This past March, I celebrated my birthday in the best way possible: I traveled to another city and indulged in my love of literature and words. I attended the AWP Bookfair and Conference! AWP stands for Association for Writers and Writing Programs. It’s a literary organization that started in 1967 supporting a handful of writing programs and has since expanded to membership including a book fair, conference, and now supporting over 500 writing programs. Why is this exciting? For any writer and reader, attending AWP is like Comic-Con without the cosplay, but it should be a thing.
Every year, my birthday month acts as the true beginning of my year. I receive new insights and open myself to new opportunities in my professional and social life. This year, I received five great nuggets and realizations to share.
- Traveling fills my soul and benefits me as a writer and a person. The Conference and Bookfair take place in a new city every year. This year, the conference was held in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center.
I’d never traveled to another city north of California unless it was a layover to my next destination. Traveling to Portland was a nice retreat, and the people were pretty nice. I didn’t interact with many locals, but I did act like a local. I rode the city bus to get around and mostly used Lyft during the conference itself. Two things I loved about Portland was the nature and the literary community thriving. Powell’s Bookstore, for a word nerd, was a highlight. I had to contain myself. I only bought a handful of books because I wanted to save space for the other goodies from the conference itself.
I’ve trained myself to limit my buying to three books per bookstore visit. Once I hit three, I run out of there. It’s dangerous, in the best way, because I already own so many books and my home library is crazy. I acknowledge that while I call my book buying habit “dangerous,” it’s also my salvation. My writing improves from reading different genres, and I am constantly transported to new places and also inspired to visit new places too.
While in Portland, I made the hike to visit Multnomah Falls. At the half-mile mark, my breathing quickened and my legs quivered. My vertigo overtook me, so I listened to my body and shakily walked back down.
The great thing about this episode is that I was able to visit the museum that discussed the formation of the falls and the history of the Oregon area, which I loved. Whenever I travel, food is the last thing I think about. As a writer and someone curious about the world I live in, I am more interested in the history of the region and the indigenous roots of the land. I enjoyed this time I had in Portland before the other word nerds arrived in Portland on Wednesday for registration.
- Attending an MFA program taught me how to cultivate and constantly grow my writing community. I graduated from the University of San Francisco two years ago, and I found it hard to connect with some of my fellow prose writers. I wasn’t until I attended a writer’s workshop for only people of color (Voices of Our Nation – VONA) that I was able to connect with the small number of students of color in my writing program. That’s when my community grew and now I feel lucky to be friends with students in the school currently. Spending time with my cohort, alumni, and current students, made this AWP special and memorable for years to come.
- Literary readings can be the best inspiration to get back on the page or a reminder of why I write in the first place. I attended a reading every night when I was at AWP with members of my cohort. Each evening, we attended a mixed genre reading or a poetry reading that filled me with joy and rejuvenation. I felt seen and heard through different pieces of the readers’ words and couldn’t wait to get back home to write. One day, I would be sharing my work at an off-site AWP reading and more.
- Reading for a literary magazine has taught me how to write better. I currently read submissions for an online literary magazine and had the opportunity to volunteer at the booth during the book fair. The book fair was a litgasm. Books, books, and more books! Writing programs, writers, authors, publishers – you name in the industry, and they attended the bookfair and panels. While at the booth, I had to greet folks and mention the call for submissions at the literary magazine. It wasn’t until one writer asked me about my perspective as a reader that it dawned on me, I knew what I was doing, and this was my future. I’d possibly be a gatekeeper in some capacity and be providing advice to others. It validated so much how I’m choosing to pursue this career.
- I have always been an advocate for the arts, and I found a way that I could that in my Latinx community. AWP has a caucus for most groups: Latinx, Asian, African Diaspora, Deaf Community, etc. I’d never attended one of these because I didn’t understand the context. That wasn’t until I attended a Latinx Caucus. I was inspired to be a part of this community to showcase more diversity in the Latinx community since there was only one Afro-Latinx on the panel and because I want to champion different Latinxs. I learned that to be part of this caucus (as a gatekeeper), I would have to attend three AWPs in a row. Next year, AWP takes place in San Antonio, TX. Texas here I come! I am optimistic about how this will move my career in publishing forward.
Overall, my experience at AWP rivals my last attendance at the conference in Los Angeles. While I enjoyed Los Angeles that time, I didn’t network as much or feel as revved up to make moves like I was then. I only hope my story inspires others to attend in some form or another. Even if it’s in your city and you can only attend the off-site readings. Those readings are everything.