I Went to AWP and All I Got Was Some Great Advice

24 March 2021 on Blog, Storystorm  

AWP, or Association of Writers and Writing Programs, is the hottest conference for writer nerds like me.

In a non-pandemic world, this annual conference would be hosted in a sexy city. There would be booths of literary magazines, forums, discussions, meet and greets with authors and agents--the perfect place to mingle for a writer who wants more of an “in” with the writing world.

But since most of us are walking around half-vaxed or not vaccinated at all, this professional writerly hang sesh was put online like everything else. However, I still learned so much from the videos. I had access to writer discussions, readings, and forums for a month as if it was a writer streaming service. Here are my top three videos from AWP that taught me the most:

3. Fierce Lineage, Poetic Agency: Women of Copper Canyon Press:

This 50-minute reading featured Ellen Bass, Traci Brimhall, Victoria Chang, Leila Chatti, and Nikki Wallschlager. Each of these fierce women poets read pieces from their recently published collections. I listened to this in the dark in my bed. The only thing filling the room were the voices and words of these glorious poets. Victoria Chang came in and slayed with some poems from her collection Obit. After these readings, all I wanted was to buy five new collections of poetry.

2. The Perfect Match: Finding the Right Agent for You and Your Work:

Sarah Domet sat down with four agents of various agencies: Melissa Danaczko, Michelle Brower, Kent Wolf, and Annie Hwang. The agents, who are at different levels of their careers, explained that trust is the key ingredient to the success of an agent-writer relationship. Knowing not much about having an agent, I never thought that I also could choose who to represent me. The biggest piece of advice I learned was, “no one is coming to save you”--meaning that we are in charge of our work and we must keep writing. Having an agent or getting a book published doesn’t mean our problems as writers will be solved.

1. Free Verse: Making a Life Outside the Tenure Stream:

Clearly, I’m obsessed with Victoria Chang now. It’s fine. I’ve surrendered. In this video, Jennifer Popa spoke with writers Victoria Chang, Paul Guest, Ada Limón, and Maggie Smith about the difficulties and pleasures of having a writing career outside the security of a tenure track teaching position. This is something I’ve been concerned about as I am about to leave an MFA program, have nothing lined up, and am pretty certain I won’t be able to snag a collegiate teaching position. These writers spoke about their personal experiences freelancing at home, offering their talents to corporations and organizations, and other positions a writer can obtain outside of the academic world. This put my mind at ease about leaving the MFA program. I was able to see my worth as a writer thanks to this session. 

Lindsey Wente is the nonfiction editor of Barnstorm. She is a second-year MFA student at the University of New Hampshire.

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