The University of Maryland announced today that it will no longer serve as the host institution for the Association for Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), as the literary organization is changing its operations to an autonomous nonprofit model as of Monday, August 6. AWP has been affiliated with a college or university since its inception in 1967 at Brown University. After 23 years at George Mason University, it moved to UMD last summer, where it became a subunit of UMD’s English department.
AWP's approximately 20 employees will remain in its offices in UMD’s Discovery District, a $2 billion public-private investment project launched to revitalize an area in College Park adjacent to the UMD campus, “at least for the next year,” interim director Chloe Schwenke told PW this morning. She disclosed that AWP has been paying rent the entire time it has been housed there, and will continue to do so.
Schwenke, citing her extensive background in nonprofit management, told PW that it was her decision to switch up AWP's relationship with UMD, and that the board was “easily persuaded” to agree because “it made sense.”
“Our organization is now at a key turning point; we’re financially and institutionally strong enough to become autonomous,” Schwenke said. “[The current relationship] doesn’t fit the university and it doesn’t fit us. We need to be on our own. We’re grown-ups. It’s time. We look forward to a continuing strong relationship with the university, especially given our proximity to campus."
In UMD’s release, Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, stated: “We are pleased that AWP, while undertaking this step in their development, will remain near the University and continue to build and enhance academic, intellectual, and career-focused partnerships with UMD.”
AWP will outsource its payroll, bookkeeping, and accounting responsibilities to a company that performs such tasks for a number of nonprofit organizations, Schwenke said. UMD previously performed such duties for AWP, as did George Mason before that.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for AWP. Its longtime executive director, David Fenza, was fired by order of Dill in March for undisclosed reasons, and its longtime conference director, Christian Teresi, left the organization a month after PW’s report on allegations made by former female employees that Fenza and Teresi were guilty of gender discrimination, bullying, and retaliation.
Schwenke was named interim director in April and will remain so until the end of the year, while the board continues to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent executive director. Cynthia Sherman, previously associate director of conferences, was promoted to conference director in June. As such, she is charged with organizing AWP’s annual writers’ conference, which typically attracts 10,000-13,000 people and is held in a different city each year. AWP 2019 will be held in Portland, Ore., from March 27-30. Earlier this week, AWP announced that it had accepted 556 panels and other events out of a record 1,715 proposals.
AWP's annual conference typically draws between 10,000-13,000 attendees; this article has been updated.