AWP Conference & Bookfair Comes to Boston

Big-time writers are coming to town this week. What to expect and who to look for at one of the country's biggest book fairs.

Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III is one of many featured readers at this week’s AWP Conference and Bookfair. (Photo via American Library Association/Flickr)

From Wednesday through Saturday, the literary world will descend on Boston’s Hynes Convention Center for the Association of Writers & Writing Program’s (AWP) annual Conference and Bookfair. Now more than 40 years old, the AWP conference has become a renowned national tradition. And it continues to grow—about 9,700 people preregistered for this year’s event, and more than 11,000 people are expected to attend in all.

Conference attendees have a smorgasbord of events and speakers to choose from—550 unique events were selected for inclusion at the conference, out of more than 1,300 submissions, according to conference organizer Christian Teresi. This year’s attendees include Nobel laureate keynote speakers Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott, as well as featured readers that run the gamut from Augusten Burroughs to Don DeLillo to ZZ Packer.

Helene Atwan, a member of Boston’s AWP planning team and director of Boston-based Beacon Press, has helped organize the conference for the past year and a half. Though she looks forward to a wide variety of AWP’s events, Atwan has noticed that this year’s conference has especially strong focuses on memoir writing, poetry, and environmental writing.

Memoir writing and poetry have long been gaining popularity at the conference, but Atwan says she is intrigued by the activism people are able to achieve through their environmental writing.

“[The environmental writing] isn’t just for beauty; it’s because it’s endangered. People are celebrating nature, and trying to protect it,” she said.

That in mind, Atwan recommends attending Thursday’s sessions “The Artist as Activist: On Seeing and Saving the Natural World” and “The Art of Healing: Writing Illness from Both Sides of the Curtain.” She also recommends “In Sickness and In Health: Literature at the Intersection of Medicine, Science, and the Arts” for Friday.

On Saturday, Atwan herself  will speak on the panel for “Literary Nonfiction and Social Activism,” and she also recommends “Write Where You Know” with Jennifer Haigh and Richard Russo.

In addition, check out Rosanna Warren, Andre Dubus III, Edith Pearlman, and Rosanna Warren—all of whom hail from the Greater Boston area.

Though publishers, writers, and fans alike are drawn to the AWP conference, at the end of the day, the conference is much more than an amalgamation of lectures and bookfairs. —Melissa MacEwen


The 2013 AWP Conference & Bookfair starts Wednesday at Hynes Convention Center, 900 Boylston St. On-site registration is available, members $190, non-members $285, students $60. For more information—including the full schedule of speakers and events—go to