Monday, March 03, 2014

Highlights from #AWP14

I spent most of last week at the annual AWP conference in Seattle. AWP stands for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and this conference is pretty much the biggest and best congregation of writers in the country. It's attended by over 15,000 writers, editors, and publishers - so many, that #AWP14 was a top trending twitter hashtag WORLDWIDE. (This is the kind of fact that I find most impressive, sadly.) While I was only in Seattle for four days (my first time, and I fell in love with the city, obviously) I managed to pack in a lot of things, conference-wise and Seattle-wise. Thanks to Instagram, I will now share with you the highlights.

Seattle: beautiful, caffeinated, and classy, despite clouds of pot smoke. 

This was my first time in Seattle and - as is my habit whenever visiting a new city - culinary delights were the first order of business. During my short time in town, I managed to eat a number of amazing meals. Tons of coffee, of course, but also two delicious brunches (one at Portage Bay Cafe, the other at Lola's), a fantastic lunch at Veggie Grill, and fast and free breakfasts in our hostel, Green Tortoise (a great place to stay, if you're looking). I also made sure to start my mornings with a vegan doughnut from Mighty-O, which set the best possible tone for each day. 

As for actual sightseeing, I didn't have time to do much. I got to know the conference center very well, walked through Pike Place Market, said hello to the Pacific Ocean, glimpsed the Space Needle from a distance, and bought Nathan presents at the 826 Seattle store, which was space themed. (A Mars poster and a bottle of dark matter, in case you were wondering.) Obviously, I'd love to go back to Seattle, preferably with Nathan, preferably when there isn't an amazing conference dominating my time, and not just for the doughnuts. 

AWP panels and the book fair, but mostly the book fair. 

The first year I went to AWP, I was diligent about attending panels from 9AM until 5PM, which sort of backfired, as all that paneling meant I was too exhausted to go to the evening off-site events and readings. This year, I did a complete 180, focusing on the evening activities instead of the daytime ones. Which meant that I only went to two panels - Structuring the Novel, and From Thesis to Book. Both were pretty good, and I wish I had the time/energy to go to more panels. The truth is, you can only do so much at AWP and you have to pick and choose. This year, I did not choose the panels. 

I did, however, spend a huge chunk of time in the book fair, both working a shift at the Ecotone table and visiting the books of the hundreds of literary journals and small presses that were in attendance. I really love the book fair - it's a great way to see physical copies of all the journals I've heard about, learn about contests and submission guidelines, say hello to the editors of the places I've been published, and soak in the frontlines of the writing community. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the book fair alone is worth the time and effort and cost of AWP. Luckily, it's free to the public on the last day - something to keep in my mind once I graduate and my trip is no longer subsidised by UNCW. 

Off site readings and events (and parties!). 

Despite jet lag and general exhaustion, I am proud of all I accomplished once the sun went down. I went to six readings. One for the journal Barely South, during which Erica read (go, Erica!); one for Tin House, which I will count even though I couldn't hear the readers over the din of the dance party happening concurrently; one for Poetry Northwest, which was also loud and in a bar; one for the release of Astoria to Zion, the newest title from UNCW's Lookout Books; one featuring UNCW alumni (which I loved, and not just because it was a great example of how the community of UNCW extends beyond graduation); and one for VIDA, a great organization that fights for more parity between the sexes in the pages of literary magazines and journals (see their latest pie charts here). 

So many readings! So many parties! So many bars! (Though somehow I still managed to consume more coffee than booze - thanks, Seattle!) All in all a fine showing and, now that I'm home and sort of back on East Coast time, I feel good about how I spent my time and what I took advantage of this year. AWP can be a mixed bag at times, but overall I enjoyed the experience. I'm glad I went, and I hope I can find a way to Minneapolis for AWP 2015. For now, it's time to get back to work.