AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) has come under fire for its lack of inclusion and transparency. Basically, a bunch of people proposed panels geared towards “minority issues” – good God, I hate that phrase – and they were all struck down. In some cases, the AWP issued ridiculous statements such as “not enough people proposed disability panels so we struck them all down” or simply went after anyone who dared question their authority. Kate Gale, Managing Editor for Red Hen Press, had a different point of view to share. She has since tried to write it all off as a poor attempt at humor, but no one is buying what she’s selling. Here is her original blog/article on the Huffington Post, and here is my response. (The link has been updated – it goes to an archive of her blog post.)
Dear Miss Gale,
I want to take a moment to thank you for your courage in speaking up for all of “us”. Your point was clear, your eloquence masterfully getting to the root of an issue that has been plaguing the fine organization that is AWP. AWP does not need to be representative of its members, nor does it need to worry about trivial things like transparency. If you’re a member of AWP then you must understand that the AWP is all of us: as long as you’re a white, heterosexual, able-bodied Christian with a definite preference for the males. If you’re not in this group, AWP is still you, but please be sure to shut up, sit down and deal with what face AWP chooses to put on. It’s choosing that face for your own good.
I don’t understand why people are so concerned with how inclusive panels are in terms of proposed topics and/or panelists. Why would anyone want to see diversity among the panels it offers? I mean, if they’re all more or less the same, doesn’t that make it easier to choose which panels you will attend? Everyone knows that the AWP conference is not something you attend to grow as a writer or as an educator. There is not supposed to be anything of substance to it – rather it’s a place to see friends and colleagues that live in other parts of the country while partying and getting drunk. Beyond that what is the point? Why do people want panels that mean something to them? Why should they want panels that affect who they are as people and writers?
And as far as people being sore they aren’t on any panels – I’m glad you put them in their place. What a bunch of babies. I mean, we both know that most writers are just rolling in bags of money. They don’t need an institution to reimburse their travel expenses – something that being on a panel would surely do. I mean every writer, even ones that are not published and have just started out have the funds to cover AWP tenfold. In fact, why isn’t there a quarterly conference? I like to party more than once a year, and as we have both just stated – that’s all one can, and should, expect from AWP.
I feel like people should listen to me, because I’m at least three minorities, so I can speak for everyone. And even though the last conference I attended was one where no one seemed to care about accommodating my needs so that I could experience the conference that I paid for along with everyone else, and the ridiculousness resulted in at least four ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations – who cares? Because at the end of the day, AWP is you, and you, and me.
So, thank you AWP. Thank you for denying me access. Thank you for failing to represent. Thank you for promoting an environment among your panelists that was hostile at having anyone who wasn’t able-bodied in the room. Thank you for being defensive when others tried to voice their concerns, and for using aggressive and hostile tactics to shut them down. It’s not bullying when you’re doing it for our own good.
Wouldn’t you agree Miss Gale? That is why I wanted to thank you for writing your worthwhile take on this issue. As you stated, when you’re a player there is going to be haters, so please ignore the protests from everyone else under the “Us” umbrella. You’re half Jewish and a woman and that makes you an expert on all minority groups and oppression. When people say you’re being insensitive, they just can’t handle the solid logic found in your viewpoint. And for your white supremacist undertones and tones of white privilege – it’s just as you said – there will be haters.
Don’t take it personally. I guess some people just don’t know how to handle good writing.
Because sometimes something is so ridiculous, you just need to be ridiculous back.
And here is what AWP has to say about all this foolishness. To clarify, I made a lot of noise at the last conference about starting up a Disability Caucus and talked to several people about it. It’s great there is going to be one, but it is NOT a panel. Think of it like panels being classes in college, in which case the caucus is an extracurricular club/organization. Not the same, for shame AWP.
Supporting Links –
Karrie Higgins discusses disabilities and the AWP – best piece I’ve read on the subject. Spoiler alert – the AWP is broken. – https://karriehiggins.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/99-problems/
This is how the AWP responds to a simple inquiry on transparency and inclusion when it came to its panel selection. – http://afteriwasdead.blogspot.com/2015/08/transparency.html?view=classic
This is a link to the change.org petition insisting that the AWP apologize for its previous personal attack of those who have questioned its inclusion and transparency. It also insists that AWP add at least one disabilities panel to its list of panels.
Here are some more links covering Gale’s piece and/or the problems that the AWP just doesn’t care to address. Check them out!
A wonderfully written response to Kate Gale’s piece by Laura Hudgins: http://pdxxcollective.com/2015/08/26/awp-isnt-me/
A terrific post going over all of these “unfortunate events” by Linda Rodriguez: http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/2015/08/a-series-of-unfortunate-eventsawp-david.html
Dave Fenza, AWP’s director who tried to intimidate any inquiries about transparency through bullying and intimidation defends Gale’s piece in which he shoots Indians: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/trade-shows-events/article/67908-red-hen-press-kate-gale-apologizes-for-commentary-awp-defends-her.html
Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-diversity-at-awp-20150826-htmlstory.html
Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/trade-shows-events/article/67901-charges-of-discrimination-lack-of-diversity-leveled-against-awp.html