A group of Trevecca English majors recently attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair in San Antonio, Texas. The conference is the largest of its kind in North America, typically having in between 12,000 to 13,000 attendees. Held March 4-7, the conference predated any COVID-19-related restrictions on travel.
The Trevecca students attending the conference are all staff on Trevecca’s literary magazine, The Cumberland River Review. The magazine features poetry, short fiction, essays and art. Professor Graham Hillard, creative writing professor and NYU graduate, founded the magazine and has had students on staff ever since.
“For students who are thinking about applying to graduate school or who are interested in careers in editing or publishing, this is really their first look at what that world looks like,” Hillard said of the magazine and of the conference. “The big takeaway for students who are serious about that kind of thing, they come away with a sense that they can have a place in that world if they want it.”
Staff editor Katie Riddle said that her work on the magazine and participation in the conference has helped prepare her for the possibility of graduate school as well as life after graduation.
“One thing that I noticed was that a lot of the graduate schools had programs where you worked on a literary magazine, so I felt really prepared for that,” she said. “My work on the magazine opened up the opportunity for me to go to the conference, so I thought that was really cool in and of itself.”
The conference consisted of hundreds of panel discussions on the craft and business of writing. Editors and agents talked about writing query letters, how to appraise book contracts and how to work with publishing companies.
Riddle said that one of her favorite panels discussed faith and fiction and the intersection between the two.
“One panel that I went to was ‘Faith on the Page.’ It was basically faith and children’s literature and how to make it more accessible to people.”
In addition to panels on the craft and business of writing, there were readings from various authors and poets who gave their advice on the industry and on writing in general.
“One theme that I saw was that the plot elements need to feel organic,” Riddle said. “To do that, you always need to be doing research and don’t try to force the characters to go in the direction you want to go. Let them go in the direction they need to go.”
Overall, Riddle said that the experience was an enriching one, and one that she feels added to her abilities as a writer.
“I would say that it’s helped me from the perspective of a writer, realize what editors look for. It’s also helped me shape my skills as an editor. I think it’s definitely taught me some editorial practices, what to look for and that everything can be revised and improved on as well. It’s not really set in stone till it’s actually published.”