This past week a few members of Georgia Southern’s faculty descended on the beautiful town of Boston, Massachusetts to attend the 2013 edition of The Association of Writing Programs Conference – affectionally referred to as AWP. I sit here at my laptop and type these words with what I can only refer to as a deadly case of jetlag. Being someone who does not typically fly anywhere – don’t ask, but it involves riding on a plane that was struck by lightning – I find the sensation to be unequivocally, unavoidably, undeniably terrible.
I will say this though – it was worth it.
For those unacquainted with AWP, here is what we’re dealing with – every year, for three to four days, the writers and writing students and writing professors of the world arrive in a city and live and breathe writing. Most times it’s cold. Inches and inches of ice and snow cold. Freezing breath cold. Try not to go outside cold. But amidst the ugly we find a large group – 12,000 this year – of kindred spirits.
Let’s put it another way – it’s overwhelming. Everywhere you go you find people on laptops, writing away on legal pads, reading and discussing every imaginable book and chapbook and handout and magazine and literary journal. In line at Qdoba you overhear someone say – “Sometimes I need to step back and think about the arc of my stories and determine whether or not my characters’ sense of agency is really coming through.”
Whoa, you might think. This is unlike anywhere else on the planet.
And you would be right.
You might venture into the Book Fair area – two full levels worth of program booths, magazine tables, writers trying to hawk their ventures, people handing out candy and shots of liquor and buttons, so many buttons – and find the breath knocked from your lungs. It is, after all, a virtual sea of literature and writing.
A lot of people like to despair the general notion of AWP. Most attendees spend the week before in sheer terror of the experience. It’s not the easiest conference to attend because it preys on every insecurity a writer might have and proves, over time, to be exhausting.
But don’t be fooled. Stepping foot in those halls reminds you that literature and the act of creating literature isn’t just alive, it’s thriving. That should be enough to embolden even the most cynical writer. But if the sheer scope of the event doesn’t make you feel good, then what will is the realization that you actually aren’t alone.
After all, writing is one of the most solitary acts a human being can perform. For the majority of it you might find yourself behind a keyboard, as I am now, tapping away at keys and shutting out the world around you. There is you, your thoughts, and the words. The whole of it can be startlingly lonely. And maybe people read your pieces in workshop, and maybe you send out stories or poems for publication, but the process is almost always insularly.
But AWP explodes that notion. What you find, from the very flight into the conference location, is that there are so many people like yourself. You find people vested in the effort to express themselves and understand life and love and culture on the page. You find likeminded human beings who have been moved toward an artistic venture not because of monetary reward or cultural recognition, but because they simply had no other choice.
It is a struggle, a daunting one to be sure, but writers can take solace in the fact that they aren’t the only ones who engage in this fight. There are people out there who are like you, people who are passionate about the same things, interested in the same facets of this human experience. That’s important, I think, because when you’re pushing a boulder up a steep mountain it’s always been my opinion that it’s better to have a few other sets of hands for the job.