One of my favorite events of the year, the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (here on out just “AWP”), kicks off next Wednesday. Each year, the conference is held around this time of year, somewhere between February to April, in a different city. Last year, the conference was in Boston, where I used to live, and will be in cities such as Chicago, DC, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and so forth, in the coming years. Every year, a slew of the literati attend: authors, teachers, graduate and undergraduate students, writing programs, literary centers, small presses, literary magazines and pretty much anything else you can think of that might be affiliated with such a great big event. This year, AWP is predicting roughly fourteen thousand people will be attending the conference.
I’ll be one of them. And here’s what I’m gonna do while I’m there.
I’m the managing editor of The Missouri Review, so a large part of my time will be spent representing the magazine at the bookfair. At our table, which is located at exhibit space M2, our staff will be meeting readers, subscribers, contributors, writers, editors, and so forth, to talk about TMR, what we do, and pass out free copies of our magazine. We have two big contests we want to talk about, a subscription deal, and other small giveaways to let people know that we appreciate their support. My time at the table will vary quite a bit, but I expect to be there for three or four hours on each day of the conference.
So that’s the bulk of my time. But here’s the other stuff.
Literary Bloggers Party at AWP. This event is Thursday February 27th at 8 pm at the Canoe Social Club.
There will be four readers: Andrew Ladd, blog editor for Ploughshares; local fiction writer and Ploughshares blogger Anca Szilagyi (who also co-runs The Furnace Reading Series at Hollow Earth Radio); poet and editor Wesley Rothman; and myself. We’re coming together to celebrate the release of Ladd’s debut AWP award-winning novel What Ends and each read short selections from their respective works. The event is free and open to the public. The Canoe Social Club has been called “a bat cave for arts superheroes.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds awesome.
Book Signing! I’ll be at the Boulevard table Friday 28th from 11 am to noon to sign Strategies Against Extinction. Managing editor Jessica Rogen is a good friend of mine, and I read with editor-in-chief Richard Burgin at Left Bank Books in St. Louis this past autumn. I’m thrilled to get the chance to spend time with them and encourage people to snag a copy of a terrific literary magazine.
RUN AWP is a basketball game at Friday February 27th at 330 pm at The Northwest School.
Yes, I’m serious! This sucker is an annual basketball game for poets (not sure how I got invited, since I’m not a poet, but, whatever) created by O, Miami and co-hosted by the Indiana Review. Spectators are welcomed and encouraged. DJ Dewey Decimal will spin 90s hip-hop jams. Girboud, Joe Boxer, Phat Farm, Lugz, Fresh Jive, Starter, DKNY, and Tommy Hilfiger clothing is encouraged but not required. Game is for ninety minutes, and then there is a reading at 5 pm. This will be the release party for “Recreation League,” a collection of poems revolving around basketball from Full Court Books. Featuring readings by: Sampson Starkweather, Ben Pease, Matt L. Rohrer, Luke Bloomfield, and Steven Karl. For more info visit: www. fullcourtbooks.com
Pop Lit! Four Writers Wrestling with Pop Culture. This event is Friday February 28th at 7 pm at the Raygun Lounge.
I’m not actually reading in this event. I’m the MC! But more in a Nick Cannon way rather than a Kendrick Lamar way. Four different writers who craft stories and poems on pop culture topics ranging from superheroes to alternate histories to mythical monsters take over Seattle AWP on Friday night. The readers are Matt Bell (In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods), Gary Jackson (Missing You, Metropolis), Esther Lee (Spit), and Phong Nguyen (Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History) Join us for pop lit madness! It’s free and open to the public and ends early in the evening (8 pm or so) so you can go hit up the next event. I see no downside for you here.
Officially, that’s a lot of commitments for me. I like to remain as untethered as possible during the conference and wander to whatever event catches my eye, and head to lunch/dinner/drinks with whoever asks. I want to see as many of my friends as I can, and this conference is often the only time I will see them all year. I also want to meet people that I’ve never met before, get to know them, talk about our writing, what they’re reading, all that good stuff. There is no way (I don’t think) to make time for every single person I’d like to spend a few hours with so I try this que sera sera approach that has, thus far, worked out okay.
But there is one more thing I have lined up that is not a public event so I can’t invite you to it. I’m having lunch with my old mentor, Stephanie Grant. She was my second writing teacher, ever, when I was an undergraduate at Ohio State. I haven’t seen her in almost fifteen years, and we have missed each other more than once due to travel snafus and family emergencies, but as long as the weather gods cooperate and all flights make it out of the February weather, I should be sitting down with her in just a few days. Stephanie had written her first novel, The Passion of Alice, when I was her student, and talked a little with me about the struggles she had with her second novel, which ultimately became Map of Ireland.
AWP is emotionally tough on most of the people who attend. At a conference this large, there are all sorts of people, the best and the worst kind, but since we’re all in the same field, the stakes feel higher. There are numerous articles up in the past two weeks, giving advice on how to handle AWP (I’ve written a few of those in the past) which are all, essentially, “relax and be yourself.” So spending time with people that are important to me, when neither of us is trying to sell or hustle the other, for any reason, is a tremendous relief.
I’ve written down my flight and hotel information in three different locations, including my phone. I’m a bit cautious like that! But I’m also eager to head to Seattle and make new friends and savor time with old friends. As we all should.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye