If there’s a theme to this year’s AWP conference, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, it's excitement about how vital literature and publishing are in Minneapolis, where the show is held, a growing literary center far from New York-based trade publishing and the West Coast indie scene.
Jeffery Lependorf, executive director of the New York-based Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and of the San Francisco-based Small Press Distribution, has a unique perspective on what this year’s conference symbolizes for American literary culture: “It's wonderful being here in the twin cities,” he said, “to be reminded that literature doesn't only happen on the coasts.”
Eric Lorberer, editor of Rain Taxi, the long-standing indie book review, and a central figure in the Twin Cities book community, has been assuming an ambassadorial role. Rain Taxi went as far as hosting a welcome booth at the airport to greet writers coming into town for the conference.
“We just really wanted to take the extra step to make people feel welcome. We are thrilled to have it in our city to show off our literary community and hopefully contribute to building the national community.”
Hand-selling rules at the book fair. Though the conference hosts hundreds of panels and readings, the book fair is the heart of AWP. It's where representatives from presses, M.F.A. programs, literary journals, nonprofits, and writers famous and obscure meet, buy books, and make deals. It’s the whole literary world in a room, like BEA, but just for poets and literary prose writers.
Publishers are reporting that this year’s book fair has a relaxed vibe, due to the fact that, for the first time in years, the whole fair is in a large room with lots of space and wide isles. In recent years, it’s been spread over several floors and galleries in exhibitions halls, so that walking the floor was a confusing experience and exhibitors felt a frustrating sense of hierarchy about the placement of their booths.
For many presses, AWP represents a way to grow their audience by hand-selling the books they publish. The booth for Copper Canyon Press is especially hot this year due to the publication this month of What About This: The Collected Poems of Frank Stanford, a long-awaited retrospective of the work of a legendary poet published as a gorgeous $40 hardcover. “It's flying off the shelves,” said Publicity Director Kelly Forsythe.
For the Minneapolis-based presses, this year’s conference offers the extra advantage of proximity to their offices, allowing them to stock and move a lot of books. Coffee House ran out of stock on Saeed Jones’s poetry collection, Prelude to Bruise.
“We had to do an overnight emergency reprint,” said director of marketing and publicity Caroline Casey. Other books are also selling briskly—“We can restock from the office constantly,” said Casey.
Graywolf staffer Lucia Cowles says the press is having a similar experience. Everyone here has been very cheerful. It's been a constant stream of people all of whom want to have conversations. What's great is we can keep shipping books over from the office to sell.”
Some presses are employing creative handling techniques. Beyond the usual conference swag—buttons, flyers, pens—Kentucky-based Sarabande Books is offering a shot of bourbon to anyone who buys two or more titles. “Unsurprisingly, giving away bourbon shots with books sells more books,” says publicity director Kristin Radke.