Diversity in DC
Next week, as you may know, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs holds its sprawling annual convention.
It’s known as AWP. As every eagle-eyed Unboxed Writer will notice, it should have been AWAWP. I like the sound of that. A-wawp. A wet fish landing on a hot dock. But they didn’t ask me, did they? Well, of course they didn’t.
AWP will be seated this year, 8 through 11 February, in Trumpian Washington. Our nation’s extraordinarily stressed capital. We must not hold this against the AWP organizers, who are based at George Mason in Fairfax: Major conferences are booked years in advance to capture the convention-center and hotel-room space they need. In fact, next year, a happier locale for AWP—Tampa, the Tropic of Porter. Our dolphins are standing by. And better yet, our politicians are not.
The AWP conference is a movable feast of diversity, last May for example rejecting Charlotte and all similarly inclined locations for future consideration because of its anti-LGBTQ “bathroom laws.” Next week, on Thursday the 9th, alone, there are sessions on:
- “Inclusive anthologies”;
- “Revolutionary mothering,” which has to do with a “legacy of radical and queer black feminists of the 1970s”;
- “Girlhood, womanhood, coming of age”; “
- “Apocalypse poetry by women”;
- “Writing in time of terror and environmental collapse”;
- The “politics of queering characters”;
- “Which comes first, activism or artist?”;
- “Community building around art and literature”;
- “The body in words…and the feminist working class”;
- “Global narratives within US literature”; and
- A reading by the Hmong American writers’ circle.
Those are before noon on the 9th. You see, never is heard an exclusionary word at AWP. And this is good.
No, the main qualm that some of us feel here in the competition-soaked commercial world of publishing has to do with that halls of ivy business. While many of us have spent a lot of time in the Academy, of course, we know that students of creative writing on our campuses are rarely fully prepared for the business they expect to storm upon graduation. Many instructors aren’t equipped to teach them, either, finding most of their contracts at their own university presses, where beautiful production and meager sales are the norm, marketing is all but unknown.
Precious few of these students may have been told, even today, how much scarcer traditional publishing contracts have become, let alone that US self-publishers in 2015 produced 625,327 titles with ISBNs. Those indie books without ISBNs take the number of self-published books—before the trade even gets out of bed—well above 1 million titles per year.
There are sessions at AWP, mind you, that get at a bit of this. Our good colleague Paula Munier is on a business-of-publishing panel with some other good folks, also on the 9th. But get this title: “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! [Are we tired of that Oz formulation yet? Yes, we are.] Demystifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing.” Now, think about that. Students of writing in college (hotly pursued by MFA programs at AWP) need a 75-minute session on business demystification at a conference?
So what are they teaching the kids back on the collegiate ranch?
Well, I’ll tell you what they’re teaching, and that’s where you come in. My provocation for you today has to do with the very first thing you hear when you click on this year’s AWP conference overview and a video begins playing whether you’d like it to or not. (Remind me to propose the “Writers who’d rather not find auto-running videos on conference sites” session for next year.)
It’s the voice of author Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children. And he is saying to these big children of our campuses: “Writing is so hard.”