Michelle Politiski: On AWP
Spectrum's current Editor-in-Chief Michelle Politiski shares her experience representing Spectrum at AWP.
Many writers, small presses, graduate programs, and literary journals make the pilgrimage to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference. In case you haven’t been a part of the literary Twittersphere for long and witnessed the myriad of hashtags, memes, and commentary that takes place there, here’s a breakdown of what it’s like to exhibit at AWP as the Editor-in-Chief of an undergraduate staffed literary journal.
AWP, unlike many literary conferences, has no specific niche in mind; attendees include independent writers of all genres, representatives from various publications and institutions, and the occasional rogue Saturday-only book fair cruiser. Because of some folks’ inherent distrust in the literary taste of undergrads, selling yourself matters.
Undergrad journals as a whole are massively underrepresented at this conference, and for notable reasons. Very few undergraduate-staffed journals have the sort of funding it takes to pay the table registration fee, fly students to an often out-of-state destination, and pay for their lodging and expenses. Spectrum is very lucky to have resources within the College of Creative Studies and the broader UCSB administration that allow us to make this trip annually. With as many grants and fellowships as we were able to be a part of this year, my fellow editors and I were able to make the most of the invaluable AWP experience.
But of course, no amount of funding is ever quite enough funding. As we perused through the book fair upon our arrival to the convention center, we saw that almost every booth or table had shipped their books to the conference ahead of time. There was something uniquely endearing about being among the youngest exhibitors at the conference, searching for our table space in a numbering scheme that made no sense while schlepping a carry-on sized suitcase of journals with one hand and a lukewarm Dutch Bros coffee with the other. If there is anything that characterizes the bootstrap-pulling aesthetic of the undergrad journal experience for me, it was that moment.
AWP is a valuable experience for any writer, small press, or journal. People taking your card, even if they promptly dispose of it when the book fair closes, means something. Spectrum sold a few issues and made a few impressions, but more importantly, we had the opportunity to meet some of our contributors and others with connections who will help keep our journal alive and well. However often the editorial board may change, it’s the people who continue reading our journal and supporting Spectrum that keep the train rolling long after us editors graduate.