I’m such a fan of the annual AWP conference that I dedicated an entire chapter to the organization in my 2011 book, The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students.
As we near this year’s conference, this time hosted in Boston, I’ve been thinking about how to describe the experience, particularly for newcomers and prospective grad students. And then it hit me. Why not just share an excerpt from my original rave? Some of the data (like attendee numbers) has increased in number, but you’ll get the idea.
So, here you go! A free glimpse into one section from “Chapter 12: AWP Membership and Services”…
Arguably one of the most anticipated writing events in any given year is the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair. Hosted in a different North American region each year, writers from all walks of life converge at the Conference and participate in hundreds of writing-related panel discussions, lectures, open forums, and on- and off-site literary readings. But that’s a fairly formal overview.
What you really need to know is that the Conference draws in more than 8,000 attendees and more than 500 publishers — publishers that want to meet you. The Bookfair, which runs concurrently with the Conference, is the primary networking hub where writers are invited to interact and have informal conversations with editors, publishers, and writing program representatives.
If you are a prospective student, or even just considering the graduate degree for “someday” in the future, the Bookfair is the best way to meet an entire spectrum of program reps all under one roof. Each program has a designated booth or table where directors, faculty, alumni, and current students make themselves available to answer questions, provide information, and share their personal experiences. There really is nothing like having a one-on-one conversation with people who know, really know, the programs you might be applying to, so this is one of my top recommendations for prospective students.
In addition to the writing programs, the Bookfair is also a great way to introduce yourself to hundreds of literary magazines, publishers big and small, and other writing-related organizations and service providers. As you walk through aisle after aisle, in a maze of booths and tables, your back will start to hurt for all of the swag you have stashed away in your AWP-provided shoulder bag. But it’s so worth it. Through your Bookfair journey, you will find incredible discounts on books and pick up complimentary back issues of lit journals, writing magazines, and other promotional items, not to mention so many business cards and contact names you will need to take a break to organize and recoup — but just for a bit, because there is so much more waiting for your discovery.
The events last a few short days, but provide a year’s worth of motivation and inspiration. Through personal conversations with editors, publishers, and program reps, you will be on fire with the desire — the need — to get back home and write until your pen is dry. But don’t dare leave the conference until you have soaked up every last piece of information, and met every last editor and director.
You will walk — or crawl — away from the conference feeling exhausted, but more creatively refreshed than when you were on Day One. That’s not only because of the official Conference offerings, but also because of the fantastic discussions about writing you had with writing friends old and new. All of those ‘friends’ you have online? They’ll see you at the conference. All of the editors you work with via email and over the phone? You’ll catch up over a lunch. If you can only attend one such event in your lifetime, go to the AWP Conference & Bookfair. It will provide you with enough oomph to last well beyond the few days when writers from various geographic regions invade a (slightly unsuspecting) city to create the literary nucleus of North America for one short week.
You needn’t be a member to attend the conference, but there are registration fees and travel costs to consider. However, the Bookfair is open to the general public at no cost on the closing Saturday. Thus, if you are working with a strict budget, you can still absorb and benefit from the aforementioned perks. This really is an event that needs to be experienced at least once in your life as a writer.
Excerpt from “Chapter 12: AWP Membership and Services” from The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2011).
Or – if you’re attending AWP – visit the Bloomsbury booth in the bookfair where copies will be on hand!