2017 AWP Conference Reflections

     The Association of Writers and Writing Programs held it’s annual conference and bookfair February 8-11, 2017 in Washington, D.C.. The AWP Conference is an opportunity for writers, teachers, editors, publishers, and everyone within the literary community to gather for four days of insightful discussion. Each year, AWP accumulates over 12,ooo attendees, with over 800 exhibitors and 550 events to explore. Several students from Widener University’s Creative Writing department had the opporunity to attend the 2017 conference. Below are two students’ reflections on their AWP experience:

Evan Kramer
     The 2017 AWP Conference in Washington, D.C. opened my eyes to a literary world that I never realized was so large in the United States. This was my first AWP experience; however, it was not my first writing conference, so I did have high expectations. Planning your panels and routes beforehand is a necessity at AWP because panels are operating around the clock with only fifteen minutes of time in between each one. I made these minor mistakes on the first day, but for the remaining days, I planned accordingly and learned a lot about writing, the future of writing, and all of this information shaped me into a stonger creative writer.
     One of the first panels that I attended was called “Writing in the Internet Age.” As a writer in the twenty first century, I view the Internet as technology that will be present in the world for the remainder of my life. The Internet and digital humanities is changing writing and thinking for all writers and readers, so attending this panel, in my opinion, would provide a lot of insight for me. The Internet is too fast to be studied, said the panelists, and it is a cure for loneliness and boredom, and a way to pull us out of the reality of the world. I learned that the Internet is a convenience for writers because it replaces a trip to the library by functioning as an online encyclopedia, but it can also slow down writing because it is distracting and sometimes addicting. A presence on the Internet is a requirement for writers so that readers and other followers know that you are alive and writing, so that they can develop trust with your work. Absence from the Internet creates suspicion, and for writers, it is critical to maintain an image through interacting online with other people, news topics, or by generating personal opinions.
     In addition to this helpful panel, I attended another one called “The Village of Your Novel,” which talked about how to manipulate the universe that you create as a writer. Writing a setting is important to me, as a creative writer, because I view it as the first step to taking my readers out of reality and into a new world that is worth visiting. I am currently in the process of writing a story in which two separate villages clash together.The panel inspired me to consider the boundaries of the village, the traditions, the internal alliances, and how a stranger entering is the catalyst of change, comedy and drama. The panelists used Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters as example because they create social novels with striking locations, such as Highbury from Emma and the Moors from Wuthering Heights. This panel got my creative juices flowing to produce more work because the panelists provided helpful tips to think about when designing a village for the characters’ events to unfold. The setting always interests me as a writer because it should inspire every reader to want to visit there. No matter how beautiful or deadly the village is, it should shine from behind the characters, their dialogue and the plot.
     The final reading of AWP included Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong, and it was entertaining to watch these vastly different poets present their work. As a student who is easily discouraged from reading out loud, I paid close attention to their delivery. Out of all of them, Terrance Hayes was my favorite because he frequently interacted with the crowd and he improvised, almost like a stand up comedian, before returning to his content. Hayes produced the most controversial poems and presented his poetry with a confidence that differed very much from Ocean Vuong, who carefully approached the podium and read with a gentle innocence. It was a perfect contrast, and their topics approached different things, yet still impacted the audience in many ways and deserved standing ovations. I heard of Vuong and Hayes previously before going to AWP, but watching and listening to the way they deliver their work on stage was something that reading a book cannot recreate.
     Exploring the book fair and interacting with many publishers and schools was my favorite part of AWP and it did not fail to reach my expectations. I did not explore every booth of the book fair because of its immense size, but I did obtain a wide range of novels, chapbooks, and books about craft. AWP taught me new things about the literary community across the United States, and how the writing life is continuing to transform as the country heads into new eras and as new technology rapidly influences American trends. I plan on attending the 2018 AWP Conference next year in Tampa Bay because I learned so much, and believe it is an informative event to attend, as well as an important place to show yourself as a member of the literary community.

