Written by Kelsey Gaus
A Recap of the Conference:
This past weekend, three graduate writing students traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this annual event offered students a unique platform to network, take part in industry specific conversations, and obtain the latest books from award-winning authors. Thousands of journalists, teachers, students, editors, and publishers from across the nation attend each year.
SCAD’s Writing Department recognized the conference’s potential to not only echo lessons taught by its professors, and also offered tips from some of the field’s most successful individuals.
To encourage attendance, SCAD’s Writing blog posted this past November the call for Fellowship applications. Accepted candidates would receive up to $1,000 reimbursement for related expenses occurred during the weekend. This could include registration fees, transportation, and food. Undergraduate and graduate students simply had to compose a short 300-word email explaining their desire to attend.
Kate Hoernle, a first-year graduate student from Savannah, was one of the few selected. Upon hearing the news, Hoernle stated she was absolutely thrilled, “I’m an older student, a mom with teenage kids. Without this support, it would have been impossible for me to attend, and I’m so grateful to SCAD and everyone in the Writing Department for this opportunity.”
Over the long weekend, Hoernle went to over a dozen sessions that related to her career goals or simply interested her. In fact, the entire Washington Convention Center and Marriott Marquis buildings were reserved for the weekend, granting plenty of room for over 600 different panels.
Panels ranged from the generic, Writing Student to Editor: Preparing Yourself for the Editorial Job Market to the very specific, Representing State-driven Slavery, Genocide, The Holocaust, and Other Systemic Murders. With only fifteen minutes in between sessions that ran from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 35 sessions occurring simultaneously, the conference often felt overwhelming, but in a good way.
Kim Kachmann is also in her first year in the Writing M.F.A program. Originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Kachmann found the conference a great opportunity to grow as a writer, “I was most excited to find out what leading writers are thinking, what they are looking at, what they see, and what it means today. I want to ride the current of thought, ideas, and insights to provoke new ways of seeing and thinking about culture, craft, and writing careers.”
Kachmann discussed some of her favorite sessions stating, “I learned about different writing genres, from NPR’s Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan to storyteller and essayist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and renowned book editor Nan Graham. I also heard one of America’s greatest storytellers Ann Patchett read a passage from one of her books.”
I was the final writing student chosen to attend the three-day seminar. I too was in my first year studying in SCAD’s graduate program. Like Kachmann, I was especially eager to attend sessions with some of the big names— Daniel Halpern, the Founding Editor of Ecco Press at HarperCollins; Jonathan Galassi, the President and Publisher at Farrar, Straus & Giroux; and The Washington Post’s Ron Charles and Carlos Lozada.
Having served in South Africa, I happily attended the Peace Corps Writers panel to connect with other volunteer-writers. The sense of community AWP creates among writers is truly remarkable. Regardless of what your fears, focus, or interests may be, the conference’s diverse panels have something for everyone.
Hoernle narrowed the options down to panels that seemed applicable to her stage of writing, “At this point in my writing career, I’m most interested in honing my craft and vision, as opposed to focusing on the business aspects such as finding an agent or a publisher. I’m not ready for that yet. I have to master technique and voice first, and applying some of the ideas from the conference to help me reach the next level.”
The booths and tables at the book fair stretch the size of two football fields. There were universities talking about their graduate programs, book sales and signings, and groups that offered picturesque fellowships abroad. Small presses gave information about upcoming contests and even flyers for free socials in the evening. The amount of free swag given away filled the free AWP canvas bags. Buttons, pens, notepads, books, and yes, even a James Franco mask made it into my bag to take home.
Next year, the conference moves to Tampa, FL, a half day’s car ride away. With the short proximity, there is no reason why more SCAD writing students should not take advantage of this opportunity.
Take It From Us: Tips & Take Aways
AWP Conference was certainly a learning experience. We learned success stories, about upcoming books, and also, how to make the most of the experience.
For Hoernle organization is key, “Download the conference schedule and make your panel selections ahead of time. I found AWP to be very well organized; still, once you get there, it can be daunting. I’d also suggest carving out 2-3 hours to spend at the book fair. It’s huge.”
To add to that, attending the book fair early can be especially helpful. The earlier you hear about the after-hour social gatherings, the better. These are great opportunities to network and get a foot in the door somewhere. The fifteen minutes after a session ends is not adequate time, especially when everyone else has the same idea. Many of the socials also offer free beer or drinks while supplies last, permitting that attendees are of age of course.
Don’t bother to pay for coat check. Save the money and simply it! All panels are within a short distance and you can always drape belongings over the back of your chair.
Come prepared with your confirmation number that AWP emails. This will expedite registration and allow you to quickly go to your first session.
Keep your lanyard in a safe place. If this is lost, you will have to pay $50 or accept that you will not be permitted in the sessions.