Another AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is in the books, and I figured a recap was a good way to share–and learn from–our lit conference experiences. (Yes, even the mortifying ones!) Some to-do’s and not to-do’s follow. Did you attend AWP in Philly? Have you attended past AWPs? Have you attended other literary conferences? What’s your take?

In Philadelphia for #AWP22. Name that gorgeous landmark, and…go.

Be Prepared (and also flexible)

I’m a bit of a planner, so I built my ideal AWP schedule out of the myriad panels and readings (and one very cool makerspace) I could potentially attend over the 3+ days. However, I underestimated the gargantuan size of the convention center where the conference was held. Sometimes proximity won out and I didn’t follow my schedule. Sometimes the meeting rooms were already packed. In the end, my highlights were “The Wick Poetry Center’s Traveling Stanzas Makerspace,” an interactive exhibit using digital expressive writing tools; “Strike a Chord: The Lyric Essay Forms of A Harp in the Stars; and “Opening & Growing: Adapting & Sustaining a Literary Magazine in the 2020s,” put on by the awesome editorial team over at Typehouse Magazine.

Allow for surprises, is what I’m saying–and for plenty of time to wander around the book fair, especially the last day, when book prices drop.

Also, as with the rest of life, pack so you can dress in layers.

Plan Your Pitch

AWP is not a pitch wars sort of environment; however there are always some literary agents in attendance. I didn’t meet up with any–though I did have a pitch ready for my current novel (along with a few copies of my query letter, just in case). That preparation came in handy, when answering fellow writers who wondered what my book was about. Also, on my car ride to the conference, I worked up elevator pitches for my other roles–that of an editor and a blogger. If you’re an outgoing sort, you might be great on the fly, but for the rest of us, preparation is key.

And if you can share your business card with someone you’re first meeting, that’s a nice conclusion to your pitch. I gave out quite a few cards for my gig over at Parhelion Literary Magazine and received a few cards from writers with new books out. (The cards are in portrait alignment and feature their book covers–really nice.)

Bring Your books

When you go to AWP, you know you’re going to be hauling home a million books from the book fair (which is also gargantuan). Novelist Matt Bell (who has a great newsletter) had a great tip: since most convention centers have a UPS Store, you can box your books up and send them home to arrive shortly after you unpack. But, you should also remember to bring books with you that you want to get signed. (I am that sort of nerdy reader!) In this tenuous environment, who knows when you will get another chance to have your favorite author autograph your well-loved copy?

NOT bringing my laptop (a first for me–yes, one can use an automatic vacation reply even if they’re a freelancer) left a little more room in my suitcase for books–win-win.

Build in Time for off-site meet-ups

And also naps. Really, for my money, the meet-ups at AWP are where it’s at. I roomed with a couple friends from my MFA program, so mini-reunion! We connected with other program friends and friends of friends at off-site readings and meetings, where we got a taste of the city (figuratively and literally, in the way of some great tacos, Chinese pork belly soup, pho, pupusas, and Lebanese food–but no cheesesteak somehow!)

There’s a lot you can discuss and plan over lunch with a writer friend that you might not get to over email or Zoom–so, skip that panel and go to lunch, is what I’m saying.

Know Your Hosts

I share this literary cautionary tale with you so you don’t have to endure the embarrassment I did. I attended an on-site dinner, because I judged an AWP contest, and while I knew the contest program director, I didn’t know who was throwing the dinner. I arrived before the meal was served, by myself–so already there were butterflies–and was seated at a table with no one I knew. In desperation, I pulled out my phone and texted my husband. His (extroverted) reply was to say anything, talk about Rufus, our dog. I talked very little, until someone at my table approached me and introduced herself… and this is where it gets interesting.

We meet, and she turns to the woman next to her and says that of course (of course!) I recognize this second woman. Reader, I do not, and I say as much. So, of course, this is the executive director of the whole AWP shebang, and I turn to stone right then and there: A monument to ill-preparedness that will stand forever in the downtown Philly Marriott.

Really, they were lovely table companions and I hope I was, in turn. (Also, the clam chowder was amazing!). And once we all sat, I chatted with the women on either side of me: one was from New Mexico by way of Ireland, and so we had Ballykissangel and more to discuss; and the other was a twin mom from the Midwest who is a choral singer when she’s not working or writing–so we didn’t lack for conversation either.

Now, it’s your turn. Hit me with all your do’s and not to-do’s of literary conferencing–or any kind of conferencing, really! And name the gorgeous building in that photo above, because I can’t! Also, when will AWP hit the Rust Belt? This blogger wants to know!

Hankering for my latest Rust Belt interviewsbook reviews, and more? Check out my categories above. I hope you’ll follow me here, if you don’t already, so you never miss a post or more unsolicited advice. And now, a nap. ~ Rebecca

25 thoughts on “AWP22 Debrief: What you want to know and plenty you don’t about the year’s biggest lit conference

  1. It sounds like a wonderful experience! I don’t think many of us would think to research and know by sight the director of AWP. And you know, it’s good for powerful folk to be humbled by anonymity once in a while. Thanks for sharing what it was like.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the recap! It’s City Hall! I’m from Pittsburgh and have been to Philly, but somehow completely forgot how comparatively GRAND it was. I would also love for such an event to be in our corridor, but I kept thinking, “There’s no way we could have had this in Pittsburgh…” I read that this year’s event had 6,000 attendees while past years have seen up to 15K!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jessica! It is grand, isn’t it? I also managed to go to the basilica before I left on Sunday–and felt like I’d stepped off the Philly sidewalk into Italy. 6K felt plenty full, honestly–with some panels spilling out into the hallways. Then, there were some rooms that felt empty. I guess it’s impossible to know what will attract the most audience members. If you’re in Pittsburgh, I highly recommend Lit Youngstown’s Literary Festival in the fall. I’m totally biased, as I’m on the planning committee, but it’s very affordable, close by, and the panels, readings, and workshops never disappoint!

