Rock & Sling at AWP: Mapping Our ‘Little’ World

by Alexis Paperman

If you’ve never been to the book fair at AWP take a moment to imagine more than 800 presses, lit mags, and MFA programs spread throughout a football field sized hall in a convention center.

The image in your head? It doesn’t do it justice.

Last year was my first time attending AWP. I was still new to the world of lit mags and small indie presses. But that began to change about two months after the conference. You see, I decided to make a timeline of little magazines from 1900-1999 as a project of sorts for two of my classes. As happens to us geeky people who love to catalogue and research information, I became unhealthily slightly obsessed. I may have stopped at the turn of the millennium for the original timeline, but now I have a notebook filled with the names and lifespans of hundreds of lit mags.

So, of course, AWP this year was slightly different. This year I not only knew what to expect, but could walk past the tables and mutter to myself, “Ah! It’s that journal, so glad to see them here. Wonder if they are still…” or “I have to find this journal. I saw it while researching and it looks beautiful!” Whatever the utterances, I no longer felt like an uneducated impersonator in the sea of writers, editors, and publishers.

Over the course of the three day conference, I was able to learn more about the personal aspects of lit mags. Researching the history of the magazine and meeting those currently working on it provided a more intimate feel. I was able to see where the magazines got their personalities. (I don’t know if you know this, but writers and editors can be a bit eccentric at times.) Walking through the book fair, I saw how creative the people in this community are. Opossum Lit pairs their magazine with a vinyl record of their authors reading their works for those who want to know what the work is meant to sound like. There are, of course, more traditional ways to see the creativity of the community. It was overwhelming how many great books I found and readings I heard. But, my favorite element to see was the beautiful design work that spanned many of the different journals and publishers.

I bought way too much, as you do when nerding out, but I also got to see what’s going on in our corner of the world. There are new journals and presses springing up regularly while the old keep going or call it quits. But each brings a unique aspect to the community of writers, readers, and creative enthusiasts.

Alexis Paperman is currently the Asst. Managing Editor for Rock & Sling. In the rare moments of free time, she spends her time in the library hoping to discover obscure facts or pop culture references.

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