Perhaps one of the most expansive literary events scheduled to take place in Chicago this year is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. If you’ve never been, you should note that there are three major aspects to AWP. The first is what you’d generally consider standard conference fare: magazine editors, writers, scholars, etc. hold panels designed to address all aspects of writing and publishing. This year AWP has added a feature to its website to help conference goers better plan which panels to attend, and I’ve already spent far too much time perfecting my schedule. I’m particularly interested in the multi-genre panel on apocalypse literature entitled “Apocalypse Now.”
The second major aspect of AWP is its utterly overwhelming book fair. Conference organizers create a complicated system of letters and numbers to arrange the mass of participating literary magazines, writing programs, and publishers. This system may be intuitive to other conference attendees—but not to me. Every year, I think that I will develop some plan of attack or some way to move effeciently through the rows, but I inevitably end up wandering around like a septuagenarian lost in a supermarket. The colossal number of participants isn’t even the most overwhelming part. If you’re like me and you get all woozy when you see one of your writerly idols, you’ll probably need to carry an industrial strength sedative because you will at some point see someone who will make you weak-kneed and loose-lipped. When I was in such a state, I may have (definitely) told Jordan Bass of McSweeney’s that I was just going to pick up a copy of Deb Olin Unferth’s Vacation at one of the many floundering Borders instead of buying it from him at his booth.
The last segment of AWP does not require registration, so if you’ve been damning your crappy job or more specifically your crappy paycheck because you can’t afford the price of admission—fear not. Each night the conference boasts a series of off site events that are open to the public. These events are as close to true literary nightlife as you’re likely to find. In many ways the whole weekend functions like a national literary prom—and much like a high schooler, I’m just giddy about it.