Hermits United: an AWP Wrap-up

Today marks a week since I left for AWP in Minneapolis, and I still feel a bit like I’m climbing out of the experience. It was a crazy and exhausting few days, as ever—lots of money and energy spent; lots of faces put to names; lots of reconnections (and a few missed reconnections) with old friends. Since returning home I’ve heard from fellow conference attendees about their lost luggage, lost voices, lost equilibrium.


Every year in its aftermath I find it hard to decide whether AWP is “worth it,” however you want to define what it costs. I do know that this year I met several editors I’ve worked with, tabled proudly for The Common, went to a few interesting panels (and a few duds), cruised the bookfair, ate a number of sandwiches, and—wonder of wonders—wrote every day. But did I need to go all that way and devote all those various resources to doing it? That’s not a rhetorical question—maybe I did. I’m fiercely of two minds. Because that’s the strange, contradictory nature of AWP—a conference of (largely) introverts; an international convention of people who would rather be alone. (I’m reminded of the Doctor Who joke about “Hermits United.”) Do we like it? Do we hate it? I’ve only very occasionally met an AWP-goer who can say for sure.

Here’s a thought, though. On my last night in Minneapolis I was eating dinner in the bar of my hotel (a conference-affiliated establishment—full of writers; bless the staff) and heard a woman at a neighboring table talking to her children, a pair of blonde toddlers. “Daddy is getting some drinks with other poets,” she explained, “because we want him to have fun and finish his book.” One of the little girls squeaked a question I didn’t catch, and her mother continued, “You know how sometimes you leave a toy at the bottom of your toy box and forget how much you like to play with it? Writing can be like that, too.”

 I was, obviously, ecstatic to be overhearing this wisdom. Look out for those girls’ debut novels in a few years. But it also made me think that maybe their mother had hit on the whole point of AWP, and the only point it needs—a yearly chance to re-enchant the creative life, even if it’s through decidedly mixed experiences. We meet with (and overhear in the hotel bar) other people who know what this life is like, reassure ourselves that we are part of a community, even if our craft feels very solitary most of the time.

 Is that enough to make it “worth it”? I don’t know; ask me next year.