Hi, my name’s Alexa! I’m a junior and I’ve been on the BatCat staff for almost two years now. My interests on BatCat Press are mostly centered around running our social media accounts and writing blog posts for our website. I’m known in BatCat for always having our business card on hand and always being ready with our tag line whenever anybody asks, “So, what is BatCat Press?” I also go to a lot of the events we participate in, always with a goal to get the word out about us.
This past week BatCat Press made their way to AWP for the eighth time! The Association of Writers and Writing Programs hosts a conference every year for small presses, publishers, MFA programs and creative writing students all over the country. This year five students were able to attend the conference, which was held in Tampa, Florida. Henry, Olivia, Cecil, Sierra, and I, as well as our managing editor and founder, Deanna Baringer, made our way to sunny Florida.
This was my second year going to AWP. Being the only high school run press at the conference, we’re some of the youngest people there. I never get tired of hearing the surprised exclamations of adults when we mention that we’re in high school, and we make everything by hand. My favorite part of the convention is representing BatCat and getting the word out there about what we do. But of course, there’s a lot more to AWP than standing behind the table at the book fair.
AWP is a great opportunity for a lot of reasons. Along with the book fair that BatCat participates in, there are a number of panel discussions, readings, and even a few offsite events. BatCat staff members haven’t gotten the chance to attend many of these events in the past, but because so many of us went this year, we were able to get out from behind the table and explore the convention a lot more.
“I really enjoyed the ‘Art of Crafting a Chapbook,’” Cecil says. “They gave a lot of practical advice on writing and publishing chapbooks.” Cecil also went to a panel on modern southern gothic style writing. “It was highly surreal. I took Henry to it, and it was so funny watching his face; he’d never heard of southern surrealism. He was expecting something like Flannery O’Conner, but that is not what he got.”
Our managing editor and founder, Deanna Baringer, also found herself at a conference, as a panelist! The panel was titled “The Teaching Press: Bringing Professional Literary Publishing into the Classroom.” The panel focussed on the technicalities of teaching and running a press, as well as the impact small presses have on the community and even nationally. Other panelists included: Beth Staples, an editor at Lookout Books; Ross Tangedal, publisher and chief of Cornerstone Press; Steve Halle, the director of publications unit at Illinois State University; and Holms Troelstrup, assistant director of the publications unit at Illinois State University.
“I’d never been on one before; it was a very positive first experience,” Mrs. Baringer said. “It was nice to know that other people are interested in starting up things in institutions like this.” BatCat is hopes to find more opportunities like this at future AWP conferences.
Henry, Olivia, and I also found ourselves at an offsite event on Thursday when the book fair was over. There was a reading for one of the books I bought, (The Kiss: intimacies from Writers), so I brought Henry and Olivia with me. We were surprised to find the reading was at someone’s house in a neighborhood near the convention center. It was held by Guernica Magazine. The house was full of people from the convention; writers, publishers, and staff from various presses all gathered to hear a few people read. It was a full-on house party with a stage in the backyard for the reading.
“I thought the reading was important for us to hear, as young writers. It showed us there was a community of writers out there, and it gave me hope to see adult writers doing their thing,” Henry said. That’s one of the best things about AWP. It gives everyone one in the literary world a sense of community.
“This year, I saw it more as a community as opposed to a selling audience,” Olivia said. She also went to the convention last year. She said last year she went to work with BatCat and collect submission opportunities from other journals and publishers. This year, however, she spent more time participating in activities and meeting people.
We definitely had a lot of fun with the panels and activities, but we also got down to business.
This year, we were excited to bring our newest publications: Swamp Frank by Francesco Grisanzio, and Parakeet by Jason Olsen, both of which came out last spring. Each one is a unique publication that we were so excited to share with the people of AWP. Francesco even stopped by our table to say hi! Other new things on our table this year included iron-on patches and enamel pins. And, of course, we also had our handmade handouts -mini bullet journals that we painted and water-marbled!
Like last year, BatCat went rogue and found another home at an empty table for some of our extras. We had a number of posters, postcards, and pins that didn’t fit on our first table, so we laid them out on an empty table nearby and told people to name their price. This alternative BatCat table went by many names, TacTab (BatCat backwards) and Cheesecloth (that one’s a long story) being two of them. Last year, we had letterpressed valentines, which we sold in the same way. Whatever name it goes by, BatCat-gone-rogue is becoming something of an AWP tradition.
We had a lot of new experiences this year that made our AWP experience better than we could have hoped. Henry, Cecil, and Sierra were all there for the first time, and they’re all interested in going next year. But some things about AWP never change. We saw old friends and met new ones, got the word out about what we do in BatCat, bought way too many books to lug home, and most of all, we had fun being a part of a huge and exciting literary community! I think I speak for all of us when I say, we can’t wait for next year’s AWP in Portland, Oregon!
Written by Alexa Bocek, BatCat staff member.