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Between February 9th and 11th, 2017, the members of the RCAH community attended the 50th Anniversary of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington D.C. RCAH students and Center for Poetry interns Grace Carras, Erin Lammers, Sydney Meadowcroft, Sarah Teppen, and Arzelia Williams were accompanied by Center for Poetry Director and RCAH Professor, Anita Skeen. Also attending AWP from the RCAH community was RCAH Academic Specialist in Community & Socially Engaged Arts, Guillermo Delgado and Assistant Professor, Cindy Hunter Morgan.
The AWP conference is many things. Sessions held throughout the conference include readings from widely known and lesser known writers while others are conversations and panels from a diverse range of people about a wide scope of topics. Throughout the weekend, a warehouse sized book fair takes place and writers can connect and exchange ideas while also purchasing books. This year’s conference was attended by over 12,000 writers. “The writers' whose books are on our shelves are the ones you might be standing next to you in the book fair,” said Anita Skeen, describing one of the many experiences of AWP.
One of the reasons for the Center for Poetry to be at AWP was to get their name out into the larger world of writers. It was important for the Center for Poetry “to have a presence in what is the largest gathering of writers in the country every year” said Professor Anita Skeen. This was also an opportunity to promote a new publishing project that the Center for Poetry has been working on over the past year. Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry that will be publishing poetry books through collaboration with MSU Press. It produces two books of poetry a year, one from an established poet and one from someone who has never before published a full length collection of poetry. “I wanted to get out and be visible,” Skeen said about bringing this work to AWP. She added, “My hope is that we will discover, with these first books, some really wonderful writers who haven’t been able to get published yet.”
Of course there were countless other reasons to go and it seems that every RCAH community member that attended AWP might have gotten something different out of the experience. “It keeps me fresh” says Professor Guillermo Delgado about attending AWP. This was Delgado’s fourth visit to AWP. “It’s an intense education for sure. It’s hands on.” While at AWP Delgado attended a variety of sessions. Some of these were pedagogically oriented and provided new material and perspectives that he can bring back into RCAH and his classroom. “I’m not teaching something I learned back in grad school. It keeps me current with the discourse”.
Attending AWP for the first time was RCAH senior, Sarah Teppen. She noted, “Through the Center for Poetry and with Anita [Skeen] I’ve come to embrace myself as a poet and I think my trip to AWP reflected that.” Sarah has worked with the Center for Poetry for three years now and has found the AWP experience to be incredibly rewarding. “I went to a lot of panels that talked about honing your craft which I probably wouldn’t have considered without the influence that I’ve had from the Center for Poetry.”
This was also RCAH senior Sydney Meadowcroft’s first attendance at AWP. “The variety of topics and how they all came together and related was really surprising” Meadowcroft said about the available sessions to attend at AWP. “There was everything from [perspectives on identities] to how to get published and how to talk to editors. Very different aspects of the writing world both the technical and the content wise.” AWP is also a place where a person can grow. Reflecting on her AWP experience, Sydney says, “I think I learned more about myself, too”. Finding sessions, topics, and people that she was interested in was largely an independent task. “That independence too was something I learned about myself."
Something that made the Center for Poetry stand apart from other groups at AWP was the fact that the Center for Poetry interns were undergraduate students. Out of the 12,000+ people at AWP, perhaps less than 100 of them were undergrads. “More undergraduates should go,” Skeen said, “I think it would make them appreciate the profession they’re going into more than perhaps they do when they’re freshmen or sophomores.” Guillermo Delgado expressed similar sentiments about undergraduate students attending the conference, “They need to be exposed to the national if not global literary scene. I think it’s really important that we create more opportunities for RCAH students, faculty and staff to attend events like [AWP].”
This was the first time that the Center for Poetry has been able to take students on a trip of this magnitude. Funds for the trip were provided by the RCAH, the Office for Undergraduate Research Studies, and the RCAH Center for Poetry.
Story by RCAH student Caileigh Grant.