By Dale J Rappaneau, Jr. Contributing Writer
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) recently concluded their annual conference, held this year in the sunny city of Tampa, Florida.
As has been the tradition for years, more than a dozen UMF Creative Writing majors traveled by car, bus, and plane to attend this national conference, in hopes of gleaning information from prominent writing figures in the industry. Many of these students had their entire trip covered by the school through a funding program run by the UMF Writers Guild.
“This was my first year attending the conference,” said Zoe Stonetree, a sophomore Creative Writing student minoring in Physics. “I went w
ith the Writers Guild, so of course it was all free.”
The conference featured such prominent writers as George Saunders, Kaveh Akbar, and Layli Long Soldier. The conference is structured around hourly panel discussions on such topics as diversity, craft and MFA programs, and attendees have the freedom to attend as many panels as their schedule can fit.
Each year, the Writers Guild picks members to send to AWP with all costs covered, thus allowing students to experience the greater writing community. The criteria for selection—which is “very casual,” according to Stonetree—involves attending the Writers Guild’s weekly 7 p.m. meetings on Mondays.
“They select people who have been coming consistently for over a year,” said Stonetree. “Most people go to AWP twice if they are consistent members, some people go three times, but generally they max people out at two.”
For UMF students, the ability to learn from the writing community at large provides a wealth of opportunities unavailable in their everyday classroom.
“It was a wonderful way to get outside this tiny little UMF community,” said Michaela Zelie, a senior Creative Writing major who also attended AWP for the first time this year. “Our campus community is wonderful and supportive, but it is small. To go out to meet other writers, some very successful, it’s a huge benefit.”
Stonetree echoed these sentiments: “I went to a panel called something like ‘Dreamwork of Poetry,’ which was really cool. They talked about the connection between dreams and the archetypes of the unconscious, and how it can be applied to poetry. It’s something I have been interested in, and it was really cool to hear them talk about it.”
According to Zelie, she only learned about the Writers Guild’s funding program during her junior year, and she regrets not having learned about it sooner. “I highly recommend students take advantage of these programs,” she said. “I didn’t know about Writers Guild until last year, and students should get involved, they should do these things, even if you think it’s a little scary. It was amazing to be at AWP and be surrounded by so many successful people.”
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs boasts approximately 12,000 attendees each year, along with 2,000 presenters, 550 panels, and 800 literary organizations from around the world. It is the largest literary conference in North America, and next year it will be held from March 27 to 30 in Portland, Oregon.