Staying Home from AWP? Us too. (Or, Conflicting Emotions Around AWP)
Chelsea and Jenniey have both been assistant managing editors for Water~Stone Review. If you know anything about WSR, you might know that its offices are in the attic of the CWP building at Hamline. This is a location that suits some better than others. A couple years ago, AWP came to our town, so we really had no excuse but to go. (Or, in Chelsea’s case: couldn’t wait.) What follows is a free association conversation covering the finer points of the features of AWP.
Going to Panels
J: This is the one part of AWP I actually enjoy. There are chairs. I like chairs.
C: I’m dumbfounded when I meet somebody who goes to panels all day. Don’t get me wrong, I love them–but I live to mix and mingle.
J: You know, last year I went to that pre-AWP meeting in the basement of the CWP house. I heard a lot of advice about what to do/not to do. One recurring piece of advice was to not go to too many panels. I wish I had not listened to that. I would have been perfectly happy being herded from one panel to another all day long.
C: That meeting was a lifesaver–I’m happy I listened to it. I struck the perfect balance for me when it comes to AWP and panels. I attended about three panels per day, more or less depending on life outside of AWP. I think I gave myself a bookfair/food break between panels. I don’t know how you can sit still that long, Jenniey.
J: I am excellent at sitting in chairs and listening.
Drinking at AWP
C: There’s literally nothing better than throwing my giant AWP tote bag in my car/hotel and going out to drink at the end of the day with everybody to talk more about writing. Last year, I went to a Loft Literary Center event and met some fantastic people. It was like the bookfair, only minus the booths and the addition of wine and beer. I’m down with that.
J: Maybe I would get more out of AWP if I had someone like you, to walk around with. You could guide me through the chaos and instead of talking to strangers, I could just talk to you and eavesdrop on your small talk.
Hey, that could be our first useful idea: If you are going to AWP, grab a buddy. Pair up — introverts and extroverts. Support each other. We both have useful qualities, so take advantage.
C: When you first walk in, it’s like a labyrinth. A giant, loud, filled with free stuff, labyrinth. I love it. Approaching the booths was like facing a sphinx on the first day. I had to figure out this new lingo to navigate my way through it. By the end, I made my rounds with ease despite the aching feet and shoulders. Plus, everything is basically free on day three.
J: I love the way you put that. Facing a sphinx. Now I’m thinking of The Neverending Story and seeing how I could go on an AWP quest and level up every time I face a fear. I’m pretty sure this would be a pretty fun AWP-game.
C: I think you’re onto something there, Jenniey.
Talking to Agents/Publishers aka Small Talk All Around
J: Oh my goodness. Even the title of this one gives me that very particular, “I need to crawl under a table now” feeling. Last year I did not see a single person the whole time I was at AWP. Afterward, people kept saying, You were there, Jenniey? I didn’t see you!
C: I have to say, as I was new the the whole concept of AWP, I was nervous about that too. Would I make a fool of myself? I’m short–would I get lost in the crowd? How do I even approach a booth/person/place/thing?
I ran into my old undergrad professor literally five minutes in on the first day, and my worries were quelled. I could do it. I felt a little bit like a robot by day three–but I soaked in every bit of it. I have the magnets and pins to prove it.
J: I’m not a spender. I don’t buy things. So, this is no biggie. I was more concerned about food. What do other people eat at AWP? Last year, I took a bunch of granola bars and just nibbled them from my bag like a chipmunk.
C: Ha. Let’s just say I pretended all was alright every time my card was swiped. I had no self-control. But I have full bookshelves and no regrets.
J: Be honest. How much did you spend?
C: You see… I tried to hold out until day three to buy things. I gave it my best effort. But I hit triple digits. Which, as a grad student, is basically flirting with a guillotine. I did get a ton of free literary magazines though. No subscriptions, so, that counts as budgeting, right?
“Since it’s that time of year again, here’s the only AWP advice I have to offer for anyone nervous about meeting new folks or “networking,” which will also work for literally any other social situation: When in doubt, just be more interested in other people than in yourself.” −MB
C: The first time I went to AWP, I was 22 and just a young sprite in my first year of grad school. I had no idea what to expect but I was extremely excited for the opportunity. It felt like it was just my luck that I moved to the Twin Cities the year AWP happened here.
J: “Just my luck…” Those were my feelings as well. But, I think our inflection was vastly different. What are your Pre-not-going-to-AWP-this-year emotions? Personally, I am so, so grateful to stay home and experience it through Twitter and Facebook.
C: Could I just describe it as a one big sigh of disappointment?
Seriously though, I think it would be different if I wasn’t involved with Water~Stone. I now have a larger view of the literary world and simply, I had a good time running the social media and experiencing all of these fun things through that lens. I’d love to be there in the action and document as much as I can for myself and WSR. Plus, I’d be able to relate to more people than now that I have experience and know the lingo of the world. I wouldn’t be a run of the mill grad student there.
J: You know, I think that is great. I can sincerely say that I wish you could be there this year.
Post AWP Emotions
J: I really, really love my tote bag.
Last year, I felt disappointed in myself when it was over. I had not done enough, met up with anybody, and one day I literally just drove to the library instead and wrote for like five hours.
C: Sad. But my aching body was relieved. Seriously, it was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect AWP. Upon reflection, I would do things differently–but I didn’t know the literary world much then. I’m the kind of writer that wants to meet and chat with everybody I can. Every experience and journey is vastly different. Whether hearing these stories on panels, at a booth, or on an offsite event, all enhanced my knowledge of the literary world I just discovered. AWP is the place where writers of all kinds can come together be around others who simply get what it’s like, no matter what experience level.
J: What would you have done differently, Chelsea?
C: I feel like I could have made more connections. I talked a lot, and I did have wonderful chats with people (there were a lot of Michiganders), but I glossed over getting into deeper discussions that might have benefited me. At the same time, I not sure I was ready for that then. I didn’t have any of the experience I have now. If I tried to talk about the workings of a literary journal, I would have sounded like somebody who was in way over her head.
Maybe I could have taken some time to step out (when the weather wasn’t being fickle) for a breather. I may be an extrovert come AWP time, but I think we both agree that people are exhausting.
To any new AWP goers: take breaks. You’ll thank yourself for allowing some time for decompression away from the madness.
J: I have to second your “take breaks.” I wrote a perfectly great essay in the library the day I stayed away.
If you are uncomfortable in these sorts of situations, but feel you must be there anyway, see if you can snag someone like Chelsea to go with you–better yet, for you.
Former Assistant Managing Editor
Originally from Virginia, Jenniey is temporarily living in Northern Manitoba with her husband and their 3 sons. Recent work can be found in the Electric Literature, Austin Review, DIAGRAM, Slice Magazine, and Nashville Review, among others. She completed her MFA in poetry at Hamline, where she also taught and assisted with the literary journals. Find her online at jennieytallman.com.
Former Assistant Managing Editor
Chelsea DeLong is currently a graduate student at Hamline University in St. Paul, graduating in May with her MFA in fiction. Originally from Michigan, Chelsea has found her home in the Twin Cities and all of its rich literary history. She can usually be found writing her novel, cooking without recipes, and adding another book to her ever growing library.