I attended the 2018 AWP Conference in Tampa. I had not been to an AWP Conference since the one in Chicago in 2012, but now I can say with confidence that the conference is a bit too much for me. There are over 12,000 attendees, so I did of course see old friends, both peers and professors. I talked to literary journal staff, attended informative panels, and heard great writers (George Saunders, Mary Ruefle, Jamie Quatro, the list goes on). Great, great, great.
And yet, there are so many people, so many emerging and established and wanna-be writers. Do they all feel like posers, like everyone else can see through them, see their weak and crumbling prose, their self-doubt?
How about the panel leaders and bookfair table reps…do they feel that way?
And the featured speakers?
Probably not all of them, I suppose. But I suspect a goodly portion do.
I had avoided the conference for years, until I was writing again, until I had finished a novel so that I could alleviate that poser feeling. I still felt like, not a fish out of water, exactly, but at least a fish swimming in Tampa Bay when it was used to swimming in the creek that runs behind my house.
I took home so many useful notepads embossed with the logos of journals I like to read. And pens, a tote, a “Long Live Books” shirt from C&R Press, books of poetry and fiction, some literary journals, a wooden redbird whistle.
While I was at the “What Agents Want” panel sponsored by the Author’s Guild, I re-wrote the first two lines of my novel to make sure they packed the punch the novel needed.
I practiced my elevator pitch with a man and a woman in line at the Pitch Wars panel so that I could answer the unnerving, “What’s your book about?” question. It turns out that saying “there’s girl/woman person and a bunch of shit happens to her” may not be the hook agents are seeking, so I polished my response up a bit.
I decided to apply to the Sewanee Writer’s Conference and The Writer’s Hotel to find conferences that would offer immersion back in a creative world with a guaranteed feedback loop. And fellowship with other writers, but not quite so many of them at once.
I sat in the sun, drove on I-75 for hours, and had long talks about writing, publishing, love, finances, and family with my friend from grad school, Jean-Marie.
I ate the best doughnut of my life from a food truck at midnight following a reading in a big white house-turned-event-space. Seriously, the doughnut was a notable highlight and I regret that we didn’t photograph the doughnut or the truck. The reading was good, too.
I walked around Ybor City photographing roosters and breathing cigar smoke, then I rode in a streetcar.