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Why I’m Going to AWP 2014 by Arna Bontemps Hemenway

Posted by February 18th, 2014

Arna Hemenway author photoAnybody in the Book Country headed out to Seattle next week for the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference, colloquially termed “AWP”? Our friend, the writer Arna Bontemps Hemenway, will be attending, as he’s done every year for the past four years. Here he explains what this conference means to him, and why Book County members might consider participating in this massive conference themselves.


It is not hard to find someone who will tell you his or her opinion of AWP, the massive Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference held annually. A simple Twitter search for “AWP”, for instance, will deliver a representative sample of the very wide range of opinions and witticisms offered on the subject. There’s everything from presenters asking you to go to their panels to novelists loudly and proudly proclaiming why they will or won’t be attending this year. But very few of these thoughts are directed specifically at you, dear reader, by which I mean the kind of aspiring writer and reader who has found a community like Book Country. So let me attempt to rectify that.

To wildly misappropriate a quote from Corinthians (that is nevertheless spot on), it might be said that AWP has become all things to all people in order that it might help you, whoever you are.

When the conference begins this year in Seattle, Washington, I will be attending as many things: a panel presenter (my panel on post-Iraq War fiction was accepted earlier this year), a professor of Creative Writing from Baylor University, an author with a book coming out (my short story collection, Elegy on Kinderklavier, will be released in July from Sarabande Books and is available to pre-order now), the holder of an MFA from Iowa, and, relatively speaking, an AWP veteran. But when AWP 2010 was held in Denver, I was, basically, nobody. I was a college graduate living in Pittsburg, Kansas with the girl who is now my wife, working as a janitor and writing fake blog entries for certain jewelry companies’ Google results for money.

Now, there was no bookstore in Pittsburg, Kansas. There was one literary reading in town that year, given by a New Yorker flown in by the local university, a man who berated me for daring to ask a question about his influences in the Q&A that followed. This is all of which to say I had no writing community. Each day that I had the chance, I drove to the local university and pretended to be a student there so I could sit in the library and write. Continue reading

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