12,000 people attended the Association of Writing and Writing Programs conference in Seattle this year. I didn’t know 11,998 of them. At first, that idea is disheartening because most of them have been published, have books, and have won major awards. Still, I only recognized two names going into the conference. After the initial day and the first few panels, I started to realize that no one here cared if they were famous. No one needed to be beloved by the masses. The people at AWP wanted to write, not be writers.
By that I mean most people have this preconceived notion about what a writer is: someone whose work is a best seller; someone who wins the Pulitzer; someone who publishes around the world. Not many people at AWP fit that description. I did see Gary Snyder, who was closest to that depiction, and being one of the two names I knew. I also saw and met Pamela Painter, who wrote a textbook I used. She hasn’t won a Pulitzer. Still, the advice and stories they gave both resonated with me, as well as countless other stories I heard throughout the four days.
The writers at AWP love writing. They love talking about it, learning about it, and most of all, doing it. I went to a panel of struggling writers (I felt I could relate), and even though they have not hit it big, they still write. They care about their books and poems. They want their work to go into the world, even if, as one writer said, just your grandma and aunts see it.
If there is one thing I’m taking away from AWP, it’s that it is possible to get your work out there. There are hundreds of lit mags and small presses, and someone will want to publish your work. It shouldn’t matter if that place is Ploughshares or Burnt District. As writers, we want to write and have our little written babies go out into the world. If we have drive and patience, they will, but there are forces beyond our control which determine just how “famous” we become. I know now that I will always be a member of the 12,000, and I will probably never give the keynote address at AWP. I am totally fine with that because, along with everyone else at AWP, I want to write more than I want to be a writer.