A literary reading at venerable downtown Tampa dive bar the Hub? What’s going on here?
The largest literary conference in North America, that’s what: the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual convention.
For the first time, this national meeting of students and teachers of creative writing, authors, editors, publishers and more will take place in Tampa. About 12,000 conference attendees will fill the Tampa Convention Center from March 7-10, and many of them will attend off-site events in downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Seminole Heights and around the Tampa Bay area.
According to AWP’s website, the conference features more than 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels and craft lectures. The book fair hosts more than 800 presses, journals and literary organizations.
Each year AWP features acclaimed novelists, poets and nonfiction writers among its speakers. The March 8 keynote speech will be given by George Saunders, author of one of last year’s most talked about bestsellers, Lincoln in the Bardo. The book, Saunders’ first novel, won the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
Saunders is the author of four collections of short stories, a novella and a book of essays and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. He is also a journalist and a revered teacher of creative writing who has been on the faculty of Syracuse University’s MFA program since 1997.
Another white-hot literary star at the convention is poet Layli Long Soldier, whose debut book is WHEREAS, a piercing rejoinder in poetry to the U.S. Congressional resolution of apology to Native Americans. In February it won the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, PEN/America’s highest award for a book in any genre, and its $75,000 purse. WHEREAS was also a finalist for the National Book Award.
Another star is Patricia Smith, who last month won the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a $100,000 prize, for her poetry collection Incendiary Art, which also won the 2018 NAACP Image Award. Smith is a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. The convention will include a session titled "Dazzling Jimi: A Tribute to Patricia Smith."
Smith will also appear with novelist Brock Clarke at on off-site event March 8, open to the public and sponsored by the University of Tampa’s Low-Residency MFA.
Local writers participating in AWP include Greg Byrd, John Capouya, Erica Dawson, Steve Kistulentz, Peter Meinke and Steph Post.
The book fair and events at the convention center are open only to AWP conference participants, but nonmember registration will be available on site for $315 for the entire convention. On March 10 only, nonmembers can purchase on site a $45 day pass that will admit them to that day’s events and the book fair. For information, go to awpwriter.org.