The Role of the AWP Conference in a Creative Writer’s Evolution

I’ve booked my flight and hotel for this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m in Beantown from Wednesday, March 6th to Saturday the 9th, a very short time to take in all of the workshops, readings, receptions, and of course, the massive trade show floor with just about every literary journal and publisher you can imagine. (If you’ve never been, you can get a sense of it from the “AWP Nugget” posts I wrote from last year’s event.)

This will be the fifth straight year I attend AWP. I almost broke my streak. Money is tight, and it’s difficult to get away from my day job. But then I realized how important a role AWP has played in my return to an art-committed life, and I knew I had to go, to see what this year’s conference would mean to my growth as a creative.

You can chart my arc through the past four AWPs:

  • 2009, Chicago: I attended not as a creative writer, but as an exhibitor, handing out materials on artist’s rights for the non-profit I ran at the time. I didn’t really know anything about AWP, and I considered myself a failed creative who had turned away from that life. When people asked me why I did D.C. advocacy work, I would say “Those who can, create. Those who can’t, advocate.” But I was intrigued by the conference’s agenda, and would sneak away from my booth to attend sessions. I felt like an interloper, surrounded by writers dedicated to improving their craft. But I found myself wondering, after listening to writers and editors talking about their own writing lives, why I wasn’t living one myself.
  • 2010, Denver: This time I planned ahead, ensuring I had time away from my exhibitor booth to explore the floor and attend sessions and receptions. I also exercised a bit of creativity, filming my very first video interview of an artist, a talented writer named Carolyn Flynn I met at an opening-night reception. (That video is embedded below; it shouts “amateur videographer.”) This conference came months before my cross-country U.S. road trip, where my muse was reawakened and I re-dedicated myself to living an art-committed life. But my time at this AWP, I realize now, primed me for that transformation.
  • 2011, Washington, D.C.: I had recently left my job as an advocate as part of my determination to rediscover myself as a creative writer. I was, naturally, husbanding my finances, but AWP was just up the road from my home. I spent hours scouring the floor and visited every MFA booth there. (AWP has a lot of them; remember, it is the conference of “writing programs.”) It was there that I discovered the Vermont College of Fine Arts; a week later my application was in the mail, and now I’m five months away from graduating.
  • 2012, Chicago: This was my first time at AWP as an MFA student; I think it’s safe to say a majority of attendees are either MFA students or graduates. I discovered VCFA has a lot of events around AWP, and I met an amazing array of alums. For the first time, I didn’t feel like an outsider at the conference. In fact, I was confident enough to blog from it, even reporting on a panel for Dinty Moore’s Brevity blog. I also went a little nuts on the floor, subscribing to far too many literary journals than I could possibly read.

What will this year’s AWP hold for me? I don’t know. I couldn’t have predicted the turn of events that came from each of those previous conferences. But perhaps that is part of AWP’s magic, that I go in open to possibility, and then find it.

Have you ever attended a conference or event tailored to your own creative passion that changed your life in some way? Was that something you had expected?

And here’s my very first artist interview video, filmed at the 2010 AWP in Denver:

13 thoughts on “The Role of the AWP Conference in a Creative Writer’s Evolution

  1. Patrick! This is exactly the post I needed to read right now. Just this week I bought my tickets to fly back to the States for AWP. I, too, am worried about finances – and a transatlantic flight is nothing to sneeze at – but my intuition was telling me to go, stay open to possibility, and simply see what the experience will bring to my creative life. Thanks for the affirmation. Excited to dive in. See you there!


    1. Sion, I’m very excited you’ll be at AWP as well, and that this post helped you feel a bit better about the expense. I would argue I wrote this post to make me feel better about the expense. See you soon!


  2. cydmadsen

    Ah, now I can breathe. I’m currently squeezing dollars from quarters so I can make it to a book festival and a conference this spring. The schedule for the conference is printed out and taped above my desk and in the kitchen in hopes the anticipated reward for eating ramen and writing until my fingers swell. Thanks for sharing your experience and l reminding the rest of us we’re doing the right thing. Have a terrific time in Bean Town.


    1. I’m so happy for you that you’re allowing yourself that opportunity! How great to post the conference schedule as a motivator. I hope the speakers at your conference realize how lucky they are to have someone so passionate making sacrifices to hear them.


  3. Michele K.

    Patrick, maybe the next stage in your evolution as a creative will be to inspire another creative wanna-be at this year’s conference. If so, you will feel so wonderful for having done so. Not just the “do-gooder” kind of feel good that you feel for helping someone else, but the realization of your accomplishments and the distance you have traveled from “intern” to “expert” creative. Indulge in that feeling of smugness, you have earned it! (And the smugness will evaporate naturally the next time you hit a snag in your work, so no fear of hubris taking up permanent residence!)


  4. Congratulations to you, Patrick, for having the courage to pursue the creative life again. Bold moves are followed by doors either opening or closing, and you obviously made the right move because you’ve been rewarded by open doors. Keep it up, I wish you well!


    1. “Bold moves are followed by doors either opening or closing, and you obviously made the right move because you’ve been rewarded by open doors.” That, I know, is a quote I’m going to carry with me to the conference. Thank you, Yvette.


  5. Pingback: A Round-Up of Resources for AWP 2013 | The Artist's Road

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