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AWP is a Literary version of San Diego Comic-Con! Complete with RockStars, Autographs, Runways, and After Parties!



The only advice I can ever give you if you wanna be a writer, 

is keep writing. And read all you can, read everything.


                                                -- Stan Lee


I’m not much of a math and science guy. I spent most of my 

time in school daydreaming and managed to turn it into a living


-- George Lucas


Instructions:

-- If you’ve never been to AWP, start with Part 1!

-- If you’re a regular and just want the juicy stuff, jump to Part 2!


Attending an AWP is like attending a literary version of San Diego Comic Con– complete with rock stars, autographs, runways, and after-parties. Fans are in costume and dressed to impress. The top authors are giving readings and signing books. There are panels and generative workshops on every topic and for every genre. Publishing opportunities, networking, and reunions abound around every booth on the main floor. And the coolest experiences are the offsite dance parties and readings from the top journals, publishers, and underground zines. The force is strong at AWP!


Part 1: I’m new to the Lit-Scene, but interested, what is AWP and why should I care?


The AWP Conference & Bookfair is the annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers of contemporary creative writing. It includes thousands of attendees, hundreds of events and book fair exhibitors, and four days of essential literary conversation and celebration. The AWP Conference & Bookfair has always been a place of connection, reunion, and joy, and we are excited to see the writing community come together in a new city every year. 

(AWP website)


1. Diverse access to the widest array of literary publications. 


At AWP, you can lay your ear to the current pulse of America’s literary voices–or at least the ones that are being published anyway. There are over 100 booths representing the top literary journals and publishers selling literature, giving away literature, advertising their events, and looking for writers to publish.  


Journals like The Yale Review, The Southern Review, Sewanee Review, Red Hen Press, Poets & Writers, Paris Review, Notre Dame Review, Laurel Review, Kenyon Review, Gray Wolf Press, Copper Canyon Press, Black Lawrence Press, Beloit Journal, and Adroit Journal. 

Go to a panel reading, an off-site reading, or talk to them in person at their booth. I’ve talked my way into writing residencies and after-parties. At times I can be quite charming– or so my mother tells me.


2. You're considering an MFA or PHD in a writing or literature focus.


Maybe you’re about to finish your BA and you’re looking to remain in the academic arena of higher education, or MFA is not enough–you’re addicted and a glutton for punishment. This is the marketplace to meet the directors of those programs. There are over 50 different universities offering programs of different lengths and variations eager to take your money…lol I mean talk to you


I will be relentless here and hype up my Alma Mater: The University of Nebraska Omaha Low Residency MFA Program. I was a host for their booth this year at AWP. I graduated last summer and it was an amazing experience, perfect for me. I think sometimes the Low-Res programs get a bad rap– and I’m here to tell you do not judge a program by its res, but by its staff, director, and professors. I was a full-time High School English Teacher in New Orleans, COVID had just hit the world, education had mutated into virtual, and my genius self wanted to go back to graduate school!  Poets are the worst! LOL, stay as far away from us as possible! I figured there was no way in Hades, I would find a program that would accommodate my situation. This program’s design was off the damn charts yall! It requires two in-person residencies per year, being a two-year program, which ends up being four residencies, one per semester. You are assigned to a master professor in your genre, in which you have some selection power, and with that professor, the two of you co-curate a curriculum that is aligned with your particular wants and goals. Then you return to your home location, meet weekly/virtually, and work through your co-designed course.  It was an amazing fit for me and led me to great successes I am still interacting with now. 


3. Educate yourself, stretch yourself, network/relation-build yourself: Panels, Generatives, Off-Sites


Educate and stretch yourself! There are four days of on-site panels for all the crafts of writing: poetry, hybrid, prose, essay, fiction, creative nonfiction, young adult, and much, much more! Every hour, pretty much, on the hour, there is something: panels for writing about social justice, tips/strategies for acceptance & publication, discussions on existing communities or on creating your own communities, how to write about sex/horror/ and other challenging topics, voice specific readings/panels: black/brown/lgtbq+, experimental writing, and indie journals. There are panels for writers at every level, and like any conference, there is always a huge awards ceremony where authors who have achieved the above and beyond are recognized and awarded for their contribution to the community at large. One of the professors from my program I was referencing earlier received an award this year.


Each year AWP offers 4 awards:


-- Sue William Silverman Prize for Creative Nonfiction: $2,500 and publication by the University of Georgia Press

-- James Alan McPherson Prize for the Novel: $5,500 and publication by the University of Nebraska Press

-- Donald Hall Prize for Poetry: $5,500 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press

-- Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction: $5,500  publication by Mad Creek Books, imprint Ohio State University Press


This year, my program’s fiction professor was awarded the Sue William Silverman Prize for Creative Nonfiction for her memoir, Joy Rides Through the Tunnel of Grief.



