Arts & Culture

AWP Conference Moves Online Amid Pandemic

ziz immelman, A&C editor

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs, known more commonly as AWP, hosted their 2021 conference online over the weekend despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with publishing a monthly “Writer’s Chronicle,” AWP hosts the largest writing conference/book fair in the USA, featuring hundreds of presentations and book fair exhibitors. The event moves to a different city every year, and it always is my favorite time of year. 

The conference generally starts on a Wednesday with continuous programming taking place through Saturday. The days are split into time slots, and there are dozens of panels, workshops and presentations of varying topics for every time slot. Attendees are free to dip in and out of events as they please, with many taking some time to explore the new city or find a nice spot to work on their creative practice. 

There are so many wonderful things about the conference. Topics of the sessions range from things like “writing queer characters for superhero comics” to “language politics in 20th-century Irish literature” to pretty much any topic you could hope to attend. Especially in the past few years, there has been a push for more inclusive topics like disability in reading and writing. Folks at AWP have opportunities to network with publishers, meet MFA program representatives, or maybe even coincidentally run into one of their favorite writers and get a book of theirs signed that they coincidentally have in their backpack (thank you, Kristen Arnett!) The nights end with readings and social outings in the city. 

When I found out at the Portland, Oregon conference in 2019 that the 2021 conference would be in Kansas City, MO, I was stoked at the prospect of traveling to a place that I would not likely have ever explored without the conference. However, AWP had to move to an online format in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. While my first reaction was to be upset, I eventually accepted it and tried to get excited for AWP despite the changes. In this new format, attendees logged onto an online portal where they could click around to different events. In a way, there were opportunities to see more because folks didn’t have to sprint across an entire convention center to catch two panels in a single time slot; they could simply click back and forth. 

I found that this temporarily changed format worked rather well for the most part. There were, of course, a few internet issues and lots of “your mic’s not on!” But overall, I feel attendees were definitely able to get something out of it. The focus on accessibility, as always, was beneficial for attendees, and I am glad they were so prepared on that front. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend as many sessions as I would have liked because of Zoom fatigue. Since I am a full-time online student who has several jobs that meet over Zoom, I got a little antsy just sitting there for hours on end, especially since there were no adventures to go out on during my breaks. 

I am hoping and praying that the AWP 2022 conference in Philadelphia will be able to be hosted safely in person, but I find a strange comfort in knowing that the show will go on no matter what. 

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