Ian Philpot

Over the last few days, I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ (AWP) conference held in Chicago. I woke up early to catch trains, ate quickly to catch panels, and slept little as my mind tried to process new thoughts even though my body needed rest.

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was being in Chicago. The whole experience reminded me of 2007 when I commuted to Columbia College from the suburbs. I missed the smell of Garrett’s popcorn on Madison Avenue. I missed the inspiration I’d find in people watching from a seat in an Argo Tea. I missed it all, and I was glad to have it back, even if for a couple of days.

I sadly report that about 50% of the time I spent at AWP was listening to uninformed informants or endlessly expounding educators—neither of which lent me any new thoughts except for “I wish I had gone to another panel.” I didn’t think I would have said that. For the three days, there were six sessions a day and an average of 20 panels for each session. But it was nearly impossible to know which panel was going to be a hit and which was going to be a flop.

At the same time, it is with great enthusiasm that I report that 50% of my time at AWP was well-spent listening to writers who believe in what they do and love engaging and sharing their thoughts and learnings about our craft. I would love to share every detail, but I will instead provide some quotations I heard shared in the panels I attended. (Each quote includes an attribute and the session I heard it in.)

  • “A novel isn’t meant to be perfect.” —Sabina Murray in “Reports from the Tenches: Teaching Novel and Novella Workshops”
  • “Writing literary books was never a good way to make a living—that predates the Internet.” —Stephen Elliott in “Literature and the Internet in 2012”
  • “Go out, meet people, make friends. Don’t network.” —Blake Butler in “Literature and the Internet in 2012”
  •  “If we’re not supposed to dance, why all this music?” —Gregory Orr (from To Be Alive) in “God at Every Gate: Dialogues in Silence”
  • “It is not incumbent on you to finish the task; neither are you free to give it up.” —Alicia Ostriker in “God at Every Gate: Dialogues in Silence”
  • “If life isn’t enough, then the afterlife won’t be enough.” —Fanny Howe quote mentioned by Kazim Ali in “God at Every Gate: Dialogues in Silence”
  • “Don’t spend so much time studying the jug that you forget to drink the water.” —Rami quote mentioned by Kazim Ali in “God at Every Gate: Dialogues in Silence”

I feel fortunate to have walked away with such strong words as those. I also came out of the conference with about eight new ideas for stories. (They will all have to wait until Script Frenzy is over though.)