February 24, 2017

AWP 2017: a change in climate

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is one of the largest associations in North America and brings together usually more than 10,000 people at their annual conference. From textbook-ivory tower dwellers to poets with panache, AWP is a seething and diverse panoply with one thing in common: writing. Despite this commonality, the variety of sights- and people-seeing covers a spectrum that spans from sandwich boards promoting a new spoken-word audio collection to a full body suit of something that looked like it was inspired by The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The 2017 conference, which took place in Washington, DC this year, was my second AWP, and besides taking place on an opposite coast, had a distinctively different feel in part (or in whole) I suspect due to the changed political climate and the conference’s location in our capital.

I imagine that the feeling of preparing for AWP is somewhat akin to Henry V’s men when he roused them with courage and stamina in his impassioned “Once more unto the breach!” speech. (A contemporary alternative might be Chumbawamba’s “TubThumping,” [“I get knocked down / but I get up again . . . c’mon, you know the words.])

Writers, teachers, presses, and literature-related programs alike expressed dissent in both subtle and bold ways. VIDA offered postcards (dissent is patriotic!) and addresses to send to your congresspeople. Staffers at Red Hen Press sported pussy hats throughout the entire conference. Our very own 2010 Kingsley Tufts winner DA Powell and powerful poet and Foothill interviewee Erin Belieu spearheaded a writers march on Washington.


Ross Gay, 2016 Kingsley Tufts winner, along with other poets, read at the closing night’s candlelight vigil.

Though AWP is not a battle proper, this year it felt like a celebratory call-to-arms for inclusion and diversity. Voices of poetry and writers alike provided a clear, harmonic note of hope above the fray.

—Emily Schuck