AWP is a conference that is as much about the writing life as it is taking your mind off the writing life.
Each year Adelphi University’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program sends students on an expenses-paid trip to the Association of Writer and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair, the largest literary conference in North America. AWP has around 12,000 attendees each year, there to catch the 550 panels and discover the 800 presses, journals and literary organizations that are represented. As it is in a different city each year, this year’s group of students—of which I was a lucky member—were able to experience the literary life in Los Angeles and escape the chill of New York from March 30 to April 2.
Judith Baumel, professor and former director of the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, previously served as president of AWP’s board of trustees and so not only provided some well-needed advice for us all (“Wear comfortable shoes!” “Talk to everyone!”), but also allowed us some VIP access to the parties where Juan Felipe Herrera, the United States Poet Laureate, and other notable people were sipping free wine.
It’s hard to choose (or remember) all the discussions that I came across, but some highlights were, “Laugh to Keep From Crying: Using Humor To Write Through Pain,” which illustrated how tragedy and comedy can bring out the best of one another. There, too, was “The Furious and Burning Duende,”which was presented by Village of Crickets—the Adelphi M.F.A. program’s very own literary journal and community founded by Danielle Barnhart ’15 and Iris Mahan ’14—and featured Jacqueline Jones Lamon, associate professor of English. The panel started the conference on the Thursday morning and put some fire in the bellies of everyone present with talks about Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s evocative and expressive theory of duende (which loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity.)
As well as these impassioned conversations about literature, however, there is another thing that writers apparently do when brought together in large groups: they party. When you work in a profession that is known for its solitary confinement and introspection, you can be sure that that stored up energy will find a way to release itself when the opportunity arises. AWP is a conference that is as much about the writing life as it is taking your mind off the writing life.
By giving first- and second-year M.F.A. students the opportunity not only to experience the literary scene of another U.S. city, but also to see the country’s literary citizens come together and collaborate is a vastly valuable experience. It is impossible to leave without a fresh wave of inspiration to drive you through the following semester of coursework. And, as we second-years are busy putting the finishing touches on our own panel proposals for next year in Washington, DC, all we can do is hope we have the chance to go back and experience the it all over again.
Joshua King is an M.F.A. in Creative Writing candidate at Adelphi University and the first recipient of the Jerry Cain and Scott James Creative Writing and Social Media Fellowship.
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