Today, the city of Los Angeles will be graced with the presence of over 12,000 writers, agents, publishers, students, teachers, and myriad other literary enthusiasts for the 2016 AWP Conference and Bookfair. If you are attending the conference for the first time as an undergraduate student, chances are this experience will be both overwhelming and thrilling. Yet here’s the thing—as amazing as it is to be a student at the largest literary get-together in the nation, it can also be terrifying. When the AWP conference came to the Twin Cities (specifically Minneapolis) last year, I had the opportunity to attend for the first time as a senior in an undergraduate creative writing program. It didn’t take long for me to feel amazed and totally inadequate at the same time, and I wasn’t the only undergraduate student attendee who felt this way. Fortunately, I had been warned in advance that such feelings can unexpectedly bubble up in the hubbub, so I was prepared to set them aside. Most pre-AWP guides don’t mention this rush of anxiety, and being prepared for it made the conference much more enjoyable. So from one undergrad to another, here are my top three tips for first-time undergraduate AWP attendees.
Embrace an attitude of inspiration, not inadequacy
When you feel overwhelmed, please do your best to remember that you are surrounded by artists in various stages of growth. By attending AWP, you are entering into a dialogue with a large portion of the literary community in the United States and getting a taste of the range of writers and writing being created across the globe. Diversity is the keyword of the AWP conference, and that can also apply to the diverse range of talents and stages of development present in each attendee. Instead of feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I encourage you to feel inspired. You have the opportunity to soak up the wisdom of some of the greatest literary figures in the world at an early stage in your writing career!
Plan ahead to follow your interests
Just like classes at a university campus, the bookfair and panel opportunities are designed to contain something for nearly every taste. I’ve found that a careful pre-conference perusal of the official AWP conference schedule and vendor list helps me focus and plan out the most effective and rewarding use of my time during those three whirlwind days.
Be mindful of the effect your words can have—both in person and online
As writers and/or editors, we hope to treat the writing of others as we would want our own work to be treated—with respect and thoughtfulness. This same standard applies to all the conversations, comments, tweets, and posts that will be generated before, during, and after the conference. Please consider the words you speak and post online with the same critical eye and compassion that you would want applied to any comments on your own work or actions. You will hear accomplished literary figures say and post things they regret, but—and this is so important—try to inspire everyone to a higher standard through your own writing. After all, we are all here to learn from each other. So that’s all for now—but stay tuned, as there will be more to come during and after the upcoming conference.
To follow Runestone’s #AWP16 adventures on social media, check out:
@RunestoneLit on Twitter
runestone.journal on Instagram
runestonejournal on Facebook
Keep up with us through our hashtag #CWPatAWP16 — shared with our big sister journal, Water~Stone Review, and the CWP at Hamline.
And, if you are attending the conference, look for Runestone at the Hamline University CWP’s booth (#926) in the bookfair—we will have some awesome writer swag, information about our next submission period, and some of the friendliest Minnesotans you can find. I will also be helping at the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE) table at the bookfair (Booth #114) from 9:00 – 10:30AM on Friday, April 1st, so please stop by to find out more about this wonderful organization for undergraduate writers and editors like us. Hope to see you there!
Assistant Editor, Creative Nonfiction