A Writer Goes to Tampa: AWP18

First off, apologies for not blogging for some time. March was a particularly hectic month but that’s no excuse. So-onto AWP18, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference I recently attended in Tampa.

With literally hundreds of top-notch discussions about everything from writing topics, the craft of writing, and the publication process to choose from, browsing through the hefty program is both a daunting and thrilling experience.

Here’s how I do it. First I circle everything I’m even remotely interested in. Then I go through each day and try to choose a balanced slate of topics and speakers. This tends to work really well for the first two days. I keep the final day free to listen to anyone I thought was really amazing a second time or for a topic that sounds more like fun and less like work.

This is what my Thursday looked like:

It’s (Not) All About Me: Personal Writing in an Age of Narcissism

Panelists from one of my favorite magazines (The Sun) talked about the perils and potential of personal writing and the pros and cons of being self-absorbed. They also touched on the question of “Should the personal also be political?”

Arab and Muslim Writers Surviving Trump’s America: A Reading and Discussion Presented by Mizna.

Mizna is an Arab American arts organization in Minnesota which supports the work of contemporary artists from a variety of backgrounds, focusing on cultural resistance through literature, and the arts against those they feel are attempting to marginalize them. Mizna’s literary journal is a place where people are free to tell their own stories. Each young artist read their poems about both their, and their communities’, experiences with xenophobia. I'd forgotten how much I love to hear good poems read aloud!

Complicating Florida

A group of fantastic writers from this treasured, yet frequently mocked, state read from their works which were both humorous and occasionally heartbreaking. In the discussion they explained how and why they chose to write about Florida’s naturally beautiful and diverse, yet often outrageous, people and landscape.

Writing Toward the Margins: When the Stereotypes Are Also Your Story

In the final discussion of my first day, a group of diverse writers talked about how they balance what edition want and readers expect, while honoring their real life experiences in their writing.

Three Takeaways from Author Heather Sellers (First Panel)

  • When writing memoir it is “all about me”. Therefore you need to look at yourself over and over. It’s easy to say “narcissistic” in a judgmental way, but it’s actually a positive quality for writers.
  • The initial step of a good writing process is the first draft where you imitate authors you’re naturally drawn to. Next is the second draft, in which the writer tries to follow what they can’t quite grasp, but feel they must know. This is followed by the stage in which you let the story you tell about yourself (your personal narrative) go. In fact, try to let go of everything you think you know and write to a place you’ve never been before.
  • You can’t write because you think it sounds good. You need to use writing to expand who you are. You have to change while writing it. The reader should change while reading it.

All in all, a great day. Learned a lot, laughed a little, and even had a chance to lounge by the pool that evening!

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