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Rebecca Bates: The Many Faces of the AWP Attendee

February 7, 2011

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By **Rebecca Bates**

rsz_bates.jpgMy first AWP conference was less than fun. It was exhausting and I can’t read a map. In a lot of ways, I also found the idea of a literary tradeshow to be counter-intuitive. I’ve always thought of reading and writing as incredibly private, so it seems strange to me that one’s ability to schmooze should factor in at all. Moreover, by participating in such an all-consuming, insular event, one runs the risk of being temporarily disconnected from the rest of the world (I happened to be getting some fresh air just as a parade of anti-Mubarak demonstrators marched down Connecticut Avenue, but how many others saw it?).

However, I did manage to construct a kind of people-watching checklist. This is by no means a comprehensive profile, just a collection of gems I found littered throughout the conference.

The Eager Beaver

The Eager Beaver.JPG

Also known as Rabid Fan, Eager Beaver can be found at AWP’s bookfair, relentlessly trying to force a connection with his favorite writer. “OMG I’m also so interested in the disembodied poetics inherent in the mathematics of light waves. We should totally swap work some time!” The Eager Beaver will purposely monopolize the time and attention of his love object so that he or she is unable to converse with other conference attendees.

Signs to look for: hand over heart to physically convey depth of his feeling for writer; writer’s inability to hide fading interest and growing discomfort.

The Guerilla Poet

The Poet.jpg

This guy wants you to hear his work. He wants you to hear his work bad. He wants needs you to hear his work, and he doesn’t care if you want to hear his work because, by god, he’s going to read his work, and there’s nothing you can do to stop him. He’ll read to anyone who has some kind of aural capacity, be they conference attendees, hapless passersby, or a pair of sleeping cheetahs at the nearby zoo (as the subject of this photo did).

The Hopefuls

The Desperate Hipsters.jpg

Similar in philosophy and mission to Guerilla Poet, Hopefuls are young, emerging writers who are desperate to be taken seriously. They tend to roam in packs of three or four, pausing in strategic areas throughout the conference location so as to maximize the number of people forced to eavesdrop on their conversations about their own work. “Oh yeah? Well I just submitted my short story to Washington Square’s annual fiction contest. It’s about a Vassar grad struggling to make it as a copy editor in the big city—in the style of Jesse Ball, of course.”

Signs to look for: Aside from the traits mentioned, Hopefuls are shameless committers of mean-mugging. That is, they often glare menacingly at other packs of Hopefuls to establish a position of power and dominance during the conference. Note the blatant mean-mugging captured above.

The Red Pants

There are so many people in fucking red pants.

The First-Timer

The First-Timer.JPG

The AWP virgin is in a constant daze. The hotel is really big, see, and he’s just not sure if he should go to panels about inscribing the body of the female libertine or publishing the long poem or manipulating hypertext fiction or the use of social media in branding himself as an author. Also, he doesn’t know where his friends are, and he can’t call them because he doesn’t get any reception inside, so he’s just going to stand right here until some divine force tells him what to do next.

Signs to look for: unfocused, dilated pupils; using a wall to support body weight (variations include First-Timer slumped on the floor against the wall or passed out in a lobby armchair); tattered conference booklet due to frantic searching for next activity.

The Veteran

The Veteran (Dog).jpg

(This asshole has apparently brought his dog to AWP four years in a row. Please note that he is also wearing red pants.)

The Veteran attendee thinks of the conference the way 10 year-olds think of camp. He has friends he’s made at AWP who he sees once a year, usually because his university’s bookfair table consistently happens to be located next to theirs. However, these conference-friends will forget about him within hours of AWP’s conclusion and won’t talk to him again until the following year. He’ll spend the interim months alone, with only his rat of a dog to keep him company.


As I said before, there are certainly many more AWP types I could profile here, but the conference is finally over, and I have a life to get back to.

Copyright 2011 Rebecca Bates

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Rebecca Bates is the blog editor at Guernica. Read her last Q&A here. Read her last post here. She can also be found on Twitter.

To read more blog entries from GUERNICA click HERE .

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