Thursday, March 24, 2016

You're invited to Braless AWP

Again this year, I can’t go to AWP.

AWP, shorthand for the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, happens next week in Los Angeles. It’s a huge thing, and it’s whiplash-inducing for me; I always look at nametags and whip my head up to see the face attached, because very frequently the name belongs to a social media friend, or to a writer I know through submissions to a journal, or to someone I have read and enjoyed at some point.

Social media is funny. We tend to get the curated view of a person’s life, but that doesn’t mean we could actually pick that person out of a lineup. And AWP is a lineup, a big one, of all the people I know but don’t know.

I have a writer friend who for years has had a picture of a cow leaping out of the surf as his profile picture. I have no idea what he looks like.

I have another who always posts pictures from a top view of a three-quarters angle on her face, and perpetually with lips in a duck formation. I don’t believe she actually is a very short duck, but I would have a difficult time locating her at eye-level and, say, smiling.

Many people bemoan the nametag-gazers at the conference, and they make a point of wearing theirs backwards, or of putting a weird name on it, or of trading with a friend. Sometimes a big sticker obscures the name, or it’s tucked discreetly under a hipster elbow-patched cardigan.

I get it. There is a notion that many of the nametag-gazers do this because they are interested only in names found in a Norton Anthology. They won’t bother making eye contact at all with the bookless hordes. I’m not sure if I fully believe that this archetype exists in the real world, but it’s certainly true that spotting the name of a literary titan or, at the very least, a beloved personal-favorite writer can make us look—even at the end of the conference, when overstimulation and drunkenness (on both words and ale) begin to make zombies of the faithful.

I guess my affection for the conference is obvious. Before I became a mother, I never missed, and even after I added “Mom” to my vita, I tried to attend. It was way more trouble than it was worth, though, to deal with a high-spirited kid while trying to make my way through the bookfair.

Next year I’ll have the incomparable opportunity of attending AWP with my very first book in hand—and in 2018, I’ll attend with my second. Something about having a journal or a press or a book makes it feel OK to make space in life for a conference that is more than just a professional boon, but a pleasure. I have a feeling that accountants and real estate agents and tool-and-die makers have much less energizing, fascinating, and even sexy conferences, although booze is undoubtedly a great equalizer. The annual Tool-and-Die Expo may schedule a dance party to rival the yearly AWP stomp, but I’m skeptical.

It just about killed me last year not to be able to attend the Minneapolis conference, and so I started a new tradition that is continuing in 2016. I call it Braless AWP, and it’s a Facebook group dedicated to those of us (typically parents or the underemployed—a demographic that is sadly dominated by women) who can’t afford to attend or can’t swing it without childcare.

Braless AWP offers a lineup of intriguing sessions. This year Sherry is offering “Hybrid Genres: How Do Experimental Structures Lift and Separate the Modern Form?” and Jen will present “Eighteen Things to Do While Braless Other Than Refreshing Submittable.” The conference bylaws committee has approved the attendance of the shoeless and those with useless dogs, not to be confused with working companion animals.

Also this year, because Braless AWP is so much fun, a whole bunch of folks plan to attend what we like to call “the real conference” … while also attending the annual AWP Conference in LA (a.k.a., “that other conference”). I foresee a lively week of conversation and companionship, and I have to be honest—I need it. If I could attend AWP and benefit from the in-person camaraderie, I would—writing is an isolated, isolating task, and hugging poets makes it all more bearable.

It is a shame that a set of tracks runs through the center of our field, with elite writers and permanent instructional staff on one side and students and adjuncts on the other. As with the nation as a whole, the line of demarcation between the two sides is stark, and the have-nots often have to go without the incomparable opportunity of attending the conference because the costs of travel, missed work, and childcare are simply too high.

Are you having to sit this one out? I invite you to come on over to Braless AWP with empty bra, but not with empty hands: The price of admission is a panel proposal. We never get around to the actual panels, so a title alone will get you in the door. Then it’s pretty much a full-time braless dance party, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.


  1. I'm in! I can't attend this year either. I'm proposing "The Rollercoaster of Claiming Writing Expenses on Taxes for the First Time." The panel will cover such important issues as: Does gin count as an expense? How much did submitting really cost me? And why did no one tell there would be math?

  2. My proposal: What! You Can't Log Your Rejections and Stir Your Béchamel? We'll Show You How.

    1. That's a very classy twist on our theme! We need someone who cooks stuff with French names. You're in! :)

  3. Braless AWP is starting to look as good as regular AWP!

  4. My proposal: "The Nonwriting Life."