I just spent three days in the good company of 11,999 other writerly people at the Convention Center in Minneapolis. Our fair Twin Cities kindly provided rain, sleet, snow, and sunshine over the course of the convention. At least Minnesota lives up to her reputation.
This is the largest writing con I’ve ever attended as well as the largest convention I’ve attended, period. Yowsa. Suddenly my little medical conferences of several hundred seem quaint.
I was struck by the similarities of the AWP and typical medical conferences. In particular, the Book Fair, the massively overwhelming cattle call of lit magazines, writing programs, booksellers, and publishers, reminded me acutely of the drug rep booths. Pharmaceutical reps are notoriously well-dressed, well-coifed, and well-heeled. They hawk their wares, luring hapless medical students to their booths with promises of chocolate and free copies of The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy.
Here’s my tried-n-true booth technique. Walk down the middle of the aisle, scanning the booths on either side. If anyone catches your eye, smile and say “hi” but continue your forward momentum. A body in motion will remain in motion… At medical conferences, I never stop at drug rep booths. I might make a brief stop at the MN Department of Health for immunization guidelines or lead abatement resources.
I recognized the candy lures at the Book Fair immediately and only succumbed to one – a Lindt dark chocolate truffle. Who could blame me? I encountered exactly one overly aggressive bookseller. I eventually placated him by saying that I’d love to take his business card so my husband could peruse the website. So while similar in physical appearance (books, brochures, business cards, candy) to booths at a medical conference, the Book Fair booths were generally populated with pleasant, normally-dressed people. I particularly enjoyed the folks at Cornerstone Press and Red Hen Press.
As with a medical conference, the AWP sessions I attended offered a lot of “talking about” and not a lot of hands-on applicability. Medicine talks are moving more toward “case-based” learning, where concepts are taught in the context of actual patients. Writing lends itself easily to “case-based” learning, progressive education – here’s a concept, now write something or discuss an example with the person sitting next to you.
Many sessions attracted 200-500 audience members. That’s crazy huge. I still think it’s possible to engage an audience actively and not wait for Q&A at the end. I discovered I could easily feel alone in a room of 400 and had to actively force myself to meet people. Many medical conferences incorporate “networking breaks” into the day. At the Convention Center, the fifteen minutes between AWP sessions prevented networking, lunching, and gastrointestinal/genitourinary tract evacuation. You need the entire fifteen minutes to get from the lower level to the second floor, room 200 A&B!
Some of the smaller sessions I attended were great. The notable talks: the importance of diversity in literature, “Narrative Medicine,” and the portrayal of teenage sexuality.
Of course the ultimate question is Will I Attend Another AWP Conference? Maybe. If it’s in the Twin Cities. I’d be more likely to repeat attend if:
1) I get lunch with my registration fee. I don’t need the 8000 page book of session descriptions or the cloth bag. Give me food.
2) the organizers devote more attention to “genre” fiction. Romance, Sci Fi/Fantasy, Westerns, Mystery, Erotica got very little play. I don’t buy into the idea that “literary” fiction is inherently better than “genre” fiction. In reality, Americans gobble up more Romance than anything else.
So give me lunch and a dude in a tool belt and I’ll be happier. Really.
PS: I gleefully, unabashedly, and purposefully included an adverb or two in the above. Deal.