Columns > Published on March 4th, 2020

Throwing Your Own AWP

Original image by Andrew Neil

I’ve gone to AWP for 5 years in a row and tabled at the last 4 of them. It’s one of the largest gatherings of small presses, universities, and magazines. It’s an event where people will come to your table and ask: do you have poetry? It’s a beautiful thing. I love this conference. 

But it is also a lot of work. So I decided to take this year off while my better half and the writers we have published run the table. I need to recharge a little and AWP is an intense experience, especially tabling.

I made this decision before the Coronavirus. When I pitched this idea last month, I was going to write a tongue in cheek article. This was before the possibility of AWP getting canceled. Putting the severity of health aside for a second, AWP being cancelled would be brutal financially and emotionally for a small press. New books would reach less of an audience—a death for some micro presses. 

So, I am very happy and RELIEVED it’s still going on, but I respect and understand people not going for health reasons. My decision to stay home was more about mental health.

You see, I've learned that it’s okay to take care of yourself. I’m an Italian-Jew who was raised with the idea that unless you’re exhausted, you’re not working hard enough. I think a lot of us who do some kind of labor in the writing world do it because it provides meaning and purpose to our lives. Most of us also do it in addition to a day job, freelancing, teaching/editing, or other gigs. It’s something we don’t see ourselves retiring from and we always find a way to keep going. There are a lot of lifers in the writing world. So it’s ok to take a break so you can survive the long haul.

If you’re not going to AWP but you want an experience similar to the big event, here are some hometown activities you can do this weekend. Who knows, maybe you can make some of them into a monthly thing.

Buy a Book From a Small Press Website

AWP is the place where you can buy non-normie books and truly support small presses. So what happens when you can’t go?

One of my favorite things about AWP—besides selling my own presses’ books—is doing ‘the walk.’ Going row by row and looking at all the different vendor tables. Where Book festivals will have mostly big presses, AWP has a glorious amount of small presses and magazines.

There’s a reverence I feel going from table to table, talking to publishers, and buying books or magazines. It’s the best. I’m a cheap bastard but I love spending money on unique and awesome small press works.

AWP is the place where you can buy non-normie books and truly support small presses. So what happens when you can’t go?

I am biased here, but the best way to support a small press is to buy from their website. The presses and writers get more money, not only keeping them in business, but giving them the resources to keep taking chances on new writers.

Who are some presses you’re curious about? Go to their website and buy a book. Then go to the next website and get another book. If you are low on cash, that is cool too. Set out a little time to just check out different presses' websites, find out more about them, and maybe just share the site when you’re done.

Also check out #AWPVirtualBookFair for info on presses that couldn’t make it and are looking to share and sell their books.

Go to an Open Mic

One day I’m going to write a think piece about how social media hurt open mics, but for today I’m just going to say that going to one is a good replacement for an AWP reading or event.

This is a place where non-famous writers (predominantly poets) are sharing their work. Open mics are the lifeblood of the creative communities of most towns and cities. I lived in a tiny town in NH and we still had a monthly open mic.

A lot of them are free, too. You can read as well as just listen. Attending is really about connecting to your local literary community. AWP is connecting to the literary world on a macro level, where open mics are micro, but they are there for you every month or even week. 

Connect With Some Writing Friends You Haven’t Seen in Forever

Writing friends make life better for writers. Writing communities can sometimes make you feel disenchanted, but writing friends are meaningful and as important as writing itself.

The problem is (I’m speaking more for myself than others) is maintaining those friendships. It’s hard when you feel like you have a million things to do at once. If you’re an editor/publisher and a writer, time always feels like a vague measurement you don’t have enough of.

For your stay-at-home AWP, use some of your time to connect. By connect I mean call, text, or message; not just participating in a thread on Facebook or twitter. Connect 1 on 1 or in a small group chat that is just for you and your fellow writer friends.

If you can’t catch up over coffee, tea, or alcohol at AWP, this is a great way to connect. Even if you don’t talk to many people, for mental health, it’s good to remind yourself that there are people in your life that share the same passion and purpose as you.

Start Your Own Mag/Website or Reading 

Finally, what can you do for the literary world that only you can do in your own particular way? Magazines, blogs, and publishers do tend to follow a similar path, but what is the unique vision you have for something literary related?

If you have something that you feel passionate about, go do it. Even if it scares you. 

Even if it’s just a Wordpress site for fun. I am 100% on board with more DYI spirit in the indie and small press world. A great example has been the recent Neutral Spaces.

It’s an exciting time for writers, where even the most micro of scenes can have a working website to share work and connect.

What is missing in the literary world that you would like to see? Do you want to have a irl writing community where you live? Start a reading.

You can make it happen.

Whether you are going to AWP or not, many of the goals of the conference can be achieved in your own backyard. Give it a try. 

About the author

Christoph Paul is the Managing Editor and owner of CLASH Books, who have published over 60 books and have been covered by NPR, Poets & Writers, Rolling Stone, Believer Magazine, Oprah Magazine, The Observer, Fangoria, and Publisher's Weekly. The press has had books translated into Spanish, French, and Italian. He has been editing books in almost every genre for over a decade. As an author, he won a humor award and had viral cult success under a pen name. He is the lead singer and bass player of the rock band The Dionysus Effect, who have received positive reviews in Loudwire, EARMILK, and Red Rock Magazine. He sometimes writes songs about the books he publishes because even artists are inspired by their day jobs. Follow him on Twitter @christophpaul_ @clashbooks @dionysuseffect.

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