The 2013 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Bookfair, which took place in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center and surrounding venues (including Trident Booksellers and Cafe and Newtonville Books) from March 7–9, drew publishers, authors, booksellers, and writing program students from as far away as Japan. Despite one final blast of winter weather that dumped 14 inches of snow and slush on the region, close to 12,000 people attended hundreds of programs, which included a PW-sponsored panel moderated by Craig Morgan Teicher on “Breaking Digital Ground: E-Books and Independent Literary Publishing” as well as craft-oriented sessions such as “The Art of Healing: Writing Illness from Both Sides of the Curtain” and readings by Nobel laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott.

AWP invited Boston-area publishers and booksellers to participate in the book fair, but with close to 700 exhibitors, the event was by no means limited to local book people. Berkeley, Calif.-based Small Press Distribution (SPD) was one of several companies to take a double booth. Although it no longer exhibits at BookExpo America, deputy director Laura Moriarty told PW that AWP is valuable for getting its clients’ books in front of booksellers and faculty for course adoptions. Paul Murphy, v-p of academic and digital markets at IPG in Chicago, began coming to AWP three years ago for course adoptions as well.

The book fair, however, is less about showing books than selling them on the spot. SPD offered some deeply discounted titles. So did John F. Blair, Publisher, which was at AWP for the first time to support Edith Pearlman, Steve Almond, and other authors at the conference, who are published by distribution client Lookout Books. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt held signings for six authors, including biographer Megan Marshall, whose book Margaret Fuller was just released. The press is considering attending again next year. Smaller Boston area presses were also well represented. Shambhala Publications held an in-booth signing with Caroline Grant, co-editor of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, and Beacon Press sponsored a panel on “Literary Nonfiction and Social Activism.”

The theory that all information wants to be free—and digital—was challenged by the many booths with hand-bound, often hand-lettered books, like those of Spork Press in Tucson, Ariz. Nonprofit cooperative Ugly Duckling Press also offered “artisanal” fare. A number of bookseller/publishers were represented at the fair, which was held on two floors. Massachusetts-based Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge and Back Pages Books in Waltham sold their own publications. The latter also gave away an original poem by Heaney written expressly to support it. Harvard Book Store set up a miniversion of its Cambridge shop and supplied books for signings.

Numerous journals, often in conjunction with writing programs, were also for sale, including Post Road from Newtonville Books. For those interested in self-publishing, several exhibitors offered help. Newly introduced gave away free downloads of Guy Kawasaki’s APE: How to Publish a Book, while regional self-publisher Maine Authors Publishing sought out talent.

Combined, the conference and book fair offered an encouraging view of the value of the written and digital word—and the continued interest in books, regardless of format.