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:
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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!