Guide to AWP 2017
AWP kicks off on Thursday! We’ll be hunkered down at table 640 (come say hello!), but when we can, we’ll sneak off to the many awesome panels. Descriptions of each panel can be found here and this grid is also helpful for navigating the fray. But there’s a lot to sift through. We’ve compiled some stand-out panels (excluding the key-note speeches!) that stood out to us by day, below. Can’t attend? Never fear. We’ve included links to the same topics online so you can attend your own AWP panels via self-study. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 9
Magical Realism As An Agent For Social Change (9:00 am to 10:15 am) “This panel of magical realist writer/teachers discusses how to guide student use of the genre to confront inequalities of their time and locale.” Can’t attend? Check out this essay “The Politics of Magical Realism” about magical realism in undeveloped vs. the developed world.
Surprise Us: Reading Between the Submission Guidelines (9:00 am to 10:15 am) Learn what it takes to stand out from the editors and readers of A Public Space. “This panel, hosted by A Public Space, explores how editors balance the aesthetic of their magazine with the hope writers will surprise them.” Can’t attend? This essay by Electric Literature discusses “How To Escape The Slush Pile.” There is also this panel later in the day, on how to survive the slush pile.
The G Word: Writing and Teaching Genre in a Changing Literary Landscape (10:30 – 11:45) “Historically, creative writing workshops shunned so-called genre fiction in favor of literary realism… The writers and teachers on this panel discuss how they treat genre in the classroom, and in their own work.” Can’t attend? The debate on genre vs. literary is endless, but here is one Esquire article about how genre fiction became more important than literary fiction.
Writing From The Wound (10:30 – 11:45) “Trauma-based nonfiction sells, but at what personal and professional cost? How can we maintain a literary standard when writing about loaded topics such as war, murder, rape, or abuse?” Can’t attend? Saïd Sayrafiezadeh writes on this same topic in the essay, “How to Write About Trauma” for the NYTimes.
Leashing the Beast: Humanizing Fictional Monsters (10:30 – 11:45) “Want to write fabulous fabulist fiction? Bring your beasts to the table. Panelists discuss their influences, inspiration, and how they go about creating characters who exist between human and monster, mundane and extraordinary.” Can’t attend? This essay by Ursula K. Le Guin isn’t exactly the same, but in “The Critics, The Monsters, and The Fantasists” the famed author offers some wonderful insight on the history of fantasy and fantastic elements in fiction.
Beyond, “Show, Don’t Tell,” How to Give (and Get) Meaningful Feedback (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “…what are the secrets to more meaningful feedback? Editors from two major publishing houses join with three of their writers to share the approaches and winning techniques that have worked best for them.” Can’t attend? Check out this essay titled, “Tips For Editing Fiction.” It may not be straight from the horse’s mouth, but it has some excellent editing tips.
A Field Guide for the Craft of Fiction: Finding Structure (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “When talking about narrative structure, we often focus on the macro: three acts, plot points, beginnings, and endings. But there are micro ways to think about structure while working with character, dialogue, the movement through time and space, and shifts between interiority and exterior action.” Can’t attend? The “How To Write A Novel” series from The Guardian discusses how structure can evolve your novel.
We All Have To Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “Five intrepid poets and fiction writers defy shame to share work they thought they’d put far behind them, at the same time exploring: How do we know what’s good or bad, in our writing or in others’?” Can’t attend? Find inspiration in Ira Glass’ take on talent and the importance of staying in the game.
Speaking of the Dead: Craft & Ethics in Nonfiction (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “Writing about the living poses obvious risks: broken trusts, wounded feelings, turn ties, damaged reputations, and possible legal and social repercussions. But what risks confront us in writing about the dead?” Can’t attend? Check out this essay on “Writing About Real People: The Ethics of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
Second Time Around: On The Second Novel (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “Join four novelists with second books forthcoming about what the authors learned from publishing their first book, and what will be different for the second.” Can’t attend? Check out this essay from Litreactor titled, “The Curse of The Second Novel.”
Distinguished Editors, Four Successful Editors (3:00 pm to 4:15 pm) “This is an exclusive opportunity to gain invaluable insight from three of literary publishing’s most prolific and successful editors—Nan Graham, Publisher and Sr. VP at Scribner; Erroll McDonald, VP and Executive Editor at Knopf/Doubleday; Chris Jackson, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of One World, an imprint of Penguin Random House; and Daniel Halpern, Founding Editor of Ecco Press at HarperCollins. Combined, these titans of publishing have almost a century of experience to share.” Can’t attend? Shoot. This is a tough one to replicate.
Friday, February 10
Writing as Refugees: Collective Trauma & Impossible Return (9:00 am to 10:15 am) “This dialogue is among indigenous, African, Latino, and Asian writers whose work draws upon their experiences of being refugees, relocated, and stateless.” Can’t attend? This article in The Guardian discusses how fiction can help us understand the refugee crisis.
