A Field Guide to AWP

Courtney Maum

Writers are an entertaining and an educational species to observe. In North America, there is no better location to watch writers “socializing” than at the AWP conference, where once a year in February, writers of all ages and backgrounds migrate to a city with an intemperate climate to banter, dance and mate with one another—a rare phenomenon!


One need not be a professional naturalist to identify writers. Our Field Guide to AWP will provide you with an overview of the more prominent species and phenomena associated with their annual migration. Happy hunting!

Memoirists: With very few exceptions, memoirists are women. They favor fleece outerwear and they often carry snacks. Memoirists usually travel in odd-numbered groups of other memoirists. They are very friendly when approached, but prove difficult to get rid of in social situations. It is recommended to observe them from afar.

Essayists: The essayist signals his difference from the memoirist by the appropriation of a blazer. This blazer can be seen on essayists of both sexes. Essayists are self-deprecating but thrive on preparation—if you need a ride somewhere, you should ask them. They probably have a car.

The Vicariouso: These writers can be identified by the presence of a wedding ring and the absence of their spouse. They have come to AWP to remember what it is like to be single so that they can write short stories and novels credibly from a single person’s point of view.

Fiction writers: With their paradoxical characteristics and extreme volatility, fiction writers make for fascinating viewing. Be warned—fiction writers tend to require a great deal of attention and necessitate almost as much alcohol as poets. They are very sensitive about the size and heft of pillows. Quirky fiction writers!

Fiction writers are not classified by their garments, but rather by their expressions. (See “Morbidus,” below.) Because of their perfectionism and demonstrative wit, many people choose to marry and/or employ fiction writers. Both of these endeavors come with significant risk to the non-writing party, as fiction writers carry a time-sensitive desire to “leave it all behind” which, if acted upon, could result in absenteeism, divorce, or the sudden relocation to an area the fiction writer read about in a short story that one time.

Morbidus: The gloomy look that comes over fiction writers when they are engaged in a conversation that does not concern their work.

Poets: Consider yourself very lucky if you come upon a poet—they are an endangered species! Poets can be divided into two types: those over fifty years of age, and those under thirty-two. There are no poets in between thirty-two and fifty because they have gone out and gotten jobs.

Poet or Memoirist?

Poets of the first type tend to be disheveled—they might be wearing one or more articles of clothing inside out. They will probably be carrying a satchel and drinking green tea from a thermos. Do not try to wash the thermos for them. The smell provides great comfort.

Poets of the second type are almost exclusively male. Because of their fondness for flannel outerwear, they are often mistaken for lumberjacks. Poets are not lumberjacks! Poets signal a willingness to mate by donning spectator shoes on their feet—this is true for both male and female poets. If they do not want to mate, or have already mated, they will be wearing hiking shoes. Poets require a significant amount of alcohol and/or beer at all times.

Poets can be great fun but they must be handled with caution. Do not get into a motor vehicle operated by a poet; they are very bad at driving.

Abstentia Temporaris: This is a condition in which a writer is suddenly unable to form coherent sentences. It is commonly instigated by the question, “What’s your book about?”

Screenwriters: Screenwriters do not leave the state of California. If you believe you have seen, or interacted with a screenwriter at AWP, notify the help desk. In reality, you have just come into contact with a stand up comedian.

Abaddon: Abaddon is the physical gathering of writers who previously only knew each other virtually through their interactions in online writing workshops. You can identify Abaddon meet-ups by the swarm of locusts hovering above their table. Do not accept an invitation to join them—you will be forced to drink a beverage with blue curaçao inside.

Self-published authors: Self-published authors fall into two categories, the Initio and the Extremum. The Initio are a group of tech-savvy individuals who still possess optimism. They are sexually active and well-versed in pop culture. Their chapbooks cost eight dollars. The Extremum carry autobiographical press packets instead of business cards. Their book is available on a USB flash drive for seventeen dollars, if you’ll just come to Staples and wait while they print it out.

The “Gravitas” Writer

Joviatas:The exhilaration provoked by sudden exposure to so many other writers.

Gravitas: The desperation provoked by prolonged exposure to so. Many. Other. Writers.

Remember, all writers are fragile creatures. It is our responsibility to ensure that they do not face extinction by purchasing the books and literary magazines for which they toil. As with any wild creature, writers should be observed from a suitable distance and should not be given any sugary beverages or snacks. Enjoy your time at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference! (That’s what it stands for, by the way.)

Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. A humor columnist for Electric Literatureher work has appeared in Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol.1 “Sunday Stories”, Anderbo and others. She is a frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion. Courtney is currently working on a collection of comic fiction entitled “Funny You Should Say That.” Find her on Twitter at @cmaum