AWP 2018: What I Brought Home was the Swag

04 May 2018 on Blog, Storystorm   Tags: ,

I don’t mean to sound shallow. There was much that thrilled me at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2018 conference in Tampa beyond the buttons, pens, and stickers offered by the publishers at the book fair.

George Saunders’ raffish keynote address. Personal literary faves Jeffrey Eugenides and Lorrie Moore reading their work. (Bonus points to Moore for treating us to her nonfiction!) Alexander Chee’s detailed discussion of historical documentation in The Queen of the Night. The five 750-words-or-fewer marvels read at the celebration of Brevity’s twentieth anniversary. The bold/painful/funny sessions that addressed the concept of otherness in its many dimensions. The delight of discovering unknown (to me) journals where my work might find a home.

Then there were the chance encounters. The bubbly editor in the coffee line. The all-but-forgotten college classmate I bumped into at a book fair booth. The fellow writer at the firepit on my hotel’s patio late one evening. The rep from Copper Canyon Press who kindly pretended not to notice that I was tearing up as we discussed W.S. Merwin. The writers, artists, and fellow travelers who stopped by the Barnstorm table, where we did a brisk trade in conversation and temporary pig tattoos.

I knew I’d be spending a lot of time with the other Barnstorm editors, but it was a new experience to be with them away from our normal context. Group sourcing dinner plans. Doting on the toddler in our midst. Strolling along the Tampa Riverwalk, which connected our hotel with the AWP site. Comparing notes on sessions. Unstructured conversations that morphed into plans.

But let’s get back to the swag. The blazing red tote bag proclaiming “F**k Genre” is an exceptional prize. The best of the many buttons, the big red, white, and blue one that promotes “Oxford Comma 2020” in a field of stars. Tiny, handbound chapbooks. The postcard bearing a photo of James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Erica Jong hanging at a 1978 Poets & Writers party. Bookmarks galore, enough for at least 20 years of reading. The teabag in an oversized matchbook (go figure). The sweet little coaster promoting a publisher of “Artisanal Books for Omnivorous Readers.” The doorknob hanger that warns “Do Not Disturb—I’m Writing.” The pack of Poetry All-Stars cards. Stickers, how can I choose a favorite? The “Art—I’m in it for the money,” or the back-to-back semicolons?

Small notebooks, my special weakness, deserve a tribute all their own. Ruled and un-, hardcover and soft. Tidily banded and invitingly open. Spiral bound, saddle-stitched, perfect bound, and one encased in red metal. With and without pens. Some that boast Post-its in three sizes and five colors. Together, they raise my heart rate more than a trip to the gym.

Somehow, I wedged all this and more into the nooks and crannies of my suitcase. The swag charmed me with its wit and beguiled me with its design. Some of it’s even practical. But there’s more to its attraction. By bringing home the swag, I brought home the mojo.

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Susan Geib is Barnstorm’s nonfiction editor.

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