I'm off on Wednesday to make my annual pilgrimage to the AWP conference, held this year in Denver. For all of you non-American, non-Canadian readers, that's the meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the single biggest creative writing organization in the world. AWP is both profoundly frustrating and absolutely necessary, a behemoth of an institution that for all of its arrogant, rear guard conservatism does a lot of good in the way of advocacy for creative writing in the academy and for hiring and firing standards among its member schools. I have similar feelings about its annual conference. It's both a necessary trip--because so much of the creative writing world is there--and also an enormous pain in the ass; because so much of the creative writing world is there. This is truly a gigantic conference, and it's no exaggeraton to say that one literally see one's entire career as a creative writer walk by over the course of a weekend; e.g., two guys who were in your fiction workshop while you were getting a master's degree, the man who taught that workshop, a writer who visited your campus just a year ago, a writer who visited your campus five years ago, a professor who acted as a crucial mentor when you worked on your doctorate dissertation, the man who took over as your dissertation director when your mentor took another job, a former student of yours who is now enrolled in an MFA program herself, the white-haired lion who ruled over your college's creative writing program back when you barely understood how to write at all and had no idea who the man was, the woman who just two weeks ago you went to see read at a bookstore 20 minutes away. (And that's just a small sample.)
The AWP conference is so big, with so many competing sessions, and a bookfair that runs the length of a football field, that it can make your head spin. And then there's that annoying little fact that everyone has a novel they want to publish or an agent they hope to find or a publisher they need to impress or an established writer they need to butter up. I just try to go to sessions that sound solid, find a few new journals at the bookfair, enjoy seeing some old friends, and leave it at that. To expect anything more is to drive yourself crazy. This year I can especially narrow my focus. Given that I've been working on, and am still revising, my Van Gogh novel, I'm going to seek out sessions on historical fiction and let most of everything else fall to wayside. (Well, almost everything. I actually am giving a paper at one of the Pedagogy sessions. I will detail a revision assignment I like to use with my fiction writing students.)
While I'm at the conference I'm determined to a) see and enjoy some of Denver, and b) actually get some writing done. (Yes, it's possible. I've actually done this. Even when it was in New York.) On both counts, that means being a miser with my time and grudging about what I commit to.
I'll let all of you know how it goes. Check in with this blog over the next week or so for updates. If it's like past AWPs, I'm going to get a lot more than I expected. And that's what's got me nervous.