At last year’s AWP Conference, the collective group said one thing:  We want more LGBTQ Panels!  Okay, so the collective group said MANY things, not just that, but one thing we all seemed to agree upon was that we wanted MORE.  LGBTQ-specific panels nurture and inspire us.  They bring us together.  They help us feel validated and recognized.  They build community and allow us to have a voice.  I know from personal experience that many of the LGBTQ panels have sustained me throughout the year and continue to shape and inspire me still.

In 2016, the number of LGBTQ panels was very high!  Last year, that number took a significant drop!  The reason?  Not as many people submitted panels!  So, in 2018, let’s fix this.  We need to submit proposals!  And we need to do it now!  Event proposals  are due on Monday, May 1, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. ET (8:59 p.m. PT).  That is a little over 2 weeks away!

But don’t worry.  There is STILL time, but you need to act now!  For those who have never submitted a panel proposal before, here are a few things to know and some tips on getting accepted.

UNDERSTANDING THE PANEL-DECISION PROCESS:

AWP offers a TON of insight on their website about the decision-making process, but here are some of the highlights about the panel-decision process.  The key thing to know is that panels are chosen from a special AWP subcommittee.

  1.  The subcommittee is diverse.  These 19 people represent different ages/stages in career, different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, different gender identity/expressions, and/or different political and spiritual beliefs.  They also seek to have representatives who can speak to disabled experiences as well those who represent the host region (in this case, Florida and the Southeast).
  2. Committee members change every year.  Of these 19 panelists, 17 are new.  This means that the tastes, perspectives, and and interests also change as well, so if you have tried to have a panel accepted in the past, it is more than okay to try, try again.
  3. Panels undergo a thorough evaluation process.   Once submissions are received, the 19 panelists spend about a month reviewing content.  Each panel is scored on the basis of Artistic/Academic Merit (45%), the Importance to Members (25%), their ability to reflect “artistic, intellectual, regional, political, ethnic, and cultural diversity” for a range of communities (20%), and overall integrity (10%), which mainly means that you’ve followed instructions, dotted your i’s, crossed your t’s and all of that good stuff (the teacher in me notices this as the “grammar” points of the essay…).  Each proposal gets reviewed by 4 different subcommittee members.

GETTING A PANEL ACCEPTED

Getting a panel accepted is, like everything in the creative writing world, a competitive process.  Last year, for example, of the 1465 proposals, 556 were accepted.  Each year, the acceptance rate fluctuates, but on average, 38.8% of proposed panels make it into the program.  So, how to set yourself apart?

  1. Play up the diversity factor.   If their panel-choosing procedure tells you anything, it is that AWP seeks to represent diversity in their panel offerings.  Therefore, play up the diversity within your panel members.  Are you including people from different stages in their writing careers?  Different regions of the country?  Are pepole writing in different genres, of different ethnic backgrounds, and from different universities or academic institutions?  Are you including people of different genders/gender identities and/or different orientations?  Put another way, when thinking of your LGBTQ panels, are you thinking of more than just the L and the G?  Not sure who to connect with?  No problem!  The LGBTQ Caucus has created a Google Spreadsheet to help you connect with other writers!
  2. Think about a panel that is specific enough to be interesting, but not so specific that your audience will be limited.  Take a look at last year’s offerings for ideas. You’ll see panels that range in uniqueness – some are craft specific (“The Politics of Queering Characters”), others community-specific (” The Elegy Endures: 30 Years of Community Witness to HIV/AIDS”), others  identity-specific (“Does Gender Matter? Wrestling with Identity and Form in the Golden Age of Women’s Essays,” “I Sing the Body Queer and Crip,” “Queering Masculinities”) and others look to specific things particular to our time and place in this world (“I Was Dreaming When I Wrote This: Prince as Influence and Icon.”).
  3. Play up your regionalism, especially if you are from the Florida area.  As you’ve probably noticed, they do seek to represent that region as much as possible.  In Denver, for example, there were a lot of panels about place and living/writing the West, in Chicago, a lot of panels about Chicago, NY a lot about being from NY, you get the picture…
  4. Spend time crafting your blurb. There are two 500 blurbs you’ll need to write – the “Event Description,” the thing that goes in the program, and the “Statement of Merit,” which is your argument for why your panel should be chosen.  Then, send this blurb to your friends to see if they understand what you are trying to do.  Do not leave this until the last minute as 1.) it takes time, and 2.) when you ask people to be on a panel with you, you can send them these blurbs to give them more insight into what you are thinking.
  5. Finally, submit more than one proposal! If there is roughly a 1 in 3 chance of our proposals being accepted ,why not submit 3?

In closing, I think this should go without saying, propose a panel that you think offers up something that needs to be said.  Think about all the things you say to yourself when you sit down to write.  Think about the things you say to other readers when you are standing in bookstores or in your classrooms or in your writing groups.  Think of all the times when you’ve said or thought or wondered about why things are the way they are (and/or how they might be different).  Then go with that.

As a final, final note, there are many many things not covered in this post, including the different types of panels and other details about participants, technology, and more.  Be sure to visit the official AWP Event Proposal Guidelines for more details.

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