Writing in the Digital Age

By
0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 Google+ 0 Reddit 0 Pin It Share 0 Email -- Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 0 Flares ×

Words and photos by Leah Glazer

The Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington D.C. was filled with the heavy aroma of new books on February 2. More than 500 exhibitors gathered at the 2011 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair through the fifth to promote their publications and organizations.

Black & White, Western Connecticut State University’s student-run literary journal, was among the exhibitors.

Words and photos by Leah Glazer

 


 

The Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington D.C. was filled with the heavy aroma of new books on February 2. More than 500 exhibitors gathered at the 2011 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair through the fifth to promote their publications and organizations. Black & White, Western Connecticut State University’s student-run literary journal, was among the exhibitors.

The conference ran in both the Marriott and Omni Shoreham hotel to accommodate the roughly 400 panels and attendees. The  Omni hotel held seven rooms aside for panels and the Marriott used their exhibition and mezzanine levels to hold the bookfair, panels and readings, including one from The Namesake‘s Jhumpa Lahiri.

The bookfair took over the Marriott’s exhibition level and was divided into three rooms with rows of blue and white tables. Publications’ posters, flyers, banners, books, pins, notebooks, and pens dispersed across their exhibition space. Some presenters brought homemade posters with the words “Free books!” written across them, sending AWP guests on a grabbing frenzy. When attendees arms and tote bags became heavy with magazines, journals, flyers, and books, they slowed down their pace and inquired about submitting to publications and writing workshops.

“It’s overwhelming! This is supposed to be where you go for a community that makes you feel so involved and there are others like you and you’re not alone and all I can think is, ‘I have this much competition?’” laughed Kate Graham, a first-timer to the conference, from behind Whiskey Island‘s presentation table. “Would these people stop writing so I can get published?”

It was easy to get lost in the abundance of free giveaways at the bookfair, but if one was able to stop from picking out keywords like “free” on banners, they could take away a lot more than just a tote bag packed with books and magazines.

Linda Joy Burke of Psychedelic Literature also attended AWP for the first time this past week.


“I look at it like this is the mall for writers. You don’t buy everything, you go to your favorite places and you get your nourishment from looking and talking, and you sit, let it sink in, drink some water, and then you go back out and look some more.”
-Linda Joy Burke of Psychedelic Literature

 

 

“It’s amazing,” she said. “If you go through and look at all the possibilities it could be overwhelming if your mind works that way. I look at it like this is the mall for writers. You don’t buy everything, you go to your favorite places and you get your nourishment from looking and talking, and you sit, let it sink in, drink some water, and then you go back out and look some more.”

The goal of AWP isn’t to scare off or discourage writers; rather the conference gathers publications and aspiring authors to share their work, network and give writers the chance to get their names out. The AWP Conference & Bookfair is an opportunity to advance and further a writer’s career in the business, which is what a handful of panels focused on.

“Double Duty: Writers Who Work in the Publishing Industry” focused on different types of publishing and the pros and cons of the business. One of the main themes of this discussion was the future of print and publications crumbling in. Dan Bernitt, a panelist, explained how he developed his independent press, Sawyer House Press, and how he’s kept it afloat.

“I bought a set of 10 ISBNs, a printer, and distributed, and distributed, and distributed,” he said.

Since 2007, Bernitt has released three books, with more to come.

“It’s a job that follows you home, but it’s worth the work. I don’t believe print will die anytime soon.”

Bernitt’s success and optimism helped to lift some listener’s spirits. Even though AWP can help open doors to MFA programs, abroad workshops and publishing, it’s hard not to think of reality. Print has taken a big hit over the past few years, making it hard to ignore that writing may be a dangerous field to dive into. The great thing about AWP is that it brings together successful people who aren’t that different from anyone else. Bernitt’s first love was music, and after years of working towards a career in show business, he made the switch to writing and made a career on his own.

Another panel, “To Go Or Not To Go Abroad: Writers In A Global Market” focused on travel writing and the job opportunities that can come from it. Martin Roper, a panelist, hails from Dublin and teaches at University College, Dublin,  and at the University of Iowa’s “Irish Writing Program” at Trinity College, Dublin. During the panel, Martin, along with his fellow panelists, urged for their audience to study outside the States.


The panelists agreed that work outside the States shows a writer or teacher’s versatility, that they know how to work in stressful environments, and having lived in another culture gives them more to work with and grab lessons and stories from.

 

 

“What makes you stand out is not a degree or MFA – most institutions require it nowadays, but it doesn’t make you stand out,” he said. “Even writing and having a book published doesn’t necessarily make you stand out. What I always look to is someone who’s worked outside the United States,” said Roper.

The panelists agreed that work outside the States shows a writer or teacher’s versatility, that they know how to work in stressful environments, and having lived in another culture gives them more to work with and grab lessons and stories from.

“It stands out right away,” Roper continued, “I’ve found that writer’s who’ve studied abroad make great teachers and vice versa. And I’ve always noticed anyone I’ve ever hired who had international experience worked well with others. You stand out. The fact that the world is getting more and more international this really is true.”

Roper made it clear that having international experience is desirable in the writing and teaching business, but how does a writer get out of the States without a job or housing waiting for them? Dozens of the AWP exhibitors were abroad programs.

Margaret von Steinen represented Western Michigan University’s Prague summer program, which offers courses in fiction, creative non-fiction, playwriting, and poetry. The program even offers classes in literature and Jewish studies, and for any photographers who are itching to get out of the United States, there’s a photography program, too.

The University of New Orleans also has a summer session in Edinburgh for creative writing. Their courses include fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and novel workshops.

Alumni student Sonja Livingston, who was presented with the 2008 AWP Intro Award in non-fiction for her memoir, Ghostbread, has received an Iowa Review Award and a Pushcart Prize nomination. She currently teaches in UCLA Extension’s Writing Program.

by & filed under Arts & Music, Local.