Sunday, March 2, 2014

Day Four at AWP Seattle: Dear Writer...

With The Story Prize event just days away, we're unable to attend this year's AWP Conference—the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' annual gathering. So we've enlisted Molly Reid, a Portland-based writer, to report from the goings on in Seattle. 

AWP Conference, Seattle, 2014: Day Four

Speaking Swaghili
My bag is heavy. Such lovely books, some as small as a postcard, others the size of a newspaper, with haunting covers in matte and gloss and simple paper, beckoning you to touch, smell the ink, read the words inside. The Saturday afternoon mob at the bookfair is a polite mob, a literary mob. There is little malice here, just the frenzied feeding on free swag. The magazines and presses are giving away their wares so they don’t have to lug it all home, if not for free then severely discounted. And even though you know you can’t fit another thing into your suitcase, it’s hard to pass up the new issue of Mid-American Review

The man in the iron horse
Not just books. There are magnets, notepads, postcards, pins, screen cleaners, oranges, candy, T-shirts, bags, broadsides, and fortune cookies. Rumors circulate: So-and-so has the best chocolate (Omnidawn by unofficial consensus). There is a table offering a shot of whiskey (I search in vain, going up and down the aisles; with 650 exhibitors, it can be hard to find what you’re looking for, especially if you don’t have the name of a journal and you’re afraid to ask, "Where is the free whiskey?"). At Iron Horse Review, you can take your picture with someone wearing a rubber horse head.  

The bookfair is a chance to actually meet the people who read and publish—or reject—your work. The process of submitting can feel anonymous and disheartening, sending out stories and poems into the void, or maw, whatever vast or violent metaphor is appropriate for the piece and the nature of the rejection. After putting everything into your work, sweating in the dark private rooms of your soul, you offer your creation to the world, to someone, probably, you’ve never met before—nameless, faceless—who more often than not rejects it, sometimes with a form letter that doesn’t even have your name, just “Dear Writer, Thank you for the opportunity to consider this. I’m sorry to say, this piece is not right for us at this time.”

The bookfair reveals these editors and interns to be actual people, who are genuinely interested in you and your work, who work so hard to put good art into the world. The bookfair joins writers with the places and people who help them reach an audience, with most of that audience roaming the aisles. It brings the community of presses and magazines and writing programs together and allows them to interact and put names to faces and meet the writers they champion. “One of the most valuable things here,” Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of Colorado Review, says, “is meeting the authors we work closely with, and meeting our potential authors, letting them see there’s a face, a human being, behind the magazine.”
At the tables: actual people
The bookfair is the big crooked beating heart at the center of AWP, and as I watch the interns carefully pack all their books and magazines and key chains into boxes, chocolate foils crinkled on the carpet at their feet, I feel sad this is all coming to a close, and so very grateful for these literary pioneers and architects. An editor gave me a bottle of wine she couldn’t fit, and, even though I had no room in my bag, I accepted it with pleasure—it was the least I could do.  
—Molly Reid