18 Things I Learned at AWP 2018 in Tampa, Florida


The pernicious project of gentrification and urban development has been highly successful in Tampa. Like Miami, where low-income (and, arguably, middle-class) families are facing high rent prices and an inability to keep their homes, Tampa is heading in the same direction. I thought Tampa would be much smaller, I heard a person say out loud at AWP. I could totally see myself living here. Gentrification is a beast that enjoys wearing noble clothes.


Speaking of noble: I have decided humblebrag isn’t a term I ever want to be associated with. Everyone, especially marginalized writers, should be allowed to celebrate their own accomplishments and those of people they consider kin. Performing humility does nothing but re-center privilege. You are allowed to feel, both, pride and humility. But for me, humblebrag reeks of neoliberalist undertones.


I know some conferences take months, even years, to put together. AWP is no exception. However, a conference’s ability to meet their attendees’ accommodations speaks volumes about who’s in charge of making decisions. The lack of proper accommodations at this AWP was wildly apparent. Those stairs were really something. I often saw attendees with disabilities go out of their way to enter the convention center. At one panel, there were five printouts outlining the session. The panelists gave them away without stressing how important it is for certain attendees to have access to these accommodations.


I understand the impulse to have events that feature a lineup of readers from two, three, four, or sometimes more organizations, presses, or journals. But when your venue is at least 3 miles away from the conference, how exactly do you expect people to show up to it, especially when you’re an attended already financially broke from everything else?


There must be a special place in Hades for readers who read WAY beyond their allotted time. That place should be tiered for readers who go past by 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 (!) minutes…


Writers who think they’re the shit continue to look, treat, and behave around others like they can’t be bothered. I understand how brownnosing can be exhausting for both parties involved. But writers need readers to thrive. Books need readers to breathe. If you’re that kind of writer who, perhaps, is too overwhelmed by the whole atmosphere at AWP, find ways to talk to others about your experience. If you find yourself being short-tempered, take a break. Take care of yourself. Imagine how this experience might be better for you and everyone else around you.


While I’ve often heard that AWP isn’t the place to swing your manuscripts in editors’ faces, AWP is still a place where—beyond camaraderie—connections happen. From the writers’ perspective, ask editors to answer questions their presses’ websites might not be able to answer. Find out if they have an open reading period, what their editorial experience is like, what contests they have, if they solicit work, and whose work they’re excited about. From the editors’ perspective, be mindful of the people visiting your booth. What’s exciting them about your table? Do you know how to talk about the materials you’re promoting? If a person is browsing one of your authors’ books, will that author be signing copies at AWP? Where else can we find out more about the author? I mention so many of these points because I almost always have a similar experience at booths primarily run by white editors. They often ask white browsers if they have any questions, but then they look at me and don’t know what to say. Some questions that run through my head during those instances are: Do they want to know if I speak English? Do I look like someone who’s casually interested in books? Would my experience be different if they knew about my work? Do they even know my work has been published in their magazine? There could be an entire conference around these points.


Regarding badges, you don’t need to have read the work of the person in front of you for you to feel compelled to treat them respectfully.


An aside for my Latinx writers: Our issues have not been resolved. It’s an ongoing process. We might have shared the same space, or have had conversations with one another, but our issues aren’t over. Did you attend the Latinx Writers Caucus? Were you invited to attend the Latinx Writers Caucus? Have you thought about volunteering some of your time and resources to the Latinx Writers Caucus? You can find more information here: www.latinxwriterscaucus.org.


Another aside for my Latinx writers: We are policing one another in ways white supremacy polices us. We have got to stop this cycle of surveillance. I won’t go into the exact situations I had at AWP, but I will simply say that we cannot pat ourselves on the back if we’re not supporting one another. We are still invisible. Colorism is still a problem. We would rather focus on how people in other communities are doing than ask our own communities how we’re surviving, how we’re getting our work done.


Ageism is still a major problem. Our ancestors are disappearing and we are acting like we somehow aren’t part of a larger, older conversation and lineage. In most panels and events I attended, either most of the attendees were over the age of 40 or under 30. Some writers are seen as dinosaurs and, therefore, irrelevant; others are treated as too immature and undeserving of respect. Ageism is a particular issue I saw among Latinx writers, where we are not speaking to one another and, thus, failing to address our Latin American contemporaries.


In addition to ageism, we are not supporting groups outside our own. Last year, I felt in community with everyone who attended the packed reading with Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong. This year, I was appalled to see how under-attended the reading with Layli Long Soldier, Khaled Mattawa, and Mark Doty was. Long Soldier is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation; Mattawa is from Libya. The low attendance was painful to see, especially in the context of indigenous invisibility and Libya’s history of colonization. The low attendance demonstrated a lack of solidarity with other histories of oppression.


Despite most of these challenges, I learned that poets give the best hugs.


I was reminded that I can’t assume a writer’s personality based on the tone and issues they contend with in their work.


Not having a book to sell at AWP doesn’t discredit your identity as a writer.


From Raina J. León, I learned to go beyond idealism. Through very practical steps (which I’m hoping she’ll post and share somewhere online), I walked away knowing how I can support other writers who might not have the funds to attend AWP.


Unfortunately, the day after AWP, I learned I need to better budget my expenses and keep track of my receipts, which I plan to itemize when I do my taxes next year.


Finally, I left AWP more cognizant of its history of shortcomings, but also with a host of possibilities for where it—and we—can go.

Submit a comment