Established in 1991, the AAWW has served as an incubator, supporter, and developer of minority writers (especially of the yellow persuasion) for over two decades. It’s also one of the few Asian-American nonprofits in New York, or for that matter, on the East Coast of the United States. Don’t believe me? Scan the directory of Asian-American nonprofits, and you’ll see twice the number of organizations in the promised land (California), as you will in New York Shitty.
With that in mind, I was excited for its annual Publishing Conference (Pubcon), and why not? Meeting new, like-minded writers! Listening to established, crusty veterans dish out their wisdom! Free banh mi! And all this for the eminently reasonable price of $180 (though the price was much lower for the early, early birds). Besides, as an Asian-American writer–a double minority, mind you–this was catnip, cocaine, and Pokemon Go all rolled up in one.
Alas, the higher your expectations, the greater the disappointment.
My first shock came when I arrived at the venue. Outside, a large blackboard proclaimed in colorful letters that Pubcon began at 10:30–even though my ticket explicitly stated that the festivities would not start until noon. Panicked, I rushed inside, only to be greeted with half-hearted apologies and pained grimaces, rather than any sort of explanation for the mistaken start times.
I had missed the first two sessions, and I was furious.
Needless to say, that cast a pall over the rest of the conference, something that was not assuaged even by the endless boxes of free banh mi that were included in the ticket price. Sadly, by arriving late, I had missed most of the meat options, and had to settle for the vegetarian sandwiches.
It didn’t help that we were at the Issue Project Room, a giant, marbled event space more suitable for a Batman movie set rather than a conference for independent, struggling writers. Grandiose marble pillars topped a high-vaulted, marble ceiling, and for the first half of the conference, the air conditioning was off. The area was windowless, shut off from the beautiful, early summer weather, and yawn-inducing in its stifling, closed confines.
Still, as I sat down and scanned the list of events, it struck me that I had made another mistake: the event would not end until six, and everything consisted of panels, panels, and more panels. There would be four authors, editors, or publishers seated at the rectangular table at the front of the room. They would banter back and forth, answering a series of scripted questions in a good-natured, teasing way for about forty minutes, before opening up the last fifteen minutes to the audience for queries and comments. As much as I enjoyed some of these panels, it was very difficult to stay focused and pay attention–to say nothing of sitting on your ass for close to six hours.
Perhaps then, it was a good thing that I arrived late, for more reasons than one.
Still, I did enjoy quite a few of the panels, with a standout being a discussion on finding your own writing community of like-minded friends, rivals, and everyone in between. Featuring Alice Sola Kim, Tony Tulathimutte, and Jenny Zhang, three established writers (and good friends), the panel was warm, funny, and a rollicking good time. Truly, I wish I had more friends like them, or at least ones I could see on a regular basis.
I should also note that everyone there was very nice, open, and gracious with their time and contact information. I managed to meet several freelance writers, all of whom gave me fantastic advice on pitching, building your portfolio, and of course, mental resilience.
In the end though, despite AAWW’s commendable track record and intentions in putting together Pubcon, I don’t think I will return. I loved some of the expert panels, soaked up some great advice, and met some really awesome people. And while $180 is a very competitive price, it simply could not make up for the poor organization, terrible venue, and unimaginative format.