How to Survive AWP: Tips and Advice for First-Time AWP Goers, Take 2

Two weeks ago, we offered advice to help first-time AWP attendees plan their trip to AWP.  Here, we offer our second installment in the advice series: How to SURVIVE the conference itself.  As before, I asked advice from upcoming AWP panelists, and compiled their wisdom. Much gratitude to Miguel Morales, Marisa P. Clark, Belinda Kremer, Donna Minkowitz, Sean Patrick Mulroy, and Lisa Chavez for taking the time to help!

Our first stop?  Panels!  As we discussed in the first advice post, there are TONS of panels, many during conflicting time slots.  Good thing for you, you’ve downloaded the app, added your favorite panels to your personal schedule, and perhaps are even sporting a new haircut (and feeling fine!).  Now, you have to make those hard choices – this panel or that one?  That one or another?  At last, you take a plunge, sit down in your seat, and then…

As Miguel Morales, presenting on the panel “On Caucuses: Caucus Leaders Unite,” points out,

Not Every panel will be for you, and some panels are unexpectedly so!  Often, you’ll read a description in the program, attend the panel, and a few minutes in realize that this panel is not what you expected.  Other times, you’ll arrive for a panel early and listen to the tail end of another presentation that realize that the panel was unexpectedly important.  At the conference, it is okay to arrive and leave mid-panel, but please be respectful of the presenters!

And for those occasions when a panelist happens to say that ONE THING you needed to hear or offers up wisdom that truly speaks to you, don’t be afraid to introduce yourselves (or even offer a business card), which is the advice offered by Marisa P. Clark, also presenting on the “The Politics of Queering Characters” panel. As Clark reminds

All the writers & presenters are humans and experiencing different things in their lives but a kind word can be very meaningful. And how you wouldn’t want to leave regretting that you didn’t take the opportunity to say hi, get your book signed, etc.

When you do approach them, introduce yourself by full name (& maybe genre & school). Don’t be shy, don’t be shy, don’t be shy. You’re moving in a world you belong in and contribute to in lots of ways.  It is all a part of literary citizenship.

Another key part of literary citizenship is attending the AWP Bookfair, which may require that you leave extra room in your luggage, as it is often everyone’s favorite event.

Belinda Kremer, on the panel “The Body Electric in the Ether: Creative Writing Pedagogy Goes Online,” advises:

Don’t leave the Bookfair to the end! Go early, go often. It’s inspiring. It’s a good way to relax and clear your head. While you are there, visit the LGBTQ folks and offer your encouragement and positive feedback. They would like to see you. And you’ll like seeing them.

I swear, we didn’t pay her to say this, but Kremer also encourages people to go to the LGBTQ writers caucus meeting, which occurs on the first evening!  Last year, Kremer hadn’t been able to attend because it crossed over with other things and was regrouping from travel…

 …yet I saw how much people had connected there, and was often asked if I’d been there. Conferences can be so big and overwhelming, and it always looks like everyone knows each other and is totally connected …. get some of that connection for yourself, or increase what you’ve already got, by going to the caucus.


Panels and bookfair aside, perhaps one of the biggest areas of advice had to do with the importance of choosing YOU.

As Miguel says,

It’s alright that you planned every moment of the conference but be flexible. Make peace with the fact that there are probably 4 or 5 places you really want/need to be at any given time. Take a few moments each day to process what’s happening. So much energy is flying around that it can be overwhelming, ground yourself whenever you can. Sometimes that means just stopping by the caucus booth to chat or stepping outside for some air. People will understand if you need a moment.

Donna Minkowitz, presenting on “I Sing the Body Queer and Crip,” reminds that

You will get tired. Take ample breaks, even unscheduled ones; take entire evenings off. Eat regularly and well. During the time slot when you thought you would go hear Famous Writer Y, go instead to dunk in the hot tub and swim in the hotel pool.

This is advice Sean Patrick Mulroy, caucus communications officer, seconds:

I would say, don’t feel too much pressure to go to everything. Pick what’s most important to you, and take some risks, but don’t feel bad taking the afternoon off to enjoy the city–AWP is supposed to be fun.  Make sure to let it be fun.

Lisa Chavez, presenting on “The Politics of Queering Characters” and “Mother Lode, Mother Load: Writing Difficult Mothers and Others,” like Sean, advocates enjoying the host city, particularly the museums, many of which will be free.  But be forewarned…

A huge hoard of writers is descending on D.C., all likely looking for coffee, a drink, lunch, etc. at nearly the same time.  If you are looking for less of a crowd, venture further afield.

And while you are out there, Chavez adds,

Take off your badges!

At the end of this post, I offer up a final tip by Miguel.

Look out for one another. I mean, don’t get all up in someone else’s business but if someone needs help, looks lost, or is unsure about walking alone to CVS, step up and be a good citizen.

Now what are you waiting for?  Let’s do this conference thing!  See you folks in Washington, D.C.!

P.S.  My photograph for this post was taken at AWP LA.  It’s of the “secret” coffee cart I found in AWP LA…  You might consider finding other secret things of your own…cover carts, places to write, or even windows with particularly perfect views.  Got more advice?  Leave some in the comments below!

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