Along with approximately 11,999 other people, I went to Boston last week to attend the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. This was my third year at AWP– I went to the 2011 one in DC, and the 2012 one in Chicago too– but I think it might have been my favorite one yet.
Granted, the location may have something to do with it. I lived in Boston for two years right after undergrad and completely fell in love with the city, and the conference gave me a chance to spend time with old friends I hadn’t seen in years and do some nostalgic, snowy frolicking around my favorite places.
Sentimental location aside, the conference itself offered a lot of really amazing panels and readings this year. I split my time pretty evenly between the two sides of my career, writing and teaching. I went almost exclusively to the more professional development-focused panels (writing with a focus in marketing and publishing, and different approaches to writing in the classroom), skipping most of the craft talks and readings due to a lack of time.
My favorite panel was called “Bound, Not Gagged: Artful Constraints in the Creative Writing Classroom”, where teachers talked about the purpose of writing prompts and shared their favorite ones, explaining the pedagogical approach behind each. I was delighted that two of the four presenters worked with high school students, since AWP tends to be geared more towards university teaching, and it was interesting to explore the ideas surrounding why we use writing prompts (rather than just explaining the basic literary devices and telling students to wander out on their own, which definitely has a place in the CW classroom, but not every day and usually never at the beginning of a semester/session), and it was especially nice to come away from the panel with a few pages of notes on actual prompts to use. I am using one of them with my creative writing class today, actually, and am planning on doing a blog post in the not-too-distant future on my favorite writing prompts that I’ve stumbled across over the years.
The conference was a good reminder of the two intersecting but separate aspects of my career. I am trained as a writer, and I spend my days teaching; this happens to a lot of us, since the starving artist stereotype exists for a reason and day jobs are necessary. I absolutely love my job– I look forward to coming to work each day, and my classroom feels like home– but I think any writer-turned-teacher will tell you that it’s really difficult to balance these two things, and often it’s the writing that suffers. The good news, of course, is that we have the summers off and can devote our attention to working on our personal projects then. However, it was really nice to be able to think about my writing career and make some long-term goals in that area, since I don’t have the time or brain energy to do that very often during the school year. It’s made me feel newly hopeful and rejuvenated in that area.
Those four days were a whirlwind of the things I love most: Writing, teaching, writers and teachers; good friends from across the country, all congregating for the conference, and those who live there; my favorite city, revisiting old haunts, good coffee and good food and beautiful scenery. Next year’s AWP conference will be in Seattle and I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it, but it’s been a good run.