Like so many organizations this year, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) is making it’s annual conference fully virtual. Now, I’ve been wanting to attend the AWP Conference for the past several years, but for various reasons (the usuals: time, money, self-doubt), it didn’t happen.
This year’s virtual conference will be my first one, and obviously I won’t be able to compare it to an in-person event. Not yet, anyways. And while certainly there are many who will be disappointed or will even abstain from the event simply because it is virtual, I wanted to share my top reasons for attending:
- Accessibility, or because I won’t be going alone. In the past few years, through my low-res MFA program and a lot of local writing groups, I’ve made a few writing friends. But only a small fraction of those friends attend AWP and, as someone going without an affiliation to an organization or press, I pictured myself eating every meal alone and sitting silently in the back row of lectures. Of course, some of this has to do with my own fears and inhibitions, but that doesn’t change the fact that a first-time in-person AWP conference intimidated me a bit (besides, aren’t most writers introverts?). This year, I have several friends attending. Whether they have the same reasons for going this year as I do, I don’t know. Regardless, I’m already looking forward to the group chats and shared notes, the debrief calls, the memes, links, recommendations — all of the nerdy ways we’ve learned to connect virtually in this past crazy year.
- Affordability, or because I can afford it. I’m all for writers and teachers getting paid well, so the price of AWP never upset me. But also, as a person not making any money off their writing, the thought of paying hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on conference fees and travel expenses was a bit of a deterrent. And not only for me, but also for that small circle of writer friends I’ve mentioned before. It also can be hard to spend a significant sum when you’re not sure about the quality of the conference or if it will meet your needs. This year, I’m hoping the more affordable price of the virtual conference will give me a better sense for whether future conferences will be worth the time and investment required.
- The schedule, or because the line-up kicks ass. I was a little concerned that, being a virtual event (among hundreds of other virtual literary events this year) the AWP conference keynotes, lectures, and workshops might not draw the kinds of speakers I was keen to hear from. But that hasn’t been the case. From poets Joy Harjo and Rick Barot to novelists like Jennifer Egan and Edwidge Danticat (not to mention so many editors, publishers, teachers, and agents) I’m already overwhelmed by how many good session options there are. The best part? This year, again thanks to the virtual format, scheduling conflicts aren’t an issue. I can go back and watch anything I miss.
- I’m finally ready to network, or because 2020 gave me time to write. In years past, I have to admit I hardly felt “writerly” enough to warrant attending AWP. Again, this is a persona issue but I know several other writers who feel the same. And while certainly I wasn’t nearly as prolific in 2020 as I would have liked, I definitely haven’t wasted the year. I was published in a couple magazines, started supporting a literary magazine as a reader and social media coordinator, took a virtual online poetry class through Hugo House, and launched a bookstagram account and my own blog/website (as you know by now). And though maybe this isn’t much – it’s not a book publication or manuscript draft – but it’s given me the confidence I need to feel “ready” to network with other writers, spend a week focused on writing, and even take time away from family and work to do so.
- It’s been a year, or because I need a break. Unfortunately, I don’t make a living off my writing. I don’t know many (any?) who do. Which means I have a full time job that isn’t writing and like most, the stretch from the December holiday season to early March is a long one. Especially in this pandemic, where each month can feel like a year. I’m primed for a creative outlet and a break from work, and AWP is offering both at just the right time.
I know that there are likely some drawbacks to a virtual conference, and some experiences that I won’t get with my first AWP that I might have gotten in person. But ultimately, the virtual forum for 2021 (aside from being totally necessary in this pandemic) is coming, for me, at exactly the right time. I’m so grateful to the volunteers and AWP members that are working so hard to pull this together and I absolutely cannot wait to attend.
Association of Writers & Writing Programs: https://www.awpwriter.org/