Day Three #AWP21 reflections

AWP logo on a colorful background with balloonsI’m attending this year’s virtual Association Writing Programs conference and sat in on 4 discussions yesterday.

Here are some brief reflections on that experience.

It was a mixed bag kinda day

I attended the following:

  • Poetry and Science: Writing Our Way to Discovery

  • And Then They Clearly Flew Instead of Fell: Poets Writing Creative Nonfiction

  • Teaching Virtually During a Pandemic: Lessons Learned

  • Disabled & D/deaf Writers Caucus

Poetry and Science made my brain sing. This was a panel that shared writing with the purpose of philosophizing, teaching, and generating energy. I’m going to have to go back to this one and mine it again (thankfully, I have 30 days to replay what I read, saw or heard there). It was also distinctive in the fact that this discussion about science in poetry, led mostly by people who are practicing scientists, was paneled by WOMEN.


Poets Writing Creative Nonfiction didn’t do it for me. More old-school AWP: a glorified reading of the panelists’ works with very little discussion about the trappings of writing essays in a poetic style or writing poetry that takes on essay-like qualities. That was what I was there for.

HUGE EXCEPTION: You must-must-must get thee to LitHub for this mind-blowing, deeply dug work by Jennifer S. Cheng, “Hikikomori: Salt Constellations.” I have since had a brief side chat with her and I am now in awe of this celebrated writer. Thank you AGNI for publishing her work, my life truly is better for having experienced it. Her presentation is precisely what every presentation should be like. Human, generous, honest.

Also, to be fair, I’m a huge fan of Lia Purpura and it was a delight to see her and hear her work virtually.


Teaching Virtually ended up being focused on the interests of MFA program teachers. I am not one of the cool kids. I left after about a minute.


Oh, but the D&D Caucus!!!!!! I think that, after two recent AWPs under my belt, my true pathway for future attendance depends on the so-called “disability” track and the people who comprise the Disabled & D/deaf Writers Caucus.

Oh. My. Goodness. My people, all in one room.

It’s funny, as I don’t identify as “disabled” (but thank you for asking, Marlena Chertock, because it’s a great question!). I generally assign that identity to someone who actually receives legal disability. I have never filed for disability and would probably be turned down if I did. Not broken enough (by someone else’s standard).

I don’t want to hop onto that label when it seems to exist to support those who need it. Yes, I left a job because of my MS. Yes, I struggle with the symptoms of MS and they have changed my life in ways that I am still trying to properly articulate. But I still feel quite able to be mostly who I am, at least in this moment.

It was my first time attending the Caucus (I attended the DisLit Consortium reading in Portland in 2019, but not the Caucus) but it won’t be my last.

Hanging out in the Caucus linked me to my peers in a way that was pure delight and energy. People helping people, writers helping writers, and so much talent in that space. Some familiar faces (Hi, Jan!!!) and some new acquaintances and work to read.

This year, the virtual AWP approach has been a boon for us. None of the schlepping around a ginormous campus in pain and exhaustion, spending half our time in our hotel rooms sleeping off the fatigue hangover.

Will they continue a hybrid format with prerecorded options when the pandemic is past? Likely not. Not enough healthy people want to put in the time (that’s my opinion) and the organization claims it’s a budgetary thing. Yeah, what I hear is this: “We have technology to link people in ways like never before, and we’re not going to use it because of a few gimps.” Fight me.

But returning to the positive, I am definitely seeking out more networking with these fine folks in the off-AWP period.

The time to write about chronic illness, disability, trauma, invisible conditions, and life-changing injuries is now. We are in a watershed moment and the world needs these stories, even if the status quo may still wish to put us and our narratives into a special [ghetto] corner. That status quo will need our help when they hit the wall, whether due to age, accident, or surprise diagnosis. And we’ll be here for them, even when the status quo wasn’t there for us. Watch and wait, my friends.

Today I’m taking a day off, but have 3 or 4 events to attend tomorrow. Enjoy your Saturday!

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