AWP and Beyond: Be Fearless, Be Inspired
In which Swash’s young copywriter makes a humble request for time off to visit Minneapolis for AWP 2015 and ends up treated to a very special experience that she has since found impossible to shake. Join Courtney Marie (the copywriter) as she interviews Courtney Marie (the poet) to share a little bit about her adventure and what she learned. (She wishes you could have been there, too.)
Q: WTF is AWP?
A: It’s this giant annual conference put on by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. For three or four days, something like 10,000 students, professors, and writers get together and party with publishers, small presses, magazines, journals, letterpress printers, you name it. There are people from all backgrounds and specialties coming together to share their work and experience, as well as promote their presses and schools and programs. It’s funny to me now, I guess I was a little skeptical going into it... but I knew that I at least wanted the experience to see what it’s all about. Now I’m very glad I did.
Q: Why were you skeptical?
A: Well, I guess I was a little wary of the writing program aspect. I assumed there would be a lot of focus on Doing It Right, you know? I have never been in an MFA program. Something very drastic would have to happen to change that.
Q: Have you considered it though? Did AWP change your mind?
A: I don’t think the Doing It Right game is for everyone. School bankrupted and nearly killed me, so I never really had the inclination to go back. But I have some friends who have made great strides in their MFA programs. They do awesome work, they are what you might call successful... I just never saw myself doing it that way. Sometimes I catch myself thinking it would be useful to go back to school: for the connections, to be taught the correct way to go about getting an agent or being published, how to "sell" my writing, you know... but the conclusion I always come to is that these things are possible without the chance of ending up in debt forever or compromising my work.
To answer your question, AWP didn’t really change my mind about that. It did, however, shine some light on the ambiguous world of publishing and allowed me to meet many wonderful writers, presses, and publishers that I would have never otherwise had the chance to know.
Q: If the writing program aspect of the conference was not a focal point for you, what did you get the most out of?
A: The panels were incredible. I learned about everything from diversity in literature to addressing creative writing as a professional asset to experimental poetry and performance… but I think my favorite was the DIY Small Press Publishing panel. It got me excited about doing things again, not just pipe-dreams about running a small press -which I have admittedly fantasized about for years- but about writing, submitting, work-shopping, collaborating... All the good things about being productive and a reminder to not get easily discouraged by things I can’t control. The off-site events gave me that same hopeful feeling, too. I had the opportunity to interact with other people who had similar struggles and hopes, in different phases of different journeys. To see art in action. Everywhere I turned, I was learning something new and exciting. It made me want to write.
The bookfair was excellent too. It was so much fun to meet people and talk about all the different aspects of writing and publishing, to hold so many books in my hands and hear or read new stories. Anytime I travel, I always make time to take a bookstore tour of the city, and this was kind of like that, except the bookstores were from all over the world… and they came to me! I was in heaven.
Q: Which off-site events did you attend?
A: There were so many... every night... it was difficult to choose. Luckily I had already mapped out more or less what I was planning to do so I wouldn’t get completely overwhelmed once I arrived. That first night, I trudged through a blizzard to see the Muzzle Magazine reading at a place called Shout House Dueling Pianos. I checked out the American Literary Review, visited Spooky Girlfriend and Boiler Journal, and after a lost-book debacle, accompanied my friend Colin to his Two Dollar Radio reading in the strangest railroad-swamp-murder-shack I’ve ever seen. We got out okay though, and it was a great night.
I think my favorite moment of all was going with my friends Ben Clark and Josh Gaines to this very small, rather intimate hotel reading. The second we arrived, I found myself completely charmed by everyone in the room. Someone offered me a glass of rum, there was a girl sitting on the bed sketching people's portraits, I sat down in a window box overlooking the city and felt electric. I’ve always thought there was something magic about a room full of writers together. Of course, the readings were stellar, it could have gone on all evening and no one would have complained. That's the nice thing about such a small gathering. Afterwards we descended to a library bar -a library bar!- in the basement to talk about life and everything and later surfaced for more poetry and dancing. If you think there’s a better way to spend an evening, I don’t believe you.
Everywhere I went, felt like I was on fire. Er, in a good way. Talking to so many people who share an intense love of words, stories to tell, stories that need to be told, hearing poem after poem, the music of different languages and styles, everything fueled by energy and a passion for experience… this is where I’d like to be all the time.
Q: Do you still feel this way? How did the experience carry through afterwards?
A: I think this all had such a profound effect on me because I’m typically such a loner when it comes to writing. I long to share my passion for it, to have these intellectual connections and collaborate, but I find that I am generally either too intimidated by others or too intense when it comes to interacting. I don’t try to at all, but I think I can be very extreme in either direction. So I am looking for a balance. I think I am finding it, I think this experience helped me shake off some irrational fears and has opened my eyes to possibilities. We’re all in this together, we’re working for the same things.
Q: How does all this relate to your job as a copywriter?
A: The more fearless I can be, the better I will be at my job. From day one, I started to learn this from our creative director and from my coworkers in the department. I remind myself this every day. I think that any and all creative collaboration, regardless of whether it’s in a professional or personal setting, lends itself to one’s arsenal of capabilities, of confidence. Being around intensely creative people is inspiring. I encourage anyone who is feeling unmotivated to make a friend who is doing something awesome. We are all capable of the things we want to do.
Q: Will you be returning next year?
A: Try to stop me and see what happens! Ha. Yes, I plan on attending next year's conference, which will be in Los Angeles. It can't come soon enough! I have had the honor to work alongside some wonderful co-conspirators these last couple weeks and I am pleased to announce that I am now bound to not one, but two panel proposals for next year's event, which is super exciting. We'll see what happens.