Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Stray Thoughts on AWP, part One

Well, #AWP15 is long over.  It feels like it was forever ago, but for various reasons, I haven’t had room to breathe or to write until now.  Here are some stray thoughts on the experience:

1. I’ve been to several AWPs recently (Seattle, Chicago, DC, NYC), and I’ve gotten pretty good at packing for them.  (It’s no small feat because you have to pack under duress and factor in books, weight, and spatial concerns).  But you know what I’m definitely packing next year for AWP16 in LA?  A scarf and a bag of oranges.  This is the third AWP where I’ve caught some kind of horrific flu-like plague.  I think it’s the exhaustion, the extreme changes in temperature, the partying, the crowds of crowds, and the flight home, when you’re breathing the recycled exhalations of 300 other travelers for hours on end.

The first time I got sick at AWP, it was on day one in Chicago, and I was doing work for Chatham U, so being sick was not an option.  So that night, I cranked up the hotel’s heat as high as it could go and put on every sweatshirt I brought.  I yanked a hoodie over top and turned it backwards so the hood covered my neck.  I looked like an idiot and sweated through two sweatshirts, but I was fine the next day.  The sweatshirt thing is actually an old Korean technique my Tae Kwon Do instructor in college taught me.  Well, not exactly.  I think “Sweat it out, Robert” was the way he explained it.  But I honestly can’t recommend sweating it out for anyone, since this technique has probably killed more people than it’s cured.

At any rate, I’m hoping that wearing a scarf everywhere at #AWP16 will help ward off sickness, especially due to the wild temperature fluctuations.  (In March, it will probably still be snowing in Pittsburgh.)  Maybe people will assume I’m a tiresome dandy and avoid me, thereby creating a germ-free bubble.  Time will tell.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll just throw oranges at anyone who coughs on me.

2. New AWP Regulations: “The titles of proposed panels cannot contain the following words: ‘hybrid,’ ‘thread,’ ‘analog,’ ‘hyper,’ ‘agency,’ ‘agent,’ or ‘morph.”  This regulation should winnow the number of accepted panels from 550 to about 100.  Furthermore, mimicking the wording of any Raymond Carver book is strictly prohibited.  We predict this regulation will cut the number of proposed panels to 5.

The only exception will be for panels announcing nonfiction scientific coverage.  For example, if your panel is about the discovery of an exotic extraterrestrial species, then “What We Talk About When We Talk About the Hybrid Morphing Thread-Worms of Europa, whose Existence has been Proven by Several Government Agencies and Recorded via Analog and Digital Media” is a perfectly acceptable title for a prospective panel at AWP.

3. As someone whose shoulder and back are still aching from the plane ride home from Seattle, I swore I wouldn’t buy any books or journals at the bookfair this year.  Rather, I’d make a list of books and journals I wanted and buy them later (kind of like shopping at Ikea, with the AWP Bookfair as my showroom).  Here’s a Vine I made for Pitt’s Writing Program showing how well that plan worked out.  

4. #AWP15 marked the first panel I’ve ever participated in.  It was titled “How Writing Programs Can Meaningfully Utilize Social Media in an Age of Branding, Oversaturation, and Decreasing Admissions.”

The description: this panel will discuss different ways that writing programs and journals can use social media to recruit, advocate, teach, and promote literary citizenship. We’ll discuss our experiences and best practices for established and emerging digital mediums (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). In an age of “branding,” oversaturation, and decreasing admissions, how can programs and editors use social media meaningfully? This panel will provide practical advice, as well as thoughts on the digital future.

My fellow panelists were

Robyn K. Coggins

Kinsley Stocum &

Terry L. Kennedy.

At first, I braced myself for low participation because the panel was at 9AM and AWP had booked two giant hotel conference rooms for us, thereby possibly magnifying the low attendance to a soul-crushing degree.  However, as someone later noted, “9AM is a pretty reasonable time for most normal people,” and a good number of those normal people showed up.

Honestly, the whole thing was a blur, with so many smart ideas being passed back and forth between the panelists, and then the crowd.

Robyn had smart, practical things to say, especially about scheduling and connecting with audiences.  Kinsley gave great advice about personal and professional realms, as well as what does and doesn’t work on different platforms.  And Terry helped bring everything together, especially with his generous, community-building approach and different internal/external ways to use Facebook.  After the conference, we kept the conversation going with some audience members, and I even got to meet a couple future students.  I was incredibly relieved afterwards, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it going any better.

More to come soon.  In the meantime, please enjoy these photos:

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