This is AWP

The first time I set foot in a massive sea of writers, I hid, far edged to writing. Barely a whisper of calling myself writer. A friend/colleague recommended the conference, introduced me to its world, showed me that an Ozlike convergence of writers existed, yearly. In 2004, in Chicago, I attended my first AWP. I sat with my friend and his MFA pal, chatting about writing, their projects, their days in the MFA program. I'd meet his writing mentor, always attending the conference, that famous guy in writing circles. I didn't belong. At least not yet.

Since that year, I've attended a decade's worth of conferences and discovered the joys of Mark Doty, Robin Becker, and Yusef Komunyakaa. I've lingered in Richard Blanco's reading of his inauguration speech. I've sat speechless, grateful, and mesmerized, an audience for Seamus Heaney's bogs. I listened to Carolyn Forche read her poem, "Travel Papers," heard her stories about its subject, the poet Daniel Simko. In that moment, I learned about his death, years after he had died, decades after I sat in his car, driving empty lanes late into the night in Oberlin.

Over the years, I've drifted through the book fair. Awkward shy thing, afraid to make eye contact, keeping close to the edges. "What do you write?" I always responded with awkward pause, and then, "essays." The conversation would usually end there. Over the years, I would still hide mostly, but had a better sense of my writing self. Even though I still hesitated over calling myself a writer, I knew I wrote hybrid/experimental forms, and I desired to place my writing somewhere. I wanted to be read.

This year's conference felt like a total shift. I discovered Jacquira's Diaz's pulsing language, a writer I wanted to read. I listened to Danez Smith's passion, his words inspiration to get to the page. I made lists of ideas, detailed notes, writing I will do. This year, I headed directly to tables at the book fair, introduced myself to presses that published my work last year, smiled happily into photos for their twitter feeds. I approached tables and bought journals where I wanted to read my writing. I attended as a writer.


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