Sometimes-monthly, sometimes-weekly, when-I-have-the-time blog.

I Survived My First AWP

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference is the biggest literary conference in North America, usually seeing upwards of 10,000 attendees. Last week, I attended and survived my first full AWP conference. I have blisters on the backs of both ankles and a tickle in my throat, probably the start of a consumptive cold, but I’m here.

Here are 12 first-time AWP-going survival tips, from the perspective of an MFA student in a low-residency program:

1.     Don’t plan on eating or sleeping. If you’d like to eat during your four days at AWP, find a grocery store immediately upon landing and stock up on reasonably priced, healthy snacks and easy meals. Otherwise, plan on eating vending machine food or $18 convention center chicken sandwiches. Sleeping is unnecessary when there are so many conversations to be had.

2.     Bring several pairs of comfortable shoes. Switch them out each day, to rotate wear and prevent blisters. Even still, stock up on those magical, two-piece blister bandages with the cushioned pad and extra-stretchy, sticky band-aids. (Spenco 2nd Skin is not paying for this endorsement, but I highly recommend them.)

3.     Bring an extra bag or duffle for your lit mag haul.

4.     Talk to the famous writers! I was too terrified. Next year, I’ll muster the courage.

5.     Don’t forget about the open bars sponsored by AWP every night. This is where you’ll meet your fellow MFA students who also cannot afford the exorbitant, hotel-priced drinks.

6.     Go to the offsite events. This is where the real magic happens. I met new friends, including a connection in New Mexico who offered me her home (!) to stay in when I’m passing through Albuquerque later this summer.

7.     Bring business cards.

8.     In general, try not to be an asshole. Kindness is contagious.

9.     Find your people—your friends—and hang with them. Band together and make new friends. The literary community is small, and we’re all in this stupid, crazy endeavor together.

10. Pay the suggested donation cover charges to support inspiring literary organizations and journals that publicize and publish the writers you love to read. The excellent VIDA Women in Literary Arts caucus asked for a $10 donation—a small price to pay to hear Rita Dove, Leni Zumas, and more read their excellent work.

11. There is a lot of posturing—writers sizing up other writers and general competitiveness. Don’t let it get to you, especially if you’re not an innately competitive person. Or, if you are competitive, don’t feel like you need to defend the trajectory of your writing career or path to anyone. If you feel lonely AF for the first couple days, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone. See Tip #9 above.

12. Stay up all night until the sun rises, then get ready in 20 minutes, and take an Uber/Lyft to the airport for your 10 a.m. flight. Thanks for the robbed hour, Daylight Savings Time. Sleep is for plane rides, not AWP.

See you next year in Portland!