On Wednesday, I was scheduled on a 6:15 am flight to DC and then on to Minneapolis. But when I showed up at SHD (the tiny airport from which Silver Airways, a code-share partner with United Airlines, flies), I was informed that my flight had been cancelled. The young clerk I spoke with then proceeded to screw up my travel plans further by rebooking me on Delta from DC instead of United (although I believe it would have been possible to keep me on United). This had several consequences: I had to ride in a van to DC with other passengers similarly situated; I lost the first class upgrade I had paid for; and I also had to pay a fee to Delta for my checked bag (on United that would have been waived). I was not a happy flier.
Still, I got to Minneapolis in time to register for the conference, get settled into my hotel, and head over to the cocktail reception sponsored by the Authors’ Guild. That was very enjoyable and I met some very nice and interesting writers there, including the Executive Directory, Mary Rasenberger, who stopped by the Press 53 booth at the bookfair the next day. After that I met up with some friends at the Hilton bar for drinks and ran into a number of other friends, and finally went back to my own hotel and connected with my publisher at the bar there. Enough wine was consumed to make me forget about my travel woes, at least for a time.
Thursday marked the beginning of the conference. After visiting the booth in the bookfair, I attended a panel on structuring the short story. I’ve heard this topic discussed frequently over the years, of course, but all the panelists had smart things to say, so it was definitely worthwhile. The panel featured Caitlin Horrocks, Rebecca Makkai, Rob Spillman, and Pam Houston, and was moderated by Arna Hemenway. But then I spent the rest of the day in the bookfair, talking to people about Press 53, Prime Number Magazine, and my own books. That was great fun, but I was on my feet all day. Right after the bookfair I went for drinks and snacks hosted by the Millay Colony, where I saw an old friend and met some new ones. Then I tried to find the Ragdale folks who were supposed to be meeting in the Hilton bar, but I somehow didn’t connect with them, so I had drinks/snacks with some fellow Queens University of Charlotte MFA folks. Last up for the evening was a visit to Hell’s Kitchen for the Slippery Elm reading. (I’m an advisory editor, so I was glad to hear some of the work that the magazine has published.) By the end of the reading, I was done and headed back to the hotel.
Friday was very similar to Thursday. I started with a panel: The Ethics of Book Reviewing. This was a fascinating discussion, but I don’t think there was anything new said there. I’m frustrated when I see reviews by people I know to be close friends of the author of the book they are reviewing. That’s bad form, as these panelists understood, but it’s awkward to really call the writers on those transgressions. Then I was back at the bookfair all day until I headed over to a bar for the official Queens gathering. I got there early-ish because I had to leave early, but it was nice to see some folks there. Then I rushed up to the Barnes & Noble for the Press 53 reading. We had 19 people reading for 3-5 minutes each. That was fun, and no time to get bored. The Barnes & Noble people in the store were great and we had a nice audience. Then I rushed back the convention center for the Sewanee Writers Conference reception and connected there with some more old friends. And after that I wandered over to an art gallery where Copper Nickel was hosting a party. (Fun party, but I saw no signage, so I’m not even sure I was at the right party!)
Saturday was the last day of the conference. Again, I attended one panel, this one on “The Politics of Empathy,” which touched on the much-discussed topic of cultural appropriation in writing. The panelists gave a thoughtful discussion of the topic and reminded me to be sensitive the issue. Then I spent the rest of the day in the bookfair, splitting my time between standing in the Press 53 booth and wandering around the fair picking up some books I wanted. At the end of the day, although we knew about some closing-night parties, we were exhausted and I went to dinner (at Zelo, an excellent Italian place) with Kevin and Cathy from Press 53, then stopped for one drink at Brits, a pub on Nicollet Mall.
And then Sunday: early flight from MSP to IAD and then a long layover before my puddle-jumper to my “home airport,” SHD. That long layover was painful.
I’ve now been to nine AWPs in a row: Atlanta, New York, Chicago, DC, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis (or I may have the order slightly wrong), and I’m tired. The conference has become a young writer’s game, it seems to me. And although I always see lots of old friends and have fun, and I love visiting the magazines and publishers in the bookfair, and I also enjoy being at the Press 53 booth when people stop by there, I’m not sure I get enough out of it to make it worthwhile. I think it’s great for teachers or for folks who want to teach. But I’m not sure it’s really worth the effort for people like me. So will I go to the Los Angeles AWP next year? I don’t know. The deadline for panel proposals is May 1 and so far I’m not on any proposals. The conference itself is March 30-April 2, 2016.