AWP in the Time of Plague

From Book & Film Globe:

This year’s installment of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, held in San Antonio during the first week of March, was supposed to draw around 12,000 creative writers to the Henry B. González Convention Center to buy books, gossip, and drink. But it didn’t happen that way. At all.

The saga might have started in 2018, when the AWP fired David Fenza from its leadership team. It might have started when that first coronavirus patient in the U.S. sneezed on a stranger. Or when tweets about other conferences’ cancellations materialized in the writing community. I really don’t know.

I can only begin with what you definitely need to hear about AWP 2020: the directors and board of AWP had no good choices this year, trying to figure out whether or not to cancel the San Antonio conference in light of the fast-spreading coronavirus. On the side of going forward, many small presses would have no operating budget for the year without the sales they achieve at AWP; on the side of cancelling, the risk of 12,000 writers bringing coronavirus back to their homes across the world is difficult to countenance. The board elected to go forward, incurring anxiety, wrath, and self-righteousness across all sectors of the community.

I’d guess, unscientifically, that at least half of the writers and exhibitors with AWP plans cancelled them. The convention center was empty. Exhibitors abandoned so many booths that presses and magazines moved around and spread out (without reprisal), and random writers sat at empty tables with their laptops. 

. . . .

I think that the cancellations of many major exhibitors (Tin House, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, W.W. Norton) forced attendees to spend more time at the tables of little presses they might not have heard of, or might have otherwise missed in the noise of the conference.

. . . .

Panels substituted most or all of their intended presenters, leading to a looser, perkier atmosphere in which anything could happen. Individual authors set up displays at empty booths, selling their books on the barrelhead. Offsite events went awry, but plucky, quick-thinking writers (ahem) saved them. We depended on our wits and the resources we could scrounge up, rather than well-laid plans, to make this conference fun and meaningful. It was kind of great.

Serious questions linger about the future of the conference, and its sponsoring organization. The leadership problem at AWP is not going away, and in fact seems to be worsening.

Link to the rest at Book & Film Globe

(PG notes [not intending to be snarky] that he skipped making changes to the OP that Grammarly suggested.)

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