Roughly fourteen thousand people connected to the writing world gather each year for an amazing conference organized by AWP. Big names, wannabes, teachers who never published a word, agents, publicists, publishers, editors, illustrators, students all sort themselves into attending five hundred sessions over three days and circle through the book fair, a gigantic assortment of booths hawking books, dreams, courses and services.
If available sessions don’t meet your needs, people watching will fill the seventy-five minutes. Young and middle-age flesh in Lycra, baggy tunics and barely there shirts, tats, piercing and orthopedic shoes march up and down halls in pursuit of becoming better writers or associated professionals. Lots of black clothes, a good helping of interesting hats, messenger sacks, backpacks, miniscule purses and a few corporate bags file pass by. Individuals on the brink of completing graduate degree programs practice interview greetings in quiet hallways. Academic jobs are almost as scarce as generous advance payments. Writers whisper their way through paragraphs in preparation for the enviable opportunity of reading on the many stages of AWP official and offsite events.
The fifty-something sitting on the aisle could be a published bestseller, or a creative director at an ad agency with a manuscript in their home office and big dreams, or a community creative writing teacher hoping to re-invigorate lesson plans. The thin young woman with wonderful wild hair might be story editor for a literary publication, or marketing herself as a social media specialist, or a graduate student beginning the process of finding her place in this world. She might be working for a community college next year, or for an insurance company, or writing her first collection of poems while caring for her first child.
That’s what writers look like—teachers, fathers, the kid next door, the person sitting next to you on the bus. Everyone at AWP has a story to tell or skills to make that story better, more widely known, sent back for another revision. Pace yourselves these next few days at the conference. Sip that trendy Thai-style tea and find your next story’s character talking to a short, but handsome, man across the room.