I’m sitting in the AWP Conference (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) right now between sessions, waiting for the next session to begin. I’m in the next session. I’m moderating and speaking in it, telling people what we do at Mt. SAC and how little money it takes to run a creative writing program when our only agenda is creating a community. A few things have begun to occur to me here in my little corner of the conference.
It occurs to me that Chicago is a cold place to be in early March. My hotel is just down the road from here, and I’ve had to walk the blocks every morning and every evening and every day at lunch if I didn’t want pub food, which is all they sell in the Chicago Hilton. Every time I start to feel a little tired or sweaty, I step outside for thirty seconds to be blasted with arctic winds blowing off Lake Michigan.
It occurs to me that early March is a strange time to have a conference, especially in the North, but I think I understand why. Who else is going to conferences? Who else is going on vacation? Who else voluntarily goes north when everything is so bleak? I think what’s happening is that the people who run the AWP have figured out a way to bring down the cost of the conference. They’ve intentionally made themselves more uncomfortable than they had to be in a place that can be damn inconvenient when the snow is blowing so the conference will be cheaper for poor young professors and even poorer young grad students.
It occurs to me that writers and poets can be a good group of people. They can be a group that looks out for each other and helps each other when needs be. They put the needs of the least powerful in the writing community above the luxury of those who are most powerful. And I’m glad to be a part of them.
It occurs to me that this whole weekend has been filled with people who have absolutely nothing but the best intentions. I haven’t found every panel useful to my needs, but every panel I’ve seen has been useful to someone, and every panel has been run with a vision and vigor.
It occurs to me that I’m here to talk about writers in the San Gabriel Valley who come to Mt. SAC, and there are going to be people in the audience who listen and care. They want to know about California, but more importantly, they want to know how to save money when running their own creative writing programs. Their programs are full of students who are having a hard time making ends meet and feeding their children and supporting their spouses, and all those students want for themselves is to be able to afford to learn how to write. They people who come to my conference see helping these people as a sacred good, as something to aspire to.
It occurs to me that we’d do well to apply all of this to the way we writing the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival. There’s a reason AWP has gained popularity and importance in the last 16 years. People are getting something out of it, and they’re welcomed.
And finally it occurs to me that connection with other people is the highest duty of art. That’s pretentious, I know, but it’s also true. True connection comes through a live reading or when people read a book and see something familiar and realize that truly they’re not alone in this world. Artists do that for people. Poets and writers do it for people, and it occurs to me that being a poet is a pretty wonderful thing for me to be.