Every year, the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference takes place in a major North American city. A few thousand writers converge upon the city during one—usually cold—weekend during the first three months of the year. While committees interview academic job applicants in hotel rooms, the book fair fills with readers and writers perusing the tables of their favorite publishers and literary magazines. At the same time, readings and panels are scheduled all day and well into the evening. At night, cocktail and private happy hours compete with more readings and events.
How can you take this once-a-year opportunity and make the most of your time at the awp Conference in Washington, d.c. this coming February?
Turn Virtual People into Real People: Through my blog (blog.32poems.com), I’ve begun conversations with poets from around the country. In 2006, a poet-blogger arranged a happy hour in Austin, tx, so a group of online acquaintances could actually meet in person. I suggest attending at least a few group events like these, because you get to meet more people in a limited time.
Consider Attending Outside Parties: At a conference, I was invited to a party at a poet’s house. Although I was tired, I forced myself to attend. I barely knew anyone, yet the poets welcomed a stranger. I immediately felt at home and met several interesting people. Who knows what, if anything, will come of these chance encounters? Sometimes, you just need to get out from behind your computer screen to socialize.
Work a Table: If you run a press or magazine or know someone who does, volunteer to work at their table at the book fair. The organizer will probably be happy to have your help. One grateful graduate student volunteered at the 32 Poems table in Chicago. Several times, she mentioned how glad she was to have this table as an anchor since she was attending the conference for the first time and felt completely overwhelmed. Since the conference presented a sensory overload, by representing the magazine, she was able to put her bookbag down for an hour or two and have some sustained conversations in one spot.
Review Your Choices: Enter the conference with a strategy. Check through the entire list of panel presentations to see what you want to attend. Since interesting panels can overlap, you’ll probably have to make hard choices. Narrow these down as best you can and then allow for some unexpected plans. You may have in mind to attend a panel and see a friend in the hallway and decide to have lunch instead. Similarly, check out the list of exhibitors at the book fair. Which tables will you want to spend time visiting? There’s value to serendipity—but set your targets too.
Maybe the new person you meet will become a friend. Maybe you’ll work on a book together. You might get an idea for an outstanding class to take or good advice on agents. In some cases, you might get nothing beyond having a good conversation with someone at a party. The only way you’ll know is to attend AWP and network.
Deborah Ager’s poetry collection, Midnight Voices, appeared in 2009. Ager founded 32 Poems Magazine in 2003. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily.
This article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring issue of The Writer’s Center’s Workshop & Event Guide.