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AWP 2013 Conference: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — With 500 events, 1,900 presenters and more than 600 exhibitors at the book fair, the Association for Writers and Writing Conferences (as seen in photo 1) roared into Boston on a blizzard. Despite wintry weather, a flurry of 13,000 attendees stormed the Hynes Convention Center March 6-9th to immerse themselves into a writing wonderland.

 “There is truth in every fiction; fiction in every truth.” Roxane Gay, short fiction writer, editor, assistant professor

Workshops varied from teaching practices to marketing and promotional strategies to professional writing advice to the craft of specific genres. Presenters came from impressive backgrounds in publishing, higher education, and bestseller lists. The most beneficial workshops were the ones that combined authors’ writing processes, short readings of their work, editor’s perspectives, and advice for writers on said topics (as seen in photos 2-3).

Jeannine Atkins, children's historical fiction author, presented on the panel, “How to Keep a Story Alive When All Your Characters Are Dead: Finding the Contemporary in Historical Fiction for Young Adults.” In talking about her panel, Atkins stated: “We did something different by inviting five teens who’d read our books to join us. I think it was effective to have different blocks within the 75-minute time frame. 
We implemented PowerPoint to supply images from history that we used as sources, but the requested equipment was not there, so we had to improvise. Whenever using technology, it’s good to have a Plan B.”

Atkins enjoyed the plethora of workshops offered at the conference, but noted that she attended some workshops with absent presenters, most likely due to the snowstorm, and others where panelists strayed far from their workshop’s description. She advises future presenters to develop a clear plan and make sure each panelist has member phone numbers to stay in close contact.

 “Action cannot take place in a void.” —Julia Green, author of Breathing Under Water

The two-floor book fair hosted exhibits from top literary journals, writing workshops and MFA programs from all over the country. It was the perfect venue for freelance writers to network with magazine editors, as well as look into suitable writing programs. In addition to autographed books for purchase, many tables offered free magazines, chapbooks and pamphlets. Fortunately, AWP registration included a canvas tote bag (as seen in photos 4-5).

Each night, attendees unwound and restored their creative souls at featured readings and panels with renowned writers, including Alice Hoffman and Tom Perrrotta, Tracy Kidder and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Augusten Burroughs and Cheryl Strayed, and a sold out keynote event with Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott (as seen in photos 6-15).

 “If I say circles, you start seeing circles all over the room. Same with stories...[until it] becomes something completely different.” —Steve Voake, children’s book writer 

Late night receptions created excellent settings for writers to meet and network with industry professionals (as seen in photo 16). This is one conference where business cards are in hot demand. A writer cannot carry too many—several attendees ran out before Saturday. Duarte Geraldino, an independent national TV journalist, stated he was pleasantly surprised there were so many talented young writers at the conference. Geraldino said, “A lot of the romance was wiped out about the writing profession because people asked, ‘What are you writing and what are you doing to support yourself?’ and that is a very important consideration for writers. Keep your day job and leverage what you have to get what you want.”

By Saturday night, the snow had completely melted, as if the storm never happened. But the snowfall of knowledge, new friendships and inspiring words will drift its way into poems and stories of the future. Poignant final words of the conference:

 “You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don't know what it is yet.”—Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

The 2014 AWP conference will be held in Seattle, and subsequent years will be held in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Pre-registering for future conferences will help alleviate last minute stressors, as onsite registration can take hours.

For more information, visit their website at

Photos: All photos courtesy of Sera Rivers

Photo 1: AWP sign

Photo 2: AWP workshop pamphlet and AWP conference program

Photo 3: Lucy Christopher, presenting her research at the “Crossing Borders: Landscapes of Childhood and Adolescence” workshop

Photo 4: Sampling of book fair material

Photo 5: AWP tote bag

Photo 6: Alice Hoffman reading

Photo 7: Tom Perrotta reading

Photo 8: A conversation between Alice Hoffman and Tom Perotta, moderated by Christopher Castellani

Photo 9: A reading and conversation with Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Richard Todd, and Tracy Kidder

Photo 10: Augusten Burroughs reading

Photo 11: Cheryl Strayed reading

Photo 12: A reading and conversation with Cheryl Strayed and Augusten Burroughs, moderated by Bob Morris

Photo 13: Sold out keynote address: “A Conversation Between Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott, Moderated by Rosanna Warren”

Photo 14: Seamus Heaney reading

Photo 15: Derek Walcott reading

Photo 16: Writer meet-up (back row lt to rt): Cybele Kilby, Kristen Myers, Anne Shaughnessey, Philip Walker (Front row): Sera Rivers, Jennifer Baker