Emerging from the Slush: How to Get Your Short Story Published (9:00 am to 10:15 am) Another slush panel. Why? Because it really helps to hear this stuff. ” No Agent? No MFA? No problem! If we got published, so can you! Emerging from the Slush presents four authors who, in the last year alone, have published dozens of stories in top literary journals, won major contests, and had their story collections published.”
Ethnicity and Craft (9:00 am to 10:15am) “How do we write fiction that captures specific cultural experiences without giving in to stereotypes and branding? How do we negotiate the readers’ expectation that a writer is representing an entire culture on the page? Five authors whose books successfully straddle different cultures explore how to balance writing on the hyphen. They address how to capture cultural specificity and difference, and how to be a writer of authenticity, not just ethnicity.” Can’t attend? This article includes several links on Writing About The Other.
Second Blooming: Women Authors Debuting After Fifty (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “The publishing playing field for women is not level, especially when compounded by age, disability, sexual orientation, race, or thorny material. On this 50th AWP anniversary, five second-career authors, who published first novels after age fifty, share their circuitous paths to publication and discuss how to navigate, survive, and flourish as literary late bloomers.” Can’t attend? The Masters Review published a piece on emerging writers coming to fiction later in life.
Writing Under the Gun: The Agony & Ecstasy of The Book Contract (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “The elusive book contract—the writer’s holy grail—both offers security and fosters panic. The panelists take a look at the deal (with the devil?) and its effect on the writing process, and offer strategies for writing or revising a book on the clock.” Can’t attend? Writer’s Digest published this recent piece on what is negotiable in a book contract and what isn’t.
From The Margins To The Mainstream (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “How do mixed identities compete and cooperate: for airtime, authority, and claims to authenticity? In what ways might mixed writers pass or pander? How might editors and publishers include mixed voices without either exoticizing or erasing minoritized positions?” Can’t attend? We think this is topic is best heard from the source.
Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Organizing and Structuring Story Collections (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “Putting together a story collection can feel like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces don’t quite fit and there is no one solution. Must the stories be interconnected or thematically connected? Can stories be linked by virtue of voice, tone, or style? The panel presents writers of interconnected, thematically connected, and unconnected stories to provide insight for story writers seeking to build their collections.” Can’t attend? This Litreactor piece, tackles the difficulty in putting together a story collection.
From Flash Fiction to Microfiction: How Many Words Are Enough? (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “The introduction to Flash Fiction asks: How short can a story be and still be a short story? The answer was 750 words, but recently we have seen microfiction of 300 and 200 words, and the emergence of the 100-word story. How can such compression address character development, narrative arc, and tension? Does prose poetry show us indirectly how to accommodate narrative size? These panelists discuss the limitations and rewards of writing short with urgency and artistic integrity.” Can’t attend? Much has been said on the topic of flash fiction, but we like this interview The Masters Review conducted with flash-fiction expert, Robert Swartwood.
Looking Outward: Avoiding The Conventional Memoir (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “All too often, memoir falls into a familiar, conventional pattern of confession and redemption. But how do you tell a personal story when life doesn’t conform to that shape? And how can a writer with a variety of interests incorporate those subjects into a personal narrative?” Can’t attend? The Memoir Project from NPR offers tips on how to keep your memoir fresh.
MFA Or Bust (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “For increasing numbers of writers, MFA programs are an entry to the publishing world. How does this trend affect writers without the degree? What kinds of nonacademic credentials can help all writers in their careers? How does one become part of a literary community? What are the attitudes towards writers who do not teach? This diverse panel discusses the increasing cross-pollination between writers with MFAs and writers with other academic degrees that create a stronger literary community.” Can’t attend? This list of writers includes almost 30 professionals’ opinions on whether or not to get an MFA.
In Conversation: Emma Straub and Ann Patchett. Sponsored by the Center for Fiction and Write On Door County (3:00 pm to 4:15 pm) “New York Times bestselling author of Modern Lovers and The Vacationers, Emma Straub is joined by Orange Prize–winner Ann Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, State of Wonder, Commonwealth). Both have written extensively on family, friendships, and the tensions of adulthood. They will read from and discuss their work.” Can’t attend? Check out this Slate interview with Ann Patchett.
The Last Word on Animals: Creaturely Nonfiction in a Time of Environmental Upheaval (4:30 pm to 5:45 pm) “We live amid the “sixth extinction,” in which species are disappearing at the fastest rate since the dinosaurs. Animals thrive in our psyches, but now stories about polar bears treading water and octopuses escaping aquariums show how their reality and our animal knowledge is changing. How do we call attention to creatures while protecting their mystery, autonomy, and very existence? Hear from nonfiction writers and editors devoted to the craft and ethics of the bestiary in this alarming era.” Can’t attend? Too bad! We couldn’t find much on the topic online.
Double Bind: Women Writers On Ambition (4:30 pm to 5:45 pm) “A woman must be ambitious in order to have a meaningful career in the arts. But ambition in women is often seen as un-feminine, egoistic, and aggressive rather than crucial to great work and identity. Until recently, no conversation has taken place to help women navigate this pervasive but unspoken double bind.” Can’t attend? Read Bitch Media’s piece on the problem of ambition for women writers.
