Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference, Part 1

The annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is an amazing event that brings together 14,000 writers, publishers, and creative writing instructors in one place for four days. It’s the largest gathering of its kind in North America. 

The AWP conference has an interesting history. According to Christian Teresi, AWP’s former director of conferences, “The first conference was in 1972 at the Library of Congress, and hosted only six events. It’s safe to say there were at most a couple of hundred people there.” Growth was slow during the early years. “I can tell you that at the 1991 conference in Miami there were only around 16 events and 40 presenters,” Teresi recounts. Since then, the increase in the number of participants and programs has been nothing short of astronomical. “By 2012 we already had over 400 events and 1600 presenters.”

The AWP conference is now as over-stimulating as seven marching bands all doing their routines at once on the same football field. You get to hear great or disappointing readings by writers you admire, have chance encounters in glass elevators with people you never wanted to see again, discover writers you’re delighted to learn about, get headaches, wolf down overpriced food, buy more books than you planned, make embarrassing faux pas, and maybe reach a few people with your work who didn’t know your writing beforehand.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s a unique and amazing opportunity to have that many literary people and institutions in one place at one time. You get to hear some of your literary heroes. You have the chance to meet the editors of your favorite magazines and presses, and to find out about ones you never knew existed.

But I find that it’s much more productive to go to AWP if you have a clear goal in mind.

Think about what your current needs are as a writer. Do you have several pieces you’re ready to send to magazines? Have you got a manuscript for a new book that you’re hoping to find a publisher for? Do you have a new book just published that you want to publicize? Are you looking for a job or internship with a literary organization? Do you want to get re-energized to go home and write? Pick a goal and stick to it.

Zack's most recent book of poetry, Irreverent Litanies

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