Monday, March 05, 2012

AWP Redux

My last visit to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference was in 2007. Nobody was talking about YA. Blogs were an outlier. Facebook was for college kids. Twitter didn't exist. Don't even get me started on the absence of the "word" ebook. Amazon? Nobody was threatened by them then; Barnes & Noble were still referred to as Big & Nasty by the Indies.

Seems a fantastic futuristic pitch back then would have been a Sci/Fi set in 2012.

Of course, some of the same old, same old seminars were prevalent. Truth in memoir, POV, building a strong writing program, the connection between creative nonfiction and poetry, etcetera. The book fair was a vast and curious place that had to be experienced in increments lest participants (particularly middle aged female participants) fell prey to lethal hot flashes.

Chicago was its windy, flat early March self, ranging from 50 degree tolerable to flurries and bone chill. The Palmer House's Sistine Chapelesque lobby turned out to be my favorite place to hang out and visit with writing chums.

I finally met a group of women I've been buddies with online this last year--which was, I think, worth the price of admission. I also ran into old friends from grad school, and a woman I met back in 19fucking95 at the Prague Summer Writers' Workshop. Which really brought home the sense that the conference was replete with teenagers. Smart teenagers, but teenagers never-the-less.

The thing about this huge event that I both love and loathe, is the finding the gem in the chaos of an untended treasure chest syndrome. Seriously, my jewelry dish, with its knot of baubles, is an apt metaphor for my particular experience. Where are my favorite earrings? What ever happened to my strand of pearls? It was as though I were moving through my bling with fingerless hands--I felt slow, behind, quick-sanded. I felt anxious after settling onto a patch of floor behind a pillar once I finally decided on a particular seminar--wondering what I was missing in the Hilton down the street. Ill-prepared note-taking-wise, I ended up scribbling upon scraps of paper I'd found in my room, and on the backs of handouts from the yoga teacher in the hotel gym. It didn't help, I guess, that I sort of had this virusy, fluish thing going on the whole time.

Overall, it was like my trip last year to Disneyworld. I had four days and too many options. I was torn between trying to fill every minute with adventure and experience, and selecting a few peak options, and percolating my way through them. In the end, I did it both ways.

How about you folks? Do you like big, ambitious metropolitan conferences, or are you more of a cabin-in-the-woods with a book type?


  1. Once I attended some sort of public-reading-thingy circle with some people. Most folks were writing suicidal poetry and the topics were soooo cliché (I love him, I hate him, I want to fuck him/her/have an orgy but I can't allow these thoughts, blahblahblah).

    But what I hated most was how everyone thought they were the. fuckin. best. writers. there. ever. were. or. will. be.

    That's why I don't socialize with these people.

    Nice expection to that rule is the class I am taking, with you and other folks. I enjoy that company.

  2. Hi Jakub,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and the kind words about your experience with the LitReactor folks. I agree that we have a special crew in our class. Writers who love to write, want to explore craft, but are not hung up on the who's-better-or-more-significantly-more-published-than-who trap.

    This AWP conference had writers of all types. I've learned, over the years, to stay clear of the high brow kiss my feet shit, and I have to say, I really had a fantastic time with the writers with whom I hung.

  3. Hi Suzy! Great to see you at AWP--even if it was for overly short blips of time...

    This was my first time at AWP. I was a bit shell-shocked by the size of it, but I still loved the experience. The key for me was to just focus on the aspect of the conference that interested me and not to expect to do it all, regardless of whether that was the smartest way to do it... I went to a few panels, did a little bit of schmoozing, but mostly just hung out with old & new writerly friends.

  4. Great to finally meet you there, Suzy, even if I had to chase you through that Sistine Chapel of a Lobby to do it.

    Honestly, as good as it was, it's such sensory overload. What did I learn that I can actually use, that I didn't already know? Tell the truth in your memoir. Write your best book. Craft means work. But still ... there I was! And it was fun, mostly because I got to hang out with the girls.

    I'd love a cabin in the woods, as long as there are enough cabins for about 10 of us and we can meet at the center campfire every evening for cocktails.

  5. Suzy, So good to see you, and I'm with you on the time there - breath-taking in wonderful and hard ways. . . and you'd think we writers could do better than fill odd pieces of paper with notes. Mine are inside my planner . . . at least I - probably - won't lose them.

  6. Yuvi, Teri and Andi--All your names end in "i"! What a crazy piece of serendipity.

    Thanks for the input and comments.

    Yuvi, you are no longer an AWP virgin. Welcome to the club!

    Teri, amen Sistah. Big cabin in the woods. Maybe we should create our own massive retreat. I'm thinking Mexico. Tequila. Fun clinking glasses with you, and thanks for chasing my ass down in the Palmer House!

    Andi, so loved our catching up conversation. You are doing some amazing things, and you lit up the room with your buzz. I'll be following you, woman!

  7. Love the jewelry metaphor. And I too constantly felt like I was always missing something. I really did miss out on not seeing some excellent authors read -- I attended mostly panel discussions (without really planning to. But that was my problem; I didn't plan well). But I ended the week on a high note at The Sun event, which was a treat.

    Now I'm back at home and am good and sick -- surely thanks to the exhaustion and all that drinking. Oh well. It was worth it!

  8. this year's AWP was my first writing conference and i couldn't have had my cherry popped by a more generous event.

    (of course, it wouldn't have been nearly as fun without you, teri, lyra and laura!)

    i can't wait until our get together on your and Teri's side of the world.

  9. Anonymous7:53 PM

    (Note to Laura: The booze flushes out the germs. The stopping did you in.)

    Yes to being torn between filling every moment and selecting the few peak options. I ended up doing the latter on the last day and am thankful for that moment of clarity/sanity.
    It was such a pleasure to spend time with you, a woman smart enough to get us some caramel fudge before getting us the hell out of that crowded bookfair/basement. Sheer wisdom right there.
    I look forward to next time (and for those keeping score, tequila and a beach or wine in a cabin around a campfire, I'm flexible...).

  10. Laura and Amy and Lyra. Sigh. Miss you all already. I'm sitting here eating my Kashi Mayan tv dinner in its plastic tray longing for that mountain of fudge on that bookfair table.

    I, too, wish I'd gone to more readings and less yackings. And, Laura, you hit it aptly with the poor planning comment. It really does come down to that! Next time, I'll be smart like Teri and print out my plan, highlighter in hand. It's a fucking crime that along with, gulp, age, comes an increasing need to think ahead. I want to be that teenager again, winging it, drinking 'til 4, and serendipitously wafting from thing to thing. Alas.

  11. Thanks, Suzy. I'd say your post is "the next best thing to being there," but reading it I actually feel like hearing it from you even better than being there!

  12. I'm still waiting to go to my first conference, but you can bet it will be one where you and the rest of the gang are. I'm starting a special savings just for conferences and keeping a cache of vacation days for the same.

  13. Sara and Lisa--you must do the Boston one next year. If for no other reason than to meet each other!

  14. I'm attending my first writers conference in May. It's a warm up to next year's AWP. Hope you will be there too, Suzy.

  15. For the record: I would love to have a mini writers retreat here. 4 or 5 of us. We can hike the mountains or visit the ocean in the morning, and work all day at our gorgeous new library.

    Then, of course, we can sit on my patio --- where it rarely rains --- and drink wine and grill food and gossip before a great night's sleep.

    I'm not kidding. I'm not!!!


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