The AWP Conference & Bookfair organized by The Association of Writers & Writing Programs returned to Washington, D.C. this weekend – February 9-11, 2017 – for its 50th anniversary conference, the largest literary conference in North America, filling the cavernous convention center with more than 10,000 writers, teachers, and students, running from one author session to another to hear the more than 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures. [My blog posts from 2011 describe the last time AWP was in D.C.] Some attendees sat on the floor of the corridors charging their laptops and reading or composing, and countless others browsed the exhibits of more than 800 presses, journals, publishers, and booksellers, literary organizations, and colleges and universities offering writing curricula and Masters In Fine Arts (MFA) programs, from across the country.
In two days (Thursday and Friday), I walked over six miles (as measured on my Iphone pedometer app), chasing the sessions of interest to me (the descriptions below were borrowed from the conference schedule):
Adaptation in Three Acts: Adventures in Adapting Material for Scripts. (Elizabeth Searle, David Shields, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Danny Eaton)
Authors of multiple books who have segued into professionally produced script projects share samples of their adapted works and discuss with a playwright different forms of adaptation, including adapting a book for film or stage and adapting another author’s work. Adaptation is an adventure. From collaborating on a successful 2016 Indie feature film to premiering work at a local theater, the authors cover a range of stories and strategies and offer film clips plus mini-performances.
Any writer can improve his craft (that’s my excuse for selecting this program. I’m not ashamed!), I decided to pick the brains of these authors: We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good. (Melissa Stein, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Natalie Diaz, Nick Flynn)
Five intrepid poets and fiction writers defy shame to share work they thought they’d put far behind them, at the same time exploring: How do we know what’s good or bad, in our writing or in others’? What does it mean to outgrow our own work, and what can we learn from the writers we used to be? What leads us to write dreadful stuff, even now?
And what alchemy turns cringeworthy words into strong, enduring work? Warning: This panel promises to be immensely entertaining.
Current Trends in Literary Publishing, Sponsored by CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses). (Michael Reynolds, Katie Freeman, Porter Anderson, Jonny Diamond, Dawn Davis) A panel of industry experts shaping literary publishing discuss how the field is addressing current challenges and hurdles, as well as creating new opportunities. Hear these literary leaders of publishing and reader engagement reveal how they reimagine traditional forms of publishing while integrating innovative new trends. Find out what those in the know are thinking about tomorrow, today.
The Shape of Fiction: A Look at Structuring Novel-Length Prose. (Christian Kiefer, Jeff Jackson, Esmé Weijun Wang, Janet Fitch, Kirstin Chen) When we talk about the structure of narrative, it is often by using the Freytag pyramid:
rising action, plateau, denoument, climax, and so on.This panel will discuss the reality of plotting/structuring a novel, often using criteria that has little or nothing to do with Freytag.
Structure can be based on criteria unconcerned with plot and plot can go far from structure. What possibilities exist and how might we offer such possibilities to ourselves and our students?
I decided to get to know some writers living near me, so I attended: A Reading by the University of Maryland’s MFA Program Faculty. (Elizabeth Arnold, Maud Casey, Emily Mitchell, Michael Collier, Joshua Weiner)
A reading by five faculty members from the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland who have won major literary awards, including Guggenheim Fellowships, NEA Fellowships, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship. The reading will be followed by a Q & A.
There were so many other seminars I would have loved to attend, but I was delighted with the ones I chose. What’s more, an old family friend wandered by (who was the event manager for the conference) and renewed his acquaintance,
and we “bumped into” Laurie Kincer, Reading Communications Specialist at Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland, who organizes the Author Conference and Showcase every year in Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, where my novel Canoedling in Cleveland takes place. We talked to folks in the Politics and Prose booth, a famous D.C. bookstore, and visited the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference booth. They are having their sixth annual conference, which takes place where the Potomac River joins the Bay at St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland.