Anxiety + Community = AWP

"Are you somebody?"

[Note: This post has nothing to do with snow. ]

AWP is like my Facebook feed.

It’s where I go to feel connected to and learn from other writer-teachers. So many panel topics! So many great discussions! Sometimes I just show up to listen and learn, taking notes. Sometimes I propose a panel and start a conversation. It’s often energizing and enriching. I’m part of a community, a profession, a discipline. If this is what it feels like to have “a calling,” to be doing the thing(s) you’re supposed to be doing in life, then that is what I feel like when I’m there at AWP, on Facebook.

But it’s also where I experience profound doses of professional anxiety. I observe things, hear things there that fill me with despair. It’s an environment full of Yardstick People against which I can’t help but measure my own accomplishments. In my head, there’s a constant battle going on between pride and humility, and the outcome determines nothing less than the state of my soul. It’s an incredibly, incredibly status conscious environment in which some have clout, while some are still in the hunt for it, and therefore flock like birds, like red-carpet fans, to Those Who Are Perceived to Have Clout.

Last year, writer Blake Butler posted this snippet at HTMLGiant: Overheard at AWP: “Are you somebody?”

This is a t-shirt-worthy observation.

Probably, this anxiety hits everyone, everywhere. Maybe middle-aged football coaches feel like this at the NFL Draft. And doctors at medical conferences. And salespeople at Hewlett Packard’s shareholder’s meeting. And actors at the SAG awards.

Last week, the writer Amber Sparks posted an essay at The Big Other about this, and it hit quite a nerve. Meg Pokrass created a great xtranormal animation on the topic, too.

Sometimes, I long for the days before Facebook, before websites and blogs and analytics and rankings, long for the days before I was a professional writer-teacher who attended conferences. I felt considerably less anxiety in those days. But I was also far less productive and often lonely.

In the spirit of embracing all that is positive about AWP and pushing back against all that is negative, here’s a list of the panels I think deserve your attention. I think these are the most important discussions taking place at AWP.

Thursday’s full schedule

Noon.-1:15 p.m

The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. (Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Paul Morris) Diplomat Ballroom Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

What Do Writers Do All Day?: Articulating Our Work in the Profession. (James Engelhardt, Stephanie Vanderslice, Kathryn Miles, Christine Stewart-Nunez, J.D. Schraffenberger) Coolidge Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

3:00 p.m.-4:15 p.m.

The Art and Authenticity of Social Media: Using Online Tools to Grow a Community. (Jane Friedman, Tanya Egan Gibson, Guy Gonzalez, Bethanne Patrick, Christina Katz) Delaware Suite Room Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

I think this is the most important panel at AWP.

Creative Writing and the University: A Conversation with Mark McGurl. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Mark McGurl, Eileen Pollack, Tracy Daugherty, Dean Bakopoulos, Nathaniel Minton) Diplomat Ballroom Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby


9:00 a.m.-10:15 p.m.

The Good Review: Criticism in the Age of Book Blogs and (Jeremiah Chamberlin, Charles Baxter, Stacey D Erasmo, Gemma Sieff, Keith Taylor) Delaware Suite Room Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

The Future of Creative Writing in the Academy. (Terry Ann Thaxton, Joe Amato, Philip Gerard, Nigel McLoughlin, Lisa Roney, Kass Fleisher) Harding Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Noon.-1:15 p.m

Memoir, Spirituality and the Self in the Narcissistic Culture of Our Time. (Elizabeth Kadetsky, Rodger Kamenetz, Farideh Goldin, Julia Spciher Kasdorf, Executive Room, Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

3:00 p.m.-4:15 p.m.

These are both very important panels. Very important.

Does the Writing Workshop Still Work? (Dianne Donnelly, Graeme Harper, Anna Leahy, Patrick Bizzaro, Mary Ann Cain, Katharine Haake) Harding Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Flinging the Ink Pot: Resisting Messages About Off-Limits Subjects in Memoir. (Jill Christman, Kate Hopper, Paul Lisicky, Joe Mackall, Sue William Silverman) Thurgood Marshall North Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Don’t Call Me Mother. (Ellen Placey Wadey, Jan Beatty, Miki Howald, Geeta Kothari) Nathan Hale Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level



Small Ships, Deep Ocean: Independent Presses Keep Short Story Collections Afloat. (Clifford Garstang, Mary Akers, Laura van den Berg, Jason Ockert, Jim Ruland) Thurgood Marshall South Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

Finding and Creating Online Teaching Opportunities and Sustaining and Succeeding in Them. (Erika Dreifus, Sage Cohen, Andrew Gray, Michael Morse, Chlo Yelena Miller, Scott Warnock) Virginia C Room Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Noon.-1:15 p.m

Poetry as Multimedia Documentary. (Susan B.A. Somers-Willett, Kwame Dawes, Erika Meitner, Natasha Trethewey, Ted Genoways) Delaware Suite Room Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

As Long As People Write: Training and Supporting New Writing Teachers. (Sarah Harris, Crystal Fodrey, Ben Ristow) Nathan Hale Room Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

3:00 p.m.-4:15 p.m.

I don’t know if this is necessarily an important panel, but it’s the one I’m on. Hope to see you there.

Linking It Up: Working with Story Cycles, Linked Collections, and Novels-in-Stories. (Anne Sanow, Cathy Day, Clifford Garstang, Dylan Landis) Harding Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level


CW Programs Teaching Writing


  1. Diana says:

    I wish I could be there. I’m really interested in the panel on Resisting Off Limit Topics in Memoir–if you go to that one, will you tell me about it?

    Have a great time, Cathy!

  2. Sonya Huber says:

    Cathy- THANK YOU so much for this post, and also for the cheat sheet about a great roster of panels. I’m basically printing this out to go to these. I was despairing about craft panels telling me what is going on in nonfiction, feeling like I ought to go and hear them. when the reality is that I already know, and I don’t need to immerse myself in that talk. You’re right. The big questions about the state of CW in the academy are huge and might be very productive.

  3. Laura says:

    Thanks for this honest post. I’m not at AWP this year (Chicago 2012, here I come) but I can just imagine the anxiety. Some of those sessions look pretty great.

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