AWP: An Undergraduate Newcomer’s Perspective

Community, for a writer, is important. “Writer” is an identity often shunted aside in favor of more socially acceptable options, which means that finding others who share in your love of language and a well-crafted sentence is paramount. I have identified as a writer since grade school, so I have come to accept that people will raise eyebrows or hear “Starbucks Barista” dubbed over my words when I tell them what I want to do after graduation. While I do not believe, as they do, that my future in my field is nonexistent, it is frustrating to hear those doubts repeated so often. Occasionally, I struggle to remember that I am not the only person accustomed to hearing these remarks.

I went out to dinner on the last night of the conference with the other Widener students and faculty who attended the conference. (Photo courtesy of Michael Cocchiarale)
I went out to dinner on the last night of the conference with the other Widener students and faculty who attended the conference. The others were on the other side of the table. (Photo courtesy of Michael Cocchiarale)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, through the generosity of my university’s Creative Writing Department, to attend the largest annual gathering of writers in the country: the AWP Conference. There, I found a writing community that I could scarcely have dreamed existed.

I had heard stories of the conference from students who attended in past years, but being immersed in it was a wild experience. Here were people who have faced the same struggles as me; who strive toward the same dreams and goals; and who have found and succeeded at the very careers that some would have me believe cannot be found.

Better yet, some of those successful people were the panelists who shared their advice for writers aspiring to similar success (or just similar projects). I attended panels on careers in writing; on troubleshooting faulty plotlines; on writing unlikeable characters; on writing violence; on writing sex. No subject is taboo when you strive to allow the truth to leak from your pen. Authenticity supersedes awkwardness.

Even now, weeks after returning to the daily grind of my classes, I cannot quite force my thoughts on the conference to coalesce. They are like clouds I watch while lying in the grass, constantly shifting: first a rabbit, then a dog, then a lion. Even if I were to give a full account of every panel, interaction, booth at the Book Fair, even of the hours spent away from it all in the Caribou Coffee shop two blocks away from the Convention Center, I could not possibly convey the magnitude of the experience. The words overload and overwhelming fall short of the array of daily options, after which it was all I could do to drag myself into the shower and then collapse into bed, making sure to set my alarm early enough to do it all over again the next day.

Representing at the FUSE table with the other student editors from Widener: Autumn Heisler of Widener Ink and Emily DeFreitas of The Blue Route.
Representing at the FUSE table with the other student editors from Widener: Autumn Heisler of Widener Ink and Emily DeFreitas of The Blue Route. (Photo courtesy of Michael Cocchiarale)

The conference also allowed me to meet undergrads from writing programs around the country through the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE), and to plug into my own Widener writing community more. My professors have never exactly been boring suits in front of a blackboard, but I still learned a lot by going out to dinner with them and talking about something other than the book we’re reading in class or how to improve my story/poem/essay to earn an A. It’s good to be reminded every once in a while that “professors are people, too.”

I have been fortunate in my life to find support for my creativity first at home, and then in the small Creative Writing Department here at Widener, among the students with whom I workshop in classes and work on the literary journals, but that is a mere microcosm of the community I found at AWP.

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