1. Know What to Wear
I arrived at the conference about 90 minutes after getting off my flight. I’m a nervous traveler, so the t-shirt and jeans I was wearing were a bit sweaty and anxiety ridden. My jeans and shoes looked fairly presentable, but my bright blue Hound of the Baskervilles t-shirt visually alerted every one of my newbie status the moment I stepped inside the convention center. There were other people in jeans and t-shirts (and sports jerseys?), but I didn’t want to be lumped with that crowd, if you catch my drift. I wanted to be lumped with the buttoned-down men and business-casually dressed women. The other students from my program were all dressed within these categories, and I’m not at all sure how I missed the memo. When I left the conference to get lunch at Jimmy John’s (all of their sandwiches are .74¢ cheaper in Seattle!) I raided the clearance rack at a nearby Old Navy to buy a $10 button down. I even tucked it in, which is far cry from my typical untucked, half-buttoned flannel getup. I usually avoid tucking in shirts of any kind for fear of looking like a young dad about to play golf, but as I held the shirt over my body in a mirror at Old Navy I thought I looked like a young writer who was not quite professional. Yet.
2. Know If You’ll be Giving a Reading
When the creative writing portion of my program first met to discuss this year’s AWP, then months away, we were told our program would be hosting one of the conferences numerous off-site readings. Any students interested in taking part in the reading should were encouraged to throw their name in the proverbial hat. As far as I know, I was the only student to follow up on this suggestion. And then I didn’t hear anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did learn that two MAPH alumni would be reading, and given my student status I assumed I would not be asked to participate. I was wrong. While I was at lunch (and visiting Old Navy) I got a text from Jessi Haley, MAPH alum and current mentor, writer, and all-around excellent human. She said she wanted to discuss tonight’s reading. I assumed she would ask me to do something like take photos at the event, check coats, or function as the reading’s goofy but lovable MC. I met up with her in my newly-acquired button down. She asked if I was still interested in reading at the event. I said yes. I wish the story of my first-ever reading was a bit more dramatic. Some may argue that learning you’ll be giving a reading only four hours before it is scheduled to start is plenty dramatic. In hindsight, perhaps I should’ve thrown my hands up in exasperation yelling, “I can’t work like this!” It’s good I didn’t do that though, because Jessi has an incredible knack for planning a slam-bang readings at nifty beer gardens with bocce courts, and arranging for our group to have an ample selection of free pizza and a generous beer tab. It turns out I can definitely work like that. It’s necessary to mention that the two alumni who read, Hilary Dobel (poetry) and Eric McMillan (fiction), were both amazing, and I’m still excited I got to be their opening act. They were also quite generous answering questions from myself and my colleagues about life after MAPH and writing in general.
3. Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There
This seems like an obvious thing to know before going anywhere for any reason. It’s especially true when you’re navigating a massive and unfamiliar convention center. On the first day of the conference, my friend Tiffany and I were trying to go to a panel called “The Literary Legacy of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain.” Neither of us will ever know if this panel was as awesome as it sounded because I got us hopelessly lost. The Washington State Convention Center straddles two sides of the street, and confusingly, each side of the building has rooms with the same numbers. We were looking for room 302, which we found in one of the buildings. It turns out the 302 we were looking for was across the street. Tiffany and I ran off before getting all of the directions. We made it to the convention’s other building on the fourth floor (there was a bridge connecting the buildings over the street). I managed to convince Tiffany we should blindly enter the first stairwell we encountered. When we first went down the stairs we joked we should make it our secret AWP hideout since it seemed completely unused (and possibly abandoned). After walking through the same stretch of hallway and stairs for about 10 minutes, this space became a sort of prison, because all of the doors we tried were locked. We managed to fight off panic long enough to find an unlocked door leading onto the street on the wrong side of the convention center, far from any panel discussing Nirvana or anything else.
Tiffany and I will never know Nirvana’s literary legacy, but we did have a lot of fun singing ‘Kurt Cobain’ to the tune of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”
Evan W. Stoner is a current MAPH student and fiction writer. You can read the story he read at the alumni reading, “Jesus Can’t Swim,” here.