I am in Portland, Oregon, for the yearly AWP — Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I am not on a panel, am not a published book author, will give no readings and cannot expense this: I am, however, one of 15,000 attendees that have paid the fee to marathon through three days of fast-paced workshops and readings on topics that will range from sexuality, travel, teaching, #metoo, memory, trauma, health, gender, publishing, literary agents, every and all literary genres to digital poetry. I will learn new words. My feet and head will hurt by Saturday night.
I did a trial run to the conference center on light rail this afternoon. Our 2019 host city chose to rain hard today, the humidity rising from our shoulders as we were corralled through the the registration area like airport security. Behind me, I saw a famous author I hoped remembered me from a workshop in Seattle. Waving madly at him, I thought; what gives me the cred to be here with him?
Tomorrow quite early I will have a good coffee with an extra shot, probably swallow three Advil, purchase a day pass for the train and swim upstream through the escalator masses to find the ballroom where author Pam Houston’s panel convenes on writing about intimacy. Then I am off and running: Colson Whitehead’s keynote, Lidia Yuknavitch’s reading, Cheryl Strayed’s talk about her writing process, workshops on trauma, healing and humor. I will end the three days with a panel talking about being 60 and writing about death. If I hold up, eighteen sessions. And I may even attend a yoga class or two for writers.
I will watch people read famous author’s name tag as they pass him in the hallway, stop him, talk with him, ask him to sign one of his books. My name tag — Alexandra Dane — won’t ring any bells. I will be handing out my business card to anyone who smiles at me, and if I am lucky they might read my blog, a few of my articles, remember me next time.
Yet a common denominator brings us here; on Monday morning, all of us will face a blank sheet of paper. Each of these 15,000 writers will search to find the first word of many to write something that will make you, the reader, think.
Our name tags are the same color at AWP2019 for a reason: under the dome of this conference center we gather together — young, old, famous and not famous — and learn how to be better writers.
Billboard on the building across from my hotel room.