AWP: A Wildly Portland Weekend

Oregon Convention Center by Amber McGee

This past week I got to experience my first Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. It’s funny—before winter term, I had never heard of this event. Yet after my professors described it as “Comic Con for writers” I decided that I better go. Technically I’ve only been a Creative Writing major for one term, so compared to my classmates and everyone else at the conference I felt like a baby. Being 20 and unable to go to any readings or off-site events at bars helped with that too, but luckily it all worked out in the end. There’s so much I could talk about, but I’ll try to cover the panels I went to and any other big highlights.


My friend Matthew and I took a Greyhound to Portland on Wednesday. It was my first time traveling this way, but it wasn’t as exciting as I’d thought it’d be. Which in a way is good, I suppose. When we arrived in Portland it was already late afternoon, so we went to Powell’s and got dinner instead of registering. Totally not a mistake, right?

Portland Street by Amber McGee


It was a mistake. No matter how early you get to conventions it will never be early enough. A valiant lone security guard tried to organize the registration line, but it never lasted long. I missed an early morning panel I wanted to go to because of waiting in line.

Matthew and I explored the bookfair after being registered, and I received an ARC of a book you’ll be seeing a review of soon! I ended up tagging along with him to a panel on Poetry Comics, which turned out to be interesting even though poetry isn’t my forte or focus.

After that panel I went to the So You Think You Need A Website panel. Needless to say, expect some major renovations to this site during the summer. I have three pages of notes for reference.

I went to the Afrofuturism panel next. It was enlightening not only on the concept, but how its meaning has evolved. One panelist—Dr. Reynaldo Anderson—reminded me of a certain family member with how he structured his thoughts and opinions. I mean this in a good way, of course.

Lastly, I went to the LGBT Writers Caucus. Since this is my first time at AWP a lot of the improvements they talked about were unknown to me, but it was still nice to hear how far the conference has come. Unfortunately I couldn’t go any farther that day, as the mixer afterwards was at a bar, and, again, I am a 20 year old baby.


The Coast is Queer panel was a nice way to begin the day. The selected pieces of reading were all amazing, and hearing authors talk about living in Cascadia in such loving tones only makes me want to stay up here even more. That and the good old foggy mountain aesthetic.

The Darker Fiction panel was crowded, but still enjoyable. I like exploring character flaws, so it was cool to hear other people’s opinions on writing unlikeable characters. I got a lot of new book recommendations from this panel too.

The Genderqueer Writers panel was not what I was expecting in terms of talking about experiences writing genderqueer characters or interactions with publishers/readers, but it was still informative and fun. Plus, it introduced me to Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia and Jacq Greyja, so I think that more than makes up for things.

Writing the Middle of Your Novel was another crowded panel. It got so crowded in fact that it’s the only panel where I left early, lest I overheat from standing in the back, against a wall and squeezed between like four people. The panel itself was extremely entertaining, though, and I got some good notes down.

The last panel of my AWP experience was Linked Short Stories, or Story Cycles. I’ve been contemplating whether to turn one of my series ideas into a short story collection, so I hoped this panel would give me some insight. It did, but I still have no idea what I’ll do with my series. I may write a separate thing of linked short stories in the far, far future though.

Reading Haul by Amber McGee

There was some fun after I finished my panels that involved exploring Portland, eating overpriced bougie pizza, cookie dough, and buying some books from Powell’s, but I think I’ve stretched everyone’s attention spans for now.

. . .

Even though I only got to experience two days of AWP, it’s an experience I won’t forget. I think I’m starting to get a better grasp on what I’d like to do in the future, and I already have multiple flyers for various internship opportunities to check out. So here’s hoping things go up from here on!

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