How to Survive AWP: Local Lit Luminary Sally Franson's Tips


By now, you've likely heard the chatter surrounding this weekend's riveting, four-day-long Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair. This year's AWP is set to attract over 11,000 attendees for a weekend of insightful panels, readings, craft lectures, and networking, with the most noteworthy organizations and opinion-makers in contemporary literature in town.

Aside from being the largest literary conference in North America, AWP is the perfect chance to brag to visitors about the talent within our Twin Cities' lit scene.

With so many events underway, one might feel overwhelmed by the options. Fret not; we're here to help. To assist you as you wade through the literary pool that is AWP, we caught up with Sally Franson, who teaches at the Loft Literary Center and the University of Minnesota. Not only will she be trying to fit all the lit-centric fun she can into one weekend, she will also be a panelist at a discussion about making the most of writers' residencies.

For those not familiar with the conference, why the buzz?

The annual AWP is to writers what ComicCon is to comic-book enthusiasts. It's basically a chance for a bunch of like-minded people to come together and nerd out over stuff that they don't have a chance to nerd out over during the course of normal human events: The street cred of various small presses, for example, or constructing plot, or poetic elements I've never even heard of, like 'prosody.'

There's also a celebrity element to it, just like at ComicCon. I think writers, even famous ones, or even ones who tend toward debilitating social anxiety, appreciate the support of a fan base and a space like AWP. Which is why I plan to tackle T.C. Boyle as soon as I spot him in the convention center.

What makes this conference and book fair the "essential destination" for those invested in the arts and literary network?

The star wattage alone is enough to make AWP a capital-B Big Deal: Karen Russell, Roxane Gay, not to mention hometown heroes like Louise Erdrich and my mentor, Charles Baxter. There's the book fair, which is like a ginormous job fair for people from small presses and lit mags who don't get paid anything -- they do it for the love! -- and onsite and offsite readings and panels covering every possible aspect of the literary arts and industry.

Oh, and of course there's the parties. We mustn't forget the parties. I mean, it wouldn't be a conference if we weren't getting drunk and making silly to poor decisions with people who live thousands of miles away.

We give out local guides for Art-A-Whirl and Northern Spark. This is event is so much more large. What would you suggest to help people find the readings, workshops, and lectures that peak their interests the most?

Well, first they will probably want to decide if they want to swing the conference registration fee which, unless they're students, is pretty hefty. If they do decide to dive in, they'll get a nice, over-sized schedule packet.

But if they don't, there's still plenty to do. I'd suggest following Revolver (@revolver_cares), Paper Darts(@PaperDarts), and Rain Taxi (@RainTaxiReview) on Twitter, since these are local folks who have their fingers on the pulse of pretty much everything worth doing this weekend. All three organizations are throwing their own events, too.

What's in store for you this weekend?

There are so many readings! Parties! Reunions! It's kind of overwhelming. You'll probably find me walking up and down Nicollet Mall by Saturday afternoon, tearing out the program and my hair, rendered insensate by the options. But -- here we go with a shameless self-promotion -- I'm also speaking on a panel on Friday morning about making the most of writers' residencies. It will be moderated by my pal and fellow U of M MFA alum, Colleen Coyne. So if you thought you didn't have plans yet for 9 a.m. this Friday morning -- think again! Come talk to us. Learn how awesome it is to leave your life for a month-plus at a time in order to go out into the wilderness and feel your giant feelings.

As someone so keyed into the local literary scene, how would you describe the evolution of the Twin Cities' literary scene and the direction it's headed?

I've been delighted by what I perceive to be a general trend in the literary scene as of late: a reorienting away from a kind of provincial insularity and style and toward -- I hope this doesn't sound pretentious -- capital-S Substance. All of the writers I know in town take their work very seriously, and are getting well-deserved recognition in the Cities and beyond. My friend Emma Torzs just won an O. Henry prize; Lara Avery's new novel is being published by Little, Brown this summer; and of course the presence of heavyweight independent publishing houses like Graywolf (those National Book Award darlings!), Coffee House, and Milkweed Editions are helping to cement the Twin Cities' reputation as a mecca for writers at every stage of their careers.


AWP Conference & Bookfair 2015 Wednesday through Saturday, April 8-11 For the full schedule click HERE. Visit the offsite event schedule for a listing of literary events taking place throughout the area during the conference.