We’re back from AWP—the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference—feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and grateful to work in such an amazing industry. Here’s a list of some of our favorite things that happened during the conference.
Hugo House Literary Series All-Stars
Event organizers take note: the equation for Best Reading Ever = time management + booze + Jennine Capó Crucet + Natalie Diaz + Roxane Gay + Jess Walter. Any one of those authors at your reading would be a stellar night, but Seattle-based Hugo House knocked it out of the park with one of the best readings of the conference. Diverse in tone and genre, the readers were biting, intelligent, and funny all at once (Crucet read from her piece, “Facts About Neil deGrasse Tyson”). Each reader was asked to choose a piece they were prompted to write, and the result was one of our most memorable readings (fiction, essays, and poetry!) of AWP.
Poet and critic Claudia Rankine brought the house down with her keynote speech. Her talk touched on “what keeps us uncomfortable in each other’s presence,” namely the continued marginalization of faculty and students of color at MFA programs. Rankine shared necessary and hard truths about calls for diversity and inclusion. She made it clear that while some administrators profess difficulty in building diverse writing programs, it takes just as much effort to maintain the status quo: “The investment in whiteness takes work. A white majority faculty takes work. The inability to hire and retain diverse faculty takes work.” Rankine’s talk was an eloquent call to action for those in MFA administrations and workshops, and the answer is not mere tokenization. Rankine, whose 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric garnered numerous accolades, read an unpublished poem called “Sound and Fury” in which she grapples with the disenfranchisement she imagines many supporters of Donald Trump feel.
Supporting Small Presses Directly
Sure, we all write and read for love, art, and beauty. But face it: the book industry is still an industry and runs on money. Finances can dictate the rise, fall, and reach of a publisher or lit mag, so where and how you buy books matters. The AWP Bookfair can be a beast to walk around, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to directly support small publishers and presses. When you buy directly from the publisher, you’re doing more than saving on shipping. Not only do you get to meet the folks behind the press, but sellers get to keep one hundred percent of the profit. Some of our favorite works from our official AWP haul were the Family Arcana card deck from Small Beer Press, the new Ochre Issue of Fairy Tale Review (featuring TMR contributor Courtney Bird), and the “Yoga for Writers” poster from Electric Literature.
The Lulu Fund Awards
Unlike many other off-site events—packed bars where an author struggles to be heard over cocktail hour—the inaugural Lulu Awards took place in a small room off a restaurant and capped entry at 110. Their mission statement—which you can read in full here—recognizes writers and organizations who actively support racial, gender, and class justice. They honored organizations such as the Writers of Color Database and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and recognized authors Wendy C. Ortiz (author of Excavation: A Memoir), Garth Greenwell (author of What Belongs to You), and Saeed Jones (author of Prelude to Bruise and an executive editor at Buzzfeed). The intimate setting made the authors’ moving acceptance speeches all the more resonant and personal. Greenwell challenged us to publish more complicated queer narratives. Jones explained that he didn’t consider the Buzzfeed Emerging Writers Fellowship as a diversity initiative or even especially noteworthy, saying, “I’m just doing my job. All editors should be doing this.” The organization has a five-year plan to develop high school curriculum, support equity for adjuncts, establish affordable and inclusive residencies, and more.
Connecting with the Literary Community
One of the best parts of AWP is putting faces to names—meeting the editors, publishers, and writers you’ve previously only known through words on a page. For The Masters Review, meeting our contributors and speaking directly with submitters was one of the most memorable aspects of the conference. There is a human element behind every story, poem, and essay we read, but it’s wonderful to learn more about the person behind the writing; to shake your hands and get to know you on a deeper level. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth to say hello, and to all the new friends, readers, and submitters we connected with over the weekend.