Chavatel attends AWP Conference in Seattle
When Salisbury University student and aspiring writer Caroline Chavatel heard last fall in her creative writing class about the opportunity to attend the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Bookfair, she knew that it was something she couldn’t pass up.
“[Professor John A. Nieves] told our creative writing class about the conference last October, and I knew then I needed to be there,” Chavatel said of herself and SU classmate Lauren Yarnall’s response to hearing about being able to attend what has become the largest writers’ conference in North America. “John’s been to AWP before, but this was our first go as students.”
“AWP is an incredible learning experience for young writers — especially people who want writing/publishing/teaching careers,” Nieves explained of how the exposure benefits his students. “It allows students to see the inside of the business, meet and talk to many of the major players, see readings in the highest concentration anywhere in the world and be inspired by the host city and its difference from their homes.”
Nieves was there to assist his students on their first AWP trip and introduce them to the world of professional writing, but he was also there promoting his new book, “Curio.”
“It’s an incredible book of poetry,” explained Chavatel, who is currently in Nieves’ poetry workshop at SU and waiting to hear back from a few literary journals regarding publication of some poems of her own. “Reading good work like that has urged me push my limits with my writing.”
“[It’s] an exploration of the things we collect and hold close that ultimately form our identities — from folk tales, to memories, to letters, to dishes, books and keys,” Nieves described. “‘Curio’ examines the work this collecting does and the idea of work itself making meaning.”
As a young writer, Chavatel said, she was impressed by the magnitude of the conference and aimed to take full advantage of the resources and inspiration available to her during her stay — attending poetry readings, meeting with editors of literary magazines and journals, and even making contacts for potential internships.
“John was super helpful with introducing us to people who matter in the field that we care about,” she stated. “Being a young writer is scary enough — so being immersed into this giant conference room of graduate school journals and professional, published authors is intimidating. But it’s changed the way I write, to a degree. The exposure to all that was baffling, but so beneficial.”
“Caroline and Lauren took full advantage of these opportunities and made positive impressions on people who could figure prominently in their futures,” said Nieves. “The education panels, editors’ talks and program mixers allow students to ask questions and get immediate answers and to network in a very personal and memorable sense.”
While Chavatel and Yarnall spent most of their time attending the bookfair and panels, they were also able to explore the city of Seattle and all it had to offer.
“We visited the Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit near the Space Needle, and it was spectacular — all hand-blown glass,” recalled Chavatel, who currently lives in Fenwick Island, highlighting some of the more notable landmarks on her trip. “It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The city was clean and not too crowded, not to mention the coffee there is actually the best ever. It, fortunately, didn’t rain once while we were there, so we lucked out.”
As the only two students from Salisbury in attendance, both Chavatel and Yarnall are hoping that more students join them next year and have similarly beneficial experiences.
“It was a really unique experience, and I hope next year it’s 10 of us, and then 20 the following year,” said Chavatel. “AWP opened the door to the world of writing for us. No doubt that it’s changed me as a writer.
“The exposure I got there made me go, ‘Wow, my people!’ It’s a cool feeling to know there are thousands and thousands of people in one big room that all love words and books as much as you — whether they’re teachers, students, publishers, authors or some combination of those, they’re there for the same reason.”