April 4, 2019
AWP—excitement, exhaustion, and everything in between
by Michael Seidlinger
Pretty sure if you’re a writer you’ve at least heard about AWP. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs hosts an annual three-day conference wherein writers from all walks and devotions
converge upon a single city to take part in panels, readings, and events. The centerpiece of the conference itself is the bookfair, where hundreds of independent presses, journals, and literary institutions set up shop to sling their wares. The icing on the proverbial AWP cake (one that, if fully consumed, leaves you in a diabetic coma) are the parties. I haven’t even mentioned parties. But I’ll get to that.
The 2019 edition of AWP took place last week in Portland, Oregon. No stranger to the intensity and exhaustion of the conference (this year’s was my ninth consecutive appearance), writers arrived on the Oregon Convention Center mid-tweet and full-clamor, expressing the anxiety of attending the three-day gauntlet of literary networking and learning. Disclaimer: I could go on about the actual keynotes, various readings, and panels, but that would turn this blog post into an exhaustive essay, one that I’m not sure I have the energy to write at this juncture. So, I’ll stick to indie presses.
Tin House celebrated its 25th anniversary, and how fitting that the conference landed in Portland, the publishing house’s hometown, rather than, well, anywhere else. The celebration took place during the height of the conference at Portland’s Holocene. The event was so popular, people lined up around the block for a chance to take part in the festivities. Copper Canyon Press’s showing was in full-effect with a multi-booth layout at the bookfair, complete with elegant book displays for their poetry mainstays. Walking into their booth felt like sitting in on an intimate poetry reading, one that leaves you breathless. Laura Buccieri, press publicist, told Publishers Weekly that by Saturday, the final day of the bookfair, the press had “pretty much sold out.” Coffee House Press wasn’t about to sit out on this year’s offerings and same goes with good friends at Akashic Books, Soho Press, and more. I walked up and down every single aisle, astonished by the countless literary establishments putting in the effort, remaining front and center for both readers and writers.
Worth noting, this year more than most, I heard the tune of “running out” of stock. Numerous presses spoke of consistent sales, perhaps a reflection of the competition and goal of leaving the conference with empty boxes and pockets full. Leave the whole “how am I going to fit this in my suitcase” problem to the 13,000+ attendees seeking the latest in literary innovations.
Oh, and the parties? Typically there’s one night packed with the best choices, but this year every night offered offsite wonders. From the aforementioned Tin House celebration to the Electric Lit Martini Lunch, the impromptu gathering of writers in downtown Portland for a late-night bar crawl and the latest edition of the poetry Fish Fry, AWP’s nightlife was what you made of it. Oh, and there was still the mandatory visit to book heaven, aka Powell’s World of Books, which could have been a day-long literary conference in itself.
With AWP 2019 in our rearview mirrors, the big takeaway among writers and publishers is more encouraging than last year’s, full of energy and curiosity. Next year the conference converges upon San Antonio. I’ll be there. Will you?
Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.