The title of this blog–The Artist’s Road–carries a double meaning. I launched this blog in response to a cross-country U.S. road trip I took in 2010 in which I produced short films from interviews with artists, so the title is an homage to that magical experience. But that trip triggered in me a desire to return to an art-committed life, and so in that sense the title The Artist’s Road doesn’t merely look back, it points forward. The photo in my blog’s masthead was taken on that trip; it’s a westbound stretch of I-80 in Wyoming between Cheyenne and Rock Springs. You’ll note that the immediate path ahead is clear, but what comes after that hides behind a forbidding rock face.
I’ve been reflecting on the unpredictable nature of my art-committed road as I prepare to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference in Chicago, Illinois, February 29th to March 3rd. I plan to post “AWP Nuggets” from the conference, not unlike my “MFA Nuggets” from my winter residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve also promised Dinty W. Moore that I will write a guest blog from AWP for the Brevity blog.
I attended AWP last year in Washington, D.C., and posted a summary of the conference after the fact. But so much has changed in the past year.
When I walked the trade-show floor at the 2011 AWP, I was approaching every table and booth affiliated with MFA programs. I sought not just to find one that suited my desires–low-residency, creative nonfiction–but also to learn more about what an MFA really is and why I would even want to pursue one. A year later, I’m in my second semester with VCFA, and plan to perform a short reading at an event for VCFA students and alums the first afternoon of the conference.
In 2011 I marveled at all of the literary journals that were exhibiting at the AWP, and wondered what it would be like to be published in one. This year a personal essay I wrote around the time of that 2011 conference will be available for sale at one of those trade-show booths in a brand-new print anthology.
I felt a bit out of step at last year’s conference. I knew I was a writer; I had earned a living with my words for twenty years. But I thought it disingenuous to refer to myself as a creative writer, and most certainly I wouldn’t have entertained the label literary writer. As I prepare to attend another AWP, I still don’t feel completely in sync. Most of the attendees there have experienced far more time in the formal study of both creative writing and literature. I teach blogging at a local writer’s center; many of the other attendees teach creative writing at colleges and universities.
But one of the beauties of the art-committed path is that there is always open road in front of you. It’s easy to look around at the amazing attendees and speakers at a conference like AWP and measure oneself as falling short. But it’s rewarding to instead look around and see one’s own potential, to imagine what might be waiting behind that rocky ridge.
For the past year I have been in full learning mode, greedily consuming the wisdom of others while staying open to possibility. It has served me well. A week from now I’ll be dining well at AWP, and I’ll be sure to share generously from my plate.
If any of my readers are planning to be at AWP or in Chicago, let me know!