The AWP book fair, always the centerpiece of the conference experience, was as politically charged as this year's panels and protests. The fate of the National Endowment for the Arts was unsurprisingly on the minds of many at AWP, with the conference taking place only a couple of weeks after rumors started circulating that the Trump administration intends to slash the budget of the NEA. Many small and independent publishers and literary journals at AWP receive significant funding from the NEA and are rallying around the social media campaign #ThankYouNEA, through which attendees—including staff for Indiana Review, the Rumpus, Four Way Books, Nightboat Books, Graywolf Press, and many others—were photographed on the main book fair floor holding a whiteboard on which they'd written thank you messages to the NEA.
The campaign was brought to AWP by Kelly Forsythe, director of publicity for Copper Canyon Press, and poets Ben Purkert and Corey Van Landingham, with the help of literary journal Bodega, which printed "#ThankYouNEA" on postcards for attendees to fill out at the booth and which will be mailed to Rep. Ken Calvert, chair of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, who oversees the budget of the NEA.
Politically focused publishers such as Verso and Haymarket reported experiencing significant foot traffic at the fair. John McDonald of Haymarket, who last attended the conference in Chicago in 2012, said there was "a notable difference" in terms of how politically-minded attendees who stopped by the booth were. McDonald said many people stopped by just to express their thanks. For Haymarket, hot-selling books included Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things To Me, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, and the anthology The BreakBeat Poets.
"There's a new sense of urgency," said Mandy Medley of Coffee House Press, noting that a number of conference attendees who came to the Coffee House booth brought up the topic of how publishers can continue to support diverse voices on a day-to-day basis. Medley noted that some of the Coffee House's big sellers included Camanchaca by Diego Zuniga, Fish in Exile by Vi Khi Nao, books by Brian Evenson books, and titles by Valeria Luiselli, who was in attendance for a conversation on Friday afternoon with author Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night) and Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation.
At the Tin House booth, another attending author's book sold well: Morgan Parker's new poetry collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce. Thomas Ross of Tin House said that poetry always does well for the press at AWP, noting how last year Melissa Broder's Last Sext was a big seller for them.