For the past three days, I have spent 13 hours a day in Tampa-- myself and my fellow writing majors at Eckerd were there for AWP 2018, fortunate to be among the thousands of writers in attendance. For those who are unfamiliar with AWP (as I had been, until last year), the acronym stands for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and also works as the title of their annual writers' convention. Due to the 2018 convention's proximity to the Eckerd campus, the Creative Writing faculty were able to secure funding for all graduating CW majors and the staff of Eckerd Review to attend.
Excited to make the most of this gift, I left campus every day before 8:30 a.m. (to make it to the 9 a.m. panels) and returned around 11 p.m., making the long drive back across the Gandy Bridge with dozens of free tote bags tossed in the backseat. Between panels, my peers and I visited the Book Fair, where publishers, literary magazines, and MFA programs had booths stocked with informational flyers and discounted merchandise (I got a copy of Anne Carson's new collection, Bakkhai!). The sheer number of programs and booths was nearly overwhelming; for every hour, there were at least five events taking place that I would have loved to attend. I appreciated the diverse themes of many panels, many of which addressed race, gender, disability, faith, and sexuality in the literary world.
Panels that I was able to attend include:
Additionally, I attended the National Book Critics Circle presentation with Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore, and Dana Spiotta, as well as a reading by Mark Doty, Khaled Mattawa, and Layli Long Soldier sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. I was especially excited to hear Lorrie Moore read her work (a hilarious excerpt from a nonfiction essay in her upcoming book); I credit her collection, Birds of America, with reinvigorating my interest in short fiction last semester. Each author had a distinct voice and presence on the stage, and their images floated, larger than life, above us on the mega-screens. I like to believe that, at these readings, I was less star-struck than awe-struck; I think it's important to remember that artists are people, too. But despite my hesitance to idolize these big-name writers, I couldn't help the enthusiasm in my voice when I told my non-writing-major friends about the events: "We saw Lorrie Moore, oh my God."
I was no less impressed, however, by the various smaller panelists' accolades and accomplishments. The range of positions that they occupied in the writing world and their informative, engaging panels reminded me that literary stardom is not the only measure of a meaningful writing career. There's a certain confidence that radiates from people when they live their passions, and AWP was full of that joyous energy.
As I prepare to exit my undergraduate experience, I have been thinking more often about my path and my place as an artist. On the pedestal of my imagination and ambition, I balance a glittering, unstoppable version of myself. She's everything I aspire to be: powerful, poised, thoughtful, kind, thorough, impressive. When I saw the wide stage in Conference Room A and the projector screens lit up with images of my idols, I definitely wondered: how do I get up there? -- In fact, when my friend Ali and I arrived a few hours early to one event, we hopped onto the stage and stood at the podium, pretended to address our future audiences -- I'm not sure where I will end up in five years, ten years, or even next year. But if there's anything I learned at AWP, it's that I can't wait to immerse myself further in reading, to work hard, and to find a place in the writing world.