[A guest post from FY15 Artist Fellowship Program (AFP) Grantee Jennifer Clements]
Stroll the skyways of Minneapolis earlier this month and you’d hear statements like: I just saw Claudia Rankine roaming free-range through the book fair. Or: Just because nonfiction’s subject is reality doesn’t mean we’re bound to realism. Or: I love pretty sentences about exploding helicopters.
This is AWP, the annual conference for all things literary.
Since 1972, the event has offered a place for writers, editors, publishers, educators, and students to converge. Of course, back when the Association of Writers and Writing Programs – based locally in Fairfax, VA – started the conference, there were only sixteen presenters and six events.
In 2015: Seven hundred small presses, publishers, and literary organizations. Two thousand presenters. Another twelve thousand attendees. Think Comic Con for for writers and the people who love them. (Fewer costumes, more natural-fibered clothes.)
I’d attended twice before, in 2008 and 2009, as a grad student promoting one the school’s literary journals, and was grateful for the opportunity to return this year. The four-day marathon of panel discussions, readings, author signings, workshops, networking events, and writer-reunions shakes its otherwise solitary artists out of their lairs and brings them all to this choose-your-own-adventure lineup of activities.
That can mean:
Finally meeting the writers and editors you’ve worked with after sometimes years of email-only correspondence, or the current editors of publications you used to oversee.
Going to hear favorite writers speak, whatever panel they happen to be on. I admit, I would see Ann Carson or Mark Doty present on, say, the literary merits of milking goats in Bangladesh. There’s a fair bit of fangirling at AWP, but it’s a quiet, wide-eyed, I-have-eight-of-your-poems-memorized-would-you-like-to-hear-them breed of fangirling.
Discovering the work of writers that are new to you and developing intellectual and literary crushes that compel you to devour their work. On my Must Read Immediately list are Elena Passarello, Alysia Abbott, and Rebecca Makkai – all writers I was just introduced to through the panels and off-site readings. And that’s before opening the dozen literary journals I crammed into my suitcase.
Identifying each of the fascinating intersections—where writing crosses paths with politics, or design, or cultural identity, or technology—and having impassioned conversations around them and their implications.
And of course, a scattering of unexpected turns, like the venue’s only rookie blunder (underestimating the per capita coffee intake of this group and running out on the first day) or that interviewer who asked Francine Prose if she had to become a Nazi to write from the perspective of one (she didn’t).
It’s at once humbling to be in the company of so many other writers, and inspiring to see the work that’s emerging from within our field. I always come away from this conference daunted by the odds, yet eager to return to my notebooks and the task of stringing words together.
- Jennifer Clements, FY15 AFP Grantee