Each year, the WITS Alliance travels to a different city to highlight the importance of creative writing in the classroom and in civic life at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, a gathering of over 12,000 literary professionals. From March 7 – 10, the WITS Alliance sponsored six panels, one meeting, and a booth to build opportunities for writers to find support, discover resources, and foster community.

Here are a few highlights from the conference:

Executive Director, Robin Reagler, closing out the AWP Gala, where poet Erin Belieu was presented with the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature.

“The work that I do at the Dodge Poetry Festival is to try to create environments where people can engage with poetry through a personal connection with no judgment.” – Martin Farawell

Moderator Meggie Monahan from Writers in the School Houston leading a conversation on “Poetry in Public Places” with Scott Cunningham of O, Miami Festival, Martin Farawell of Dodge Poetry Fesival, Laurin Macios of Mass Poetry, and Tyler Meier of the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

“I’m happy when people are reading poetry because it is a form of resistance.” – Kaveh Akbar

Moderator Analicia Sotelo of Writers in the Schools Houston with “Literary Twitterati” panelists Kaveh Akbar, Eve Ewing, Dorothea Lasky of Astro Poets, alongside WITS Executive Director, Robin Reagler.

“It’s important to be vulnerable, to remind students that we should be playful and silly.” – Karyna McGlynn

Moderate Jack McBride from Writers in the Schools Houston alongside current and former WITS writers, Ramon Isao, Nicky Beer, Karyna McGlynn, and Niki Herd at the “WITS Alumni Reading: The Unfiltered Imagination” panel. Each speaker shared student work, read from their own writing, and offered funny and thoughtful stories about being in the classroom and how teaching young students brings playfulness into their own work.

“Most people prefer a linear path. I firmly believe that if you see your career as an exploration, you really get a great opportunity to craft your own narrative, even if it’s not the one you imagined.”  – Giuseppe Taurino

Led by Community-Word Project’s Michele Kolter, panelists Thomas Calder (journalist at Mountain Xpress), Martin Rock (Associate Director at Exploratorium), Giuseppe Taurino (Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston), and Abby Travis (Editor at Milkweed Editions) discussed their journeys to their current jobs with helpful tips and thoughtful stories at the “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” panel.

“Have a plan and surround yourself with people that see your dream.” – Kima Jones

Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Alicia Craven discussed diversity, inclusion and changing the literary landscape with “Small Experiments with Radical Intent” panelists Janine Joseph of UndocuPoets, Kima Jones of Jack Jones Literary Agency, Ramiza Koya of Literary Arts, and Desiree Dallagiacomo of Forward Arts in Baton Rouge.

“I find empathy to be infectious, and it’s amazing to see how much people in your own community can accomplish. Your community is your greatest resource.” – Erin Belieu

Britt Udesen (Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center), Amalia Kruszel (Arts Action Fund Program Manager at Americans for the Arts), moderator Tina Cane (Executive Director of Writers-in-the-Schools, Rhode Island and Rhode Island Poet Laureate), Erin Belieu (co-founder of VIDA and Writers Resist), and Diane Luby Lane (Executive Director of Get Lit) revealed their thoughts on literary activism, social change, and community building at our “Loud Because We Have to Be” panel.

Robin Reagler helped close out the conference by introducing Jen Benka at the Academy of American Poets event featuring Layli Long Soldier, Khaled Mattawa, and Mark Doty.

Our WITS booth is where we talked with emerging writers and educators about the alliance.  WITS Houston writers Paige Quinones and Dan Chu discuss opportunities for writers to engage with their community through Writers in the School programs.

Our booth was a popular space! We held daily raffles and gave away swag. Poet Danez Smith gets a “Because Writing is Revolutionary” temporary tattoo from Mohamed Sheriff.

Cultivating relationships with writers at AWP is essential to ensuring that we continue to place writers in the classroom and work toward our mission of giving every child the opportunity to tell their story.

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