The Artist’s Road Leads to Chicago

The title of this blog–The Artist’s Road–carries a double meaning. I launched this blog in response to a cross-country U.S. road trip I took in 2010 in which I produced short films from interviews with artists, so the title is an homage to that magical experience. But that trip triggered in me a desire to return to an art-committed life, and so in that sense the title The Artist’s Road doesn’t merely look back, it points forward. The photo in my blog’s masthead was taken on that trip; it’s a westbound stretch of I-80 in Wyoming between Cheyenne and Rock Springs. You’ll note that the immediate path ahead is clear, but what comes after that hides behind a forbidding rock face.

This photo was taken about an hour before the one in my masthead, also in Wyoming. Yes, I'm driving and operating a camera at the same time. Kids, do not try this at home.

I’ve been reflecting on the unpredictable nature of my art-committed road as I prepare to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference in Chicago, Illinois, February 29th to March 3rd. I plan to post “AWP Nuggets” from the conference, not unlike my “MFA Nuggets” from my winter residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve also promised Dinty W. Moore that I will write a guest blog from AWP for the Brevity blog.

I attended AWP last year in Washington, D.C., and posted a summary of the conference after the fact. But so much has changed in the past year.

When I walked the trade-show floor at the 2011 AWP, I was approaching every table and booth affiliated with MFA programs. I sought not just to find one that suited my desires–low-residency, creative nonfiction–but also to learn more about what an MFA really is and why I would even want to pursue one. A year later, I’m in my second semester with VCFA, and plan to perform a short reading at an event for VCFA students and alums the first afternoon of the conference.

In 2011 I marveled at all of the literary journals that were exhibiting at the AWP, and wondered what it would be like to be published in one. This year a personal essay I wrote around the time of that 2011 conference will be available for sale at one of those trade-show booths in a brand-new print anthology.

I felt a bit out of step at last year’s conference. I knew I was a writer; I had earned a living with my words for twenty years. But I thought it disingenuous to refer to myself as a creative writer, and most certainly I wouldn’t have entertained the label literary writer. As I prepare to attend another AWP, I still don’t feel completely in sync. Most of the attendees there have experienced far more time in the formal study of both creative writing and literature. I teach blogging at a local writer’s center; many of the other attendees teach creative writing at colleges and universities.

Another photo from I-80. Why go around an obstacle when you can go right through it?

But one of the beauties of the art-committed path is that there is always open road in front of you. It’s easy to look around at the amazing attendees and speakers at a conference like AWP and measure oneself as falling short. But it’s rewarding to instead look around and see one’s own potential, to imagine what might be waiting behind that rocky ridge.

For the past year I have been in full learning mode, greedily consuming the wisdom of others while staying open to possibility. It has served me well. A week from now I’ll be dining well at AWP, and I’ll be sure to share generously from my plate.

If any of my readers are planning to be at AWP or in Chicago, let me know!

25 thoughts on “The Artist’s Road Leads to Chicago

  1. Jenny Alexander

    Yes – you can’t compare – no-one else’s journey is as interesting to you as your own, anyway! I think the great value of a writing group is that when we share our work, it’s instantly obvious that there’s no comparison, because every voice is unique and uniquely engaging


  2. Patrick, how thrilling that your personal essay will be available for purchase at AWP in one of those literary journals that you were looking at just last year. Is there a link to that edition online for those of us who’d like to own a copy?

    I hope you have an enjoyable and rewarding time at the conference. Wish I could be there to hear you read.

    ~ Milli


    1. Thank you, Milli. You know what? It’s The Clear Monkey! Shaking Like a Mountain is putting out a print anthology with a few of their favorite online entries from 2011–which includes that essay–and some new ones as well. I’m told they’ll have a link to purchase the book soon on their web site, which is . It’s still at the printers; they’re cutting it close for the conference! 🙂


        1. Wow, Patrick, I’ll echo Milli’s congratulations on having The Clear Monkey published in that anthology in time for the conference. How exciting!

          Looking forward to reading about your adventures in Chicago. I’m a little envious as I’ve always wanted to visit that city.

          Could you ask someone to record your reading on video? Pretty please?


          1. Thanks for your excitement! And as for Chicago, it may be my second-favorite North American city, behind Montreal. February is not the best time to visit there, however, and I say that from experience. Of course, it’s cold where you are, I’m sure!

            Now as to the recording. You know, I would like to have a recording of a reading of mine. Less sure I’d want to share it online! Let me reflect on that, but thank you for the interest… 🙂


              1. Well, that doesn’t surprise me. I always find the locals so friendly. It’s delightful–and surprising, as someone who has spent time in France–to have someone speak in a French accent while ALSO being welcoming! And of course there’s the poutine… Mmmmmmmmmmmmm


  3. Sara Mansfield Taber

    Patrick, you are always inspirational in your lust for learning and your openness to new things. You walk through the world like it is a smorgasbord.


  4. Patrick,

    I think this is why it’s good to go to the same conference year after year. It becomes a touchstone. I have similar reflections each year when I attend our regional SCBWI conference. I may not have “made it” yet (whatever that is), but each year I am much further along.

    Have a great conference!


    1. I think by many definitions you’ve “made it,” but we always have room to grow. I actually attended AWP in 2008 and 2009 but as an exhibitor; I didn’t really get to walk the booths and attend lectures, but I savored the full experience in 2010.


  5. Today I was reading a snippet from a piece published in the most recent McSweeney’s journal (that’s pretty much the only literary journal I know), and then I realized I can’t afford a subscription to the journal.

    Then I thought maybe that’s what being a writer is like. Have fun at the conference. Steal pens.


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    1. I just read your post; that’s quite a travel itinerary! Yes, it would be nice to meet up, and it will be a maddening crowd. Porter’s right; the AWP is more laid back than more commercially focused conferences, but it is a bit overwhelming in terms of the number of attendees, panels and exhibitors.


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