I’m not sure who “AWP Is Us” is addressed to.* It can’t be me Kate Gale of Red Hen Press is pointing at. I went to Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference once in 2014, when it was in Seattle and I could carpool and stay at a friend’s house rather than paying for transportation and hotel. I was in a master’s program so I qualified for the very reasonable student rate ($50).
AWP 2016 is at the end of March in Los Angeles. If I were to book right now, airfare from here to LA would be a little over $200 (not bad, but would get more expensive the longer I waffled). Early bird nonmember registration is $240 and tops out at $300 closer to the event. Maybe I could figure out a friend I could stay with in LA, but I’d probably be best off in a hotel where I don’t have to impose and can network with other attendees. The cheapest conference-blocked room is $179, which I could probably split with someone, but that doesn’t include taxes or fees. At a conservative estimate, I’d be spending $900 to attend, if I ate cheaply and didn’t drink. (Ha!)
AWP isn’t anyone who doesn’t have $900 to blow. I think that’s most people, including myself until just recently. Now that I have a job that pays me a solidly middle-class salary, in theory, I could make this happen, but I’m going to be paying that and much more to get my collapsing spine worked on instead. It’s a matter of priorities. (I’m not disabled yet, but isn’t this freak out related to AWP not accepting any proposals related to disability?)
My friends that are going to AWP 2016 had panel proposals accepted and are attending on a reduced rate (but not for free), so I guess I have some friends that are AWP. This blog post isn’t about judging them for their investment, but they’re also not the ones claiming AWP is for everyone. They’re great people and AWP is better off for them being here.
Another friend, a queer women of color, asked her white writer friends (that means me) to confront this white woman (Gale) who holds power over her future as a writer. Kate Gale is a managing editor of a small press, an MFA professor, and board member of important writing-related foundations and societies.
This is a difficult task. Not so much because I’m worried about hurting someone’s feelings or ruining my chances of publication and influence in the writing world—It’s just difficult to respond to “AWP Is Us” because the essay is a not-very-coherent flurry of self-righteousness. (You’re an MFA professor and you should have known better. Maybe you should have taken this through a workshop first.) Why is she talking about someone getting on a horse and shooting American Indians? Why is she worried about measuring percentage of Jewish heritage of attendees (and possibly alluding to the Holocaust)? She’s being hyperbolic, I know, but if she can’t find concrete problems, what is she complaining about? (This what she is accusing others of doing, complaining about problems that she thinks are exaggerated and can’t see by herself.)
“One of the complaints lobbed at AWP is for not enough inclusion of different groups, another is for more transparency,” she laments. In order for organizations to stay relevant, they must respond to criticisms from their constituents and potential constituents and change. If AWP is always changing to be more inclusive, it is always changing for the better. (How about making it free for presenters and subsidizing travel and room costs if they demonstrate need? That would open the conference up to a lot more perspectives.)
At AWP 2014, a few WOC warned me to stay away from Red Hen Press because a man at the table had said something of benevolent racism to one of them. No, I don’t remember what it was (and you’ll probably believe me because I’m white), but yes, it was racist. I will not submit my work to Red Hen because of that. (Not that they’d want me anyway.) I am not Red Hen Press.
ALSO! I encourage you to read this response by Karrie Higgins, a writer with epilepsy.
*The original text has been replaced with an apology, but you can see it as a screenshot, here.