I’m going to AWP tomorrow.

AWP is the short-hand name for the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Program, and I leave in the morning.

At last year’s AWP conference in Atlanta, I attended quite a few excellent programs filled with information and charismatic speakers, some not-so-excellent programs in which misleading program titles covered for bad presentation and pretentious chapbook reading to sell copies, and one program where the speakers never showed up. So it was a mixed bag, programming-wise, but the experience was overall positive, giving me the opportunity to socialize with peers and professors in my MFA program in new ways (as a commuter, I’m often “out of the loop”), see my old friend Charles Jensen, meet editor Rob Spillman of Tinhouse and nab a subscription, and be in a focused environment of people excited by writing. Perhaps I’ll toss out a few Scrawlers business cards, here and there; wouldn’t it be fun to have Frank McCourt post a Scrawlers story?

Many of those positives elements are why I’m also attending this year, plus the hope to see more excellent programs and catch amazing, high-profile readings. Plus, this AWP conference is “the big one,” in that it’s in New York City – a place I’ve not ventured to since a high school band trip taken with fellow Scrawlers scribe Barry Hess in 1996. I hope to visit some great sites in NYC, while not missing out on too much great programming at AWP.

This long-winded list isn’t set in stone, but here is a title list of programs I’m looking at attend, plus my preconceptions. I know I won’t make them all, and not all will be good enough to hold my attention, and other ideas will crop up here and there, but if I can get my plan down in writing before I arrive, it may prove useful as a guiding light over a whirlwind trip. Anyway, my tentative (and optimistic) AWP schedule:

Thursday, January 31, 2008

9:00am-10:15am Shaping a Short Story Collection. I’m approximately one-third of the way through a YA short story collection, with plans laid out pretty well for how it will take shape as a whole, and I can only hope this session will be helpful in putting it together in the most successful way.

10:30am-11:45am Do You Have to be Mean to be Funny? Given my usual taste in projects, this feels like an obligatory session to attend. That said, it’s up against Russell Banks and Charles Simic, as well as a session on how editors acquire books. This is one of those sessions which will either be worth my time or be a waste of it.

12:00pm-1:15pm Blog Form and Function in Writing Communities. The Scrawl is a young blog, and I’m still learning the ropes in how to make it the most effective blog I can for my audience (hi!). That said, aforementioned partner-in-crime Barry Hess is great about giving me tips and links to insightful reading on the subject, so I may end up at the Real or Imagined: The Line Between Young Adult, Crossover, and Adult Fiction session, instead.

1:30pm-2:45pm An Alternative to Teaching: Preparing MFA Students to Work in Nonprofit Arts Agencies (A Case Study). By this time of day, I’ll be thanking myself for having a hearty breakfast (or upset that I didn’t). I’m in the job search process these days, so this is appealing. Plus, one of the panelists is the aforementioned old friend Charles Jensen. Subscribe to his blog – he’s a poet and teacher of writing who has passion for his work.

3:00pm-4:15pm A Literary Interview with Daniel Menaker, Random House Former Executive Editor. This is the only session this hour which both interests me and I’m hopeful won’t feature writers reading their work out loud to entice me to buy their book even though I don’t want it. Sorry if that’s snarky, but I don’t want your book. As for the Menaker interview, it looks to be eye-opening, and hopefully not in that “brutally cutthroat world of publishing” way.

4:30pm-6:15pm A Reading by Carolyn Forché & Ha Jin. I’ve chosen Forché’s poetry collection Blue Hour for my upcoming MFA comprehensive exam, so I would be a fool to miss her read. I keep joking with my peers I’m going to ask her what the collection is all about so I can use her first-hand testimonial in my exam, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if that isn’t such a bad idea.

8:30pm Keynote Address by John Irving. Fools will miss this presentation. Fools.

Friday, February 1, 2008

9:00am-10:15am Show and Tell: Collaborations of the Verbal and Visual. Now this sounds really interesting to me – writers involved in film, theater, novels, and cartooning. That fits me pretty well, methinks.

