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Annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference continues

More than 11,000 attendees expected at Boston literary conference

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 8, 2013 11:03

The 2013 Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ (AWP) annual conference is now well underway, and many would argue that the best is still to come. The conference will continue through Saturday, March 9, having begun on Wednesday.

Despite being a niche event that appeals primarily to fans and members of the literary underground, the AWP Conference has become something of a national tradition, and its appeal is on the rise. A whopping 9,700 people preregistered for this year’s conference, with more than 11,000 total people expected to attend. It may be a large−scale event, but the conference’s raison d’etre is ultimately to provide a distillation of the contemporary world of writing, where literary giants rub shoulders with up−and−coming writers and where writers and publishers from around the world gather to catch up and share ideas.

“I like to think of the AWP conference as a big tent where everybody is together,” said Christian Teresi, the AWP Conference Organizer. And Teresi’s opinion is far from isolated. Though fans come for the events and speakers — which this year include dual Nobel Laureate keynote speakers Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott, as well as featured readers that range from Augusten Burroughs to Z.Z. Packer and Don DeLillo — the conference is ultimately much more than its sum of lectures, book fairs and social events.

“I really think the idea of social capital, particularly in the digital age, is something that is becoming increasingly more precious,” said Teresi. “In the world of Facebook, people are looking for more and more opportunities for real, personal interactions.”

Smaller indie publishers arguably benefit the most from the event, as theirs is a world of personal connections and careful networking. Other larger companies don’t rely as heavily on this groundwork.

“The indie−lit scene is all very online ... and there’s not necessarily a good point at which you can meet people face−to−face. AWP really provides that,” said Tufts alumnus Emma Bushnell (LA ’11), the assistant editor of Nouvella Books. Though Nouvella travelled to Chicago for AWP’s conference in 2012, this will be the company’s first year to have a table at the book fair. “Tabling” will give Nouvella a chance to attract new writers and customers, in addition to giving them a chance to mingle with fellow publishers.

This sense of human connection is what continues to attract publishers, even once they’ve established themselves in the literary world.

Indie publishing darling McSweeney’s has been coming to the conference “since they could afford the plane tickets,” says Andi Mudd, editor of McSweeney’s monthly magazine, “The Believer.” Though most of the AWP crowd has probably already heard of McSweeney’s, Mudd still looks forward to reuniting with friends, promoting “The Believer’s” 10th anniversary and looking for new, young writers.

Plus, there are always plenty of after−hours events to look forward to — and most of them don’t require registration. A galaxy of evening events and parties is scheduled after each day of the conference. Mudd is particularly excited for the McSweeney’s party with fellow San Franciscans, The Rumpus, on Friday night.

“It’s fun to go and unwind a little bit with the other people who have been working all day long,” she said.

Those who do register for the conference have a smorgasbord of events and speakers to choose between — of the 1,300 submissions conference organizers received, more than 550 unique events were included in the schedule.

Events centered on memoir writing and poetry are poised to be especially popular this year, though Helene Atwan, a member of Boston’s AWP Planning Community, predicts that conference−goers will also be intrigued by writers’ recent creative environmental activism. She also urges those in attendance to check out Andre Dubus III, Rosanna Warren and Edith Pearlman — all of whom are Boston natives.

The presale may be over, but it’s still possible to register for the conference on−location at 900 Boylston Street, Boston: Member tickets are $190, non−member tickets are $285, and student tickets are a paltry $60. More information about the conference can be found online at www.awpwriter.org.

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