by Bryn Cavin
What happens when you put hundreds of introverted bookworms into a massive Floridian convention center?
Apparently, something really amazing.
This year was my first experience with AWP. Everyone told me that the conference was going to be huge, but I was still woefully under prepared for just how absurdly enormous it would actually be. In the pre-conference newsletter, Thom warned us: “Practice self-care. If you’re an introvert, plan breaks in your schedule accordingly, so you can get away.” He also warned us to have a spiel prepared for people curious about the table flaunting a giant banner of Jesus fighting a bear, adding “Talk to people. You won’t die,” (which seemed somewhat optimistic to my socially anxious self). I spent the week leading up to the conference preparing myself to be at my maximum people limit for the whole weekend, rehearsing my spiel in my head, complete with all the different ways that I could mess it up and make myself sound foolish.
Walking into the book fair in the Tampa Convention Center, I was immediately astounded by just how immense the whole thing was. The whole thing felt like a bibliophile’s Disneyland – mobs of people wearing lanyards covered in buttons, lots of happy chatter, and oodles of bookish souvenirs just waiting to cheerfully empty your bank account. All that was missing were the mouse ears.
Was the conference as overwhelming as I had anticipated? For sure. But in the best possible way.
Even being constantly surrounded by people for the majority of the weekend, the whole experience felt rejuvenating rather than draining. Everyone at the conference was wonderfully friendly and absolutely thrilled to have yet another conversation about books or poetry or the super awesome panel they had just seen. And the strange thing was, I was excited to have those conversations too. Typically, I do my best to keep from having to initiate conversation with strangers, but these people didn’t feel like strangers, really. We were all of the same mindset, that books and stories have a crucial role to play in shaping us as human beings, and that we have a role to play in bringing those stories to life. I had the opportunity to hear the stories of people who are using poetry to reach out to their home communities, people who are using their writing to spread the stories of strong women who have been left out of the history books, and oh so many other amazing, inspirational writerly types.
After the conference, having returned to Spokane, I was chatting with a professor about the whole experience. He asked me, “So…do you think you’ve found your people?”
Absolutely. And I can’t wait to go back.
Bryn Cavin is a sophomore at Whitworth University, majoring in English Literature and Writing with a minor in Editing and Publishing, and is a member of the editorial board for Rock & Sling. She is enthusiastic about dogs, tea, sunsets, and all things bookish.