Everyone comes to a big conference with expectations. AWP, one of the largest gatherings of creative types in the country, has its own interesting cast of characters walking the halls. Talk to anyone in an elevator and stories pour out: newly minted Ph.D.s with job interviews, out of work editors with resumes hoping to hear about opportunities, poets interested in grant money, novelists searching for the elusive agent, small publishers with hopes of expanding subscriptions, presenters unsure their materials are still relevant in the always changing world of literature, successful writers willing ready to share their formula for staying on top. There are books to be written from what can is heard.
From the first sessions at nine in the morning through sessions and conversations with absolute strangers, in the Bookfair where story ideas are shared hesitantly with a publication’s editor, to the cafes and bars where an absolute stranger becomes a friend for two days, AWP is a giant whirl that can refresh the spirit while the body wears down. Except for the students who travel in miles from their friends’ homes where they bunk for free to the Chicago Hilton venue and stay until the last microphone is turned off.
Day 2 for me will include time at the Stonecoast MFA table where hopeful students bring their aspirations and former colleagues will ask about where writing has taken my life. I plan to attend sessions around the old chapbook format that has found new audiences, to hear readings and learn about the future direction of literary journals. I wish I could use my notebook to draft new characters from the nuances of the swirling crowd.