Dispatches | March 27, 2007

It’s been about three weeks since our staff returned from the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference, held this year in Atlanta, and for the first time I can catch my breath and reflect on my time there. For those unfamiliar with the conference, it’s a gathering of several thousand writers, teachers of writers, students, publishers, and various organizations and vendors involved with writers. Participants spend their time attending selected sessions — about 300 from which to choose, including panels on writing and teaching, author readings, and receptions — and browsing the Bookfair with its 300 exhibitors. (Eating, drinking, and making merry may also be found in abundance.)

Pleasures

Each year The Missouri Review spends considerable time and money to attend the conference. I’ve found it worthwhile for several reasons. Here are a few of them:

1. Working our table at the Bookfair. It’s rewarding to introduce the magazine to students and potential readers by distributing past issues. We also get to meet many of our authors, connecting faces with names. (My biggest surprise was the youthful appearance of David Schuman, author of “Stay,” which appeared in our Fall 2005 issue, winning a Pushcart prize in 2006.)

 2. Attending sessions. When I wasn’t at the Bookfair, I was usually in a session. My favorites (of the 11 I attended) included the panel led by Pulitzer-prize winning author Robert Olen Butler on “Exercising the Unconscious: Writing in the Moment,” a panel with Philip Lopate and Robin Hemley entitled “Toward a Theory of Slippery Nonfiction,” and a panel that included Mimi Schwartz called “More Than One Way to Tell a Story.” (Mimi’s essay “Off the Record” appears in our Fall 2006, 29:3, issue.)

3. Meeting other editors. I enjoyed talking shop with Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter and former Missouri Review intern, and Ben George, assistant editor of Tin House.

4. Catching up with former professors and colleagues. One of the greatest joys of the AWP conference is seeing old friends. It’s like a class reunion — without all the high school baggage.

5. The organization of the AWP staff. I think they do a remarkable job, given the rapid growth of the conference over the years. The hotel was also efficient and convenient — plenty of room, fast and numerous elevators, courteous staff.

Disappointments

1. Downtown Atlanta. There’s not much there. Several convention hotels but few restaurants-that means long waits for dinner for okay food at high prices.

 2. Absentee panelists. Many sessions I attended were without at least one “advertised” panel member. To the credit of the panel organizers, they usually found last-minute substitutes. I know these panels are planned almost a year in advance, but it makes me wonder if those volunteering take their obligations seriously. I know — emergencies arise. Still, I can’t help being disappointed.

Your experiences?

If you attended the conference and had particular likes or dislikes, feel free to post a comment. If there was a key idea or insight from any session, please pass those along as well.

Richard Sowienski

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