Continuing our series of AWP posts this one from Ariana Nash (MAPH ’13)
My first AWP, I imagined that someone would ask to read my work, I would meet my future publisher, and maybe there would even be a parade with confetti announcing my presence to the writing world. Or, I didn’t so much imagine this scenario, as find myself surprised when it didn’t happen. Instead, I had a few awkward conversations, bought too many journals I was never going to read, and felt a kind of agony of irrelevance — a stark reminder that I capable of intense egoism and insecurity.
My second AWP, I did a little better. I took home a few journals that helped me find new places to send my work — having not backed away awkwardly from tables or hastily grabbed what someone tried to sell me, but instead stood at their tables reading long enough to decide I liked their journals. I managed to learn a little about book contests, since I was finishing my first manuscript. I also met an editor or two from journals that had published my work. Of course, not to paint too rosy a picture, one editor told me, when I realized I had “introduced myself” without giving my name and belatedly told him who I was, that it didn’t really matter since he wasn’t going to remember my name in a few months anyway.
This AWP, I learned less, since I was more familiar with the presses and book contests, but I still picked up a few new ideas about where I could submit. I put my first book in the hands of two people who might review it, and my editor sold copies of my book (mostly to people who know me), and I sold copies of my book (also mostly to people who know me). I organized and gave a reading. I spent a lot of time with friends from my MFA and from my stay at the MacDowell Colony, and met a lot of friends of friends with whom I drank, talked about writing, and bemoaned how exhausting and overwhelming the conference is.
Quickly, AWP is getting smaller for me, even as it grows in attendees. My expectation are getting lower, even as the real benefits are increasing. And more than any “professional development,” those moments of community-building (i.e. the consumption of alcohol) are more important and hearteningly, less part of the industrial complex of writing. By now, I firmly understand that AWP is largely the commercial side of my artistic practice, and that, as for most writers, scrappily fighting their way for a small amount of recognition, it is a practically expedient side. The key, I think, is viewing AWP as a practice scrimmage with a process we’ll have to undergo for the rest of our lives: how to deal with publishing as an industry, while maintaining our sense of artistic urgency and integrity.
– Ariana Nadia Nash (MAPH ’13) is the author of Instructions for Preparing Your Skin, winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She is a current MAPH student and an alum of the MFA program at University of North Carolina Wilmington.