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FREELANCE LADY: AWP: A FIRST-TIMER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE

Conference-Overview

The AWP Conference kicks off on Wednesday. Are you ready?

You know that scene in the movie Jawbreaker when Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart and Julie Benz strut down the hallway to an Imperial Teen song and everyone just kind of clears out of their way and stares in awe because that’s what you do in the presence of Queen B’s?

That’s the AWP Conference, and starting this Wednesday, it’s going to reign over Boston.

AWP, or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, is the largest literary conference in the United States—hence all of that Queen B swagger—and from March 6 to 9, will turn the Hynes Convention Center and its surrounding parts into a venerable literary playground, rife with panel discussions, a bookfair, readings and parties. The conference is expected to draw a crowd of over 10,000 people, and will include presentations from literary heavyweights like Augusten Burroughs, Cheryl Strayed and Tom Perrotta, just to name a few.

While I pride myself on having navigated Boston’s (sometimes cliquey) literary scene fairly well, I’m an AWP newbie, and until about a week ago, I felt totally intimidated at the prospect of attending such a behemoth of a conference. Like, I don’t have an MFA; will I belong?

What if I accidentally splice a comma?

I ran my neuroses by the folks in my literary inner circle—some of whom are running AWP-affiliated events—and was graciously reassured that AWP is one big party for writers, and that it’d be a shame to miss out.

Take one glance at the conference website, though, and you can see why I felt overwhelmed: there’s a massive amount of shit to do and no humanly possible way to do it all.

You can step aside and bow down to AWP like a nerdy minion—or you can take my friends’ tips on how to navigate the conference like a pro.

(I recommend the latter.)

Know before you go

From author Carissa Halston, founder of the Literary Firsts reading series and editor of the literary magazine Apt: Create a hierarchy of needs. Know that there will be at least one panel, reading or party that you’ll want to attend. Once you’ve hit your marks, you’re free to enjoy the rest of the conference (in a serendipitous manner).

In other words: Put on your thinking caps, peruse the conference schedule, and write down everything that appeals to you. You’ll see that a lot of things overlap—and them’s the breaks, kid. Use your own process of elimination to determine what’s important to you; you really won’t be able to do it all, gender stuff aside, so don’t try.

Mind your manners

From Daniel Pritchard, editor of The Critical Flame and director of marketing for the Boston Review: Don’t fanboy (or fangirl) the famous writers. And definitely don’t ask everyone you meet where they’ve been published.

In other words: Yes, there will be a lot of famous people at AWP.

But please, don’t be weird—and don’t be a dick.

A meeting of the minds on such a large scale tends to breed ego, but you’re probably best to check yours at the door. Also, said Pritchard, a flask comes in very handy.

Cha$e that paper

From Adrian Todd Zuniga, founder and host of Literary Death Match: Create a budget, and plan on spending it. Be a consumer of literary intricacies and efforts.

In other words: Things—like books, cab rides, cocktails and, if you’re lucky, condoms—cost money. Set aside a little slush fund and have fun with it. Day passes are admittedly pricey at $120 a pop, but the majority of the off-site events and readings are under $15 or free. Plus, you’re supporting the creative class and its affiliates, and I truly believe in literary karma, i.e. why would anyone be interested in your work (and buying it) if you don’t show an interest in theirs?

Hydrate. Rest. Repeat.

Everyone I spoke with mentioned how exhausting AWP can be—the good, doing-what-you-love kind of tired—and how important it is to stay hydrated and rest. There’ll be a lot of talking and walking to do—and as I mentioned above, plenty of off-site parties for one to drink copious amounts of discounted booze.

However, something inside of me says you probably want to avoid establishing yourself as the dude who performed dirty bar tricks with his chapbook after a round of tequila shots.

Have fun!

Yes, that too! And lots of it.


About KARYN POLEWACZYK

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore and ELLE magazines, and at Boston.com's Let's Go Out column, among others. Follow her on Twitter @KarynPolewaczyk.
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