Every year, AWP–Association of Writers & Writing programs–holds the biggest writing conference in the country. For the first time since 1998, it was in Oregon, at the Portland Convention Center, so I had to go. Could I afford it? No. Could I afford the time off from work? No. Was my touchy stomach up to the different diet? No. Do my feet have blisters on their blisters? Yes they do. But I don’t care. It was worth every blister, every $20 bill that went flying out, every frou-frou sandwich with ingredients I couldn’t identify, even worth that mouth-burning hot pepper I thought was a crabapple.
AWP was like a massive party where everyone I’ve ever known in my writing life-from Antioch, Fishtrap, the Tucson Festival of Books, Portuguese writers, Nye Beach Writers, Willamette Writers, my Facebook friends, editors who have rejected my work, editors who have accepted my work, and famous writers on whom I have massive writer-girl crushes—were all in one place. I’m not normally comfortable at parties, but I had found my tribe, and I was high on the love—and way too much iced tea.
I was able to walk up to booths and say “I have a story in that issue,” and have the editors say, “Yes! It’s so great to meet you.” To have young writers call me an inspiration. Me? To get a big hug from a grad school classmate I hadn’t seen in 16 years.
I heard there were 12,000 people there. There were more than 700 exhibits with publishers, editors, writers, and college writing programs selling thousands and thousands of books and giving away pens, candy, postcards, poems, and more. There were approximately 500 panel discussions spread over three days, plus all kinds of “offsite” gatherings. It was not possible to do everything, but I’m so pleased about what I did do. I saw my heroes from Creative Nonfiction. I attended a session led by poet Kwame Dawes. I heard readings by Ilya Kaminsky and Tess Gallagher. I saw Oregon poet laureate Kim Stafford in the parking garage and Luis Alberto Urrea wandering around the bookfair. We were all citizens of Writer World, a place where I finally felt at home.
Many of the attendees were so very young, but we older folks were well represented, too. All races and nationalities attended, including men in dresses and girls who dressed like boys. I saw some wild outfits I can’t believe anyone would wear in public. It amused me that everyone put on what they thought looked good. But never mind. We were all obsessed with words.
Unfortunately, one can’t wander around Writer Land forever, living on fast food out of paper containers. After the conference ended Saturday afternoon, I wandered through the exhibit hall. The tables were empty, and workers were busy rolling up the carpet. Where did my people go? It was time to go forth and tell our stories.
I think I did well coming home with only seven new books, a mug and a hat I bought at the Saturday market from a funky old lady named Anita who makes them by hand from scraps of vintage fabric. I spent Saturday morning walking around the Willamette River, which I could see from my room at the Marriott. I had to keep taking pictures because the view kept changing. Sunrise, sunset, boats, birds, bridges, Mt. Hood. Glorious. Exactly the vacation I needed. WordPress is not letting me post photos right now, but I will.
Unfortunately, my buzz was disrupted by worrisome news about my dad, so now I’m on my way to San Jose when I just want to be that writer girl. It sounds like it’s going to be a tough time. Say a prayer, okay?
And buy some books! With so many writers producing so many books, somebody needs to read them.