AWP

#bsuenglish at the AWP Conference

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) is an annual conference, held this year from February 8 through February 11 in Washington, D.C. Eleven #bsuenglish students had the honor of attending this year, led by #bsuenglish Professor Jill Christman.

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs was held in the convention center located in downtown Washintgon, D.C. this year. Nearly 12,000 writers from all across America flocked to the event, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Professor Jill Christman, who has served on the AWP Board of Trustees for five years now, was eager to be the chairperson of the conference committee this year.

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Professor Christman displays her crown at the AWP conference.

Long before the conference even began, Professor Christman was busy planning for the event. She is also the head of the sub committee of 20 professional writers who prepare for the annual AWP conference by reading proposals for the event and deciding who will present at the conference. This year, she estimates that the committee read approximately 1,800 proposals but were only able to accept 550 of them. Professor Christman read 600 proposals alone. “It’s not all just about wearing the crown,” she says.

One of Professor Christman’s additional duties was to help choose the keynote speaker for the conference: Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita In Tehran and The Republic of Imagination. Choosing her to speak at the conference was “galvanizing for a lot of people,” said Professor Christman. In addition to choosing Nafisi as the keynote speaker, Professor Christman also had the honor of hosting her and welcoming her to the conference.

The conference included a book fair where presses of all shapes and sizes, including university presses, rent tables that are all displayed in a room about the size of the football field. This year was the first year that Ball State University had a table, which helped recruit for the creative writing and graduate programs. Students had the opportunity to mingle with professional writers, such as Rita Dove, Valeria Luiselli, and former #bsuenglish student Ashley C. Ford.

Senior creative writing major Lauren Cross was very excited to be there. “Attending the AWP Conference was easily the best undergraduate experience I have had. I was able to talk with people whose essays we read every day in class and they seemed almost as interested in us as we were in them. I guess what struck me the most, though, was being able to say the authors and essayists we look up to professionally are also people we can look up to personally—they are genuinely kind, empathetic people. It’s refreshing knowing we can surround ourselves with others who only wish to be their true, authentic selves,” she said.

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Ashley C. Ford, who attended Ball State, visits the university’s table.

“The AWP conference sweeps you away in a rush of the sensorium: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, comics, and so many other genres in books, essays, stories, graphic novels, and more,” says senior creative writing major, Drew Miles, who also attended AWP this year. “There are so many colors, voices, lights, rooms, microphones, words. There are tables upon tables at the book fair representing literary journals and MFA programs. There are famous authors and managing editors casually mingling around you and panels lined up like clockwork discussing social issues, pedagogy, literary elements, and how they all connect to more developed writing. It’s like a wave of shared passion lighting you on and flowing within you. It’s nothing short of spectacular.”

Next year’s AWP Conference will be held in Tampa, Florida, in March! We hope to see you there!

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Why All Undergraduates Who Are Serious About Creative Writing Should Attend the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference (AWP), by Prof. Matt Mullins

Photo courtesy of AWP Writer.org

Networking.  Networking.  Networking.  I begin somewhat offhandedly, but I mean this.  You want to go to AWP (the annual conference attended by most of the creative writing programs across America) because you are someone who writes, cares about writing and needs to meet people of like mind.  At AWP, you will meet your peers (i.e., other undergraduates from other programs who also care about their writing).  Many of these peers will go on to MFA programs and will likely end up editing some of the many literary magazines to which you submit your writing.  Regardless of whether or not you intend to pursue the MFA, having a beer or getting some face time with these peers will allow them to put your mug to a name when your piece comes in, and in the land of one to five percent acceptance rates, this works in your favor.

At AWP, you will also meet those who are a little further down the line (i.e. MFA students).  These are the people already editing many of those literary magazines you want to get into, so meeting them leads to the same end described above, only in the now rather than down the road.  Also, these are the people who also have recently completed or are about to complete manuscripts they’ll send to contests, indie presses and literary publishers.  They have good advice for you, and many of them are friends with the publishers you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.

At AWP, you’ll also meet people who have books out.  These people know publishers, and if these people get to know you and your work, they may recommend you to those publishers.  Thus, a conversation and an exchange of email addresses can lead to someone who has a publisher’s attention taking a look at your work and recommending you.

Once you’re out of your MFA (if you go for one), you may well find yourself at AWP for a job interview.  Though its dates shift a bit annually, the conference often marks the big round of interviews for universities and colleges.  You want to know the landscape and be comfortable with the scene before you end up going there for an interview.

However, AWP isn’t just a schmooze fest or a job finding machine.  At its heart, this monster is about the writing.  As I mentioned, the conference marks a time when nearly all the creative writing programs in America descend upon a city to network, talk shop and celebrate.  In a world where the vast majority of people could care less about something all of us love passionately, it’s a very positive thing to see thousands of writers come together to celebrate their craft.

The things I mention above are those things that orbit AWP.  The conference itself is also filled with wonderful panels on all manner of topics from publishing tips and creative writing pedagogy to the analysis of various literary trends and stylistic approaches toward specific genres of writing.  There are many, many readings with many wonderful writers that range from the indie world all the way up to the big names all of you know.  On top of this, there is the Book Fair to end all Book Fairs—literally hundreds of tables filled with gorgeous books and literary journals.  It’s the kid in the candy store scene.  All told, AWP is a few days spent in an alternate reality where creative writing has somehow become the center of the world.  And that’s something special.

As for my personal experience at AWP, the last few years have been eventful.  At the 2009 AWP, I interviewed for my position here at Ball State and had lunch with the fiction editor of the literary journal Pleiades, who asked me to send him a story, which he then published.  The following year, I had the pleasure of being part of the hiring committee involved in the interviews that led to our hiring Cathy Day.  I was also able to wander the book fair and meet the editors of the journals who’d taken my work over the previous year.  This year I was able to meet the editor behind Atticus Books and have him tell me in person that he wants to publish my collection of short stories.  We spent a good amount of time talking, and I think he came away understanding that I’m serious about my writing, an attitude he values as he’s about to make an investment in my work.  All of these positive experiences have, in some way, helped me get my writing out there, and I wouldn’t have had any of them if I hadn’t gone to AWP.

Next year AWP is in Chicago.  CHICAGO.  It’s a three hour drive from here.  It’s the city of big shoulders.  One of the most kick ass towns in America.   Thousands of writers will descend upon it for a long weekend.  And if you’re a writer who cares about writing and the publishing world, you’ll try to go.  I hope to see you there.