Intern Post, Erin Regan: AWP Round Two: Like Coming Home

A few weeks ago, I packed a suitcase with extra room for books and literary paraphernalia and boarded a plane for blustery Minneapolis. It was my first time in the city and my second time at the annual AWP Conference. (You can read all about my inaugural trip here.)

Attending AWP last year gave me such an incredible boost of enthusiasm and motivation. I went home with a backpack full of journals, business cards, and call-for-submissions fliers. I was ready to really commit to being a writer, and to my own happy surprise, I have submitted a few pieces to various literary journals – all without success. That’s why this year, I attended a few panels about how to cope with rejection!rejected-1238221

This time, I not only entered the conference with a more personal knowledge of the reality of rejection but with a greater understanding of the madness I was descending on. As I boarded the plane to Seattle for the conference last year, I imagined the looks I would get when I told people that I hadn’t been published yet or that I was only getting my bachelor’s degree in literature. I expected everyone in attendance to have already written their first novel. Now I know that is wholly not the case.

Of course you do run into some profoundly successfully writers, and it’s such a joy to see them and hear them speak. (This year, I chatted with Ron Carlson and was able to attend panels with Stuart Dybek and T.C. Boyle.) But the AWP conference is also full of students and new writers who are trying to break into the world of literary publishing through small journals and publishing houses. It’s incredible to be in the company of thousands of aspiring and inspiring writers and editors. This year, walking into the book fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center felt just a little bit like coming home.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my first two AWP experiences:

Offsite events are the best. This year, Superstition Review co-hosted a reading with Blue Mesa Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review at The Nicollet, a lovely little coffee shop. I also attended Literary Death Match and a poetry reading in a supposedly haunted German hotel.

Missing the keynote is part of the AWP experience, especially after your first year. Admittedly, I was pretty disappointed to miss Karen Russell, but I was enjoying a really tasty bowl of pasta at the time, so I can’t complain too much.

It feels great to represent a magazine. Having Superstition Review printed on my badge did wonders for my confidence, and meeting past contributors as they stop by the table is pretty exciting. Plus, table 318 was my little haven in the swarming book fair.

Go outside. It’s easy to forget that there’s a world outside the convention center, so when you get a chance, go for a little walk; grab a bite to eat that isn’t a personal pizza or boxed salad.

The book fair is where it’s at. The panels are great, but there are so many people to talk with and new publications and presses to meet. Plus, you can get some amazing reading material and literary loot.

See you in Los Angeles at #AWP16!

Intern Post, Jessica Marie Fletcher: (AWP15) Yes, We Are All Writers, Relax

When I was asked to go to AWP Minneapolis and represent Superstition Review, I didn’t really know what AWP was and what it would entail. I had only just learned a few weeks earlier of its existence. Panicked, I wanted to learned everything and read everyone so that I could fully appreciate the experience. Once I had the flight booked, I heard people talking about AWP left and right. How did I miss this? It became the code. AWP? Yeah, you? Yeah. It sounded like the party of the year, but it was at some speakeasy where only the elite could go, and I somehow got a golden ticket undeserved.

This is how I thought: do I even belong here? How funny that I spent the greater time worrying about humbling myself before the Great that I assumed would be there. I eventually realized that there was no real way to prep for the conference, so I just sat back and watched the #badAWPadvice roll in while I packed my bag (not quite well enough for the snow). I sensed the theme of all the advice: yes, we are all writers, relax.

I was the first to launnamednd on the ground in Minneapolis, so my selfie was the one plastered across the ASU News page and other social media. Already still wondering how I got there, I was even more confused by seeing this. Yes, you are here. This picture in the article was found by my sweet mom, who unknowingly professed her love for me on the Facebook post. Already unsure of myself, I thought that this was even more embarrassing. Quickly, I realized I needed to not take myself so seriously. Many moments on the trip felt like these little nuggets of life wisdom.

I spent that hour alone in the city wandering, getting my bearings, trying to center myself for the event. I never felt like I stopped moving (which made sense given the plane, subway, bus, and walk to the hotel I took to start) that entire trip.

The girls I roomed with were the highlight of the conference. Early on, we bonded, and I was able to learn from these like-minded women, who were in the same undergraduate, lost boat as I was. This bonding—this sense of community—defined the trip. I got it: an association of writers.

We spent our first night in a crowded, local Normal World Pub that couldn’t fit more people in if it tried–and it did try. The Literary Death Match was hosted there, and right away the trip began with awkward bump ins and “excuse me, coming throughs” with fabulous writers like Roxane Gay, Mark Doten, Matt Bell, and Claire Vaye Watkins. We pushed, shoved to the front of the crowd and had the equally the best and worst spot up front and right next to the bathrooms  where the waiters/passerbys had to continuously shove to pass. None of that mattered because everyone was enjoying the readings, the impromptu performance of Matt Bell, and the literary charades to follow.

The conference itself felt like swirling dream sequences. I had a dream before the trip that the conference was like a casino. There were no lights and gambling tones rising above the crowd, but we were enticed into various panels and rooms until we reached the last day and were all ready to go home, slightly broke from buying books and cool totes and souvenirs at the book fair.

I learned a lot from the panels I did go to, and I also learned to relax when I didn’t go to a panel. Everything began to bleed into everything else like watercolors, and I was okay with that. I even sort of liked that better than the regimented plan that I originally assumed would get me through the conference.

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Left to right: Stephanie Funk, Sydni Budelier and Erin Regan

I was not discouraged by the advice, but rather uplifted because every person that I met only reminded me that you write because you love it. I understood that the conference served as a reunion for many writers, who after years teaching or living elsewhere, were able to catch up and engage in the same thought-provoking conversations with other like-minded and intuitive people.
I was thrilled to meet the humans behind the contributors list in SR, to take part in curious conversations, and to connect with the past SR Editor-in-Chiefs, Erin Regan and Sydni Budelier, and the most recent fiction editor and my mentor, Stephanie Funk. It truly was a treat, and I won a golden ticket with the friendships and memories from AWP15.

Photos by Jessica Marie Fletcher