It’s a grey Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia, and the city is roaring at its rambunctious state of equilibrium. To most, its business as usual with mobbed crosswalks and blaring car horns operating around the clock, but in one relatively small section of a tremendously large city, thousands of writers are gearing for Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), one of the biggest events in the industry.
I am one of those writers and for all the commotion that was about to ensue, the conference attendees felt oddly quiet. Maybe it’s because as writers, our voices ring loudest on the page, but there was a calmness that afternoon, and it really continued throughout the length of the conference.
This was my thought process as I arrived and prepared for my first in-person AWP conference. The event was massive and packed an incredible amount of activity within the Philadelphia Convention Center. It was almost overwhelming trying to take in the plethora of events continuously running throughout the day, on top of the largest book fair I have ever seen and off-site readings.
I did my best to prepare in advance for the event, and I planned which panelists and topics I was dead-set on attending, along with major publications I needed to see at the book-fair. I would recommend that anyone thinking of attending to do the same because there is just so much to explore. While it is difficult to pick just one favorite from the conference, I would have to say I enjoyed Toi Derricotte’s keynote presentation the best. Not only is the keynote speaker an event where the entire Widener group attends together, but it was such a joyous and inspiring night. Toi Derricotte is truly one of a kind.
Despite being limited by the hours in the day, it was nice hearing from fellow Widener students and faculty about events they attended; everyone did their own thing, so it was great to hear what went on in events that I may have wanted to attend but didn’t get the time.
Here are some reflections from a couple creative writing students on their time at the conference.
“I visited the bookfair almost every day that I was there. At first. I walked back and forth without much of a plan, but I ultimately began talking to people at the tables. I thought it would be awkward, or the people would be overly eager to get me to sign up/pay for things, but it was actually a very enjoyable experience. I got to talk to people and learn about various presses and literary magazines. I also bought several books that I would not have known about otherwise. Some were even signed by the author. I will admit that I sometimes felt obligated to buy a book if the author was there and promoting it, which is an odd feeling that I had never really considered beforehand.”
“The first in person session I attended was a Brevity journal reading by four authors who have had their nonfiction published there in the past. I think this might have been my favorite session of the entire conference because the pieces were incredibly moving and vastly different though they were all a part of the same genre. It gave me reassurance that nonfiction involving trauma does not automatically mean it is boring or cannot generate an audience, nor does every nonfiction piece sound the same. One of the panelists, Ira Sukrungruang, had been a visiting writer at Widener in the past and I was already a fan of his work going into AWP this year, so it was especially exciting to both see him and hear his work read. Interestingly, one of the panelists had studied under another, so that was quite inspiring to see a student and teacher succeeding side by side. Looking back at the notes I took during this session; I realize I wrote that nonfiction does not have to be limited to traumatic or otherwise negative events; nonfiction pieces can be about anything true such as vandalism of library books or reading someone else’s letter to a lover.”
Everyone in our group came away with something different from their time at the conference. Despite us all being there and experiencing the event together, everyone left with their own unique story to tell.