Open Letter to AWP
[I had applied for their 2023 AWP Community Scholarship, which grants awardees access to the annual conference by waiving the registration fees, which, this year is $350 for non-members (←which is the cost of a flight from Newark to Seattle! seriously??) and $250 for members. They have other rates that bundle registration with membership, but these numbers are here to illustrate my point in this letter. In the end, my application was not accepted. And for those who don’t know, AWP stands for Associated Writers and Writing Programs.]
Dear AWP Conference Staff,
Thank you so much for considering my application for the 2023 AWP Community Scholarship. I appreciate that this opportunity was made available to those who cannot afford the registration fees, such as myself. I also appreciate the strides that AWP has made to evolve with the changing times to reflect a community of care and compassion as well as accessibility. But more needs to be done (as I’m sure you’re all well aware).
I’m curious: how many applications were submitted? And what was the selection process? How many scholarships were made available?
I have been attending AWP for years, since 2001 actually, back when it was intimate and fun. Back when it was relatively affordable. My membership has varied over that time (sometimes I’m a member, sometimes not, depending on my resources, which is unpredictable as an adjunct with three kids).
I understand that hosting a conference this size comes with a lot of moving parts and a big budget. I also understand that attendance numbers are not quite as large as they were pre-lockdown. Nevertheless, from where I’m standing, it would seem that AWP could offer another tier of registration fees for specifically for adjuncts (who make up about half of the teaching force at the university level) and possibly unaffiliated writers. But I don’t know — I don’t have the numbers.
AWP is a big place for poets and writers to network with editors and publishers, to make connections and possibly build new writing communities — all things this organization has set out to create. But how can we do this is we cannot even afford to get in the doors? Feels like a lot of gatekeeping during a time when the current cultural trend is to to open more gates.
To suggest that those who were declined the scholarship apply for a work exchange feels like a certain kind of wrong, particularly for folks of color. Those who are applying for financial support are already hustling and busting their asses to work and earn a living. And then to suggest that we do the same to get access doesn’t sit right with me. As a woman of color, I have been conditioned my entire life to bust my ass to “get in”, to get a seat at the table, to work hard and hustle in order to be included. Providing a work exchange as an alternative has echoes of Bread Loaf’s “waiter scholarship” where most awardees tended to be folks of color. (Do I have to break down why this is all sorts of problematic?)
Additionally, the timing of the scholarship application process does not work in favor for those of us who need every financial break we can get. The scholarship awardees are announced AFTER the early bird rates were closed. Which means that, as is the case with me, I have to pay the full price of registration ($350 for non-members; $250 for members). Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of having opportunities for financial assistance?
So perhaps consider the pricing of your registration. Offer another tier for those in lower income brackets. Or lower them across the board altogether. Given the amount of attendees, panelists, book fair exhibitors, and sponsors who contribute to the incoming funds, it seems possible as far as I can see. And re-think the timing of the Community Scholarship so that those who are offered funding for conference registration might have a chance to take advantage of the early bird pricing.
— an Adjunct @ Rutgers University, where we currently DO NOT have an agreed-upon contract since July 1, 2022, which translates to a non-existent/un-funded professional development fund that helps *many* Rutgers adjuncts to attend AWP, including myself.