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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Women's Writing and the New 2011 AWP Women's Caucus

As you may know, AWP  (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) was founded in 1967.  The official AWP website states that AWP grew from "13 member colleges and universities in 1967 to 500 institutional members today" and  the "Annual Conference typically features 350 presentations: readings, lectures, panel discussions, and Forums plus hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings. The conference attracts more than 8,000 attendees and more than 500 publishers. It’s one of the biggest and liveliest literary gatherings in North America."

So it seems incredible that, given its long and illustrious history, there has never been a Women's Caucus at the AWP national conference.

Until now, that is.

The story of how the Women's Caucus came to be and how I got to organize and lead it goes something like this.

At last year's conference, when the AWP conference was held in Denver, I was having breakfast with some of my women writer friends. Somewhere between being served the first cup of coffee and finishing up the last bit of toast, I said to them: "That's it. I am not going to do anymore extra stuff at this conference. I'm not going to hold any official title; I'm not going to organize any more panels; I'm not going to wrangle with any of the 'powers that be. ' It's too much work! It's too stressful!  From now on, I'm going to this conference only as a participant."

And I meant every word of it.

But my friends just laughed at this.

And I guess they know me better than I know myself at times.

When our breakfast ended, I paid my share of the bill, hugged my friends and walked out of the hotel restaurant and into the conference center hallway. I tell you the truth, I was feeling kind of good about my new found resolution. In fact, I remember feeling kind of light--I was seeing my future at the conference as being more anonymous but much more fun.

Then, what must have been not more than 5 minutes after I made my declaration, I ran into a good friend of mine in that same hallway. My friend was, at the time, a current board member of AWP.

We say hello to each other. Then--and I swear this is absolutely true--my friend, who is a good bit taller than me-- smiles, looks down at me and says:

"You know, we need a Women's Caucus at AWP."

Now I'm just staring up at her. 

"You know, you're just the person to do it."

I think at this moment my lips were forming the word no.

"You know it's important."

And--I knew--know--she was right. It is important.

Now lest you think I'm a complete pushover, a work alcoholic, a whatever....let me explain a few things.

I have taught Women Studies courses for more than 20 years at the graduate and undergraduate levels.  I continue to teach courses at my college. I always joke that I am both the Creative Writing program and the Women's Studies program on my campus. Which always gets me a laugh, but is all too true.

Over the years, I have seen--first hand--how the various "issues," theories, paradigms and perspectives are realized in my students' everyday lives. They tell me things--private, often terrible, sometimes inspiring--things. They tell me these things-- and I am privileged to hear them-- because they trust me.  In northSight, my second book, I wrote poems for and about them which, I hope, honored that trust. And because a Women's Studies class is more than a course, it is a community.  A place where women can speak and think and feel safe.

As importantly, as a woman writer, I have had my share of those theories affect my own life, my writing and even my imagination.

And so, I knew full well how important this new AWP Women's Caucus was going to be. How important it is.

And so, I looked up at Kate and said, simply, "Okay, I'll do it."

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Women’s Caucus 2011
AWP—Washington, DC

Event Participants/Panel: led by Lois Roma-Deeley, Patricia Smith, Cheryl Dumesnil, Anna
George Meek, Amy King, Katherine Arnoldi
Scheduled Day: Saturday, February 5
Scheduled Time: 10:30 AM to 11:45 AM
Scheduled Hotel: Marriott Wardman, Mezzanine Level, Coolidge Room

           
            Description:
Where is the place for the women writer within AWP and within the greater literary community? The women's caucus discusses this as well as continuing inequities in creative writing publication and literature. In addition, issues centering on cultural obstacles in the form of active oppression, stereotypes, lack of access to literary power structures, historical marginalization of  women's writing, issues and perspectives and the diverse voices of women will explored. Networking opportunities.

            Justification:
Until now, AWP has not addressed intersecting issues such as gender race, class, sexual orientation and age that women writers face within AWP's own organizational structure. Further, not only does AWP need to address these issues by supporting a women's caucus, a caucus will pave the ways for the next generation of women' writers. Finally, a women's caucus will  create a  forum within AWP so that the diverse voices of women can be fully expressed and fully engaged.

          Mission:
The mission of the AWP Women's Caucus is the following:
 * to expand networking opportunities for women writers
 * to recognize the contributions of women writers nationally and
     internationally
* to enhance  understanding of the relationship between gender and
     creative writing
* to expand  literary and cultural dialogue to encompass all genres
     of creative writing specific to women writers
* to encourage an open forum for dialogues about feminist literary
      perspectives
* to support education about the contributions of women writers
*to support women writers on local, national, and global levels
* to advocate for equity in creative writing for all

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