How to Plan Ahead: Tips and Advice for First Time Conference Attendees!

So you’ve never been to AWP?  We’re here to help!

With only 3 weeks left before the Conference, we sought advice from upcoming panelists to help you make the best of your trip.  They offered up so much advice, in fact, that I decided to divide it up into two different posts!

In this first post, we’ll discuss the importance of planning ahead and offer up advice on how you should best proceed.  Special thanks to upcoming AWP panelists Miguel Morales, Tiff Ferentini, Todd Summar, Lisa Chavez, and Donna Minkowitz for their help!  In the second post, we’ll talk about ways to make the best of your conference time, but more on that later.

Now, let’s get to it.


As Miguel Morales, your LGBTQ caucus president, puts it:  “If you just show up Thursdayruth-ozeki-awp morning and try to decide where to go, you’re already behind.”


One of the first times I attended AWP, I was with a colleague who loved Art Spiegelman.  I mean LOVED him, so much so that she wrote her Master’s thesis on MAUS and always had students read his work in her own classrooms.  That year, Art Spiegelman was one of the conference’s featured presenters.  To this day, that presentation, was one of the best events I’ve ever attended!

I remember returning to the hotel room that night raving about the event.  To my surprise, my colleague was indignant.  WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME!?  she demanded.  We looked at each other in surprise.  We hadn’t told her because we didn’t know we had to.  We knew Spiegelman was talking because we’d done our homework.  We assumed she had as well.

Don’t be like her.  Take agency of your own time.


When you arrive at the conference, they’ll give you a physical book, but you can also review the schedule now online.   There are literally HUNDREDS of panels, each with its own description and list of renowned writers.  You can review the schedule in one sitting, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  If possible, take a couple of days to digest it.

If you are logged into your AWP account, you can create your own personal calendar and
“Add panels to your personal schedule.”  From there, you can print the schedule or review it in the AWP Conference Mobile App.

This little check mark can be your new best friend!

Be aware, you won’t be able to attend everything.  Often, several panels you want to attend will all occur during the same time slots.  Do you want to learn about publishing?  Do you want to see your favorite writers?  How do you decide where to go?  Everyone is different, and everyone makes choices in different ways.

Donna Minkowitz, who will presenting on the panel, “I Sing the Body Queer and Crip,” advises:

Go for beauty and pleasure. Literally, go only to the panels and readings that are most interesting to you.

Tiff Ferentini, Caucus VP, recommends that you

Prioritize which panels you want to go to based off of what you feel will be the most beneficial and which is most important to your current writing goals and projects right now.

Todd Summar, Caucus Secretary, reminds too, that you do not have to limit yourself:

If there are multiple panels you want to attend that take place in the same time slot, go ahead and plan for all of them. You probably won’t know what you really want to do until that moment, and having a reminder of all the options will be helpful when you’re at the conference.

Finally, don’t forget that the conference is also a great time to meet other writers.  Ferentini also offers this advice:

Take advantage of the conference to meet your favorite authors and discover new ones.  For example, my first AWP I didn’t really look at the schedule beforehand, and I found out when I got there that several of my favorite authors were in attendance. To make a long story short, several last minute trips to Barnes and Noble to buy books I already owned but left at home were made, and I ran around to panels like a chicken without a head just to get author signatures!.

However, I’ve always discovered new authors who I really love and admire, and years later the first thing I do when an AWP schedule is released is to look up and see if they’ll be on an panels, and make it a point to go if my schedule permits.

Needless to say, as you work through the schedule, you’ll find what works for you.  Go with it!


The poet Lisa Chavez, who will be talking on two panels, “The Politics of Queering Characters” and “Mother Lode, Mother Load: Writing Difficult Mothers and Others,” points out that plans should not be set in stone!  She reminds that though planning is important,

The best part of AWP is often connecting with friends we see rarely, so make sure you have a space for catching up with old and new friends.  Also, there are many off-site readings that are fabulous, and you may learn about these from a flyer at the convention center, or from a friend, so be ready to change the plan you’ve made!

Chavez is good to remind us that the conference doesn’t exist in its own bubble, so…


Miguel Morales suggests orienting yourself to the city as well:

Use Google Maps, Yelp, and other sites to find places to eat that fit your budget and are within walking distance or a quick metro stop. Also, identify the metro stop(s) near your hotel and the conference center, their hours of operation.

He also offers up some advice that is less conference-oriented and more about YOU:

It’s not panic time yet so you can get that special shirt dry cleaned, and you can get a flu shot (because you WILL run into sick people at AWP).

Don’t try any new hair/beard/eyebrow experiments. Go with classic you.

And learn how to take a decent selfie!


As Donna Minkowitz says,

There is no “right” way to do AWP.

So, as you start making plans, remember that the weekend is yours to do with as you please.   Forget about what others say you should do and go with what feels right, even if it’s ignoring all of this very good advice!



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