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by Hedgebrook Guest

Spring is in the air and that means the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is just around the corner. This is the one literary event I bookmark in my calendar years in advance, and for which I schedule everything else around; it’s a must-attend event in my books.

I often speak about what opportunities writers may find during AWP. Yet in addition to the socializing, schmoozing, and general knowledge intake, there are also countless ways in which to exercise literary citizenship. But what is literary citizenship? And why, of all places, would a writer elect to spend time doing activities seemingly unrelated to her own particular writing path?

Simply put, literary citizenship is a topical term for engaging in the community with the intent of giving as much as, if not more so, than we take. Our literary world is a social ecosystem that relies on others: readers, writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, booksellers, and so on. The writing and publishing world is one made of relationships. Writing itself may be a somewhat solitary activity, but once the story or poem is ‘done’ we rely on others to read, share, and publish our work. Yet there are so many levels of participation from others in this community. We turn to others for support after rejection; we hope others celebrate alongside our successes. We hope to develop positive connections with readers and editors; we long to feel a part of this community that has called us in some way to participate.

Literary citizenship calls on our acts of giving, of giving back to the ecosystem, so that we may actively ensure its sustainability. The beautiful thing is that it needn’t take much time or skill to offer something of ourselves, of our passions, to others. Simple acts of literary citizenship can include reviewing another’s book, helping set up a reading event, proofreading a peer’s draft, or simply showing up at an event and being mindfully present. These acts of kindness needn’t cost us a thing; the best ‘gifts,’ as in other aspects of life, come from an authentic place within.

Contributing to, and impacting, the literary world is something we can offer outside of our own selves, and yet it benefits our personal goals and ambitions as we can’t help but grow as writers, as people, when we step outside of our writing dens and into the buzz of literary culture.

How, then, might a writer participate as a literary citizen during AWP? The organization itself has a number of volunteer opportunities to assist with the conference, but there are simple activities anyone, from any walk of literary life, can take under her wing during those few fast-paced days:

  • help a bookfair exhibitor hand out materials and attract passers-by for an hour
  • or, merely cover a coffee or lunch break for a bookfair exhibitor
  • offer your time to an off-site reading and help set up chairs
  • approach exhibitors you don’t know to introduce yourself to something new
  • ask a journal how you can volunteer as a book reviewer or marketing assistant
  • seek out publishers and writers from your region you can help in some way when you both return home
  • introduce people you know to others you just met; help make connections
  • take photos of panels and speakers and then send them to those speakers
  • when you meet a representative from a journal or publisher that doesn’t work with your genre, consider who you know that would find them a perfect fit and make that introduction
  • most of all, engage: be helpful to newbies who need directions in and outside of the conference; make it a goal to come away from the conference having met at least three or four new people—and then make a point of contacting these folks after the conference winds down

AWP hosts a world of opportunities—for enhancing your own writing life and for engaging with others throughout the year. Yes, it’s a somewhat hectic place with too much to do and too many people to meet, and yet that’s precisely why it’s a goldmine for making things happen, for meeting new people and jumpstarting relationships that can extend throughout the year, and throughout your life as a writer.


About the Author:

LAMay_Credit CT Shier - Hedgebrook

Lori A. May is an author, editor, and instructor. Her writing may be found in publications such as The Atlantic, Brevity, and Writer’s Digest. She is the author of six books, including The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life (Bloomsbury) and The Low-Residency MFA: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum). Lori teaches in the MFA program at the University of King’s College-Halifax, and in the MA/MFA programs at Wilkes University. Canadian by birth and disposition, with a soft spot for Detroit, Lori now lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. For more info, visit www.loriamay.com.


*This piece was adapted from an original post that appeared on The Write Life, a blog for MFA writing students at Wilkes University, and can be accessed here: https://wilkeswritelife.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/awp-an-opportunity-to-exercise-literary-citizenship/



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1 Comment

  • Michele Lowe
    4:48 PM - 13 March, 2015

    Thanks for posting this! AWP sounds like a great event.

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