BOSTON — One emotion I have always felt at the AWP creative writers conference is jealousy. Jealousy of the talent and success of the panelists and readers. Jealousy of the way so many writer attendees approach literary editors on the Bookfair floor without fear. But, mostly, jealousy of how so many attendees have made the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference into their own annual creativity meet-up. Next year, in Seattle, I want to meet face to face with all of you, my online creative friends, as we start an annual tradition of our own meet-up piggy-backing on AWP. [Editor's note: I have added a postscript to the bottom of this post.]
The AWP, at 12,000 attendees, is the largest literary conference in North America. We’ve taken over Boston; I was on the T (Boston’s subway system) yesterday, and you could spot us among the commuters based on our less-than-formal attire and well-loved books in hand. But what really dominates this scene are gatherings of writers at various levels of organization.
The origin story of the AWP conference, to borrow a term my comic-book-loving daughter always uses, is as a conference for creative writing programs. As such, BFA and MFA programs dominate the social landscape.
Yesterday afternoon I participated in a joint student/alumni reading organized by my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program and VCFA’s equally strong MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. (I read from my essay “September 12th,” and it seemed to go well.) We met up again for a reception and dinner that lasted four hours.
My first two AWP programs I attended as an exhibitor. My third was as someone newly returning to an art-committed life hungry to find the right MFA program. Last year and this year, I feel like I’ve joined the AWP club. I even have a badge; a VCFA official gave me a big button to wear that has our logo on it above the words “ASK ME ABOUT VCFA.”
But the fact remains that I am part of a writing community even larger than VCFA. It was a community I connected with before I started that program. It’s with all of you, the creatives I interact with online. Perhaps it’s here at The Artist’s Road, down below in the comments. Maybe it’s at your own blog (I know, I know, I should visit more often). Sometimes it’s on Twitter.
So why shouldn’t we have one time each year where we can support and encourage each other in person? Why not do it over a glass of wine or sparkling water? I’ll even figure out a way to offer at least one snack, for those who share my passion, that involves bacon. (Don’t worry, my vegan friends, we’ll take care of you as well.)
It’s just an idea right now, not even fully that. But next year’s AWP is in Seattle February 26-March 1. Hundreds of groups arrange offsite meetups around AWP, allowing them to see each other once a year and then take advantage of all this conference has to offer. I’m volunteering to be the organizer for the first of what I hope will be our own annual meet-up.
I’ll need your help with a good name for our group, however. I suck at titles; as a reporter, I always relied on the copy editor to write it.
So who’s in? Can I put you down for a “maybe”? And what should we call ourselves? Chime in!
POSTSCRIPT, MARCH 12, 2013: I wrote this post at the beginning of the 2013 AWP. By the end of it (as becomes clear in my subsequent posts) I found myself questioning whether I will attend next year’s conference in Seattle. It may be that five years in a row is sufficient; perhaps stepping away for a year or two will make it fresher once I return. I remain committed, however, to finding some way to have an in-person meeting of some of the great writers and creatives I’ve connected with online. I will continue to noodle that.