AWP Hallmarks of a Successful Writers' Conference
Writers' Conferences & Centers (WC&C) recognizes the diversity among its affiliated workshops, festivals, conferences and colonies. For simplicity's sake, we will refer to all of these organizations as “conferences” for the rest of this document. The purpose of the professional association of these diverse groups is to uphold the highest standards possible. WC&C recognizes that each organization has a different strength and mission, and WC&C encourages innovation and variety in the programming of conferences. Among its member conferences, however, WC&C has recognized common elements of successful conferences.
These hallmarks represent a superior writers' conference that serves attendees expectations: to further their craft of writing, make them better readers, invigorate their own work by stimulating interaction with other writers and with teachers.
WC&C members agree to conduct their programs according to the highest personal and professional standards and to strive at all times to act with responsibility and good faith in their dealing with fellow members, program participants, faculty, and the public. WC&C reserves the right to terminate an existing member or to deny new membership to any organization or individual judged by the council to have failed to act within these parameters.
Writers' Conferences and Centers
The last 100 years have seen an evolution and proliferation in conferences designed for aspiring writers. From a handful of events in the early 1900s to more than 800 today in the U.S. alone, conferences appeal to a wide and diverse audience, providing a range of artistic experiences, approaches, and pedagogical goals. Programs are organized to educate aspiring writers in many specialties, including writing for children, religious writing, science fiction writing, and other genres. Unlike academic programs, conferences confer no degrees, although they may issue certificates or offer college credit. Admission to many events may or may not be dependent upon proof of ability or evidence of prior study.
Attendees at writers' conferences attend for a variety of reasons, including a desire to become published writers. Organizers of conferences often say the goals of their conferences include: teaching the craft of writing, introducing the world of publishing or other professional environments to writers, providing a supportive writing community, and generally deepening understanding and appreciation of literature.
All conferences can benefit from their ongoing research, annual self-evaluation, and periodic independent assessment in its effort to offer the best education for writers and to make the best possible contribution to the advancement of an educated audience for contemporary writing. To assist conferences with self-evaluation or independent assessments, and to serve as a guideline for new conferences, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' (AWP) Board of Trustees, with the assistance and guidance of representative members of WC&C, has established the following hallmarks of successful Writers' Conferences.
A High Standard for Conference Faculty
(Conference faculty may include writers in all genres, as well as editors, agents, publishers and other contributors to the literary arts community.)
- Whether the conference retains a recurring faculty, or new faculty is solicited each year, faculty is accomplished, active and knowledgeable in their area of specialty.
- Instructors of workshops and classes are experienced teachers and have distinguished themselves as artists who have published significant work in their genre.
- Conference faculty is accessible and participates in interactive events, in addition to lectures, workshops, or panel discussions.
- Faculty represents various genres of writing as well as a variety of approaches to their craft, based on aesthetic differences related to their ethnic, cultural, and other backgrounds.
- Faculty have clear understanding of their role(s) during conference, appropriate support (lodging, transportation, etc.), adequate preparation time and compensation for their work.
A Well-Focused Program
- Conference organizers have a mission statement guiding the purposes and goals of their conference.
- Conference programs center around the craft of writing and may offer venues for related topics such as publishing, the writing life, teaching writing, and others.
- Conference schedule offers varied modes and levels of participation (including, but not limited to, workshop/class enrollment; panel/lecture participation; readings and consultations).
- Workshops maintain a good faculty-to-student ratio, not to exceed 1-15; other classes should not exceed a 1-30 ratio.
- Complete conference schedule is available to participants well in advance of the conference.
Whether attached to the program of a college or university, an independent arts organization, or a professional society, a conference benefits from strong leadership, adequate staffing, and professional management. Ideally, the functions of program design, faculty hiring, and over-all management will reside with a single conference director, assisted by a board and/or staff with an interest and experience in writing and/or publishing.
WC&C recognizes that many conferences are operated on a volunteer basis, but when possible, the director of the conference and his/her appropriate staff should have compensation appropriate to the workload, depending upon the tasks performed and the size of the conference.
The ideal conference director should meet the following requirements:
- The Conference Director should be an experienced administrator as well as have personal experience as a writer.
- The Conference Director maintains full involvement in the organization of the conference and takes an active role while it progresses.
- The Conference Director is supported by a staff and/or board, sufficiently large and qualified to plan and operate the conference. Volunteers may be used to round-out staff workloads when appropriate and when provided with adequate instruction and oversight.
There are conferences for all levels of writers. Conferences for beginning writers need not demand proof of ability or evidence of past study, but those conferences that support intermediate or advanced writers should meet the following criteria for choosing participants.
- Applications should be readily available with reasonable deadlines.
- Applicants should be selected based on a codified and reasonable set of selection criteria.
- Applications should be reviewed by qualified writing professionals knowledgeable in the genres/areas that they are reviewing.
- Qualified applicants should demonstrate proficiency in the genre/area of study through a writing sample.
- Applicants should have some experience in a classroom or workshop environment.
- Other criteria may be used when evaluating qualified applicants, including (but not limited to): proof of educational degrees, letters of recommendation, and/or applicant interviews.
Other Complementary Assets and Infrastructure
Contracts and procedures:
- Faculty contracts should be legally binding on both parties, clarifying conditions for voiding the contract. Guidelines for payment of faculty and presenters, including “in-kind” payment such as housing, meals, transportation, etc. should be established.
- A clearly stated list of costs and dates, registration deadlines, cancellations and refunds, if any, should be made available for participants.
- A procedure for dealing with complaints, liability issues, or other problems arising from disputes between conference faculty, participants or guests should be established.
- There should be a process for collecting annual evaluations from participants, faculty, and conference staff and reviewing this information preparatory to a biannual self-evaluation and review of programs and policies.
- Advertising is truthful, it lists only confirmed and contracted writers as faculty, and, if need be, it distinguishes between workshop teachers and the visiting readers or lecturers.
- A fair practice in advertising, awarding of scholarships, faculty contracts, and policy regarding guests.
- A clearly-written brochure listing all faculty with adequate descriptions of their roles at the conference.
- An open, clear policy spelling out the number and type of scholarships/fellowships available and providing access to any application forms required.
Amenities and other offerings:
- Reasonable options for safe, clean, and affordable housing and meals if participants are solicited from outside the immediate area.
- Conference facilities that keep participants within walking distance of all official events, or dedicated transportation to “off-site” events.
- A venue for the sale of books by faculty members, and, if appropriate, participants.
- College credit for participants and/or conference staff if possible.
- Clear information to attendees and faculty as to what is and is not provided for furnishings: towels, bedding, fans, electrical adapters, etc.
The AWP Board of Trustees