• Ellen Cassedy
  • [TIPS OF THE TRADE] AWP Writers’ Conference: I’m on my way
[TIPS OF THE TRADE] AWP Writers’ Conference: I’m on my way
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
February 2014
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
February 2014

The AWP Conference is coming up in Seattle next week (February 26-March 1), and I’m in a bit of a frenzy getting ready for it. 


The annual blockbuster event draws a crowd of more than 12,000 writers and readers.  Its hundreds of panels cover fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, writing for children and young adults, poetry, pedagogy, publishing, technology, and lots more. Dozens of readings and a massive book exhibition round out the program.


It’s pretty overwhelming – which is why I’m running around like crazy doing the advance work that I’ve learned is vitally important.


I started out by going through the entire agenda, panel by panel and reading by reading, and making up my own customized schedule.  


I chose a variety of sessions. Some will help me develop my craft. Some will inform me about trends in the literary world. Some will nurture my sense of belonging to a literary community. And some just sing to me. Here are my picks: 


  • How many readers is enough? “In a world of marketing, how do we maintain our ties to the less tangible incentives for writing, such as connecting with readers?”
  • Wild new ideas for book events. 
  • Plot in fiction. I don’t write fiction, but Alice Mattison, one of my favorite writers, is on the panel.
  • Poets writing about nature. Again, not my field, but doesn’t it sound mind-expanding and sustaining?
  • Writing to change the world.
  • The fine art of constructive praise.


Of course I’ll also be sure to show up at a few panels about blogging, Twitter, and Amazon. And I won’t miss the readings by celebrities: Annie Proulx, Amy Tan, Ursula LeGuin.


I’ll be participating in a session myself – the Grub Street National Book Prizewinners Reading. I won the Grub Street prize in 2013 for my book, We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust, and will be reading along with three previous Grub Street winners, Sheri JosephRick Barot, and Reiko Rizzuto. The wonderful Christopher Castellani will moderate.

How to make the most of the reading? I sent out email invitations to people I’d met at past writers’ conferences. I posted notices on the Facebook pages of writers’ communities I’m connected to. And at the reading itself, I’ll invite people to come up afterward – to chat, to receive a copy of my handout for memoir writers, to sign up to receive my occasional e-newsletters.


For me, one-on-one conversations are a vital part of any conference experience. That’s why, on my way through the agenda, I kept an eye out for familiar names. Among others, I found the author of a book of essays about the Holocaust, whom I’ve always wanted to meet, and a reader for the University of Nebraska Press, my publisher, who’d made wise suggestions about my manuscript.  I emailed them to ask about meeting for coffee. 


I’m also expecting to meet new people. One great and unexpected encounter occurred two years ago at the AWP conference in Chicago, when my friend Nancy K. Miller invited me to dinner with Kamy Wicoff, the founder of She Writes. Kamy invited both of us to write blog posts.  “Who Cares about Your Family Story?  Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will Care” was my first, and I’ve been writing my monthly [TIPS OF THE TRADE] blog here on She Writes ever since.


Outside the convention hall, I’ll be speaking to a Seattle book club, bringing a short PowerPoint slide show with me to start off the discussion. I’ve also arranged to meet several of my readers who live in Seattle – people who got in touch with me through my website, with whom I’ve been corresponding ever since about Lithuania and its Jewish history, the subject of my book. 


Four days at the AWP conference: yikes!  My guess is that it will feel like total 24-hour immersion in the She Writes home page, except way noisier and with way more men (related?).

No doubt I’ll be retreating to my room periodically to look at my notes, nap…and maybe read a book or two.   


For more on getting the most out of a writers’ conference, take a look at my previous post, “Top Ways to Make a Writers’ Conference Work for You.”


Stay tuned!  I’ll look forward to reporting back about some of those interesting panels.


*  *  *

Ellen Cassedy’s book is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), which won the 2013 Grub Street National Book Prize for non-fiction, the 2013 Towson Prize for Literature awarded annually to a resident of Maryland, and the 2012 Silver Medal in History awarded by ForeWord Reviews. Her first post for SheWrites was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly. See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.

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  • Ellen Cassedy

    Maybe we'll see one another there, Cairo.  Would love to see you at my reading with Grub Street, 12 noon on Thursday, Feb. 27. 

  • Cairo Amani

    Good stuff! I'll be headed to AWP next week. Good luck with everything and thanks for this!