How I Answered the AWP Survey

How I Answered the AWP Survey

Take the survey! You have until March 22. It’s important. I filled it out the other day, and I found that I had so much to say in that little comment module I decided to cut and paste it into a document and share it with you. FYI: I also provided my email address on the survey, so I didn’t say all this stuff to them anonymously.

[Question 21. We welcome any additional comments, feedback, and suggestions you would like to share with us through this survey or at]

–YOU HAVE TO BOOK THIS CONFERENCE IN A SPACE THAT PROVIDES *FREE* WIRELESS INTERNET IN BOTH THE HOTEL ROOMS AND IN THE CONFERENCE PANEL ROOMS, BOOK FAIR, ETC. Seriously. You just have to. (I organized my panel thinking that the audience would have access to the web. They did not. And this sort of blows my mind a little.)

–Cancelling the Pedagogy Forum had the unfortunate result of putting some apprentice teachers who don’t have much to say yet in huge, largely empty ballrooms. Apprentice teachers need to meet and learn from other apprentice teachers. How can we better assist MFA students who are trying to professionalize themselves as teachers?

–The best panels I went to were comprised of people who’d prepared something to say, but kept it short enough so that a conversation could follow. I understand why AWP directs panelists NOT to prepare and read long papers, but I’d rather have that than off-the-cuff banter. I come to learn, not be entertained. I’m pleased to say that all the panels I went to were well-organized, and all but one was thoroughly engaging.

–Once upon a time, the acronym AWP stood for ASSOCIATION OF WRITING PROGRAMS, but at some point (I can’t find the year this happened), this was changed to include ASSOCIATION OF WRITERS AND WRITING PROGRAMS. This signaled an important (and positive) shift in the AWP’s focus and overall reach. While I’m REALLY happy that the independent publishing scene has a strong presence at the Book Fair, and I’m REALLY happy we offer top-notch, marquee-quality readings to the public, I often feel that the old “W” and “P” in AWP (WRITING PROGRAMS) gets short shrift in all the hoopla. Let me explain.

–AWP is the governing body of, the professional meeting of WRITERS IN ACADEMIA. I come to AWP in large part to recharge my batteries and engage with others in my profession. I go to other kinds of conferences and events to engage with writers in general. At AWP, I find that the panels devoted to pedagogy, program administrations, and other professionalization issues of importance to me are sparsely attended. This is not your fault, but by opening the door to WRITERS in general, which is a good thing, we also remove a lot of focus from the fact that WE ARE AN ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE.

–Seemingly, we want one foot in academia and one foot out, and there are benefits to this stance, but also some negative consequences, too.  To ameliorate those consequences, I suggest choosing two keynote speakers—a headliner, one who isn’t in academia (like Margaret Atwood) who can speak to the W=Writers crowd, and an opening act, one who IS in academia, who is publishing well AND teaches well AND who is or has run a program (like Charles Baxter, Michael Byers, Richard Bausch, Porter Shreve, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Lan Samantha Change, Sven Birkerts, Robin Hemley, A. Manette Ansay) who could speak to the WP=Writing Program crowd. You might say that the winner of the George Garrett Prize is this person, but that award is for “Community Service,” not for being a professional academic writer-teacher with things to say about that profession. If you’re worried that an address to the WP crowd will “alienate” the W crowd, I say, too bad. I truly believe that our discipline cannot gain better traction within academia unless we try harder to “discipline-ize” ourselves. The risk, yes, is that we become that which we hate, but we have chosen to ensconce ourselves in academia, and academia seems to be waiting for us to decide: Are we in, or are we out? How we orchestrate our conference demonstrates that commitment (or lack thereof).

I believe in AWP. This conference, which I’ve been attending since 1998, has helped me grow as a writer and as a college professor. Thank you.

[Did you go to AWP? You should take the survey, too!]

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