Why I’m Not Going to AWP: Justifications of a Homebody
March 26, 2019 § 17 Comments
By Jennifer Niesslein
I’m not a hater of AWP, but if you say “Montaigne” three times in the mirror, I’ll appear and scratch you.
- “AWP” stands for “Association of Writers and Writing Programs,” although the vibe the conference feels, to me, more geared toward writers in writing programs. I’ve never been enrolled in a writing program and I don’t teach in a writing program. The AWP schedule is pretty packed with sessions titled with “re-” prefix (“rewriting,” “reclaiming,” “reimagining”) and other academic speak. There is probably a ton of value for some people in these talks. I’m not one of them.
- It’s expensive. I’ve been a presenter a few times, and they’re the only times in my life I’ve had to pay for the privilege of giving my time for preparation and speaking—and more. Last year, I flew to Tampa where AWP hosted a conference. I spent over a thousand dollars between airfare, registration fees, taxis, meals, and the hotel. I didn’t have anyone to comp me for this; people involved in writing programs do, from what I understand. I ran into a good friend at the airport who’s a Big Deal. Someone was paying her to fly first class. On the plane, I passed her with my clunky carry-on luggage I bought at TJ Maxx. “I’ll be back in steerage,” I joked. Kind of. I wrote the expense off on my taxes (and we’ll see if that’s legal anymore, given the tax overhaul), but even that’s a luxury—I have the money to front.
- SO MANY GENRES! I edit and write creative nonfiction. It’s a genre relatively new to the MFA world; my own alma mater has an acclaimed MFA program and they still don’t offer CNF. So if you’re thinking you’ll sit at an AWP-sanctioned hotel bar and strike up a conversation with a stranger about craft, you might be speaking different languages; it’s not that poets and writers of creative nonfiction can’t have a nice conversation—it’s just that if you’re looking for a tribe, it doesn’t just happen organically. For that, you might want to check out conferences specifically for your genre.
- Home is awesome! When AWP-goers are taking off their shoes and shoving laptops into bins, I’ll be chilling in my slippers. When they’re waiting for an elevator that, when it finally arrives, they eye and wonder if it’s straining the weight limit, all the while contemplating their own deaths, I’ll be quietly making a cup of tea that’s not the temperature of lava. When they’re waiting forty-five minutes to be seated for lunch in what may or may not be a good restaurant chosen only because it’s within walking distance, I’ll be zapping last night’s leftovers and watching trash TV on my couch. And when they post pictures of a fabulous party filled with writers whose work I admire? There will be a twinge, a flicker of I should have gone. But then I’ll wonder who I think I’m kidding—after a certain point in the evening, the bra comes off and the robe comes out, no matter where I am in the world. I’ll go to my very own bed draped with a soft blanket that smells like my own detergent and realize that no one invoked Montaigne to me in some time, and I’ll dream the dreams of a homebody: all the places I don’t have to go.
Jennifer Niesslein is the founder and editor of Full Grown People. She also co-founded Brain, Child magazine. She’s the author of one memoir, Practically Perfect in Every Way, the editor of two Full Grown People anthologies, and an essayist. She’s on leave from Full Grown People to write another book.
The last time AWP was in Portland was 1998 and I did not attend. Maybe I went for a day? Portland is 90 miles from home, and this time I planned to attend three of the four days. Then I remembered how much I dislike conferences. I cancelled my Airbnb, and I am never invited to parties so no loss there. Instead, I might drive over the Coast Range during the day to see a half dozen people, people likely to be glad to see me, three or four hours total in that vast space.
I am not promoting a book. I am not teaching. I am not in a program. I have presented for many conferences, and even when I presented for the National Council of Teachers of English, I paid my own way.
On the other hand, when I served on the board of a national nonprofit and flew around the country for meetings, my airfare was paid and while I served with bank presidents and VPs of major department chains, I knew a deal when I saw one. I always arrived a day or three early in order to explore Philadelphia and New Orleans and Atlanta. Portland is a pretty city. A vacation with benefits.
OMG, this is so funny, Jennifer, because it’s so spot on. I’m not going this year either, but I will admittedly miss seeing my CNF tribe( albeit tiny at this huge gathering.) When AWP comes a bit closer to New York, I’ll go again someday, but for now, I’m, with you and your bra, we are both hanging out at home, happy not to have to hear that dreaded name that starts with an M.
Loved this. Jennifer, you are clearly a part of my tribe!
Loved this. I’ve attended a couple of times (when it’s been in my city), but I totally relate to all the points you’ve made. Yes, I occasionally feel the FOMO, but here at home in my sweats, I’ll happily read the summaries and highlights that will be coming out soon.
I was feeling left out. This made me laugh. Thank you for that.
Thank you thank you thank you! I had felt regret for not going to AWP in Tampa because I’m already in Florida (albeit North Florida) and I would have met some good friends who were attending. But the expense I can’t justify. I’m not published, am not in a writing program, and I don’t teach. I’ve had my fill of conferences from my day job which has nothing to do with writing. But everyone is buzzing about AWP on Twitter so I was starting to feel (again) that maybe I’m not enough of a writer, that not going to AWP meant I can’t stake any claim to being a writer. Surely I would make the necessary sacrifices in order to make the necessary connections. Then I reminded myself that I already enjoy good connections with good people. I already have my tribe that has developed over years of online blogging and offline collaborations. I don’t need to go to AWP. I need to stay home, have that hot cup of tea and write while still in my jammies.
I am dismayed that your invited presentations have been at your own expense. How can AWP not at least give you a stipend?
I went for the first time last year and racked up a sizable credit card bill. I work in the financial services industry and since AWP and CNF (that’s what I write, also) are unrelated to my job, no one comps me anything either. I found some value in AWP18, but not as much as I hoped. I skipped AWP19 this year in favor of buying tickets to 6 concerts and getting a new dishwasher. I, too, will read the summaries. Thanks for the smile this morning. And hey–I like Montaigne. 🙂
I raise my cup of tea and salute you from my couch.
I love this. I’ve only been to one writer’s conference (ever) and it was the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. I’ve been wondering if I should go to AWP because everyone seems to be there, but I have much less FOMO after reading your piece. The WD Conference is easy for me–closer to home and a good mix of genres represented–so I think I’ll stick with that for now.
Thanks, I am your shoes as well. I have been to SO MANY CONFERENCES over the years… and I just really can’t get excited about them any more.
“I’ll be back in steerage.” Perfect.
Loved this! What exactly is creative non-fiction?
[…] (And if you’re also staying put, and that FOMO is starting to strike, may I recommend to you Jennifer Niesslein’s “Why I’m Not Going to AWP,” courtesy of the Brevity […]
I have never gone and always feel left out. As a poet and reviewer, I might not be without a tribe, but, as somewhat of an introvert, I think it could be too overwhelming to justify the expense. Thank you for this article that reinforces my gut feelings. When it comes close to NY, I can go. This time around, I’ll be home in my PJs reading about it. Solidarity!
I love you! And also purchase all my luggage at TJMaxx.
Sent from the couch—cat in lap.
I paid for my first AWP and loved it. But it really only makes sense financially if your academic job is covering the bill.