SR Interns on Their First AWP Conference

SR Crew Enroute to San Antonio (From left to right: Armani Ortiz Boatright; Fiction Editor, Sara Schaff; Connor Madden; camera shy: Jah-Shea Sutherland & Executive Editor Aimee Baker)

Today, I was asked how many AWP conferences I've attended. It took me several attempts to count them up, adding ("Oh, I forgot Denver!") and subtracting ("Maybe I only went to Chicago once?"). My final count is nine, spanning from 2007's Atlanta conference to this week in San Antonio. I'm by no means a true veteran. Some writers remember conference venues so small everyone knew everyone and they organized volleyball tournaments to entertain themselves. Still, I often feel like the shine has worn off for me; every year I'm just a bit more tired and just a bit more interested in taking a nap than joining the crowds at the hotel bar. 

That is until I see the conference through my students' eyes. Every year we have the privilege of bringing a few of our undergraduate students to the conference. Our goal is to help them grow as writers. And they do. They attend panels, talk with writers at different grad programs, investigate internships, buy books, and learn about the publishing industry. 

This year our trip is particularly complicated. We agonized over the decision to come, getting guidance from our university, checking with our families, and reading everything we could find. Finally, we decided if our students still wanted to come, we would be here as well. We understand others made different decisions. We recognize how difficult the last few days have been for our writing communities. But, we're here and this is what our students wanted to say.

  • Aimee Baker, Executive Editor

Jah-Shea Sutherland

I began writing at four years old.

At the basis of Disney VCR tapes.

If it wasn’t for those Disney VCR tapes with subtitles I wouldn’t have learned how to read.

Coming from an immigrant family struggling to find financial stability in America, I was often alone. I grew an independence at the age of four years old. Which is the reason my only sanctuary was my mind. My sanctuary was writing. My escape was writing. I wanted to create worlds where I wasn’t alone, worlds where everything was possible--which is how my passion generated. Being a mute little girl beginning an American public-school system, I carried around a clipboard. They claimed I had a writing and speaking disorder; however, the clipboard was the basis of all my creativity. My clipboard held all my stories, drawings, and thoughts. It was my friend.

I recall my first experiences of writing to show how come a trip like this holds so much power for my experience. I have never been around individuals that thought like me. Even if I met people that indulged in writing, they often preferred the journalist aspects and not so much the creative realm. Coming to Texas, I've already been introduced to individuals that find a passion with their words as well as finding a voyage away from reality. This trip forces me to step to a side of the country I’ve never stepped foot on to see those that are doing the same exact things as well. The thought of it overall gives me goosebumps. I can’t even anticipate what is to come the first day of the convention tomorrow, but an adventure awaits.

Connor Madden

For someone who’s not too certain about what to do with an English Writing Arts degree after graduating, hearing about the AWP convention was quite the life saver. Here and there I’ve thrown around words like editing, technical writing, freelance publishing, and the most perturbing of all, the fabled MFA programs. It’s been a bit overwhelming knowing that there are so many different career paths to choose from, and while I know of their existence within the writing world, I’m hopelessly lost amongst the vague torrents of information on how to actually pursue one of these.

A semester ago, I became an editorial assistant for The Saranac Review, a literary magazine published by SUNY Plattsburgh and its English department. I was tasked with learning the general runaround of how professional literary magazines function and operate, understanding the processes in which they collect, review, and decide on submissions, and even experiencing the work of editing pieces for publication first hand. While the workload was heavy, reading and discussing the diverse pool of pieces made up for it, giving me a glimpse into the work that continually flows through the contemporary literary world along with the responsibility in respectfully handling writers’ works. Not only could I see myself doing this kind of work professionally, but it also helped me envision myself submitting my own work to other literary magazines.

I also realized something very important, which is that one is never alone when working with, and even submitting to, a literary magazine. I know personally that my own writing processes have often been somewhat lonely. However, if accepted by a literary magazine, one gets to work close with an editor, which goes further than general workshopping or proofreading. This helpful service acts as a polishing stone of sorts, the tweaking and strengthening of the small fine stuff or the addressing of any issues, a boon for me since I often struggle with fine-tuning my work.

This leads me to one of the main reasons I wanted to help represent The Saranac Review and come to the AWP conference. Since I know that I want my future to center around writing, I want to do anything I can to help improve my craft and boost my understanding of what it takes to survive as a writer, which is why I have been seriously considering pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts program. If there was any where I could explicitly learn the benefits and steps to pursuing one, it would be at this conference. I’m dead-set on seeing my dreams come true, be it completing my comic book script ideas, writing narratives for storytelling-based video games, or becoming an editor. There’s so much I want to do as a creative writer, and if an MFA program can help me hone my skills and boost my chances of reaching these dreams of mine, then I don’t want to miss that opportunity through AWP.

At the SR Table: Armani; Jah-Shea; Connor.

Photos: Aimee Baker.