The first time I went to AWP was about 10 years ago. I was living in Vancouver at teaching at UBC. It was a good job, but very stressful in many ways. I was surrounded by PhDs who had no idea what an MFA was, or what I did. Inevitably I started to feel like the poor cousin (I remember one party where everyone sat around and traded obscure literary references; I just drank and got depressed). The second year I was there AWP came to Vancouver, so I could afford to go. I drove downtown to the fabulous hotel it was held in, and slipped into the first session. And after just a few minutes I realized I had actually found the promised land. Here they were speaking my language! They knew all the writers I new and admired! We were reading the same texts! In the halls everyone was discussing metaphor and James Galvin and publishing houses. I was jubilant and so deeply relieved. I spent as much time there the next three days as I possibly could and just reveled in it. At that conference I also met my soon-to-be publisher Jessie. We had already contracted for my book, but it hadn't come out yet. It was also reassuring to meet her, to hear her talk about my work, and to meet one or two other "Salmon Poets."
Since that time I've been to two more conferences--one in New York City (epic) and one in Denver. Each time I go, the conference energizes me and each time it's different. In Denver, two years ago, I started really getting to know other Salmon poets and making contacts with other writers. Since then, and through Facebook, I've been able to really get to know some amazing writers. I now swap work with some of them; two of the writers I met in Denver read my manuscript for this latest book. What a gift that has been.
And this time, as I prepare to go, I feel even more intimately connected with this group of fellows. I have plans to have a drink with a former college professor who is responsible for setting me on my life course. There is an "Alaska Night" planned for all Alaskan writers and editors. And I'll be giving two readings alongside fellow Salmon poets of our new work. It seems like a miracle to me that I'm getting pulled into this community of writers.
And of course, I'm going to get to see some fabulous writers talk about and read their work. In Denver I saw Terry Tempest Williams read and met Robert Hass. In New York Ha Jin signed a copy of his book. Nothing like a little star-gazing to warm up a cold February.
So, T-minus 6 days and I'll be off, black notebook and pens in hand, conference booklet marked up with all the sessions I want to attend, and my literary dancing shoes on. Huzzah!