MFA in Creative Writing

A Beginner’s Guide to AWP

Joey Meyer describes his first-time experience at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference.

AWP stands for The Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Every year, AWP holds a massive conference and this year, I had the privilege of attending in Philadelphia. AWP can be pretty overwhelming if you’re not prepared, so hopefully my insight will help any future attendees.

As a first-time AWP attendee, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I knew there were many educational panels I could electively attend. I didn’t realize just how many; countless panels filled every time-slot of every day. I spent time each night going through the following day’s schedule and forcing myself to choose where I wanted to be and when. This proved to be a difficult deliberation each evening. Thankfully, there is an AWP smartphone application that will help you organize a schedule. I attended panels titled: “The Sentence as Itself: Vivifying Grammar in Writing Classrooms,” “Tell it from All Sides: Writing a Story with Multiple Points of View,” “Beyond Romanticism, Beyond Shame: Writing About Mental Illness,” and “Artist & Scholar: What to Expect & How to Thrive in a Creative Writing PhD,” just to name a few. These panels were led by authors, educators, students and more! In fact, our very own Alma College Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program Director, Sophfronia Scott as well as Alma MFA faculty member Benjamin Garcia participated in this year’s AWP as panelists. The days at AWP can be long and it’s best not to get hung up on attending every single panel that sounds interesting. That would be impossible. It’s important to remember that this conference takes place every year, so you’ll have another chance to sit in on even more panels.

There’s one thing that seems to be synonymous with AWP, and that’s the Book Fair. This isn’t the scholastic book fair that you might remember from elementary school. No, this is a BOOK FAIR. While most major publishers are absent, hundreds of independent publishers, literary journals, writing programs and more set up booths from wall to wall inside what is (likely) the conference center’s largest room. You will be excited. You will strike amazing conversations with friendly authors and publishers. You will inevitably get lost at some point. You will likely spend more money than you intend to. You will not see everything the book fair has to offer in one day. Pace yourself. I came home with a stack of books and a bag full of literary journals. I even ended up with a tee shirt, some stickers, a coaster or two and some other random trinkets. It was a lot of stuff and some of it was free!

In addition to everything the conference has to offer, a myriad of off-site readings take place every night around the AWP host city. These readings were dispersed through much of Philadelphia, enrapturing the city in a boon of literary splendor for these few days. I, along with one of my Alma MFA classmates, Joshua and I were able to attend readings on two of the nights. We walked to a very cool multi-story bar in downtown Philly called Tabu one evening for dinner and drinks, and to watch the poetry readings since our faculty, Benjamin Garcia was one of the evening’s featured poets. If poetry isn’t your cup of tea, don’t fret because there are fiction and nonfiction readings too! There are even some that encompass multiple genres. There’s so much to do, it can be difficult to choose.

Every year, AWP takes place in a new city, so naturally I’m going to suggest exploring. When is the next time you’ll find yourself in in this particular city? Right beside the convention center was a large, indoor market called Reading Terminal Market. I walked through it on several occasions, sitting down to eat lunch, ordering dinner to-go, and browsing the chocolate shops. A few blocks from there, was an inexpensive museum called Wonder Spaces. Most exhibits were experimental in nature and it reminded me of a miniature Museum of Modern Art. Those are just a couple examples of what the city had to offer.

The most important thing to keep in mind at AWP, is to have fun. Nobody is grading you on attendance or attention so there’s no pressure. You probably won’t get to do everything you want to, so why get hung up on it? You may find yourself needing a break from things. You may miss a panel or two on your schedule because you lost track of time perusing the book fair. That’s okay! It certainly happened to me. Lastly, try to find time to see the people you know. AWP is a great opportunity to reach out to your friends in the literary community and find out who is attending AWP and who has time for lunch or a cup of coffee. I reached out to my faculty mentor this term, Jim Daniels who was also attending AWP. In fact, those of us from Alma, both students and faculty, shared a wonderful lunch at a nearby restaurant called Texas Wieners.

Next year AWP is in Seattle, and I’m already planning on attending again! I hope to see even more representation from Alma!

- Joey Meyer, Alma College MFA student

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Story published on May 02, 2022