by Jenn Rudsit
A book fair full of indie presses, literary journals, MFA programs, and tables covered in piles upon piles of books: paradise.
Mingling and talking to the 10,000+ people attending and staffing said book fair: my own personal hell.
Believe it or not, I hate small talk. My usual response to large crowds is to eventually disappear and find a quiet spot to hide. There’s usually tears involved. As I prepared myself for attending AWP, it was hard not to let my nerves as an undergrad attending a conference I knew very little about get the best of me. Being intimidated by intelligent people and their impressive work has always been something I’ve struggled with, an insecurity that’s kept me from fully engaging with or even seeing the important things I have going on in my own life.
Cue AWP. The book fair, the panels, the readings, the writers. Wandering the tables the first day, I was blown away by the sheer number of journals and magazines that exist all around the world. This is, I’m sure, a pretty basic observation for a first-time AWP attendee, but it was encouraging to see all the presses and journals represented at the conference, doing important, creative work in the publishing world. Each journal I talked with had their own unique way of interpreting the world via writing, spreading that lens through their journal and the work printed within it.
At AWP, I learned that if two people are passionate about something, they will always find common ground. Talking points are easier to access when you’re both geeking out over beautiful cover art or a creative new writing contest idea, no matter how awkward the two people are when it comes to talking. I learned that nothing gets writers more excited than the words “free books,” and that if you want to confuse people, calling your lit mag a “journal of witness” is one of the best ways to do so. I learned that there is a magazine for every type of writer, an outlet for all writers to establish a connection with readers, with the words they need to hear. I learned that AWP is not a place for stifling competition and over-aggressive networking, but a place for collaboration, for cool editors to meet up with their equally cool editor friends from other programs, at a place that only exists for four days once a year.
Most importantly, I learned that I know basically nothing about the world of publishing, the world I hope to enter when I graduate this May and head off into the “real world.” Which is a very intimidating thing to realize. But, armed with the twenty-something books I lugged back from AWP and my lanyard covered in buttons, I’m eager to learn more.
Stay awesome, AWP.
Jennifer Rudsit is a senior English major at Whitworth University