by Lauren Klepinger
As the end of spring break loomed nearer, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would survive the next week. I’d spent eight leisurely days padding around my suburban home, adding on to the carefree first draft of a novel, eating home-cooked meals, and binge-watching Parks and Rec. (Homework? There’s a six-hour drive back to school, I can do it then!) But all too soon, I would be flung back into the breakneck pace of spring semester as a sophomore undergrad for the short space of three days, before being flung even farther, to my first AWP in sprawling Los Angeles, California.
There will be thousands of people, warned my professor/editor-in-chief and the AWP student veterans. It’s massive. You’ll try to take home way too much stuff. By the end of day three, you’ll want to hide under a table just to avoid social interaction.
And they were excited for this?
The three days of class passed in a whirlwind, and then I shipped myself off to a city I’d only visited for a few hours on Disneyland trips. I pictured crushing crowds, bags splitting at the seams with books, and smoggy air that would make me cough when I got off the plane.
Instead, what I discovered at the LA Convention Center was a vast room bustling with amicable people who were proud of their products and enthusiastic to champion the work of others. The wealth of new ideas and enthusiasm energized me, and I found it was the best feeling to light up someone’s expression by asking about their work, or coming back to their booth for a second visit.
Let’s not forget the panels. Sometimes they got me excited and thinking and learning, and sometimes they felt more like a pep talk than an academic discussion, but consistently the panelists displayed a camaraderie and mutual respect that I found inspiring. They referenced previous conversations, had a working knowledge of each other’s work, and built off of each other’s comments in a way that showed genuine investment in the topic and each other.
All things considered, the common theme I drew from the conference was the sense of community the attendees had built. Writing can be a lonely profession—sit and write in your house, and send emails when necessary—but after years of collaboration, submission, and publication, everyone there had found a way to make writing a little less solitary. Our editor-in-chief met up with friends from all over the country, and I saw other pockets of community all over the conference. As an unpublished undergrad at her first AWP, I sometimes felt a little like an outsider, with no one to thank for debuting my work and no one to catch up with from years past. But the conference helped me see the potential for a vibrant writing life, and I look forward to developing that in years to come.
Lauren Klepinger is a sophomore English major at Whitworth University.