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Friday, March 08, 2024

AWP ’24: It’s a Wrap!

Three weeks ago, I attended my first AWP conference. It’s been on my radar for several years, as I’ve watched from afar my writing networks on Instagram and X discuss it, exchanging tips and quips. What they loved. What could have been better. How great the Keynote was. Which craft session they liked best. Which after-hours parties had the coolest vibe. 

It always seemed like a lot of fun. 

I’m no stranger to large events. Having worked in the technology industry for 30 years, I’ve attended some “big boy” conferences, held in cavernous convention centers around the world that should require golf carts to navigate exhibition space. I’m talking big as in, 100,000 attendees. Bigger than many small cities. 

AWP’s 20,000 attendees, therefore? Walk in the park. 

I plunked down my credit card for the $350 Early Bird conference fee, bought my airfare, and scheduled my hotel stay—conveniently, right next to the convention center, and connected by an interior Sky Bridge. 

I was looking forward to AWP ’24—held in Kansas City, Missouri, last month—because it was going to get me out of dreary New England in February (though Kansas City ain’t exactly the Bahamas). But more so, I was looking forward to it because I had planned a reunion with several writers whom I’d met in Prague last summer during our monthlong writing residency. 

We gathered once more for our first night in Kansas City to break bread and reminisce about our Prague adventure from six months earlier. Though two of us had jet lag from early morning flights from either sides of the U.S. coast, we didn’t hesitate when Kella suggested that we cap off the night at a karaoke bar. I’ve been known to shatter eardrums, but I’m never one to say no when singing and beer are involved. 

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

Offkey Karaoke Lounge is a Kansas City gem, tucked into the trendy Westport neighborhood. The hardest part of the night was not working up the courage to take the stage, but which song to perform, from Offkey’s impressive selection of hundreds of one-hit wonders. 

Julia and I decided to start off with a duet: “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls. The crowd grimaced at some of our high notes, but we earned enthusiastic applause for our dance moves under strobe lights. The night ended only when the Offkey staff announced Last Call at nearly 1:00 in the morning. 

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

Compounded by the fact that I barely slept more than an hour that first night, it was a tough start to the conference. It could have been the echoes of Offkey renditions ringing in my ears, but more likely it was the typical bad night’s sleep that accompanies every first night I have when I travel. 

The conference itself was illuminating, but not for the reasons I had anticipated. I thought the panel sessions and craft talks were going to be the highlight. Instead, I found it was the one-off conversations I had with fellow writers—while standing in line for coffee, or walking down the hall together—that was most valuable. 

I shared my road blocks with creative nonfiction essayists and memoirists, and discovered they were working through many of the same issues. We traded tips on techniques, as well as titles of books we loved. We compared notes on which vendor booths to visit in the Book Fair. 

I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet Diane for the first time, at a signing table. Diane is the editor of the anthology, Awakenings: Stories of Body & Consciousness. We met online last year, as she was curating essays. She selected my piece"Outlasting Angie"to be included. When the anthology published in October 2023, I interviewed Diane for the WOW! “Markets” newsletter. 

When we discovered we’d both be at AWP, we made plans to meet in real life inside the Book Fair, where ELJ Editions (the anthology’s publisher) had a table. I spent close to two hours with Diane, greeting visitors and signing the anthology. Such a fun and rewarding experience! 

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

I also ran into a fellow writer and New Hampshire resident, whom I’d first met online through Instagram two years ago. Sarah and I live about 40 minutes from each other. This was the second time we met in person. We shared a wonderful tapas meal one night, and caught up. We also caught an Uber ride back to the airport after the conference ended, and shared the same flight back home. 

Images: Ann Kathryn Kelly 

It was a whirlwind, but worthwhile, trip. In addition to good food and great company, there was nightlife that included bad singing, an industrial dance club, and a mellow booze basement with gorgeous chandeliers and a three-piece jazz ensemble in suits, straight out of the 1950s. There were also plenty of learning insights, and the best part of all: meeting new people. 

I’d for sure consider attending another AWP conference. Next year’s host city is Los Angeles, and Karen—one of our Prague mates and an LA resident—is already asking us to circle our calendars. In a city the size of LA, there must be an Offkey Karaoke cousin club. It’s on my list to research. 

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.


  1. This looks like SO much fun, Ann! :) I've also heard from many writers that they go more for the connections than sessions. I'm so glad you were able to sign your book, and I love seeing you and Diane together. :) Did you attend any panels?

    Yes, there are definitely Karaoke rooms like that all over the place in LA, especially Koreatown. I've been to a few, and they're all great!

  2. Hi, Ang! Yep, I did attend panel sessions, but no craft sessions this time. They offered several around craft, but I loaded up on the business side of things (publishing panels) in the hopes of gaining insight into the process. On the anthology front, I'm participating in a reading at a bookstore this coming Tuesday with three other essayists whose pieces are in the anthology ... so, we're getting a bit of traction with it, which is fun! And yes, meeting Diane IRL was fab!

  3. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Hi Ann, It was so great to see you, and you were the one who inspired me to do karaoke, though I don't think anyone could hear me, which was probably a good thing. At AWP, I got a lot out of the panel discussions, but like you wrote, I got more out of just talking to people. I do hope to see you here in LA next year. I'm definitely attending.

  4. Karen Kelley Perkins12:33 PM

    I am the "anonymous" above. Didn't mean to be a ghost.

  5. Karen, so much fun to see you again! Our karaoke night was a highlight for me! We also had a great time wandering the Book Fair, didn't we? I've got AWP '25 in LA penciled into my calendar. Let's definitely stay on the others to do a Prague reunion, Part Three!

  6. Looks like a great time! You always do a great job connecting with other people!

  7. It was definitely a worthwhile trip, SueBE! We should try to get some of the WOW! gang together at a future AWP!

  8. Ann,
    Most definitely! Or a retreat of our own devising . . .

  9. Even better! We really should!


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