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Wednesday
Mar272013

Three Reasons Why I’ll Remember 2013 AWP-Boston

This article originally appeared on Fiction Depot.March 13, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — I recently returned from the hustle-bustle of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference held in Boston March 6-9.

I will remember this conference for three reasons:

1. Snow, snow and more snow

2. Shutouts

3. Kindred souls

Yes. Snow. And lots of it. My two friends, Alida and Pam, and I flew from MSP to BOS Logan airport with a connection in Chicago. Including near misses, delays, switched flights, and eating on the fly, it took all day as we followed a winter storm from the Midwest to New England. The Berkshires of western Massachusetts received over 25 inches of snow over three days while AWP folks slogged through slush with 45 to 50-mile-per-hour gusts.

My solo trip across Copley Square at 7:45 a.m. on the first day of the AWP conference. Where are all the people in this bustling Boston? Riding the T (subway) beneath my feet.Confetti-like snow shrouded Boyleston Street layering mantels of white on the black rooftops, green copper turrets, and red-fired brick and stone buildings. I braved the snow for the seven-block walk from our hotel to the Hynes Convention Center via historic Copley Square. Like a good Minnesotan, I bundled myself in a down coat with a fur-lined hood drawn tight around my flushed cheeks as the snow blurred the city scape on either side of me. My three roommates, so much wiser than me, took the T (Boston public transportation a la the oldest subway system in the country) and arrived far drier and warmer.

Boyleston Street view from the third floor of the Hynes Convention Center.How is it that I made such a detailed study of snow falling on Ladder 15, Engine 33 with its 19th century stone arched garage doors that concealed its shiny red and silver 21st century fire trucks? I got shutout of three sessions and spent a good part of one morning on the third floor of the convention center gazing out the window overlooking Boyleston Street. In total, although arriving on time, I missed three fiction craft sessions with just as many people standing outside the room as there were crammed inside. Sessions I missed that required double or triple the space to accommodate conference goers included:

  • Keeping Track of Your Novel
  • The Art of Ending
  • A Point of View on a Point of View (Luckily, I got into this one!)
  • Knowing Nothing: What Novelists Figure Out Before Page One

Lesson #1:  Next year, plan to get to your sessions 20 minutes to a half hour before they open.

Lesson #2: Don’t sweat missing a session or two—or three. With the pressure off, I happily strolled the aisles of the book fair. Later, I was glad to have ended up sitting in on an Arab-American reading that included refreshing creative nonfiction, profound poetry and hilarious fiction.

New Rivers Press table at the book fair.By far the best and most memorable part of my AWP Boston experience was connecting with the thousands of kindred souls—12,000 writers and teachers who treasure literature and matters of the human heart. On a grand scale, listening to Jeanette Winterson in the auditorium was like a Sunday sermon in a great big church—but infinitely more meaningful and definitely much funnier. On a global scale I met writers from South Africa, British Columbia and the United States from California to Maryland.

The real and most memorable moments, however, didn’t happen during the official AWP readings, sessions or book fair. AWP topped all because of the three women who shared my hotel room—Kate, a poet; Pam, a memoirist/essayist; and Alida*, a fiction writer—all friends from Hamline University’s MFA program. Each evening we shared what surprised us, disturbed us, and challenged our thinking about writing. We processed the overwhelming amount of daily information and experiences and distilled them through conversation into a meaningful elixir for our hearts and minds.

Jeanette Winterson read from her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?We asked questions and discussed possible answers, only to raise more questions:

  • What does it mean to censor your own work by submitting what you judge is a stereotypical women’s story to a women’s journal instead of another journal?
  • How do you network at a conference of 12,000 people, most of whom are probably introverts—including yourself? What does networking mean anyway? Does it mean more than selling yourself, and if so, then what?
  • How do you create work that stands apart from the slush pile and yet stay true to your own voice? Stretch it? Challenge it?
  • Work on craft, craft, craft—over and over I heard this, that it’s voice that appeals to readers (and thus editors) and the quality of sentence-level writing. Then, does your story hold up to the “So what?” question?
  • How are we ourselves biased against or in favor of male or female authors?
  • How can we form our own posse, support and encourage each other, and promote each other’s work?

Copley Square with Boston Public Library on the left.By Saturday, the Boston sky shone an intense azure without a cloud in sight. Sessions wrapped up by 5:45 p.m. and my roommates and I headed to the Little Italy of the North End neighborhood for an Italian dinner. With our wine glasses raised, we toasted to a fine writing and fine friends. As they returned to the hotel via the T, I parted ways and traipsed through old Boston, past the government center, a 1660s cemetery and across a snow-laden Boston Commons—with my hood down so I could see the stars.

 

*Relive AWP or experience it for the first time vicariously! For an extended version of the AWP experience as seen through the eyes of Hamline MFA graduate, Alida Winternheimer, read her post on Wordessential at alidawinternheimer.com.