Saturday, February 11
I’ll Take You There: Place in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction (9:00 am to 10:15 am) “Establishing a strong sense of place in a work of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction is difficult but essential. As Dorothy Allison tells us, place is not just setting—a physical landscape—but so much more: it’s context, feeling, invitation, desire, particular language, and emotion. On this cross-genre panel, four writers will discuss the importance of place in their own work” Can’t attend? This piece from Now Novel discusses the importance of setting in your work.
Murder She Wrote: Women Writers on Writing Violence (9:00 am to 10:15 am) “…brutal violence figures prominently in some of our most loved books. But how much blood on the page is vivid, arresting writing—and how much crosses over into sensationalism or exploitation? Five writers whose books grapple with violence—both real and imagined–talk about the choices, ethics, and strategies of rendering moments of high crime.” Can’t attend? Check out this book from SAGE publishing, about women writing violence.
Does Gender Matter? Wrestling with Identity and Form in the Golden Age of Women’s Essays (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “In 2014, The New York Times asked if it’s a golden age for women essayists. Cheryl Strayed gave a qualified yes. But while a wave of women’s essays is shaping the literary scene, women are underrepresented in journals and the standard-bearer, Best American Essays. Our panel explores the literary fallout from this paradox, the shape-shifting nature of essays, why it’s tricky to identify as a woman writer, the effects on our work when asked to write as women, and the complications of invisibility.”
What Writers of Color Want White Editors to Know (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “In 2017, what message does an all-white masthead send to writers of color? Beyond the content of their work, what issues must these writers contend with in publishing? Four writers of color and one white editor explore real and perceived tokenism, the pressure to change a story or voice to fit an editor’s racialized assumptions, the continued erasure of writers of color in the canon and awards systems, and the highs and lows of working with editors in the face of these and other challenges.” Can’t attend? Not exactly the same, but this Washington Post article is titled: “I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.” It’s excellent.
Directions in Trans Publishing (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “Transgender literature has become increasingly prominent in recent years. This panel addresses the publishing side of this cultural moment, which taken the form of both new trans literary publications and a growing visibility of trans literature in cis-centric journals and presses. Five trans editors and publishers discuss their experiences in curating trans literature and the challenges of making spaces for it where few had existed before.” Can’t attend? The Guardian comes through again, with this piece on 10 Books Written by Transgender Authors and With Transgender Characters.
Essaying on the Edge: Teaching alternative Forms of Nonfiction (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “Hybrids. Microprose. Hermit crabs. Fraudulent Artifacts. Collage. Experimental nonfiction is an increasingly popular subgenre, inspiring anthologies, contests, and even bestsellers. It blurs boundaries and often resists definition—which can make it difficult to model and assess in a classroom setting.” Can’t attend? This piece by Creative Nonfiction Magazine looks at ways you can experiment with form in the CNF genre.
Writing White Characters (10:30 am to 11:45 am) “A google search of “writing white characters” defaults to its opposite, the trials and errors of white writers attempting to write characters of color. There are numerous articles about whitewashing, tokenization, disrespectful tropes and representations, and appropriation. What there isn’t, however, is an in-depth conversation about what it’s like for writers of color to write white characters.”
Writing the Abyss: Turning Grim Reality into Good Fiction (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “How can powerful, beautiful, and/or comic fiction be made out of the darkest aspects of human experience? Novelists who have written about war, slavery, suicide, existential, and literal despair will tell how they do justice to their grim topics without overwhelming readers or becoming overwhelmed themselves.”
The Path to Publishing a First Story Collection (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “Four authors discuss their different paths to publishing their first books. One of the panelists got an agented two-book deal with a big New York house, one got an unagented contract with a small university press, and two won contests: the Drue Heinz Prize and the Flannery O’Connor Award.” Can’t attend? This recent article by Electric Literature covers a lot of topics, but also the path to short story collections: “Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask): An In-Depth Look at What/How/Why Books Sell”
Writing With and About Dis/Ability, Dis/Order, and Dis/Ease (12:00 pm to 1:15 pm) “This panel, comprised of disabled, disordered, and diseased writers, examines the ways our lived experiences impact both what and how we write. Panelists discuss the problematic imperative to write overcoming narratives, the contradictions of writing beyond and into the stereotypes of disability, and the lack of access to writing programs, conferences, and literary community.”
No Easy Readers: On the Art and Craft of Writing for Children (1:30 pm to 2:45 pm) “Middle grade readers are independent, discerning, and critically merciless. They will not tolerate condescension, and their taste is impeccable. Writing for them is as much of a challenge as it a joy. In this conversation, four of today’s most exciting writers of middle grade fiction will discuss innovation and experimentation, inclusivity, the perils of the adult gaze, and other challenges unique to the craft of writing novels for the youngest, toughest readers.” Can’t attend? This is an impossible topic to cover in one post, but Writer’s Digest offers several links on the topic, here.