Jessica Hendry Nelson


Jessica Hendry Nelson’s latest book is the memoir Joy Rides Through the Tunnel of Grief (UGA 2023), winner of the 2022 AWP Sue William Silverman Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of the memoir If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint 2014), which was selected as a best debut book by the Indies Introduce New Voices program, the Indies Next List by the American Booksellers' Association, named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Review. She is also co-author of the textbook and anthology Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology along with the writer Sean Prentiss (Bloomsbury 2021). Her work has appeared in the anthology Bending Genre, edited by Nicole Walker and Margot Singer (Bloomsbury 2023), as well as the Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, Tin House, the Los Angeles Review of Books, North American Review, the Rumpus, Northwest Review, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University and also teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. More at jessicahnelson.com


Part 2: It’s not your first go at this Lit-Rodeo. You get down On-Site and After Hours 


1. Pre-Game


Oftentimes, what you’ve been able to accomplish and who you know can have a strong effect on your experience. I have a 2-year MFA hit list of experiences I have been able to rattle off for my second AWP. I’ve had some poems accepted and published, received some awards, built some relationships, volunteered for some presses, attended some residences, been a good student, and am a poetry editor for a small press. Now, are these things required to have a good time at AWP? Certainly not. But as you know, they can only make it better and open doors to people, places, and events. The point being, build your pre-AWP game each year. Of course, do it for yourself and then reap the rewards at literary events, such as AWP.


2. Housing and Crew


Both can add a lot to the feel of your AWP game. Last year, my Seattle AWP housing situation was much better. I was sharing a condo with some of the coolest writers in my New Orleans crew. Multiple collections of poetry published, Rodrigo Toscano; his teammate, professor, and manager of New Orleans livewire.com, Sean Munro; the two super cool ladies who run lmnl.lit, Nikki Ummel and Michelle Nicholson; as well as friends and editor of the autodidactic press Tilted House, Cameron Lovejoy. The benefits of crew housinging are many. Always having the option of a partner in your literary crimes is quite fantastic. Safety and Style, always having someone to walk to and from the event site. Assuming your team is as diverse as the NOLA crew, their different connections and interests can grant you access to unexpected and unusually cool events.


This year I was late to the game and had to chill solo at an abb in Kansas City. Still, it was nice to trek through the park and downtown to the event each day.


3. The Best Parts of AWP: Off-Site Scene!


Wed. Night:  Annual Rock and Roll Reading at The Brick.


         Reading at The Museum Hotel with Bear Review, LMNL Lit, Mississippi review

         and Spring Formal. 


Thurs. Night:  Split/Lip Press Tenth Anniversary Off-Site Reading


            Mardi Gras in Exile: Louisiana Off-Site Regional Reading


Fri. Night:       University of Nebraska Omaha Reception


            Red Hen Press Thirty-Year Party with The Good Life Review

      

            Taco Bell Quarterly Literary Dance party


Sat. Night:       NOLA Crew checked what the jazz clubs of KC had to offer!

 

These are where the magic happens, people! Where the academic and professional meet the mystical. Opening night at The Brick, which is an awesome KC Bar with great NOLA Vibes, a poetry graduate from my program was hosting the Rock and Roll Reading, which I had to leave short because my NOLA friends Nikki and Michelle were hosting another reading at The Museum Bar, where also my poetry crush, C.T. Salazar, would be reading. Crazily enough, because the world is so small, there was a private party with open food and an open bar where a writer I had met through an internship recognized me, immediately put me on the guest list, and started introducing me to his crew of magical writer friends.


On Thursday, Split/Lip was hosting their wonderful off-site event, which I also had to cut short because I had a slot at my first AWP Off-Site Reading. Nikki and Michelle were hosting Mardi Gras in Exile, featuring us NOLA writers who were missing Mardi Gras back home!

Friday night held the most memorable literary event—my graduate university’s reception at The Marriott, The Red Hen Press 30th Anniversary, co-hosted by the magazine I am a poetry editor for– The Good Life Review, closing with the Taco Bell Quarterly’s dance party. It was a night of chemically enriched literary comradery and fire!


4. In Closing, To AWP or Not To AWP


I’d have to say, at least give it a few run-throughs, especially once you’ve got some writing-chops under your belt. A lot of amazing creatives in the mix and so many opportunities abound! AWP 2025 will be in L.A. Hope to see you there!

 

Cid Galicia is a Mexican American poet who has been teaching in New Orleans for over the past decade. He graduated with his MFA summer 2023 through The University of Nebraska Omaha. He is a poetry editor for The Good Life Review, reader for The Kitchen Table Quarterly, and this year's FIRECRACKER Poetry Manuscript Awards. His work has appeared in The Indianapolis Review, The Watershed Review, The Elevation Review, Trestle Ties, South Broadway Press, Roi Faineant Press, The Letter Review, The Peauxdunque Review, and other journals. He was excited to attend the 2023 Summer Writing Residencies of Sundress Publications & The Kenyon Review Summer Writing Workshop.



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