Friday, March 29, 2013

The AWP Writer's Conference

In early March, I took time out from what had become a very busy innkeeping winter to travel to Boston and participate in the 2013 Association of Writing Professionals Writer’s Conference. I was there to help my Goddard College MFA mafia capo Chris Millis present a talk called “Story Autopsy.” The presentation was a hit, but like most things in life, it wasn’t the result that mattered as much as the journey.
After a day in Stowe spent brainstorming the presentation and drinking a bottle of Japanese single malt whiskey with local scribe David Rocchio, Millis and I charged down to Boston, arriving on a Wednesday night. Searching for a little nightlife, we battled high winds and marched through Faneuil Hall, only to find the place--and its surrounding restaurants and pubs--boarded up. Millis, a Saratogan weaned on last calls coinciding with sunrise, was rightfully indignant. After snarfing a couple of burgers at the lone open food joint we found (none of the pubs that were open offered food after 10 p.m., a policy only slightly less daft than allowing 16 year-old boys to drive), we retired to the hotel to sample the impressive bar we’d brought along. There was Buffalo Trace bourbon and Bullit rye; a bottle of Canadian whisky; and--bless Millis’s heart--a jug of mother’s milk: John Jameson’s & Sons.
The conference itself was similar to all conferences: a bunch of like-minded attendees staggering around, visiting booths, listening to talks, and making new contacts. Millis and I pressed the flesh and actively recruited people to come to our talk, scheduled the second day of the conference. We also attended a talk featuring Lowell Williams, a Goddard MFA alum, and Deb Brevoort, a member of Goddard’s MFA faculty. We also connected with our faculty advisor Richard Panek, and we made plans to meet later for drinks.
Outside, it had begun to snow, and Boston descended into white paralysis. By morning, nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow lay on the city streets, crippling all forms of transportation. More importantly, a delivery of DVDs we’d been waiting for failed to arrive. We sloshed over to the convention center, washed Advil down with coffee, and prepared for our talk. After the presentation, we spied an Irish pub across the street advertising pitchers of beer and half-price appetizers. Along with Richard and Lowell, we found a booth and began draining barrels of Sam Adams. Despite the death metal music pumping through the speakers (Megadeth in an Irish pub? Really?), we were able to eat and drink and talk our way through platters of calamari (I think they used the same recipe as me dear auld Irish granny Flanagan used), nachos (served Kerryman style: a single, unified glob), and spicy barbecue chicken wings. By the time we’d gotten to the chickens, we’d also gotten to the seventh pitcher of beer, and our watiress didn’t appreciate us asking what the Irish did with the wingless chickens that were left over.
A lot of our time at the conference was spent on the Goddard College couch. Goddard rep Samantha Kolber had the good sense to request a couch, and it drew lots of sitters, so there was always a big crowd around the Goddard booth. By the time Millis and I left town on Saturday, we’d already brainstormed a couple of ideas for presentations at next year’s conference, in Seattle. Going into this conference, we had some concerns--the whole conference concept of enclosing 11,000 writers together for an extended pow-wow is vaguely offensive to people whose job it is to shun the world then write about it--but the energy we took away was undeniable. Readers of this blog should start to hear about the fruits of that energy over the next few months.