Friday, February 28, 2014

Day One at AWP Seattle: Practical Concerns

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 One

Enlightenment? Or Oblivion?
This seems familiar, doesn’t it? The dark-rimmed glasses, the lanyards (this time a bright lime-green), the endless coffee cups and totes and carefully cultivated air of discernment. Going up a series of escalators into the bright wash of light that you hope will offer enlightenment but suspect might be oblivion.

Panels like “Daydreaming at the Mini-Mart: The Suburbs and Literary Imagination,” “The Word is a Door: Contemporary Arabic Literature and the Poetics of Revolution,” and “In Your Next Letter I Wish You’d Say: Epistolary Impulse and Innovation”: When you marked them a month ago in the online planner, you felt already inspired, just like you remembered when you were younger, in grad school, when this conference, with its days dedicated to serious discussions of craft and teaching and how to live as a writer, was something you looked forward to all year.

Which is why you wanted to go this year—low on inspiration, looking for a good dance party and a few free drinks and maybe a little camaraderie, the AWP conference sounded like just the kind of charge you and your writing needed.  

However, despite your best efforts, you seem to no longer be interested in the same brand of inspiration you used to. You attend “The Third Degree: Why Writers Pursue Additional Education Beyond the Master’s” and “Beef Jerky, Bras, and Car Parts: What We Write About When We Write for Money.” You write down things like “Pitch to the holes,” and, “Quest antithetically and live to beget yourself.” Also, that writing copy for porn reviews and car commercials could be the greatest thing you never knew you wanted to do.

And—not that these panels aren’t interesting and enlightening—because they are—but you discover you’re a little disgusted with yourself that this is what you care about now: practical concerns. Not just how to be inspired, but how to live, how to be paid. You can practically hear your mother approving. When did this shift happen?  

You can’t help but think about the last time you were at AWP, or the first time, the sense of hope and possibility. When being a “real” writer, “making it,” was just a matter of time and not perspective. When you knew better than to use the second person as another cheap trick to distance yourself from the action.

Maybe inspiration is something that now you have to ease into, approach at an angle, be surprised by. Maybe you no longer trust the search of it—it’s here, just not as obvious as before. This is only the first day.

On a related note, the Mid-American Review is holding a My Little Pony writing contest, 500 words or less, poetry or prose, due by 3pm Friday. Could Applejack finally receive the recognition she deserves? Only time will tell.
—Molly Reid