by Bridget Callahan
The annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, known colloquially as #AWP18, is the nation’s foremost gathering of hopeful graduate students and writers. The conference hosts over 800 presses and literary magazines, and for four glorious days the thousands of attendees immerse themselves in the medium to slow-paced world of professional publishing.
Picking your schedule ahead of time is very important, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amazing opportunities and raw talent. But if like many writers, you are not sponsored by an accredited MFA program, and you can’t get out of your weekend shifts at Forever 21, you may not be able to financially or mentally afford a trip to Florida right now. Here are just some of the exciting, awesome, inspiring ways I will be attending AWP this year without leaving the comforts of the Midwest, and you can too.
1pm-3:15pm Meet and Greet
Make connections that will last a lifetime by sitting in your local coffee shop and loudly talking to anyone you recognize, such as the cool barista, (not the mean one), about how this manuscript is just kicking your ass, and you are trying to practice mindful self-care, but when will this terrible Trump malaise end? Icebreaker activities include practicing communication in sighs, and a rousing game of “Fake Typing or Real Typing?” Dress code is scarf.
Start off with a quick visit to your local bookstore. Buy one book you already know you like, and then go outside and set sixty dollars on fire.
10:30am Panel: Magic and Recycled Wrapping Paper in the Intersectional South: Anything Can Be A Chapbook
Chapbooks aren’t just for poetry anymore. Recently writers have been pushing the concept of a chapbook past verse, past page limits, and past the hyper-normalized view of paper. Hear from my cousin Sarah, who has produced innovative 600-page chapbooks made entirely of bird skeletons, and my ex-boyfriend Vince who recently published a chapbook that is literally just an Instagram post of the word Fang in his own blood.
Next, slow down your day with a visit to the Dickensian Quiet Space, a place for writers to gather their thoughts and reflect on their AWP experience, in the dark alley behind the gyro shop, next to the dumpster. Free meditative chants provided by Donald, who just got banned from the VFW and doesn’t want to go home yet because his daughter nags him to take a shower.
1pm Panel: Defeating Writer’s Block with Cat Hair and Cereal Boxes
This is an interactive panel, so please bring at least one quart ziploc bag of shed cat hair (any suspicion of cat hair obtained through ways that might have harmed the cat will result in immediate expulsion from the panel) and several cereal boxes that you feel personally speak to your writing aesthetic.
6pm Offsite Event: Hey There, What’s Up?
Enjoy specialty frozen juice box cocktails while you listen to YouTube videos for hours of poets you’ve never heard of discussing why it’s probably a mistake to swipe right on your professor’s Tinder even though you know he’s technically separated from his wife.
9:30am Panel: How Little is Too Little to Get Paid: Negotiating Adjunct Salaries in the Age of Freelance Content Farms
As a writer, it is a constant struggle to remember that when we expect to be paid a living wage, we are doing so from a place of privilege. This workshop will help participants explore various forms of humiliations necessary to become a validated artist. Meet up is after the 8am YMCA yoga class, all dogs and service hedgehogs welcome. After the panel, thirty minutes will be devoted to a discussion on the pros and cons of bus crying.
11am Panel: Truth or Lies: Defining the Difference Between This Character and Your Ex-Boyfriend in Modern Genre Flash Fiction.
Sure, Alex thinks the antagonist in my recently experimental Good Place fan fiction is based off him, but in this inspiring 90 minute panel, I will break down in graphic, controversial detail all the specific ways this is a false assumption, covering the spectrum from physical characteristics to the fact he has the entire discography of Mount Eerie, not Wilco, a significant and overlooked character difference.
2pm Panel: Connecting Through Fiction: Speculative CV Writing
Learn how to convince other writers of your emotional, physical, and financial availability through creative vocational interpretation.
4pm Grounding Session
Take stock of your own personal emotional wealth by watching six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in a row. Highlights will include a detailed question and answer session around the problematic lion mauling episode, and an interactive musical episode singalong.
8pm Offsite Event: Bomb Night: Writing through Dance
Writing isn’t always made of words. Sometimes writing can be created simply by dancing to Top 40 remixes in the shitty sports bar a couple of blocks from your parents’ house. And sometimes writing is hooking up in the public park with an electrician who read The DaVinci Code twice and thinks he has some good points about the New World Order. Explore the boundaries we create for ourselves and meet other like-minded folks who probably should be doing something else with their lives. The after-party in the parking lot will include a demonstration of slow-dance crying to a recording of Zooey Deschanel reading Bruce Springsteen lyrics.
9am Morning Protest
Show up bright and early for social justice! This will be a riotous, inspiring, Hamilton-themed flash mob in front of that fancy brunch bistro across the street, to voice our outrage at the destruction of decency in American op-eds. After the flash mob, I will be reading excerpts from a few of my most-shared Trump-themed Medium posts.
12pm Luncheon and Panel: Literary Innovation and Networking: How to Stay Relevant in the Internet Age
A critical exploration of strategies for building your author brand, from approaching famous writers you’ve never met on Facebook to emergency lockdown after a terrible breakup with the best poet in your program who is probably going to tell everyone in workshop about that thing you tried one time. We’ll meet at the Whole Foods salad bar. Each participant will be expected to provide ten minutes of oral validation to the moderator before discussion starts, as well as one complete anarcho-punk criticism of Whole Food’s current consumer model. Be creative!
4pm Go Off and Write!
Now apply all the skills you’ve learned throughout the week: record a Facebook story in your mother’s bedroom about your creative process, starring your new cat hair puppets and photoshopped pictures of you with your BFF, an alligator in a raccoon print Modcloth blouse. Be sure to tag it #AWP18 to share revelations with the writing community at large!
The rest of this day is set aside for Twitter.