Olga García Echeverría
Her words struck a chord. We were on the phone talking about the upcoming Association of Writers and Writer Programs Conference and we had veered off on a tangent. Well, kind of.
At the end of last year, Elba and I enthusiastically registered for the AWP Conference being held this year in Boston, Massachusetts from March 6th—9th. Neither of us had ever attended, and we thought it important to finally do so.
We took advantage of the AWP pre-registration and one-year membership bundle, each of us paying $220.00. It’s a pretty penny for the underemployed, but we felt it well worth the four days of being inundated with writer’s panels, readings, presentations, book fairs and publishing information.
The bigger hurdle was lodging.
Boston hotels are pricey, even those
associated with the conference, offering “discounts.” Elba
sought out an old colleague in the area as a housing option, but that didn’t
pan out. In November, I had applied for a writer’s grant and budgeted part of
the AWP Conference as a cost for professional development. We kept our fingers
crossed. When I didn’t get the grant, we figured it was time to look for
the best deals and suck up the costs. If there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
We found and booked a hotel, but in order to get a cheaper price, we had to prepay the entire cost of our four-day stay in
Boston. When I got my
confirmation receipt online, all taxes and fees included, I gasped. James Baldwin said it better than I ever could: “Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
Plus, there were still plane tickets to purchase. The taxi from the airport to the hotel. The taxi from the hotel to the airport. I could not help but convert the dollars into living expenses, one of my life-long working class habits. Even with all the so-called bargains, my overall trip to
Boston would equal my
share of the rent for one month, two weeks of groceries and gas, and the cost of my pending visit to the dentist. , you’re killing me! Forget the fancy Boston cream pie I had been fantasizing
about. Since our hotel accommodations didn't even include breakfast (that would have cost extra), I imagined packing my own tea bags and pilfering hot water and snacks to survive. In Boston , I thought, I will live off crackers and tea. Boston
Despite our friendship that spans decades, I was embarrassed to call Elba and express my growing anxiety over the cost of
Boston. Internalized working-class shame. To make matters worse, my girlfriend
had come home from work one day and casually mentioned the Boston
weather as something we should look up. The weather? Oh yeah, that might be
important, considering we had booked a hotel farther away from the conference
for a better deal. Our plan was to walk daily to and from the ,
where the conference is being held. Save money and exercise at the same time.
That’s how the working-class rolls, or in this case, strolls. Haynes Convention Center
Online, weather forecasts of March in
Boston predicted in the 30's and, if lucky,
in the 40's. One anonymous Boston
resident shared that in March one should expect weather that is “chilly,
blustery and bleak. Nothing is blooming. Sand and trash are left around from
the melting snow.” Another said, “Typically wet and cold.” We would be indoors
mostly, of course, but there were the walks to and from the conference to
contend. Both Elba and I are Californian
Chicanas; we don’t own East Coast winter gear. Neither do our families or friends.
Would we have to rummage through our local thrift stores and buy real winter clothes and shoes? Another potential expense. Boston was slowly, but
surely, becoming a royal pain in my piggy bank's ass.
Then the phone rang. It was
Elba. "We've got to talk about Boston," she said. "Yes!" I answered immediately. There was a strain in both our voices, a communal sense of urgency; yet for a few seconds, silence hung. I knew what she was going to say before she actually said it. Telepathy? Probably more like shared reality. Finally, she spoke our truth: “Honey, we can’t afford Boston.”
I exhaled. I was so grateful for her words.
I exhaled. I was so grateful for her words.
We canceled our hotel immediately. Full refund. Perhaps we should have been sad, but we were, more than anything else, relieved. We would not have to eat peanut butter and jelly for the next month. We would not have to starve in
We would not have to walk through the sand and trash “left around from the
melting snow” in our lightweight cloth tennis shoes, our feet stiff and
numb against the slushy concrete.
Next year the conference will be in
Seattle, much closer. We’ll try again. Meanwhile,
we have come up with our own AWP Conference options that are more realistic for us and for any other working class
writers out there who may not be able to attend this year's conference.
Option 1: Designate March 6th-9th as official Days of the Creative Word. Read, write, visit a new bookstore or library, hold your own intimate, local writing workshops or readings.
Elba and I will be doing just that. It’s an opportunity to honor the AWP Conference dates we had already reserved
and use that time to further foster our poetry and prose. We may not be at the conference
in the flesh, but we will be there in spirit.
Option 2: Apply for a writer’s grant for a future conference. Yes, the competition is stiff and you may not get it (like me this past year), but it’s a great exercise in writing anyway. AWP actually offers two annual scholarship of $500 each to emerging writers who wish to attend a writer’s conference, center, retreat, festival, or residency. Submissions are accepted between December 1 and March 30 of each year (there’s still time). For more information, visit https://www.awpwriter.org/contests/wcc_scholarships_overview
Option 3: Go online and check out the authors who will be presenting at the AWP Conference. https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/featured_presenters
Depending on your budget, pick one or a few of the authors and go out and get their books of poetry, memoir, essays or prose. Delve into the pages. Even from afar, you’ll get a whiff and a flavor for this year's highlighted authors at the conference. This is precisely what I did. Considering all the money I won't be spending in Boston, I figure I could treat myself and simultaneously support the literary arts by buying a few books at my local independent bookstore. It isn't the actual conference, I know, and it isn't Boston cream pie in
Boston, but as working class Chicana writers who
exist (despite invisibility aquí y allá), we’ve got to keep wizarding
our own caminos.
Tune in to my next blog where I’ll discuss the four AWP Conference authors I selected from this year's line-up: Adonis, Joy Castro, Eduardo C. Corral, and Tracy K. Smith. I'm just now exploring their texts, but they are already dazzling me with their words. For now, I leave you with a fitting verse from one of them:
Is this really the world?
Shall I grieve? Shall I hope?
I prefer to sing.