Monday, March 05, 2012

Chicago, AWP, and The Importance of Hard Work

I officially survived my first AWP conference. If I tried to relay everything I felt, thought, and experienced, this would be the world's longest blog post. Thus, for your sanity (and mine!) I will stick to the highlights.

Highlight #1: The Bookfair 

Jade and I, working the UNCW table (Ecotone and Lookout Books, holla!)
I LOVED the bookfair, and felt it was the most exciting and useful part of the whole conference. There were hundreds of booths there, and nearly every literary magazine I had ever heard of (and most of the ones that have rejected me) were present. On the last day, when everyone was trying to get rid of their merchandise before flying home, I picked up about 20 copies of literary journals at deep discounts. I also picked up submission guidelines, information on upcoming contests, too many cute buttons, and long list of new places to send my work. Even if the only thing I did at AWP was go to the bookfair, it would have been worth the trip. Luckily, there were also panels!

Highlight #2: The Panels

Like when I was a traveling librarian, but better!

AWP was three days long, and each day there were panels from 9:00 AM to 5:45 PM. These panels covered everything - there were talks on craft, sessions about teaching, Q and A's with authors, and discussions about the role of writing and reading in the social fabric of our culture. I made it to three - five panels a day, and most of them were interesting, if not completely helpful. I think I only walked out of one panel, and that was mostly because I hadn't had any coffee yet and leaving seemed more respectful then doing the bobbing-head-falling-asleep thing. Presenters, you're welcome.

The best panels I went to were "The Art of the Short Story Collection," "NPRU Kidding Me?" (about writing for public radio), and "Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia." Good stuff, y'all.

Highlight #3: The Food

In Chicago, I gained both experience and weight.

This highlight had nothing to do with writing or the conference, and everything to do with my love for culinary tourism. Chicago is a haven for the adventures vegetarian, and I managed to dine at Native Foods Cafe twice, Karyn's Cooked, and the Chicago Diner. I also had a last minute breakfast at Yolk, which kept me full until I was back in North Carolina. (And yes, there are eggs in that first photo. I don't usually order eggs when I'm out - I try to only eat locally sourced eggs, where I have a better sense of how the chickens are treated - but I made a rare exception while in Chicago.)

I really love food. I love experiencing new dishes, visiting new restaurants, and sharing meals with friends. It's one of the greatest joys in my life and Chicago presented so many delicious opportunities to indulge these small pleasures.  Wilmington is a million times better than Nacogdoches as far as food goes, but it's still not even close to Chicago. Mmmm. Chicago.

Highlight #4: The Writers  

This rainbow, which greeted me upon my return to NC, represents an epiphany.

Not exactly a highlight, but more of an epiphany. AWP was sold out this year, with nearly 10,000 people in attendance. A third of those people were students in MFA programs. That equals a whole lot of competition when it comes to getting published, and that's a reality that can be hard to swallow. On the bright side, the best way to become one of the lucky few who finds success, is to forget luck entirely and just work really, really hard. There are thousands of talented people out there, but very few can make it on talent alone. I'm not one of those people. I am, however, a decent writer who works really, really hard, and that is why I'll be successful. Seeing so many other writers this past weekend reminded me of that simple fact, and for this I am grateful. 

Lowlights and Other Regrets: 

I don't have too many bad things to say about AWP, other than that the Travelodge is not worth saving $30, Chicago is very cold and I do not understand why people insist on living in the North (as a native New Yorker, I have the credentials to say this), and I wish I had found more time to go to the off-site readings each evening. There was so much going on and it was hard to know what to do, where to go, and how to most effectively spend my time. I feel like I did a pretty good job, but I also feel like I could have done better. Luckily, that's what AWP 2013 is for.

For now, I'm glad to be home and ready to get back to work.