It’s that time of year when writer/bloggers across the country are offering you their “survival guides” to the AWP conference. For anyone who’s not attended before, the idea that one needs multiple reference points on merely surviving a conference—a literary one, no less. It’s not like this is a snake-handling conference!—is perhaps a little daunting.
It’s true that AWP is intense, even for a veteran attendee. Yes, I’m delighted that I’ll be signing my new collection, Burn This House, at the Red Hen Press Booth at space 302 (and 304 and 306. The hens take up a lot of room!) on Thursday at 10:30, Friday at 1, and Saturday at 10, and that I’ll also be holding down the Los Angeles Review table in the book fair.
But you see, those are the only things I can predict about what will happen at AWP. Any time I think I’ve got this conference down, I’m surprised by a new strange occurrence. Here’s a partial list of exciting things that have happened to me in the book fair:
1. A man I’ve never met handed me a baby dressed in a bear suit, and the baby vomited on me. I had to go shampoo my sleeve.
2. A stranger grabbed me by my stomach fat.
3. Two writers approached me and asked what my connection to The Los Angeles Review was. I told them I was the managing editor. They insisted that I couldn’t possibly be telling the truth, and that some guy I’d never heard of was the editor. They proceeded to carry on a long discussion of the guy’s merits, unwilling to believe that I’d never met the man.
4. A Very Fancy poet I once published in the magazine body-checked me (he has not appeared in my pages again, let me say).
5. I received what was quite possibly the perfect shunning from a Very Fancy memoirist (complete with a look of revulsion and ball-of-foot pivot away from me as I said “I really admire…”). Once I got over feeling humiliated, I had to admit that it was a pro shunning.
So how does a writer “survive” the weirdness factor of AWP? Enjoy the oddity and love it for what it is. Also, have a list of the fun things you want to accomplish while at the conference. Here’s my list for this year:
1. Have a ball signing my new book. (Did I mention I’m signing my new book? Yes. I’m signing my new book.)
2. Meet cool writers. This does not necessarily entail meeting famous writers—I love to make connections with others who take their work seriously, wherever they may be in their careers.
3. Meet my LAR contributors. I have the best contributors in magazine land, and I never get tired of meeting those I’ve published (body-check guy notwithstanding).
4. Transport less heavy swag to the book fair. Who would have thought that a suitcase full of 5,000 custom-printed lollipops would be so heavy? Someone with good powers of estimation, I suppose. But not me. This year, the LAR crew is bringing you cool, but far less heavy, goodies.
5. Connect with those who are making good things happen in the literary world. There’s a lot of want in the small press ecosystem: writers who want to be published, publishers who want reviews, people who want to be known. And there are also those who make the good things happen for others: the publishers, editors, reviewers, interns, volunteers, and not-for-profit directors who give their time, energy, and talents to the literary world every day. AWP is a fantastic time to say thank you to those who work so hard and with so little fanfare.
6. Enjoy seeing that guy who attends the bookfair while wearing his spangled hotpants. Who doesn’t love a little glitter?