AWP Nugget: 9 Tips for a Successful AWP

I’m back from Chicago and in recovery mode from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. I posted every day from the conference; now I’m wrapping up the series with a list of tips I’ll remember for next year’s AWP in Boston:

  1. Poor Anish Kapoor. He put great thought into naming his magnificent Millennium Park sculpture "Cloud Gate," but everyone calls it The Bean.

    Favor the Bookfair: It’s tempting to attend panel after panel. But why be one of three hundred passive listeners in a ballroom when you can engage in one-on-one conversation with a journal editor at his or her table?

  2. Don’t expect panel fireworks: Every AWP panel is assembled by the panelists themselves, about a year ahead of time. As a result, panelists are friends and are unlikely to debate each other in any vigorous way.
  3. Don’t expect panel back-and-forth: Those accepted to speak on AWP panels are used to performing readings or giving lectures. As such, they tend to do one or both once handed an AWP microphone. Prepare for a series of fifteen-minute readings, followed by two minutes of audience Q&A.
  4. Elwood: This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive. If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza. Joliet Jake: That's where they got that Picasso. Elwood: Yup.

    Ask questions: Do this everywhere–in that two minutes at the end of panels, on the Bookfair floor, with the AWP attendee sitting next to you on the hotel shuttle bus. You can learn from everyone at AWP.

  5. Bring business cards: I met a lot of interesting people, and many I’ll not be keeping in touch with because they didn’t have business cards. Every writer attending a conference needs one. You can get snazzy ones for super-cheap online; I use this company.
  6. Scout out food options: Attendees were queued up 30-deep at the deli in the main lobby of the Hilton Chicago, apparently unaware a banquet room just off the Bookfair floor was selling the same food at the same price without lines. I always determine where I can get food fast–within and around a conference site–before the conference begins.
  7. Arrive at events early: On Saturday night I rode the Red Line for 45 minutes to attend a reading by The Sun Magazine at The Heartland Cafe. I arrived early but not early enough, and couldn’t get in. I rode the train another 45 minutes back to downtown Chicago, hungry for food and prose. On the other hand, I arrived at the Margaret Atwood reading more than an hour early, and not only got in (not everyone did) but was about 15 rows from the front.
  8. Pace yourself: I carried a small book bag, and every time it filled with purchases I returned to my room, where I’d chill for 30 minutes or so. I attended after-hours events every night, but still was back in my room in PJs by 10 pm each night. Everyone has different stamina levels; it’s important to know what yours are.
  9. Do something unrelated to AWP: On Saturday I checked out Millennium Park and took in The Bean. On Sunday I spent two hours perusing the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve been that traveler who saw nothing but an airport and a convention hall; to paraphrase Dean Wormer, that’s no way to go through life.

You’ve got a year to save your pennies. Let’s meet in Boston at the 2013 AWP, March 6th-9th!

20 thoughts on “AWP Nugget: 9 Tips for a Successful AWP

    1. Then #9 works for you; don’t just go to AWP, take in all that Boston has to offer! I’ll confess, I’ve only been there for business, but have a lot of friends who live in the area. I might tack on a mini-vacation to truly take advantage of the locale, even if it will likely be cold then, like it was in Chicago. I hope you make it!


  1. Patrick, these are terrific tips that I will keep in mind next year when I go to Boston, business cards in hand. I’m glad you enjoyed Chicago. We live only 90 minutes away by train, but I never seem to get enough of it. (I love The Bean the photo caption, by the way!).


    1. Hi Lisa, loved your blogs from AWP. It’s funny; a couple walked by me while I was at The Bean. The woman said, “It’s called Cloud Gate,” and the man said, “No, it’s the Bean.” “No, the artist called it Cloud Gate. See? It’s shaped like a cloud, it’s an arch, it reflects the city skyline, it’s a gate beckoning you in.” “That’s dumb. Look. It’s a huge bean. That’s why they call it The Bean.” I had to keep myself from laughing!


    1. You make it sound like I’m a parasailing mountain climber! 🙂 I like blogging from these adventures, as you put it, because I observe more keenly; it’s like I imagine I have friends waiting back at the hotel and I’m focused on what stories I want to share.


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  3. It was great to meet you in Chicago and hear an excerpt from your work. I’d like to add that your blog is impressive and if I lived in Bethesda, I’d be there. Have you ever thought about hosting a virtual blog workshop? If you do, keep me posted.


    1. Thanks, it was great meeting you too!

      Thanks for the kind words on the blog and my class. The Writer’s Center is starting to dip its toes into online instruction; I might offer the class that way if I feel like they get the hang of it. I also talked at AWP with another organization that might host it online. I’m loathe to organize one on my own, though; I prefer someone else to handle the technical side! 🙂


  4. Having been on an AWP panel a few years ago, as I recall there were strict guidelines panelists were required to follow, which may have something to do with formatting. And, I’m with you, the book fair is amazing. First time I went I was thrilled to see how many small presses there are out there that are happily thriving. Thanks for your great reports.


    1. How cool that you were on a panel! I wonder what the rules have to say on panel format.

      If I sound grumpy about the panels above, it’s because I’ve moderated a lot of panels over the years (I often prefer moderating to speaking, I think it’s the journalist in me) and after awhile I banned opening remarks. I’d work out with each what my first q would be (so they could get their key point across) and then I’d simply react to what I heard and encourage dialogue. By the 2nd day it was clear audiences were already tired, and having long reading after long reading was putting folks to sleep. (I also remember from my radio days that the human ear struggles if it hears the same voice for too long at one time.)


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  7. Anonymous

    I just found you blog when I was searching around for advice on the Boston conference in, ah, 10 days! I appreciate your advice on the conference as I’ve never been before and I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. Thanks for calming some of the nerves by giving tips!


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