By Natalia Asis, Staff Reporter
Many students from the University of Maine at Farmington had the opportunity to attend the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference (AWP) that was held in Boston from Mar. 6 to 9.
The majority of these students either belong to the Writers Guild or the Journalism Club, but there was also a student representing Alice James Books at the bookfair. Jeffrey Thomson, The Associate Professor of Creative Writing, was also a member of two different panels.
According to the AWP website, “The conference typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The conference took place at the Hynes Convention Center & Sheraton Boston Hotel. This venue, however, changes every year. For example, in 2014, it will take place in Seattle.
Thomson was amazed by how much bigger AWP gets year after year. “It keeps growing! There were 12,000 people,” said Thomson. “It seems to be an increasing thing that people are interested in literature and writing and, for me, that’s amazing. When I started going to this conference 15 years ago there were only a couple hundred people.”
Thomson did a reading with Maine’s young poets Christian Barter, Gibson Fay-Leblanc, and Adrian Blevins and a second panel called “Across the Pond” with Connie Voisine, Ciaran Carson, Sinéad Morrissey.
Thomson thinks students can greatly benefit from attending a conference like AWP. “There is the multiplicity of voices we can’t bring in [to UMF]. You can focus in any way that you want,” said Thomson. “You can go to this panel and this reading and you can go to the bookstore and wander around and meet people informally. Meeting people informally is also a great experience. These writers are real people and they are often pretty nice.”
For the editor-in-chief of the Flyer, Kerri-lyn Hernandez, it was variety that caught her attention. “There were so many options while there,” said Hernandez, “there were always tons of conferences going on so you could choose whichever suited you best, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, memoir, even yoga and writing.”
“I learned a lot of different opinions about everything,” said Hernandez. “Each conference had a panel of multiple people who speak about their own experiences and opinions.”
Cadi Lacourse, a sophomore and the president of the Journalism Club, found the bookfair to be the most exciting part of the conference. “My experience at the AWP convention was amazing!” said Lacourse. “It [the bookfair] was so large that it was divided into three separate rooms on two different floors. One of the best parts of the fair was all of the universities represented at the different booths,” said Lacourse. “It was amazing to hear about all of the different programs that each school offered.”
Taylor McCafferty, a sophomore, attended AWP because of the Celia Gilbert Fellowship. She worked as a Press Assistant for Alice James Books. The fellowship covers all travel expenses, room and board, and provides a stipend to the Fellow. “As the Press Assistant, I mainly helped set up and man the booth, sold books, answered questions about the press, and assisted with book signings,” said McCafferty, “It’s Alice James Books’ 40th anniversary this year so people would come and talk to me and tell me they were authors in the press 40 years ago.”
“We did one book signing for the poet Jean Valentine,” said McCafferty. “It was very popular so there was so many people coming up to us and trying to buy books. We actually sold out of books. It was very exciting.”
There were about 10 students from the Writers Guild in the conference. One of them was Caleb Rae, a sophomore and a creative writing major at UMF. “There was a forum on ghosts and zombies in writing; that was my favorite. The authors talked about their own work and how they incorporated them into the writing to write about it realistically,” said Rea. “Especially, I liked it because one author said she sees ghosts.”
Another member of the Writers Guild is a freshman and creative writing major student, John Pich. “I found an interesting forum in which it was said that ‘you should steal instead of borrow’,” said Pich, “because you are taking it and making it your own. You are influenced but you don’t let it control what you write.”