’s how I ended up going to the annual conference of the AWP, which I think but couldn’t guarantee stands for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (but then why isn’t it AWWP?). Every year, a bunch of our writing friends go, while Michelle and I gawk at their happy pictures on Facebook, wondering, how did they get the time off work? How long are they staying? What do you even do at a creative writing conference? 

This year, an incredible confluence of events meant that my best writing friend Michelle had to go to AWP. For a change, it was scheduled during our spring break, across the state rather than across the country, and she just published a book she needed to market. 

I hate conferences. I might have mentioned this before. I was force-fed a horrible diet of yearly conferences as a graduate student. Now I feel about conferences the way a lot of people raised in the 70’s feel about carob. It didn’t taste good, and the people who said it was good for me were lying. 

But this was our BIG OPPORTUNITY to go to AWP without missing any classes (teachers hate missing classes), and anyway, I wanted to see Michelle do all her readings and panels and book signings. So we registered, booked a flight, reserved a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. 

As spring break approached, I got nervous. I really wanted to spend spring break writing and catching up on my grading. If I wasn’t going to do that, I’d better make this conference worthwhile. I looked through the endless list of panels and activities. There were dozens of panels each day, fifteen at a time. Panels on writing, panels on publishing, panels on teaching. Panels on diversity and writing. Panels on parenting and writing. Panels in tribute to this and that author. Prose panels. Poetry panels. And of course, panels of advice from real literary agents, who probably would have the longest lines of people waiting to talk to them and hand them a business card and book proposal after the panel.

It reminded me of my least favorite conference, the one held annually by the Modern Language Association, which every English grad student needs to attend if they are looking for a job. A giant conference filled with useless panel sessions, grad students giving talks solely for the purpose of getting their departments to fund their trip, panels with audiences that were smaller than the panel itself. 

And then, that sense of desperation, of everyone’s needy ego, of desperate desire. These big conferences are like New York–you go there starry-eyed and full of big dreams, leave starved and deflated. 

It was to much to figure out ahead of time. I was going to wing it. But just in case, I rewrote the synopsis for my novel, printed out ten copies and stuck them in my suitcase. 

>Part 2

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