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BETWEEN THE LINES

Why I love AWP

I’ve been thinking about why I love AWP so much. I mean, it’s too big and too loud, with far too many choices and inevitable conflicts. Actually, I find it totally overwhelming. But I love being stuffed with 12,000 writers and editors and small press publishers into a conference center with recycled air and never enough bathrooms.

I love the informal meetings and meals with old and new friends as well as the official offerings. A few of the panels I attended this year were excellent. Breaking Bones, about novel structure, for example, and the one on innovative endings. And the readings – the Northampton poet laureates and Alice James Books and the Stonecoast faculty reading. I missed some sessions I really wanted to attend, of course, either because of conflicts, caffeine withdrawal, exhaustion, or poor room assignments. And I stomped out of one panel on publishing after 45 minutes because the four white guys on stage had not yet uttered one female pronoun.

The book fair was humongous and delightful. I bought a few books and had them signed (like Christine Byl’s DIRT WORK from Beacon Press, and Lori Desrosiers’ collection from Salmon Poetry, THE PHILOSOPHER”S DAUGHTER), chatted with old friends, hung out a bit with the gang at Red Hen, picked up an awesome chapstick and some encouragement from the folks at Consequence magazine.

My panel with Patricia Lee Lewis and Jacqueline Sheehan was in the very last slot of the conference (how likely is that assignment, two years in a row? It’s enough to make a girl paranoid) and it was scheduled opposite Edith Pearlman and Andre Dubus and Tracy Kidder and all sorts of wonderful other offerings. But we still had an enthusiastic and responsive group to talk about writing in the boonies.

I’m no stranger to big conferences. In my previous life as a nurse practitioner, I regularly attended medical and nursing events of similar size, but there’s no comparison really. At AWP, you can start talking to the poet lounging in the nearby easy chair in the hotel lobby, or the essayist in front of you waiting for the ladies room, or the novelist sitting next to you waiting for a session to begin, and there’s an instant camaraderie, an immediate recognition of a shared passion, a common enthusiasm for making literature. That’s why I love this annual pilgrimage to the land of language. Thank you, AWP, and hope to see you next year.
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