Blogtalk: AWP Report 7

20120303-180732.jpgI’ve spent the last few days in Chicago at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, an amazing extravaganza, where over 9,000 writers, publishers, editors, agents, and representatives from Universities all over the United States have gathered to share their ideas.

Imagine—9,000 people converging on two luxury hotels near Grant Park and filling all the surrounding ones. A small city of writers within a city. When I asked a waitress at one of the overflowing-with-patrons hotel bars if she was used to such a mob, she smiled brightly and said, “No. It’s been so dead lately, we’ve been closed except on weekends. This is great! And everyone’s so nice, patient, and kind.” Yep, that’s what a city of writers would be like: A lot of half-drunk kind and smiling people.

Seriously, though, after three days, my brain is full to overflowing with new information, lists of books to read, and ideas to incorporate into my writing and teaching. Sessions covering every genre and aspect of the writing life—22 sessions every hour—were going on all day long and into the evenings. Not to mention all the off-site readings and literary events around town.

I attended author readings, as well as sessions on incorporating the reflective voice into creative nonfiction, ways to invigorate the creative writing workshop experience, conducting research for personal memoir, and crafting the made-up self (the narrative self), to name a few.

Here are a few highlights from my notes:

  • We need different narrative voices to reveal the complexity of life. When we write we get to choose who we want to be on the page.
  • When writing memoir or personal essay, the “I now” and the “I then” are in contrast; the present shapes the past.
  • Another way to think about it: Who was I then? Who am I now? And what have I learned in the meantime?
  • When researching for memoir, complete a rough draft of your story first. That way, the research details won’t co-opt the story.
  • Story should serve both the mind and the heart—give evidence of looking outward into the world.
  • And my favorite: The narrator’s role is to cut through the self-deception of the past self.


I’ll leave you with a quote from Pam Houston:

    “I’m not going to tell a story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”

What have you learned about your writing this week?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

7 thoughts on “Blogtalk: AWP Report

  • Kate Farrell

    Terrific, Amber! That’s the Palmer Hotel lobby; I remember it so well during my college days where my boyfriend and I found refuge from the cold and wind. Uh-oh. I’m writing a memory; must be catching.

    Have a wonderful time and learn lots and become enriched and inspired.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Hi Kate. I didn’t know you went to college here in Chicago. We learn something every day :-). Yes, that’s the lobby of the Palmer Hotel. I didn’t happen to catch it when it was particularly crowded. But such a beautiful hotel. And the wind … cold and harsh … this Californian can’t wait to get home. 🙂

      • Kate Farrell

        I attended a Catholic women’s liberal arts college in the early 60s out in River Forest, Rosary College, a short ride west on the Lake St. elevated “L.” It was medieval, but I learned so much!

        I, too, was glad to take the train back to California after two years.

  • melydia

    It’s always a little strange to see blog posts about this convention, as one of my best friends works at AWP (she’s their webmaster/sysadmin), and is thus working there at this very moment. It’s a really great convention – glad you’re getting such inspiration. Enjoy! 🙂

  • Nicole R. Zimmerman

    Hi Amber,
    Wasn’t the conference fabulous? And for some reason I didn’t at all mind the cold and wind–could have been much worse. Those snow flurries were sweet on Saturday. I just posted a list of 25 writing contests after sorting through a myriad of postcards and flyers gathered from that “small city” marketplace downstairs. Check back soon for session notes on topics like WPA for the 21st Century and Teaching at Literary Centers!