An editor at the Chicago Review reached out to me the other day to contribute to a piece they wanted to run when AWP Conference 2017 kicked off on Wednesday, February 8th on ways the conference can be improved. Unfortunately, though the editor thought my piece, penned with Sarah Clark’s help, was “FANTASTIC,” he replied that he didn’t receive enough responses to run it until next year.
Now, several organizations and individuals, including Hugh House, Quintan Ana Wikswo, and Review of Books, are calling for action regarding the potentially illegal lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Conference Planning Guidelines. For links to those guidelines, updates and responses from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, please click on the The Seattle Review of Books‘ “Tell AWP that they need to provide better disability accessibility.”
AWP has already Tweeted one response, but I guess I should have included in my list below a request that AWP do due diligence and assure in advance that conference centers and hotels as well as satellite venues be ADA compliant. I didn’t realize this basic premise needed to be articulated as well. Moreover, please let us know about your experiences, considering attending the Disability Caucus at AWP (Feb 10, 6:15 Washington Convention Center, Rm 101) and find contact info for AWP staff below.
ORIGINAL STATEMENT ON HOW TO IMPROVE AWP:
I realize Christian Teresi has addressed concerns over childcare before (including in interview with me for VIDA!), but the omission still glares, likely preventing some writers with children from attending for a year. I understand AWP has stated that the cost of insurance is prohibitive, but perhaps AWP could invest a few labor hours in advance researching cities for a specific location of centralized childcare, whether that means hotels that offer childcare or local daycares in proximity that may offer a discounted drop-off option.
Just as they offer student discounts, AWP could signal care and attention if they would extend discounted fees to disabled people as well as proactively addressing violations by both staff and panelists every year so that we may all become thoroughly aware and conscious of oversights and ignorance. This type of effort is too easily dismissed or lost in the applause for a few newly-adopted practices. Perhaps a few dedicated questions for the post-conference questionnaire asking about such oversights related to disabled people could then include follow-up confirmation to those who lodge their concerns and complaints. AWP would not only do well to make a public statement about their dedication to accountability for disabled people, but such a campaign would also be a great reminder that accountability is vital to fostering awareness.
AWP’s new quiet space is promising. Hopefully these spaces will serve as places for people with disabilities to use as recovery space and/or sensory-friendly spaces and will not be overtaken as more social space.
To build on that momentum, AWP might consider more public seating throughout the book fair. People with disabilities who can’t stand or walk for very long have brought that up for a while. It might be worth sacrificing a table here and there throughout to provide seating with designated signs stating, “Reserved for people who are pregnant or who have disabilities.”
As AWP has grown exponentially over the past decade, is there a way to conceive and cultivate scholarships or stipends for seniors, disabled people, queer people, people of color and younger people who aren’t students? This could go a long way towards addressing the often prohibitive costs of attendance for many and is a means towards addressing fair access.
Also, it seems there might be more attendance options for people who aren’t students or presenters: half-day passes, live video feed of panels (for a fee but can be accessed anywhere in the country) and even two-way options set up in advance where people who are not present still might view and weigh in from classrooms or other literary centers (i.e. bookshops, workshops, etc.) across the country. So for example, I may not be in attendance but could set up a feed for my class to “sit in” on a panel of interest.
It would be helpful too to establish an ongoing forum on the AWP website for people to liaise in advance regarding roommates or rideshares. I set up a listserv through my school for the members of the Women’s Caucus to connect throughout the year; it took me an hour to create and may help some save money on hotel costs, thus enabling writers who may be limited in funds to attend.
A bit more time for panel submissions would go a long way. As it stands, it seems like we are trying to scramble to conceive and propose our panels with very little time to process post-conference.
Finally, AWP might develop their mission statement, publicly committing to specific positions on current events and issues as they relate to civil rights, and actively communicate that growth. They describe themselves as an “essential annual destination” for people in the literary world. This is their 50th anniversary. Poet Hoa Nguyen recently asked, “Why no statement on @awpwriter website? U.S. businesses spoke out against the travel ban; should not an international writer’s org?” More than just being a place for writers to gather, which sounds closer to a mall than an organization of writers, the implication begs the questions: What purpose do they serve? Is AWP dedicated to publishing equity for women, queer & trans people, POC, disabled people, etc? Do they wish to convey to people submitting panels that they WANT to help a queer writer place a book? That they WANT to give advice to indigenous and writers of color who are told their book is too severe? Do they publicly express their desire to provide space for writers to freely interrogate: How do you navigate sexism in the workplace? How do you navigate transphobia as a poet who doesn’t have a Human Resources department to go to? AWP has stated that they’re limited by what panels are submitted. Can they reach out to writers and organizations like PEN America? Are they truly limited in their ability to curate? Would developing and publicizing their mission statement further encourage such panel proposals? I very much look forward to such developments and hope that AWP is open to such considerations.
Contacts at AWP:
Director of Conference
Chair of Board of Directors
Telephone: (202) 466-3030
Conference Events Coordinator
Executive Director of Publicity
Amy King currently serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is an associate professor of English at SUNY Nassau Community College.