Every year, over 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers gather for the largest literary conference in North America, held by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, more commonly known as AWP.
Founded in 1967, AWP is also a non-profit that supports nearly 50,000 writers, 550 college and university creative writing programs, and 150 writers’ conferences and centers. Their mission is “to foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.”
The conference is, to say the least, a testament to the uniting force of this organization. AWP 2016 (March 31st to April 2nd) was in L.A. for the first time in over a decade, hosted downtown at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The program consisted of 550 events, 2,000 presenters, and more than 800 presses, journals, and organizations from around the world. For three days, thousands of creatives attend panels, readings, a book fair, and slews of off-site events at bars and bookstores, networking and building community. This year, I had the opportunity to be one of them.
AWP infused me in a wealth of knowledge, connections, and inspiration and reawakened my love for particular genres and topics. I walked through the immense book fair, free tote bags hanging from my shoulders, in awe of the endless publications that I could read and send my work to. (Really, the book fair was enormous. I had to split up my exploration of the booths among two days.) I went home with a few literary journals, tons of bookmarks, and novels that I now hold onto as evidence of a worldwide network of writers that I do not necessarily encounter everyday in such a direct way.
Craft & Career: Learning from Panels
I attended panels such as “The Year of Practical Thinking: Getting a First Book to Print,” “No Place Like Home: Setting in the Contemporary Short Story,” and “Girls on Fire: Beyond the ‘Strong’ Female Character in Books for Young Readers.” I learned that published writers are businesspeople; setting is not always a place, but a feeling; and the word “strong” is surprisingly limiting as a descriptor of character. The panelists–who, in addition to being published writers, had careers in teaching, non-profit administration, service, and business–were artists and professionals, demonstrating the achievability of building a life that is both creative and sustainable.
A Worldwide Community
One of the most crucial takeaways from my experience at AWP is that I, as a writer, am part of a large community. Since writing is more or less a solitary profession–or rather, process–I think that it is easy to forget that there are so many folks out there who share the same wild passion for the written word. Admittedly, this is intimidating: as a writer, I am competing with thousands, millions of other hopefuls who want to see their work in print. Yet, this also means that I can connect with so many others, all around the world, on a beautifully deep level.
My overall experience at AWP could be described as…encouraging. There I was, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, filled with thousands of people who advocate for the immense value of the written word. Yes, all of these panels, readings, and book fair visits told me. Your passions and your goals are valid and attainable. Go for it.
AWP 2017 will be held in Washington, D.C.