Fifty degrees, sunny, and a coffee shop at every corner. Co Editor in Chief Eric Best and I were in Seattle, Washington, attending the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference from February 26 to March 1. Ivory Tower had received a grant of $1,000 from the Student Union Association as well as two travel grants from the English department in order to send two people to the conference. Our objectives were to network with publishing professionals and writers as well as to come back with panel ideas that Ivory Tower could propose for AWP 2015, which will be held here in Minneapolis.
Before we could attend this behemoth of a literary convention, we needed to actually fund the trip. I spent the fall semester drafting the grant proposals and budget list for the applications. When I received the email that we had gotten the grants, I was excited and overwhelmed. I was getting an opportunity to fly to the west coast and submerse myself in the literary community.
The good weather in Seattle framed our trip to the biggest literary conference in North America. Eric and I walked to the Washington Convention Center from our hotel and spent our first full day there volunteering in order to receive free admission to the conference. I spent four hours at a help desk at the nearby Sheraton, where a few panels were held, directing the convention-goers to their desired locations and their answering questions. By the end of my shift, I knew how to give directions to the Washington Convention Center, the nearest coffee shop, the Fed Ex store, and how to say, "no, the hotel does not validate parking."
After our shifts were done, Eric and I attended a panel together about trends in literary publishing that emphasized the importance of having an online presence prior to marketing a publication. We then parted ways afterward and attended panels based on our own personal interests. I sat in on one called "You're Doing it Wrong: Grant Writing 101" and took notes on the important details grant reviewers look for in applications, and other information I could include in the 2014 Ivory Tower Handbook about the grant application process. Later, I browsed the book fair and talked to the folks at Rain Taxi, a quarterly review based in Minneapolis, as well as a variety of other reviews. On our second full day, we both attended Graywolf Press's Fortieth Anniversary panel. Graywolf has a large literary following here in Minnesota and we wanted to support the community back home even though we were nearly 1,400 miles away in Seattle. The panel consisted of readings from Tess Gallagher, Mary Szybist, Leslie Jamison, Ru Freeman, and Justin Hocking as well as a retelling of the origins of Graywolf Press from Tree Swenson. The combination of poetry, essays, and fictional work framed the history of the press and showed the diversity of work coming out of Graywolf. At the end of the panel, we moved out of the packed room and headed down to the book fair. I picked up a book from Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane, that she read an excerpt out of during the panel. The authors from Graywolf were down at their booth, and Eric and I had an opportunity to talk to them and get our books signed. Later, we explored the undergraduate and graduate literary magazine booths, chatting with other students that were also on the staff of a literary magazine and browsing through their latest issues. During the whole trip, we tweeted about AWP, sometimes peeking at the giant Twitter feed set up by the registration area hoping to catch our tweets on the board before we left. The next day was our last day. That morning, we checked out of the hotel with bags stuffed full of fliers, literary magazines, books, and ideas for a panel proposal for AWP 2015.
Arriving back home in reality, where we were not surrounded by 20,000 writers or lovers of the literary arts at all hours of the day, Eric and I were able to share with our class what we learned at the panel and how it can apply to Ivory Tower. We learned tips for successful online marketing, networked, how to improve our grant applications, generated panel ideas based on the ones we attended, and met other students who are working toward the same goals we are: to produce a literary magazine by the end of the year that included talented writers and artists whose work we thought was compelling, unique, and complex. In spring of 2015, look for Ivory Tower staff and alumni at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis.