It Stands for Association of Writers & Writing Programs— Just Say “Book Nerd Fest”—and It’s in Seattle This Weekend
If you notice a slight uptick in the number of verbose, bedraggled, and socially inept people in downtown and Capitol Hill this week, it’s because about 13,000 aspiring and no-longer-aspiring writers are collecting at the convention center for the 2014 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference (February 26–March 1). As someone with an MFA degree (Master of Fuck All), and an attendee of most of the last decade’s AWPs, I’m here to tell you that this should be fun if you like reading and writing. Actually, even if you don’t care about reading and writing, it should be at least amusing.
So where’s the action?
The hotel bars closest to the conference center will be a constant seething humid throng of acne-afflicted nerds with low-grade alcoholism. These bars are the main attraction for most.
Off-site events are listed on the AWP website and The Stranger’s readings calendar, and there are scores of these. At their best, off-site events are fucked-up, inspiring, and brilliant (see page 17 for prospects). At their worst, you walk out with only minor injuries to your opinion of the human animal. Either way, they’re free. Sometimes it might feel like the Mardi Gras of literary nerds, which is annoying, but you’re less likely to have a jock vomit into your hair than at the actual Mardi Gras.
Should I pay for a pass?
I might anger the AWP gods by saying this, but no, probably not. Most of the fun happens outside the conference itself (see above), and at $285 for the tote bag and a lanyard that grants you access to the conference proper, you have to REALLY want to spend a few days walking the book fair, and also you need to REALLY want to see some of the official events/panels/readings.
Also, if you’re a writer, AWP is just not a great place to advance your writing career. It’s a big boozy gossip with smart people, but for some reason, very little business takes place. The conference was originally just for people interested in the pedagogy and administrivia of universities’ creative-writing departments. It’s not exclusively for academics now, but at the end of the day, the community in question is still decidedly not-for-profit (very few literary agents, almost none of the major New York publishers or magazines will be there, etc.). On the upside, almost everyone is there because of a shared love for reading and writing, rather than for love of filthy lucre.
I want to bag a writer, any advice?
Recite Matthew Dickman’s poem “Slow Dance” into the ear of a poet, and you will end up with a hickey on your neck (even before you get to the chandelier part!). Also: Be kind to poets, they’ve made peculiar life decisions, and bear in mind that these people are inexplicably excellent in bed.