The management of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs announced on Monday on Twitter that the annual AWP Conference would not be canceled due to the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. This year's event, which takes place March 4-7, is being held in San Antonio, Tex., where it is expected to attract more than 10,000 people.
Doubt about the viability of the event hung over the show after it was revealed that a patient quarantined at a nearby military base was accidentally released into the city for a period of 12 hours over the prior weekend. The mayor of San Antonio subsequently proclaimed a state of disaster and a public health emergency that will be in effect for the next seven days, a period covering the entirety of AWP.
As anxiety grew among those registered for the event, much of it expressed through social media, AWP executive co-executive director Diane Zinna tweeted Monday evening that, after deliberations with the mayor, the organizations leaders had opted to go ahead with the event.
In post on its website, AWP said in talks with mayor Ron Nirenberg said that the patient who had been released did not go to the airport or to the downtown area. The AWP said the mayor encouraged the organization to go ahead with the conference.
In its post, AWP explained its thinking in moving forward: "AWP is not moving forward lightly. AWP staff and board are doing so out of a sense of responsibility to the communities we serve. Many schools and programs, particularly in the region, have worked so hard to create a truly exceptional conference this year. This includes the many small presses and journals who work hard all year to sell their books, magazines, and promote their programs at AWP."
The AWP post also included the steps it is taking to ensure a safe meeting, including increasing the amount of hand sanitizer available, and providing disinfecting wipes in every meeting room. AWP also said panel rules "will be relaxed to ensure that our important conversations can continue; writers may now appear on more than 2 panels."
The move to go ahead has been criticized by some parties. Diane Zinna, the organization's executive co-director, has resigned from her position as a result of the decision. Others have asserted that keeping the conference running is inconsiderate of the immunocompromised and other writers with disabilities. Disabled & Deaf Uprising, a collective of writers and artists with disabilities, has slammed the decision in a series of tweets. The conference has come under fire before for accessibility issues.
The organization acknowledged that some attendees, including speakers, have canceled their trips, and said it will provide a list of those who have canceled. Among the publishers known to have withdrawn from the conference is Tin House. Earlier in the day, AWP tweeted that they would offer refunds or credits toward next year's AWP conference in Kansas City to anyone uncomfortable with traveling to San Antonio for the event.
This story has been updated with further information.