Adventures in Portland: Rock & Sling at AWP 2019

By Gabriel Meek

Eight students and three professors spent a good portion of their spring break in Portland for AWP, representing Whitworth’s in-house literary journal, Rock & Sling. AWP is the Association of Writers and writing Programs, and it puts on a humongous literary conference each year. The conference holds hundreds of panels, featuring thousands of writers and editors, contains a book fair with over eight hundred lit mags and presses, and is attended by over 12,000 people. 

For an introverted, first-time attendee like myself with no real grasp for what the conference would be like, it was a little overwhelming to say the least.

However, it was overwhelming in a good way. I was surrounded by books, lit mags, fellow writers, coffee, more books and lit mags, and as many presses and journals to talk to as I could ever want. I spent most of my free time wandering around the book fair being handed free lit mags (I know—What?) and collecting buttons (check out my new lit mag button collection on my backpack). 

One of the coolest things to experience was meeting many of the writers we’ve published in the pages of Rock & Sling. Recognizing that I had read these poems and prose pieces through the entire length of the editing process, from slush-pile reading to copyediting, and that now I was meeting the people behind these amazing words was fascinating. Also, simply watching the surprised reactions as people walked past the Rock & Slingbooth, its glorious bedsheet art of Jesus Christ fighting a bear on full display, was hilarious and life-giving.

The most amazing panel I attended was a reading by Marilyn Chin, Carmen Giménez Smith, and Maxine Hong Kingston. These three amazing women writers shared the stage and their poems. Maxine Hong Kingston was so excited to announce she is a new grandmother, which made her so happy as well as the crowd. It’s a very unique experience to read someone’s words in a classroom and then to actually hear them read those words in person.

Honestly, it was amazing to be surrounded by so many people all speaking the same language, one of writing, submitting, editing, and publishing. 

Despite all of this, my AWP 2019 experience will forever be defined by something completely separate that occurred on the way back. It’s summed up by the title of a collab poem Meghan Foulk, Emily Hanson, and I created during a few extra hours we had: “To the tire that left us.” One of our tires had unexpectedly come off the car an hour and a half away from Spokane. Although we spent some extra time on the side of the highway, every Whitworthian who made the journey to AWP got home safely with a few more stories to tell than we had when we left.

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