10:30am-11:45am Habitable Planets and Black Holes: Mapping the Expanding Cyber-Universe of the New Literary Media. Online publishing and the future of publishing overall interests me, so hopefully this program pulls through. I may take time to check out the book fair, too.

12:00pm-1:15pm Two-Year College Caucus. MFA peer Kris Bigalk is part of this networking session, and it may be worth my time to drop by and hobnob. Plus, I’d just like to hear what two-year English faculty talk about when they’re altogether in one room.

1:30pm-2:45pm Transcending Childhood Trauma Through Children’s Literature: Middle-Aged and Young Adult. I’ve been writing more and more YA in the last year, so this is another no-brainer to attend.

3:00pm-4:15pm Fraud! The Debunking of Experimental Fiction. The title is great, and too many of my peers and professors laud over Michael Martone to pass up a program which features him on the panel. I’m sure this program will have MSU folks in attendance en masse. That said, if the 100 Issues: A Celebration of One Story Magazine featuring the John Hodgman, so I may have to venture that way, instead.

4:30pm-6:15pm The Soundtrack of Fiction: Rhythm in Prose. This is a notion I’ve been trying out more and more in my own writing, to allow rhythm and flow to be yet another solid reason for language choice. That said, that’s an awfully long time for a presentation, so we’ll see.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

9:00am-10:15am What Makes a Publisher Say “Yes”? So long as the audience doesn’t decide to be a bunch of jaded unpublished whiners who spend the entire Q&A asking how to get an agent, this should prove to be a frank eye-opener. Six editors from six well-known presses will give us the scoop; hopefully, we’re up to hearing it.

10:30am-11:45am Why Ballet is Good for Football Players: How Screenwriting Informs Fiction and Poetry Writing. I narrowed my choices down for this hour to two possible programs and while the second features Charles Baxter, a program that examines the link between my primary form of writing with my secondary form of writing and a form of writing I’m only just beginning to appreciate sounds like the perfect program for me. Here’s hoping screenwriting as art gets the kudos it deserves in an academic setting.

12:00pm-1:15pm No Humor in Heaven, but Hell Can Be Hilarious: Risks and Rewards in Writing Humor. Here’s a presentation in which I wouldn’t mind hearing writers read their work, as I’d like to hear what sort of humor prose are getting published.

1:30pm-2:45pm Dramatic Writing For Stage, Screen & Digital Media: The Need for a New Kind of Interdisciplinary Writing Program. All I know is I agree with the title, so that’s that.

3:00pm-4:15pm “Glory Be”: Spirituality in Contemporary Poetry. My day job since the beginning of my MFA days has been a youth director, yet I’ve yet to explore faith in my writing. This may be an interesting introduction to the concept. On the other hand, Kitsch and Pop Culture as Social Critique is during the same hour, and I’m a pop culture freak.

4:30pm-6:15pm Readings by Billy Collins and Frank McCourt. Dare me to skip this. Go on, dare me.

So that’s it – my official list of best intentions. Of course, I also need to venture out and see a little bit of New York City while I’m there. There are plans through the peer grapevine of trying to catch a Broadway show, and I wouldn’t mind catching some improv. We shall see. At any rate, I hope to keep you updated over the conference, but that will depend on internet access and the price of said internet access. While second-tier hotels like the Super 8 is great about free internet in the rooms, I’ve found the formidably more-swanky Hilton to be less generous.


[tags]AWP, Tinhouse, free internet hotel, charles jensen, billy collins, barry hess, blogging[/tags]

2 thoughts on “I’m going to AWP tomorrow.”

  1. Looks like you’re going to have a full schedule, Mr. Melcher.

    I too plan on attending that Martone session, if for anything else, the chance that Jonathan Safran Foer might be there, and if they really give it to experimental fiction, it could be entertaining.

    Oh, and to make you feel a little better, the Russell Banks reading isn’t until Friday. The thing he’s doing opposite the “Do You Have to be Mean to be Funny?” session is some kind of speech to publishers. So you’re only missing out on the Simic reading/notebook discussion. But, you will get a dose of David Rakoff and the session you’re attending, and he’s pretty funny in that This American Life, David Sedaris vein.


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