Seven Ways of Looking at AWP

Karina Basso


AWP was a whirlwind of literature, pins, postcards, and coffee. I was so overwhelmed by the hundreds of tables of MFA programs, journals, and publishers at the book fair, that I had to get out of the conference area and onto the streets of Chicago. Wandering downtown on my own allowed me get away from the excitement and reflect on the sights, events, and experiences on the trip thus far. Sitting at Corner’s Bakery while eating a steak chili bread bowl and sipping my third cup of Columbian coffee, I could not help overhear the conversation at the table next to me: “Have you seen all the people with the red bags? I wonder what they’re here for?”

Unobservant high school girls aside, it is interesting that I immediately felt a bond with so many people in Chicago as soon as I identified them as AWP attendants. I spoke with writers, publishers, and scholars from various cities about the different vocations within the writing community, such as being an editor, contributing writer, translator, professor. It was an affirming experience for me in that this whole convention contradicts the stereotypical view of English majors, that the only thing we can hope to do with the degree is to teach or work as a barista. I felt as if I had become indoctrinated into a community of possibilities.

I better stop myself before I go waxing poetic about how great it is to be a literary person. As far as actual concrete experiences go, I really enjoyed the variety of panels offered at the conference. The most memorable was the panel on Villains and Villainy. As a writer, I have become obsessed with the villain figure (in fact, I think I might like my villains more than I like my heroes). During the conference discussion, we boiled down the reasons why villains fascinate us so much and what characteristics make a memorable villain. There were many different opinions, but at the end I walked away with this thought: villains are interesting because they shamelessly embody the faults that most of us try to hide or repress. Essentially, we all have the potential to be villainous if certain personality traits are left unchecked. Or by one villainous act, a person is vilified by a community, like the babysitter who feel asleep on the job, and as a result two little girls drowned.

These and other panels reminded me how writing, reading and analyzing literature aren’t just recreational, or fluff jobs. Through this medium, we can address the aspects of life that most people would rather keep hidden. It reminded me of the importance of the English field as a whole, and despite the crap we get from the science, math and business majors, we are not studying literature and writing because it is ‘easy’. We do it because someone has to deal with the hard issues, and I guess that’s going to be me.

Initially, I thought I had fallen in love with Chicago. This is true to some extent; I love the idea of living in a big city with a large publishing and writing community. Retrospectively, I think I enjoyed it because of the wider literary community that invaded downtown Chicago for the week.

I’ve heard that AWP will be in Boston next year. If you decide to go, there is a high chance you’ll see me there too.

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