Creative writing is a fine art at AWP

stairsThe 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, california-college-of-arts-mfa-in-writingrunning  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. uva-creative-writingawp-2017-exhibit-hall

johns-hopkins-masters-in-writing  columbia-college  antioch-university-creative-writingu-of-miani-mfa

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):

Author photo of David Shields, 2012.

David Shields, bestselling author of twenty books

Adaptation in Three Acts: Adventures in Adapting Material for Scripts. (Elizabeth Searle,  David Shields,  Suzanne Strempek Shea,  Danny Eaton)

Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of five novels and three memoirs

Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of five novels ++

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.

Richard Bausch, author of 11 novels

Richard Bausch, author of 11 novels

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)

Tayria Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta +3

Tayaria Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta +3 others

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?

Nick Flynn, writer, playwright and poet

Nick Flynn, writer, playwright and poet

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.

Christian Kiefer, author of the novels The Animals and The Infinite Tides

Christian Kiefer, author of the novels The Animals and The Infinite Tides

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:

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander (an Oprah Novel) and Paint it Blacxk

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander (Oprah’s Book Club) and Paint it Black

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.

Kirsten Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners

Kirsten Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners

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?

Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

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)

Joshua Weiner, aware-winning poet and essayist

Joshua Weiner, award-winning poet and essayist

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.

Michael Collier, poet

Michael Collier, author of six books of poems

 

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,

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

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.

Chesapeake Writers Conference booth

Chesapeake Writers Conference booth

We attended their first conference, which was excellent. At that time, author Jerry Gabriel, the conference coordinator, and his wife were expecting twins, who are now almost five years old!

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