Leslie Standridge: Looking Back and Looking Forward (An AWP 16 Tale)

SR Contributor Larry Eby (Issue 10) and I

AWP? What’s that? My friends and family and anyone else I told about my weekend plans inquired into my LA trip plans.

Well it’s a conference for writers, basically. I replied casually and coolly as if I wasn’t a newbie.

Well, what do you do there?

Uh, like, go to panels and stuff, and buy books. Writer things.

Sounds fun.

I think so! 

I’ll admit, I had slight doubts about the truth of the last statement. Did I think AWP would be interesting? Enjoyable? Worth going to? Yes, yes, and yes. However, I wasn’t sure if it would be fun, per sé, in the sense of childlike amusement, easy-going, “relax and have fun,” fun. Boy, was I wrong.

The conference was predated by a road trip, something I was a little nervous about in the beginning. I’m not good with long car trips (motion sickness), I do not pack lightly (fear of not having the right outfit for the right event is a legitimate thing), and I was travelling with two women I didn’t know really well (what do I talk about?!). However, within an hour of being on the road (and a Dramamine), my qualms melted away. We bonded quickly over shared ailments and McDonalds (oh, and of course what AWP panels we were looking forward to).

Once arrived in LA, we got settled into the lovely JW Marriott and began our trek to the convention center, which overwhelming both size-wise and architecturally (there are just so many bars everywhere). We checked in, got our badges, and even pestered a security guard into taking our photo. We were officially clocked in to AWP 16.

The next couple of days would be, for lack of a better word, an experience. It may seem cliché, but I really did learn a lot about my interests, my long-term goals, and, most importantly, myself. I had the fantastic opportunity to become friends with and grow closer to my fellow interns (and roommates during the trip), Ofelia, Alexis, and Jess, who are all beautiful, intelligent, and incredibly talented women. I grew all the more appreciative of my internship with S[r] and of Trish, the most amazing mentor probably in all of existence. I also gained much knowledge about craft, met my favorite slam poet, Anis Mojgani, and came home with two tote bags worth of swag.

So, now a AWP vet, I have compiled a list of eight things about AWP that I think anyone, first-timer or old-timer, should keep in mind:

  1. You won’t go to all the panels you want to go to. In fact, after the first day, you probably won’t even try to go to all of those panels. That’s perfectly okay—you are human and you will probably be exhausted all week anyway. We are all taking a slight detour from real life to go to AWP, which is impressive enough, right?
  2.  It’s okay to eat at some greasy chain restaurant the first night—don’t stress yourself out trying to find a Yelp-approved, hole-in-the-wall , unique restaurant. Sometimes you end up at a run-down Hooters at 10 at night, even in LA. You’re tired, you deserve wings and cold fries!
  3. If a panel takes a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to skip out. AWP is about curating your own writerly education and if the panelists start arguing with each other about something completely off topic, well, you aren’t really learning anything are you?
  4. Social media, namely Twitter, is one of the best parts of AWP—see hashtags #badAWPadvice, #AWP16, and #overheardatAWP. Not only is social media great for building your brand (look at all I’m accomplishing, everyone) and interacting with big names/presses/magazines in the industry, but it also allows for some inside humor.
  5. Set aside at least 2-3 hours, maybe more, for the book fair. I promise it is worth your while to take your time and really pay attention to the books, magazines, contests, MFA programs, and so on that are all being offered. Don’t be afraid to talk to people at the tables either. We want to answer your questions and chat about you, your writing, and whatever else may come up. Also, if you are a poor college student, buying on the last day is a more financially viable option.
  6. Ask questions in panels and network (if you can) with the panelists, especially in career-oriented panels. Don’t be afraid that your question may sound dumb or that you’re hair looks wonky. There is no better chance to put your name in the mind of an editor than if you give it to them directly.
  7. Go to the AWP dance party and shake off all the stress from the day. Writers are great dancers! Also, it is free entertainment.
  8.  Remember: you are a writer. Even in the midst of so many brilliant and successful people who have accomplished more than you, you are a writer. Don’t feel intimidated!

AWP changed me, for the better. It reignited a lot of the passion I had lost for reading and writing over the past year (senioritis and personal life drama can really destroy your livelihood). I’m confident that its impact is similar on all attendees—after all, so many people continue to come back. If you’re interested in going, I encourage you to do it (and I’m not even getting paid to say this, so you know it’s a real sentiment), and if you have gone before, and will again, I will see you in D.C. Look for the dark-haired girl frantically searching for a Hooters.

From Local Readings to International Conferences

An SR Alum Reflects on the Origins of Her Skills

conference organizingI’m just going to say this up front: If you ever get a chance to organize a conference as a graduate student, take it.  It will be one of the best opportunities that you will ever get to work alongside people you already admire, and people whom you will come to admire.

During my time with Superstition Review (SR),  I coordinated the live Readings for the first and second issues (2008-2009), and I also read at one myself.   For the readings, I coordinated and scheduled speakers, budgeted, set up refreshments, emceed, and practiced my professional tone in emails, phone calls, and on stage the night of the event—it was really an all-around position that demanded immediate poise and control in reaction to the various situations that could come up .  The skills that I learned while organizing those readings would set me up for the rest of my academic career as someone who had experience in coordination, public speaking and administration, which are invaluable in the academic setting—think about where academe would be if Aristotle or Socrates were terrible at public speaking!

After leaving ASU and SR  after earning  my Bachelor’s degree in Literature, Writing, & Film,  I ended up back at ASU on the PhD student path after Master’s Degrees in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESL) and Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing  from NAU.  Through those years, I coordinated two other conferences, one of which I was able to invite my future PhD advisor to speak  as the plenary speaker, and which eventually became the deciding factor about my PhD application’s competitiveness.  Needless to say, I have been in my PhD program successfully for a year and a half, and have coordinated one of two international conferences that I have been invited by my PhD advisor to help coordinate.  The first, The Symposium on Second Language Writing, which was in November 2014, was on our home turf—the Memorial Union on ASU Tempe campus.  Before and during this conference, I met so many scholars whom I had admired for the past seven years.  I also worked with many of my colleagues and superiors at ASU, learning just how much I valued their intelligence and organizing skills.  I was given the opportunity (read: the challenge) to introduce my own advisor to a group of people who have known him for at least 15 years—an exhilarating experience trying to find something new to say about someone that everyone in the room already knew and admired.   At least I felt prepared for the act of speaking in public, even if the content was hard to come by!   This year’s SSLW was the best attended  symposium on record, and according to the feedback we have received, the best one yet.  The symposium gave me an excuse to interact with scholars whom  I hope to work with in the future, and a context by which my name can hopefully be remembered.   It strengthened the bonds between my colleagues and I, and I am so very proud of it.

I will continue my work in conference planning as I am also currently a part of the planning committee for the joint American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL)/ Association Canadienne de Linguistique Appliquée/Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (ACLA/CAAL) conference in Toronto, Canada.  This conference will be a challenge as I am not in my own backyard anymore, and it is a much more diverse conference.  However, from my experience working with previous conferences, and coordinating the readings for  Superstition Review, I am confident that I will have the skills to make this conference valuable to all who attend.

In my opinion, conferences, readings, or any in-person collaboration of people unified by the same cause are the most meaningful events in academe.  I am deeply grateful to Superstition Review for instilling this mindset so early in my career, and I hope it has done the same for interns who came after me—as well as many more to come.