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  3. What a wonderful photo, Rebecca! You know, I “followed” AWP last week via Twitter — wish I’d gone, I haven’t been to one in years. Really, I’ve only gone to 2: one in Washington, D.C., the other in Chicago. Now what I do, because I don’t go, is I go to the bookstore and spend a bunch of money on books that I tell myself I would have spent at AWP. 😆 But I do think meeting other writers, editors is so important, and for that reason the conference is a must. Hopefully, AWP will swing back to Chicago some time. Sounds like you had a great time! And I’m sure your writing and your creative spirit will get a big boost from having attended — that’s the part I really miss. I came home with wings and bells ready to write, read, edit, send! Again, lovely post — like being at the conference! (And great advice, too!) Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and I learned that’s City Hall! From a fellow Rust Belter–Jessica–out of Pittsburgh.

      That’s a good idea to check out AWP through Twitter. There was an online option in addition to the in-person, but I couldn’t even manage to make it to a lot of the in-person panels (it felt like it took a half hour to walk anywhere in the convention center), so I didn’t do any of the online.

      And, yes! Buy all the books. The last day at the bookfair was pretty amazing–presses didn’t want to have to box up everything, so the discounts were great!

      I was terrible at AWP the first time–when I was in my MFA program and young. I was so intimidated. Now, I talked to most everyone. Well, except I was too nervous to yell out at Sequoia Nagamatsu across the hotel bar and say “Thanks for being cool on Twitter, and your corduroy blazer is perfect!” Next time. A little more experience helps with the chatting to folks. I was good at that mostly with friends and friends of friends.

      Chicago would be ideal–smack dab in the middle of things! I might think about next year, because my sister lives in Seattle (she might not forgive me if I didn’t use the excuse and go).

      But now to get back to the real…work!

      Thank you for reading, Deb. We’ve got to connect in person at one of these conferences, one of these years!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rebecca, I’m (more than) a day late & a dollar short on my response! Geez, this WP platform, I can’t get used to using the app, so I forget to look at it. I know what you mean about AWP, getting to various sessions (or at least wanting to), & talking to people. I never got to all the sessions I meant to go to, although the first day I was much more disciplined, but by the second & third days my mind was fried. And I wish I’d spent more time talking with folks; I think that’s so important. I do hope we get to meet sometime soon! Would love to have coffee & chat about writing & reading! My sis-in-law lives in Virginia, so maybe next time we head out that way our paths might cross! Hope your WIP is going well! I’ve been trying to get back to doing more writing, but I haven’t been sending anything out of late. Have any new writers you’re recommending? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, I definitely know what you mean by a fried mind. That was me, aimlessly wandering around the bookfair the last day of AWP.

        Yes, we absolutely need our own mini conference–in your neck of the woods or in mine! I am happy to travel–so definitely let me know when you’re VA-way. And, I will be headed to Youngstown, OH, for their Lit Festival in the fall–my absolute fave. One of these years, you could bring the flash fiction to Y-town!

        I’m on revision #2 with my WIP, and I still like it, so that’s a good sign. Because of that, I haven’t been submitting much either. (Plus, total slog!)

        New writers to recommend–well, I have a huge stack of books from AWP, but top of that stack is A HARP IN THE STARS, an anthology of lyric essays collected and edited by Randon Billings Noble. An anthology I can dip in and out of is about all I can handle right now. Well, I’m also dipping in and out of Deesha Philyaw’s THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES. And we have some great work in the last Parhelion issue–you know I have to plug that!

        Thank you for being here, and I hope you have a most creatively productive day, my friend!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, we’ll definitely have to make our orbits align sometime soon, Rebecca! 🙂 I’ll definitely check out Youngstown — I’ve heard great things about it. Glad to hear you’re making good progress on your WIP! And thank you for the reading suggestions, which I will check out — they both sound very interesting! And, yes, of course Parhelion! Have a wonderful writing day/week/month! And happy spring! 🌸

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m enjoying the excitement of your adventure by reading your recap – so much energy and emotion. It’s like I was there with you being carried around in your book bag! I’m so happy to read you had a great time and survived any little bit of awkwardness you may have experienced. Congratulations on a well-done and well-deserved conference!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Next time, you should totally stow away in my book bag, Shelley!!! Ha. Really, it was a nice getaway that sparked good creative connections, and you know that’s what I’m all about. Thank you for reading and commenting–it means a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d love to stow away and learn from you! I’m so happy you had a great getaway. I hope the house was still standing when you returned and that Rufus greeted you with warm puppy kisses. Same with the boys 😉
        You’re welcome – I always enjoy reading your posts!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Next year’s AWP is in Seattle, but really you need for one to be in Thailand, I know. Or maybe Hawaii. It would be a joy to meet you in person at one of these shindigs, one day! My sister lives in Seattle, so #AWP23 is a real possibility for me. Fingers crossed I might have something to promote by then!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooooo. I have friends in Seattle. Hmmm. Thanks for letting me know. There is a conference on Maui, but my mom lives on Oahu, so no dice. Not with those hotel prices! 😛 Yes, I do plan on meeting you one day, not in a creepy way tho’ – hahahahaha

        Liked by 1 person

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