Taylor Blum
     I had an amazing time at the AWP conference in D.C. I was not sure what to expect, and I was a bit apprehensive, but I am extremely glad that I went. I also had a great time with my fellow students, and I had a great time getting to know everyone better. The number of panels and readings set up was amazing, so it was easy to find something to go to during each time session.
     One that particularly stood out to me on the first day was the “Adaptation in Three Acts: Adventures in Adapting Material for Scripts” panel. It was not entirely what I thought it would be, but I was very interested in the projects that the speakers were working on. One speaker, David Shields, talked about his project I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, which he first created as a book, and then made into a movie with the help of James Franco. The book is essentially an argument between him and his friend over a wide variety of topics, with an overarching theme of the balance between art and life. Shields posed an interesting question about a person who sees themselves as an artist, and if they see themselves as such, how committed to life would they be if they have a need to commit themselves to art. Can there be a balance without neglecting one side? What I found particularly amazing about his story is that James Franco, who went to the same graduate school that Shields taught at, offered to make his book into a film. I find his whole project fascinating, because it is something that is not really done. To publish a book that is, as Shields put it, a “manuscript of discussions” and then get the chance to bring the discussions to film is unique. Another speaker talked about her project of taking a woman’s life story and adapting it into a book and how a playwright got wind of the story and took to adapting it for the stage. No speaker at this panel had the same story when it came to adaptation, so what I took from this is that there really are infinite ways to make a story accessible.
     Another panel that I enjoyed excessively, was “Coming of Age: The Blurry Line Between Adult and YA Literature.” This panel featured many established writers of Young Adult (YA) literature, such as Jason Reynolds, as they discussed the art of YA literature, their struggles throughout the community and industry, and the distinction between adult fiction. What I loved the most about this panel was the honesty of the speakers. They did not behave as if they were anything special because they were published authors, or that they were untouchable, but instead acted real and treated the audience as friends. While I have not read any of the speakers’ work, I feel this is probably reflected in their writing. They all brought up how 80% of YA books are bought by adults and that teenagers will read adult books if they are interested enough, because young people do not care about the YA or adult distinction. They also brought up that the genre of YA was created to sell more books, and that the decision to publish their stories is purely based on marketing techniques and what people in the publishing industry think will sell. It was a very honest discussion about publishing and marketing which I appreciated from an aspiring writer standpoint. They were also very honest about how it is harder for non-white writers to find a place in publishing and getting non-white stories told. Part of this issue comes from, racism, of course, but also the way certain publishing and marketing higher ups think that teens should be portrayed and the type of stories they think they can be in. Jason Reynolds spoke a lot on this, as he writes stories about black youth doing mundane things, but there is a stigma in the industry that that is not typical for black youth. Reynolds spoke a lot about how teens can be turned off stories if they feel they are not represented properly, which I also agree with. I know I do not want to read a story with a depiction of females that is constantly unrealistic (although, I have been faced with a lot of that in literature), and I can see how that can be a real problem for non-white people reading literature. This panel covered a lot of important topics, while also reaffirming my love for literature. That is what I loved the most about the conference, the sense of community between everyone there.

     The book fair was a great experience, and I really underestimated just how big it would be. I was slightly overwhelmed at first, but luckily, I had three days to walk through it. It felt almost empowering to see how many literary journals are actively engage in the community, and their effort to gather more submissions and readers. I really enjoyed visiting each booth, learning about their journals, and seeing their artistic endeavors.  Making connections with the people tabling was also fun, as I spoke to a lot of people who enjoyed the community and the friends that they have made over the years. I had never been in a situation where everyone around me all shared the same sentiments and love for similar things. It was amazing to be in a community where I could start a conversation with anyone and know that we would agree or share similar thoughts. Knowing that everyone around me loved literature and writing was something I was not used to, and really helped me ground myself in my love and dedication to the arts. Every day I felt motivated to dedicate myself to language and the writing craft. I feel inspired to hone my skills in writing and delve deeper into this community.

For more information about the AWP Conference click here.

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