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Wondrously Disruptive Conclusions to AWP 2017
Publishers Weekly’s Claire Kirch went to the Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression, held in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, on the final day of AWP. The vigil, organized by Split This Rock, and co-sponsored by 30 literary organizations and creative writing programs, featured nine speakers, “most of them prominent poets, [who] addressed a crowd of over 1,000 people, with one, Carolyn Forché, declaring that it was the ‘best AWP panel ever.’” More:
“It was wondrously disruptive,” Spartanburg, S.C.’s Hub City Press editor Meg Reid told PW, “That’s what makes this year’s AWP such a rich experience. We’re not just living in our bubble. We’re engaged with the outside world. There’s a lot more engagement. Everyone’s talking politics.”
“I think our attendees welcome the opportunity to voice their frustrations among their peers,” AWP conference director Christian Teresi said, “AWP values free press and freedom of expression: we’re happy the attendees are here to exercise those rights. There has never been a more important time for writers to assemble.”
Despite the outpouring of political sentiment throughout all three days, AWP remains both an academic conference and an opportunity for literary presses and literary organizations to display and sell their offerings to consumers in the book fair area, while universities promote their MFA programs.
That doesn’t mean all was peachy: A document that got wide circulation during and post-AWP brought to light the myriad reasons NOT to buy into the conference. In “(Might As Well) Give Away the Books,” Matvei Yankelevich crunches the numbers (and the free labor) for a hypothetical small press with a table at the bookfair, and comes up short:
In essence, the “sale” of these 65 books has allowed the publisher to be seen at the AWP, with an official badge and table sign and a listing in a 200+ page catalog. To “sell” these 65 books, the publisher has spent $975 in cash and 3 eight-hour days selling books in a corporate convention center hall (24 hours free labor), and incurred additional expenses for overpriced convention center food and coffee, housing in a corporate hotel room or Air B&B, and travel from another city.
Previously, the publisher had likely spent between 65 to 130 hours on each of the 5 titles they brought to the book fair — a combination of editing, designing, typesetting, proofing, publicizing (and in some cases printing and binding by hand), i.e. another 325 to 650 hours of free labor.
This labor, in itself, cannot be seen as a problem if the publisher is giving that labor freely, with no expectation of remuneration for their time. However, when a larger institution with a paid staff profits from that free labor, then we are dealing with a kind of exploitation — an exploitation of the good will that cultural laborers such as small publishers exhibit for the enrichment of cultural discourse.
It’s the beginning of a worthy dialogue…