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.

  1.  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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.