One line sticks with me, words uttered by Junot Diaz within the span of his 40 minute talk. He had always been able to avoid AWP, he said. He said this with vigor, like some sort of conquering hero … He had, so far, so far until this very instant, kept his distance from “the event.”
He’s right. The AWP “event” is a crazy amount of people, not exactly a cozy reading, chat-with-your-audience environment.
I attended my first AWP Conference in Chicago 2009, so I’m still a newbie. I remember feeling at once excited and overwhelmed. It’s quite something really, getting thousands of writers, people who spend most of our time isolated on our makeshift mental, and maybe even physical, islands, and tossing us in like a big bag o’ salad. Mix! Mingle! You kind of wonder. And I’m not immune — as you can see from my earlier posts this week — from being awed at the sight of my writer-rock-star heroes. Though I would never, never talk to them, it’s nice to see them as something other than a face on a book jacket. And seeing them makes me want to read, or re-read, their books.
Though I don’t know the headcount overall, I can tell you I saw a lot of kids. And by kids, I mean boys and girls, nubile and fresh of face. The head of AWP mentioned there were 2,300+ students in attendance. Jesus. Of course “students” can be anyone in school, and any age, but still, that’s a slew of youngsters. And it’s a caucasian world for sure. I get Diaz’s point about the lack of diversity. This too-obvious fact stuck out to me all weekend (45 yr old white woman that I am).
AWP can be confusing. As an un-agented writer who’s published several short pieces and still working on my first book, it’s funny to hear people start their sentences with the words “My agent this” and “My agent that” as if having the agent is a given. Yet, I attended at least 3 panels on what I’ll call Agent Nabbing. And many writers on those panels talked about having agents before ever publishing anything. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a sentence like this: “My agent urged me on and waited 10 years for me to have something worth publishing,” only to then go on and explain the difficulty of getting an agent and publishing. What? No, seriously. What?!
I attended a few sessions about “what to expect” when publishing your first book — much like that pregnancy book everybody reads — but what I found is that no one really tells anything helpful. If a writer had a book coming out, or was recently out, they gushed with undying love for their agents and publishers. Hey, I’m sure I’d do the same. But these seminars then seemed pointless. I love you, you love me, lets all hug and sing Kumbaya. If a bad or beware-of experience was shared, it had always happened to “a friend.” Which garnered much laughter, but in the end not much in the way of advice. It was in these moments when I thought, “I should be at home. Writing.”