Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the annual AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, conference in Washington D.C. Every year, writers and program representatives across the country convene for four days for a massive book fair, panels, readings, and social events. Thanks to the Graduate Student Association at Emerson, I was able to receive a grant, funding my travel expenses down to D.C. Each graduate student is eligible to receive a Professional Development Grant to help students attend conferences in their field and expand their education beyond the physical buildings of Emerson. The grant paid for my transportation to AWP and many students received funding for their hotel as well. While at AWP, I first felt slightly overwhelmed and in awe of the people I came in contact with. It was comforting to know that Emerson was supporting my attendance and education beyond the classroom.
One of the great things about AWP is the opportunity to meet writers and fellow MFA students around the country. Once registered, it was a lot easier to pick out fellow AWP attendees on the city streets with our matching AWP canvas totes. At the fair, I had the chance to compare thesis experiences with students from other colleges and universities and also bonded with other students who knew Steve Yarbrough, the chair of the Writing Literature and Publishing department at Emerson (and my professor) from his time at Fresno State. While attending some of the panel discussions, I met writers who had the same interests as myself. Sharing craft advice and hearing about other writers’ challenges and successes was not only exciting, but also the type of community I have come to expect during my MFA experience at Emerson. The familiarity of such settings made me more confident and helped me to get up the courage and speak to the writers on the panels and ask questions.
When attending AWP, it is very important to choose to attend panels that suit your needs as a writer most. Sometimes choosing is difficult as there are about twenty panels happening at each time session. I chose all my panels based on what I felt would help me on my thesis. As my thesis novel is historical fiction, this panel I looked forward to the most was “Craft of the Historical Novel.” Moderated by Robin Olivera, author of My Name is Mary Sutter, the panel made up by Anna Casey (author of forthcoming novel Little Century), John Pipkin (Woodsburner), and Kelly O’Conner McNees (The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott) covered a range of topics involved in crafting historical fiction. Each author had a different motivation and a different approach to historical fiction, and each handled research differently. Each was a debut novelist. This panel reinforced my confidence in my own approach and gave some very helpful hints. The conversation covered why each chose to write historical fiction, their research methods involved, the role of imagination in historical settings, ethics of dealing with historical figures and events, and what they wished they had known before they wrote their novel. This panel was the highlight of the conference for me.
Check back next week to hear about the wonderful keynote address by Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, and speaking to literary journal editors!