The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is holding its annual conference and bookfair in the L.A. Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles Thursday through Saturday. According to AWP director of conferences Christian Teresi, "close to 11,000" people had registered for the conference by midday. Panels were filled with eager audiences, and the book fair hummed as attendees checked out the offerings of more than 800 exhibitors, a record number, according to Teresi.
Exhibitors ranged from tiny Unnamed Books, which was launched in L.A. two years ago by former Skylight Books bookseller Chris Heiser and is celebrating its first anniversary this week being distributed by PGW, to Penguin Random House, which took a booth at AWP for the first time this year; in prior years, it sent "scouts" to the conference. "AWP is growing and innovating by leaps and bounds," PRH vp of account marketing Ruth Liebmann told PW, "So we want to play in their sandbox." She described AWP attendees as literary "tastemakers."
PRH is partnering with Skylight Books, AWP's official bookseller, which has a booth at the bookfair and is operating a satellite pop-up store in the lobby: if a customer purchases a PRH title from any of Skylight's two AWP stores, they can come to PRH's booth and pick up a free Advance Readers Copy of "some of our hottest spring and fall titles," such as The Nix (Knopf) by Nathan Hill, recently named a BEA 2016 Editor's Buzz title. PRH also expanded the presence of its speakers bureau at AWP with about 20 authors making presentations, including Emily St. John Mandel, Kelly Link, and Ruth Ozeki, who are appearing together Friday afternoon in a PRH-sponsored reading and conversation.
One of the most visible exhibitors at the Bookfair, and also one of the busiest Thursday, is nonprofit poetry publisher Copper Canyon Press, which at midday, had three employees selling books at its triple-size booth to long lines of customers. Among their hot titles were Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, translated by Forrest Gander, and Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.
Pasadena's Red Hen Press also had a triple-size booth at AWP. This year, wanting to take advantage of their close proximity to the conference, Red Hen released 23 spring titles across its seven imprints, which is twice as many as it typically publishes per season. Red Hen is giving away chocolate bars with a wrappers replicating the cover art of each of its spring books. It is also hosting 28 authors signing books, and displaying prominently its most recent release, an anthology by local Red Hen authors, LA Fiction. Publisher Mark Cull described AWP 2016 as "fantastic," noting that Red Hen was able to bring "a lot more" titles to the bookfair and part-time staff in addition to the seven full-time employees who usually attend.
While all of the exhibitors PW interviewed spoke of being happy to be at AWP, the two employees of the University of Akron Press staffing its booth had an even more visceral response to being in Los Angeles this week: "We honestly thought we'd never be back here," University of Akron Press' poetry editor Mary Biddinger told PW, referring to the 2015 layoff of the press' employees by the University of Akron that was reversed after a huge outcry from literary advocates all over the country. "We are overwhelmed and uplifted. We had no idea that so many people cared about poetry." To celebrate the press' resurrection, it was giving away buttons reading, "Poetry Lives."
Dennis Johnson, Melville House publisher, may have put his finger on why AWP kicked off with such a huge burst of energy Thursday morning: Los Angeles isn't just about movie stars and beaches: it's also a book town. Introducing four local booksellers (Dan Graham of Book Soup, Mary Williams of Skylight Books, Alex Maslansky of Stories Books & Cafe, and John Evans of Diesel) on a morning panel, "Independent Bookselling: Opportunities for Authors," Johnson told the audience of about 120 to count themselves fortunate to find themselves in "one of the greatest bookstore cities in the country."