On March 7, four Widener English majors and four faculty members–including five Blue Route members!– traveled to Tampa, Florida to attend the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Along with nearly 12,000 other writers, readers, editors, and publishers, we enjoyed three amazing days of panels, networking opportunities, enlightening readings and keynotes speeches, and of course, the sunshine! Read on for a few words from three senior English majors about their time in Tampa!
This year’s conference was truly the ride of a lifetime and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.
The ride of a lifetime literally began with a ride that felt like a lifetime—17 hours down the east coast as we escaped early from an impending winter storm! It was an exhausting way to begin our weekend but come the next morning, we were all ready to go for whatever the conference brought!
One of the best things I did at the conference was visit the Traveling Stanzas exhibit. The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University received a grant to create a world of interactive exhibits in conversation with the immigrant and refugee community in Akron, Ohio. At the exhibit, you could add a line to their community poem, create your own poem from speeches from people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Emma Gonzalez, and listen to immigrant and refugee community members talk about and read the poetry they created through Wick Center workshops. I was blown away by the scope of the work and the ways in which poetry had a direct effect for the better on the Akron community. Sometimes the scope of what authors and editors and publishers can really do in the world feels small to me, especially when we’re all packed in one convention center, the thousands of us all individually vying to put our name out there. This exhibit was enlightening as to how much good words can do.
That afternoon, we all went to the National Book Critics Circle reading with Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore, and Dana Spiotta. I enjoyed getting to hear these big-name authors speak so candidly and joyfully about creating; Lorrie Moore in particular was strikingly funny and I was laughing out loud at some of her comments.
I really enjoyed this year’s AWP conference in Tampa, Florida. In addition to enjoying beautiful, warm weather, I met some amazing people, attended interesting panels, heard inspiring speakers, and spent some quality time with my Widener friends. My highlights of the trip were attending the Keynote by George Saunders, meeting Rita Dove, a handful of panels, and stopping by the Emerson College booths at the book fair.
Prior to attending AWP 2018, I had read a couple of George Saunders’ short stories, including “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” which is one that I think about quite often. I also own his short story collection Tenth of December which I haven’t read but look forward to reading now. His writing style is unique, and I am often struck by his tendency to push against stereotypes of what makes “good literary writing.” By that I just mean that his writing is not overly flowy or ornamental—he usually gets to the point quickly and efficiently. The circumstances of his stories and characters are always unusual, twisting our reality and running into the genre of speculative fiction. Hearing him speak at the Keynote made me appreciate his writing even more, because he seems like a really funny, down-to-earth person.
Another highlight of the trip was meeting Rita Dove. I heard her speak at last year’s AWP in Washington, D.C. This year, she just happened to be at the Traveling Stanzas exhibit at the same time as me, and I had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked her poetry. It wasn’t a deep or lengthy conversation, but I got to speak to her in person, so it was still pretty cool!
Attending the AWP conference solidified my decision in continuing on to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing. My experience was uniquely designed around my interests, and I was able to network with a variety of publications, graduate schools, and other like-minded individuals. My days were filled with panels, and the massive book fair filled with everything from small university presses to large commonly known publications. Spending time around people who have similar passions and have so much knowledge and wisdom to offer and pass down is an experience in and of itself that I would not trade for anything.
The AWP bookfair was a continuous event that was held every day of the conference. It was absolutely massive, and took the entire conference for us to get through the whole thing. This was the place where networking was the most important. I had the ability to talk to so many people, ranging everywhere from grad students to publishers. I even made my decision on which graduate school to attend by talking to the director of the MFA program at Rosemont, who was at their literary journal’s table. After speaking to her for quite a while, I left confident in my future decisions. Along my path up and down the isles of the book fair, I also met a woman who was the director of the International Women Writers Guild, who I had the pleasure of speaking with for some time. We discussed fiction writing, feminism, activism, and social justice, and I left that table with a free honorary membership to the guild, and a chance to visit a conference next fall. This book fair showed me the importance of networking and the value of relationships in the professional world, not to mention I left the bookfair with about 20 new books to add to my collection.
AWP was an experience I would recommend to anyone who loves writing, or literature in general. It’s an invaluable experience that I hope many more students after me get to continue to have.
Written by Emma Irving