After several months of quiet – at least publicly -- the conflicts that have roiled The Association of Writers and Writing Programs since March resumed with a vengeance this week after a nonprofit literary publication, The Los Angeles Review of Books, on Monday published an essay by the organization’s former director of conferences. In this essay, "AWP on the Brink," Christian Teresi provided his version of events surrounding the firing of former executive director David Fenza and its aftermath – including Teresi’s own separation from the literary organization.
In his essay, Teresi charged AWP's board of trustees and interim director Chloe Schwenke with malfeasance relating to Teresi’s departure, as well as the organization's separation in August from its host institution, the University of Maryland, after only 14 months. (While AWP remains housed in offices adjacent to campus, it is no longer a sub-unit of University of Maryland’s English Department and AWP staffers are no longer UMD employees.) Teresi’s charges include allegations that AWP is neither institutionally nor financially viable enough to operate independently of a host institution. Since its founding in 1967 until August 6, AWP was affiliated with an institution of higher learning, including for 23 years, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
“The board is not providing the necessary leadership and the organization has been set back several years,” Teresi wrote in an email addressed to “friends and colleagues” that was sent out Monday morning, in which he touted the publication of his essay. “Without serious intervention AWP may be set back permanently. The future of the organization is very much as stake.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, AWP’s board weighed in. An update sent to members regarding the board's recent activities led off with a rebuttal to Teresi’s claims in his essay. The board as a body wrote, “AWP is institutionally and financially strong, and by all organizational indicators is in far better shape than it was six months ago.” AWP, the board explained, has more than $3 million in cash reserves, added half-a-dozen employees to its payroll since ending its affiliation with UMD, and approved raises for employees at the last board meeting. The board also disclosed that it is finalizing a new five-year strategic plan that it will provide to members upon completion, and that it has hired The Arts Consulting Group to lead the search for a new executive director. “The job position announcement will be released shortly and distributed widely,” the board assured members in the email.
Schwenke will remain interim director through December.
AWP’s annual conference will be held in Portland, Ore, March 27-30, 2019. According to the board in its email, “sponsorships have already exceeded those of the 2018 conference” and registrations to date for individual attendees and book fair vendors “have already exceeded set goals, potentially making Portland our largest conference to date.” This summer, AWP reported that it had accepted 556 panels out of a record 1,715 proposals.