As March spilled into National Poetry Month, I was honored to attend the 2016 AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Los Angeles, CA, thanks to my president, Dr. Karen Scolforo and Dean, Dr. Melissa Wehler.
I joined thousands of wordsmiths at all levels – from undergraduate student writers to Pulitzer Prize winning, history-personified writers from your English lit textbook. In fact, I repeatedly found myself in conversation with individuals I didn’t recognize until they gave me their card or book, and I realized I’d written papers on them in grad school. If you’re not a poet, imagine it this way – every pop star on the billboard charts is staying in your hotel. That’s AWP for writers.
In addition to swimming in this incredible talent pool, I learned something for nearly every aspect of my life. One session answered the question about how to bring technology into my next poetry book. Another gave me words to describe what I’m already doing with my American Griot Project. (Docupoetics, if you were wondering.) An excellent session on literary magazines is helping me develop The Central Pen Literary E-zine at Central Penn College. There was even a session that was particularly moving–brought me to tears in fact–that spoke to the black mother’s anxiety about sending her kings out into this dangerous world. That session featured my favorite living poet, Patricia Smith, who was also kind enough to ward off my low-blood sugar headache with a candy bar. (Love her)
This was my third AWP conference but the first one in recent years. They always have sessions that are solely for program directors, and this time I was in the position to attend. I have been given the go-ahead to write a Masters of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing for Central Penn College. Before the conference, I imagined these secret program director meetings in dark rooms with everyone in hooded black robes, and some ceremony involving pentagrams, skulls, a sharp knife, but actually, aside from the chanting, the plenary sessions were pretty normal.
One big take-away is that we are right-brained people in a left-brained world filled with rubrics, research and outcomes assessments. Luckily, I feel like the leadership I’ve worked under at Central Penn for the last 3 years helped me develop these skills. I’m ready.
AWP was amazing. I brought home so much knowledge, so many books, trinkets and fun writer-themed items (like my new poet tarot cards.) My students are getting the benefit of a refreshed, invigorated teacher filled with new ideas to explore. I’m even taking more time to write….thus, this blog. I think I’ll do this every Saturday. (Hold me to it!)
If you write, I encourage you to go to AWP 2017 in Washington D.C. It will be AWP’s 50th anniversary. When not in session, I’ll be sipping a “Langston” at Busboy’s and Poets and loving the writing life! I hope you’ll join me! (Below, me at the convention center, then keynote speaker Claudia Rankin at her book signing, and Ross Gay being interviewed.)