Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm Still Talking About the AWP Pedagogy Forum

The pedagogy forum is gone. It is ended. I'm concerned that no one seems to be talking about this.

I wrote a post about it when we first found out. I mention in that post many of the reasons why I think it's such a bad idea to end the pedagogy forum, how switching to pedagogy panel presentations means only a certain group of people will be given a voice in the discussion of creative writing pedagogy, and how I can't really understand AWP's reasoning behind this as the pedagogy forums would seem to take up a very minor amount of space, time, and money. What worries me, though, is that since the announcement, I have not been able to find any official announcement, any reason given, or any discussion about the decision--particularly not from AWP, but not from writers or lit bloggers either.

This worries me for the reasons mentioned in the previous post--namely, I worry that switching to pedagogy panels will mean the old guard will be the primary voice of pedagogy even though they tend to teach less broadly and with less motivation to critically examine or change their approaches; meanwhile important contributors to the discussion, like people who teach in K-12 schools, or community colleges, or art schools, or prisons, or any context outside the MFA, are cut out. But let me just add one more concern to the list: The decision to end the pedagogy forum means that an important source of funding for graduate students to attend AWP is eliminated. 

It is difficult, no matter how you travel to the conference, and no matter how many people you share your hotel room with, for a single person to spend under $750 to go to AWP (assuming you're going for a couple of days), particularly when it continues to be held in major cities. We have a generous stipend at New Mexico State, and this still represents more than a full period's pay, and far more than a month's rent. Mike and I would not have been able to go to AWP, ever, without the promise of partial funding. This year we did not have that promise, and I did not go--we just couldn't spare the expense. Historically, the university has funded pretty much as many graduate students as wanted to go, assuming two things: that all of them had helped out with campus activities in some way (volunteering their time for campus or community events), and that a sizeable number of them were going to the conference to present papers. There is no meaningful way for graduate students to present university-recognized scholarly work at AWP without the pedagogy forum. We may be asked to participate in publishers' readings, but these are not seen as scholarly (and in fact aren't). The chances we will propose a panel and have it accepted are next to nothing. Without the pedagogy forum, and without the scholarly opportunity that it represents, our university will only fund a maximum of 4 students to attend AWP each year. And predictably, other sources of funding (i.e., through the department budget) are drying up more and more.

I can only imagine that other universities are in roughly the same situation. Take away the pedagogy forum, then, and you take away graduate students from AWP.

Graduate students in all disciplines are encouraged to attend the big conferences in their field, as this is how you present yourself as a scholar, someone committed to entering and contributing to the field. AWP has always been a weird place for grad students, as simply attending does not say much of anything about how serious you are, or what you intend to do in the field. But previously, grads could distinguish themselves by participating as teachers and presenting new ideas; without the pedagogy forum, grads have no way to either distinguish themselves or contribute. 

This is in part a result of our continued refusal to hold creative writing to the status and demands of a field of study--to treat it as a hybrid of hobby and intellectual pursuit. Creative writing as a field is in as odd of a place as grad students--did you do it because you loved it? And if you love it, and love is how you grow in it, get better at it, is there any point to talking about it seriously? AWP is in an odd place in that regard--yet it has never stopped them from serving the various populations and interest groups that might potentially attend the conference, with panels ranging in focus and philosophy. Grad students need a way to prove that they intend to take membership in that community--not that, as is becoming more and more the case, they intend to take a mid-semester vacation.

Again, if anyone has a rationale to offer for this, I am eager to hear it. Right now it just looks like AWP is tired of making space for people whose names they can't use as promotional bait.

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