Writers meet up in DC for annual conference
BY TODD GONDA, COPY CHIEF
This year several Mason organizations attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference and book fair from Feb. 8 to 11 in Washington D.C.
The Mason organizations that attended were Phoebe, Mason’s literary journal; So to Speak, Mason’s feminist literary journal; Gazing Grain, a feminist press staffed by Mason alumni; and Stillhouse Press, a student and faculty-staffed independent press that operates in collaboration with Fall For the Book and Mason’s creative writing program.According to AWP’s website, the conference is “an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers.”
Much like other professional conferences, AWP features panels by experts in the field—famous writers, poets, editors, agents and more. Unlike other conferences, however, the panels at AWP sometimes resemble panels from conventions, such as ComicCon.
On Feb. 9, four levels underground in the Marriott Marquis next to the convention center, the conference hosted a panel on the author H. P. Lovecraft called “The Infinite in the Finite: One Hundred Years of H. P. Lovecraft’s Legacy.” The panel consisted of five fiction writers discussing the horror writer’s effect on pop culture and their own writing.
In addition to panels, the conference also hosts a large book fair. According to AWP’s website, last year, the book fair hosted more than 800 presses and literary organizations and more than 12,000 people attended.
This year, several Mason organizations came together to form their own booth at the book fair. Dubbed the “superbooth” by Stillhouse Press’ Twitter account, the booth featured three tables set back against the wall with tables on both ends forming a clear division between the superbooth and other booths nearby.
Doug Luman, a graduate student in Mason’s MFA program for creative writing as well as art director for Stillhouse Press and poetry editor for Phoebe, said Stillhouse is “a student-managed, student-run, student-designed press at George Mason that is not a university press, but… basically operate[s] using space and the students at the university.”
Additionally, Stillhouse ran a whiteboard campaign that asked attendees to the book fair about writing’s role in 2017. According to Mason English Professor and Stillhouse Press Editorial Advisor Scott Berg, writing’s role is “the same as it ever was.”
In addition to Stillhouse Press, the Mason superbooth featured Gazing Grain press and the journals So to Speak and Phoebe. Gazing Grain is a feminist press founded by Mason alumni and sponsored by the Fall for the Book literary festival. So to Speak is a feminist literary journal edited by students in the creative writing MFA program at Mason. In addition to writing, they also publish art.
Phoebe, on the other hand, “is a literary journal that doesn’t really have one guiding aesthetic, it is a general catch-all journal that publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry,” Luman said. According to Phoebe’s website, the journal began in 1971 and publishes both in print and online.
Their section of the booth featured a spinning wheel that could reward visitors with old editions of the journals, give visitors a piece of candy or force the students working at the booth to compose a poem on the spot.
Junior Jennifer Squires, a communication major and media intern at Stillhouse Press, said she believes the conference is a good event to attend if you’re a budding writer.
“There are a lot of opportunities here, especially if you want to go into the writing business. There are a lot of internship opportunities, and there are a lot of panels that you can go to where you learn a lot about the industry and meet a lot of… agents and top-tier publishers,” Squires said.
Luman agreed that attending the conference is a great way to learn about the writing world.
“AWP is really a way for you to get used to what the writing world looks like… the benefit to coming here is to find out what your role might be, whether it’s professional, artistic, whether it’s the marketing side, production side [or] editorial side,” Luman said.
English Professor Roger Lathbury also attended the conference. As the owner of Orchises Press, his own small press, he said his goal was to make his press better known, to make and meet friends and to see what ideas he could steal to further boost Orchises’ reputation.
By attending AWP, students can expect to experience “the sense of a literary community,” Lathbury said, “as a vibrant and more various place than academe can convey.”