March 19, 2018
AWP, or the Association of Writers & Writing Programs if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster literary achievement and advance the art of writing as an essential component of education and stewardship. Each year more than 10,000 writers, students, educators, editors, and publishers gather in attendance at AWP’s annual conference to immerse themselves in the larger writing community, networking with fellow authors and industry insiders.
This year’s meeting found us in Tampa. For four days the local convention center, pleasantly situated along the Hillsborough River at the southwest edge of Tampa’s downtown district, was overrun with writers, its labyrinth of walkways, meeting rooms, and common areas monopolized entirely by the conference. Likewise, attendees filled their agendas to capacity, spending each day engaged in a myriad of presentations, panels, focused discussions, and readings.
Beyond the multitude of scheduled events outlined in the conference program, perhaps the biggest attraction at AWP is the bookfair. Held in an astonishingly vast assembly hall large enough to rival your local supercenter, the bookfair is a marketplace comprised of more than 800 exhibitors from literary presses and journals, universities, creative writing programs, and other related organizations. It is here attendees assemble in droves, drifting from one booth to the next until something, or someone, piques their interest. Everyone knows this is the spot. The place to be. It’s where friends and colleagues alike congregate between panels, where you can run into your favorite author, where discounted books can be bought on the cheap (a small mercy to the many students in attendance), and where you just might find the future publisher of your manuscript. In other words, the bookfair provides the optimal setting for The University of Arizona Press to interact with readers and writers through a shared passion for books.
As an exhibitor at AWP and other similar conferences, our primary aim is, of course, to meet with current and prospective authors, and to showcase a modest suite of relevant new and notable titles. But beyond just the sales and networking opportunities, easily the best thing about attending these meetings is getting to witness from the ground floor all the positive energy and enthusiasm surrounding the books we publish. I think for many of us working in this industry, it’s easy to become so entrenched in the day-to-day workload, always looking forward, moving from one project to the next, that we often forget to take a step back and reflect on everything that brought us here. So being able to see a reader’s excitement as they eagerly browse through the booth, or catch a momentary glimpse of unbridled pride on an author’s face when they show their book off to a friend, or hear firsthand about the extraordinary impact one of our titles has had on someone, is a beautiful reminder to pause every once in a while and appreciate the work we’ve done and its value to the community.
Speaking of communities, though the Press typically flies solo at these meetings, this year we deviated from that tradition by partnering with the Latinx Writers Caucus in a shared booth. This collaboration was the result of several conversations I’d had with writer and poet Ruben Quesada at last year’s meeting. As we discussed our work, trading insights and comparing notes on the various efforts our organizations make to connect with the community, it became abundantly clear how similar our missions really are. The Caucus and Press both strive to shine a spotlight on Latinx writers and provide a platform for their words to be heard. We work with many of the same authors, scholars, educators, and publishing professionals, and we both share a profound respect and admiration for the unprecedented richness and depth of talent within the Latinx community. Put simply, we’re part of the same family. So when presented with the option of working in unity at AWP this year, it seemed only natural that we take advantage of the opportunity.
To say the endeavor was a success would be an understatement. Not a minute went by, it seemed, our booth wasn’t bursting with writers, poets, and ardent readers. Some of the Press’s many wonderful authors and friends dropped by to catch up or say hello, including Rigoberto González, Allison Hedge Coke, Emmy Pérez, Jennifer Foerster, Urayoán Noel, Sergio Troncoso, and Francisco Aragón, to name a few. Every day was met with a full schedule of book signings organized by members from the Latinx Writers Caucus, featuring a host of remarkable writers such as Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Claudia Castro Luna, Rita Maria Martinez, Ariel Francisco, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, and Javier Zamora. The excitement concentrated around the booth was contagious; I couldn’t help but watch as it permeated throughout the bookfair, drawing more and more people in all the time.
Another particularly noteworthy detail captured my attention over the course of the meeting, an unmistakable sense of closeness within this community, evidenced in how its members connect with one another, share experiences and exchange ideas, and elevate each other’s work through a collective voice. I think that’s one of the defining features that makes this community special. So many of the authors emerging from what is a relatively small corner of the market continue to have a profound influence on the broader readership, and the need for their works is undeniable. The Press is tremendously proud to be part of this community, and we remain forever grateful for all their encouragement and support. Thank you especially, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Suzi F. Garcia, and Ruben Quesada, for sharing the love, and for working with us to make AWP 2018 such a great success. I look forward to seeing how far we’ve come the next time our paths cross again.
Associate Editor, University of Arizona Press