A few days ago a commenter left these remarks here:
Thanks for all of the info you generously share in your blog. Are you willing to expound on the benefits of going to the AWP conference, particularly for someone coming from the west coast? I have a spot, but debating if it is actually valuable enough to warrant the expense and time. Thanks for any thoughts -- I don't know anyone else who is involved enough to ask.
I promised to respond, and now I'm going to. I'll try to keep my comments general, in part because I don't know the person who posted the request so I have no idea what her writing background may be, and in part so I'll (hopefully) have something useful to offer everyone else who reads this.
1) First, you can find many more comments (including some from me) about AWP (past and present) within the Poets & Writers Speakeasy. Here is one thread and here is another. You will need to register (no charge) to access the posts.
2) Similarly, you can search this blog for timely posts about my most recent AWP experiences. You'll find some here, here, here, here, and here.
3) In my view, one of the best--if not the best--aspect of AWP is the Bookfair. Essentially, the Bookfair is an exhibition hall featuring literary journals, independent presses, and creative writing programs of all stripes (MFA, conferences, literary centers, etc.). Think candy store for "literary" writers (I'm only half-joking about that--many booths and tables beckon with free candy as well as discounted books and subscriptions). Editors and publishers show up en masse. It's a chance to actually meet some of the people to whom you may be sending your work. Pick up sample copies, catalogs, calls for submission (and, again, candy).
4) The panels and readings are numerous. And sometimes, they're truly inspirational. Chances are you'll have trouble deciding between concurrent events that interest you. Sometimes (and I fear this may be the case this year), some events are far too crowded for those of us who like our personal space. On the other hand, it's an amazing opportunity to hear from "big names." (And if you're looking for a program, you may well be able to observe some of the faculty "at work" via panels and readings as well.)
5) This year, obviously, you also have the chance to visit New York. For some people, that alone would be a draw.
6) The first year attending an AWP can be intimidating, especially for someone who isn't necessarily fond of "networking" (that would be me!). I have to say, though, that I've met some wonderful people at past conferences, and now I look forward to seeing them each year. Again, this year's anticipated hordes may be so crushing--and so full of mass populations coming from individual MFA programs and so forth--that a "newbie" may feel isolated. If you prefer more "nurturing" environments, AWP isn't necessarily going to do it for you.
7) And finally--I can't leave this out--I've been much happier at AWP in recent years/locations where the smokers (remember, this is a writing conference) have been barred from the hotel bars/restaurants. New York gets a thumbs-up from me in this respect, too.
Anyone else with AWP insights to share? Please contribute, in comments.