Over 50 Concordia students and faculty attended the AWP conference in Minneapolis last weekend along with numerous English alum, as Concordia was the premier sponsor.

Editor, author and Concordia Professor Scott Olsen said Concordia discovered two years ago that the conference was coming to Minneapolis.

He said we had a choice: the college could have just another 8-foot table at the conference, or it could have a larger presence.

“My view is of course that I thought we should lead the parade,” Olsen said.

Olsen approached the President’s Office with the idea and they approved it, and the college spent the next two years working to make that idea become a reality.

“What we’ve done is we’ve made the larger community of writers part of the ongoing story of Concordia,” Olsen said.

On Thursday night President Craft introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Panels made up a large portion of the conference, and two of them were led by Concordia. One was the Ascent panel, where four recent contributors read their work.

The other Concordia-led panel was about using personal experience and voice in reporting and storytelling. Olsen moderated the panel and English associate professor and director of the multimedia journalism program, Catherine McMullen presented alongside Concordia alums Alan Bjerga, a reporter for Bloomberg News and Melanie Hoffert, a winner of the Minnesota Book Award for her book Prairie Silence.

McMullen knew the alum who spoke alongside her when they were students.

“We thought nobody would be there,” McMullen said. The panel was scheduled at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the last day of the conference. In the past it has been known as a time when many have already left. But after the panel, McMullen said, people approached them and said it was the best panel they experienced at the conference.

Another large part of the conference was the book fair. Over 700 exhibitors including independent literary presses and journals, creative writing programs, writing conferences and centers and literary arts organizations were present.

Some students shopped for MFA programs at the book fair, others spent time introducing themselves to editors.

Sydni Kreps, a sophomore and multimedia journalism and English writing double major said one of her favorite parts of the conference was going to a panel and then being able to meet the panelists at the book fair. She had sat in on a panel where the panelists talked about the future of book publishing, and then she was able to go the panelists’ booth in the book fair, meet them, feel their books and understand how they got to be where they are now.

Senior Megan Schindler heard there would be a poetry event at a Minneapolis writing conference, she knew she would participate.

“When else would I get the opportunity to perform at the biggest writing conference in North America pretty much?”

Schindler decided she would perform at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair, the biggest writing conference in the country. The conference rotates in location, and this year it was held in Minneapolis. Over 13,000 people attended the conference.

Schindler discovered a couple of days before the poetry event that it would be a slam competition.

When Schindler spoke during the first round, she was nervous – about the competition, about performing in front of people who didn’t know her and an audience who knew more about poetry than previous audiences – and she flubbed a few lines.

After she sat down and relaxed though, Schindler felt more in her element and knew she would nail the second one.

“I also knew I had to nail the second piece to get my score up,” she said.

She ended up receiving second place.

“It was great to be recognized at a setting that wasn’t Concordia for what I do,” Schindler said.

After the competition, folks from a literary review, including the executive director, approached her and asked her to submit to them.

Amber Morgan

Amber Morgan likes storytelling, wandering to new places, and building community. She expects to graduate in May 2015 with a double major in multimedia journalism and communication studies and a minor in psychology.

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