So this year, I attended the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference (AWP). This was my first year in attendance. For those who don’t know, AWP is an academic conference for serious academics who do serious, academic stuff like get MFAs and write poetry and literary fiction . Now, I don’t have an MFA, my poetry is laughable, and my muse has not yet directed me to write literary fiction, but the conference this year was in Chicago and Maragaret Atwood was the keynote speaker, so why not? I went to some really great sessions on blogging, marketing, and being a debut author (more news on that account at a later time!) I also really enjoyed the panel on balancing writing and motherhood; although, I wish they had spent more time talking about balancing writing, motherhood, and a full-time job that didn’t involve writing. And for the sake of my friend who was sitting next to me, they really should have addressed some of the issues inherent in being a writer and a single mother, but it was interesting nonetheless.
While the sessions were informative, the BEST thing about the conference BY FAR was watching everyone name tag hunt, schmooze, brag, promote, fake smile, name drop, and otherwise kiss the ass of anyone who they thought was a “Very Big Deal.” I’ve seen this behavior before. It is not endemic to just this conference, but I really enjoyed watching these performances unfold because I had absolutely nothing at stake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been at conferences where I was expected to do these things, and where I had more at stake (like my entire career!), but I am notoriously bad at kissing ass and pretending to give a damn, which is why I stopped going to my national conference as soon as it was not mandatory that I do so.
I also really enjoying watching these mini-dramas unfold because AWP is the confluence of two subspecies of humans who are both notoriously bad at social interaction: academics and writers (and I say this firmly as a card-carrying member of both groups). So you get these cringeworthy displays of social interaction that’s all awkward and weird and fake and desperate and is better than any scene any fiction writer could invent.
I’ll just give you a small example. By sheer coincidence, I ran into a former colleague of mine. It was 3:00pm. He was wearing a tuxedo sans tie, the top two buttons of his shirt undone. As I got close to him, he squealed my name, hugged me tight, and lifted me up off the floor (and I’m taller than he is, so that’s no small feat). At this point, I became aware that he was completely shitfaced. Rip roaring, stinking drunk. Did I mention that it is 3:00pm? Here’s the best thing about that piece of information. He had not been drinking that day. He was still toasted from the NIGHT BEFORE!
When I came upon him, he was talking to a man and a woman who looked embarrassed to be even seen in the same room with him, and it seemed that they were only there out of duty and an allegiance formed in the days of yore because I quickly found out–through a sloppy introduction–that my colleague and the man had gone to grad school together.
I actually really like my former colleague, so I hung around to hear about what has transpired in his life since I last saw him. In the course of our 30 minute rambling, meandering conversation, no less than 10 people stopped to engage him in awkward conversation no doubt due to the fact that he’s a well respected writer of literary fiction who just released his second novel.
The ending of this story concluded with us weaving our way to the book fair so that I could buy a copy of his new book for him to sign, which he did so in a slanted script complete with the misspelling of my name and the word “story.”
So thank you, AWP, for providing me not only with interesting sessions on writing and publishing, but for also providing me some of the best live performances of awkward meets egos plus a splash of alcohol that I have ever seen.
See you next year!