By Courtney Fowler, President
“Write drunk, edit sober” was the advice from award-winning science journalist Jenny J. Chen, as she laughed hysterically and followed with, “take that with a grain of salt people!” Last week at the 50th annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, Chen, along with her fellow panel members, led a discussion on how to balance the fact-based demands of journalism with the creative and emotional craft of creative writing. This laugh out loud panel discussion was only one of the memorable experiences I had at the conference, which for those of you who don’t know, was held in the fabulous, picturesque city of Washington, D.C.
As a whole, AWP is kind of like one of the Scholastic book fairs you went to at your elementary school library, but 10,000 times bigger and on a whole lot of steroids. From the 1,000 tables set up at the book fair, to the 675 possible panel discussions and conference events you can attend, AWP is truly a writer’s dream. Thousands attend the conference each year, ranging from college students who run their school newspaper (yes, that would be us) to world-renowned authors who are celebrating the launch of a new book. With such a range of age and experience, the opportunities to learn and network are endless.
In one panel, Washington Post reporter Dan Zak discussed the troubling reality of the emergence of fake news in recent months. Not only are news stories becoming opinion-based, but the truly alarming fact is that one in five adults receive their news from social media. Social media was created as a platform for human expression, not a credible source for the most current and pressing news stories like some may believe.
In this distressing time, how are journalists able overcome such challenges? Coincidentally, I had this exact conversation with my Uber driver just hours before, a nice man from Uruguay who had recently moved to America to find a better life. “I fear for journalists these days,” he said. “Not only are they constantly targeted by our new president, but must deal with the fake stories that undermine their hard work.”
Serious topics aside, AWP also provided us with a fabulous time to have fun and enjoy the city outside of the panels and book fair as well. Hundreds of off-site events were offered at local restaurants and bars in D.C. We enjoyed socials, dances, and of course, free drinks!
If you follow the Flyer on any social media platforms, you probably also saw that we were able to take advantage of the excellent location of this year’s conference to explore our nation’s capitol on our own. We enjoyed 60-degree weather (basically summer compared to the horrible amount of snow we just got) while touring the Capitol Building and taking photos with Senator Susan Collins. We visited monuments and saw the most breathtaking view of the city from 15 stories up at the Skydome Restaurant in Arlington. I even got the chance to sneak away and visit a few graduate schools when we had some free time. Because honestly, why wouldn’t I want to live in such an amazing place after graduation?
AWP is more than just our annual trip to a writer’s convention, but a time to leave Farmington behind and experience the wonderful country we live in beyond UMF. And of course, the conference always has a way of sneaking in a few life lessons into panel discussions when you least expect it. My favorite this year was an insightful quote from Zak, one that seemed quite relevant as I pondered my recent trips to graduate schools and the daunting fact that graduation is soon approaching. “Embrace ignorance and do not be afraid to admit when you’re lost,” he said. “It’s a big world out there and we should honor the messiness in our lives.”