OK. Let’s Talk About AWP

OK. Let’s Talk About AWP

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AWP is one of the things you need to do in grad school: You get a student rate, you will be affiliated with a college and, most likely, a journal, and you will still be young and able to withstand the exhaustion. I won’t spend to much time telling you what it is, but you can check out their page for info.

For me, AWP is a writing conference where you get to see your old friends, meet your Internet friends, and meet new folks. And sometimes you work a table for a journal or press, and sometimes you get to read at college readings. I mean, really, the book fair and offsite readings are why I go. I haven’t been to a panel since Denver, when I saw a job panel on life after an MFA—it was a bummer, and there were some prickly people who thought the panel was gonna tell them how to get a job. Nightmare. I went to other panels in Denver and really wasn’t that into them. That said, the panels are sometimes super amazing and you get to see big shots talk about poetry or whatever. The thing is, those real good ones fill up fast. In fact, I shouldn’t say I’m not into them so much as that the ones I really am interested in are already full by the time I show up. And really, I’m never that bummed, because I’m mostly interested in the book fair.

The book fair is amazing, daunting, and can be depressing for some. It’s wall-to-wall small presses, university presses, journals, programs, and other related things. Sometimes two floors! I love it. I just wander and wander and wander. I love it because it is proof that the printed word is still kicking. Every year there are hot young presses with hot young books by hot young poets and writers! It makes me feel like we’re all a part of something alive.

If AWP was just a book fair and the panels, it would be worth the money and the time to go. After all, it’s not so much about learning as much as it’s about the community. BUT the offsite readings have become what people really come for. I mean, I went to two readings at bars that were at capacity, and there was a line out the door. Hundreds of people showing up for poetry! There’s always something happening that just floors you. This year I experienced the Black Ocean party (300 folks inside for poetry, and a line outside!) and the Dean Young thing! Last year, I read with all these poets until late in the night in some small theater in Wicker Park like we were all old friends! My buddy Ryan, in DC, saw Matt Hart read at the National Monument, at this guerrilla reading! There’s always something you miss and always something you get to witness.

I know there are some folks who are jaded about AWP or get sick of the crazies pitching their work to everyone and walking around either pissed at everything or just naive and unaware of the etiquette. But come on people! Where else do all your writer friends hangout at one time? Where else are there this many presses and this many books and this much excitement about words?

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This post is a nudge to people to make sure you budget your spring for AWP. Find out about tickets and hotel prices and set that money aside or apply for travel grants or bug your department for some help. The point is to go while in grad school.

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But don’t go expecting anything, and don’t plan anything. Just go and wander the book fair with your friends and get lost and pick up books and if you hear about a reading or panel, go. And when the book fair closes, get off the site and go find it and be a part of something. And, for the love of god, don’t say you can’t afford it. Make it work. Buy one less whiskey sour all fall, and save that. Buy one less Big Mac, and go.

NEXT YEAR, SEATTLE! Be there. I will.