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Exploring Cross-Genre Writing through the AWP Conference

In early February, English students at Ohio Wesleyan University were able to travel to Kansas City, Missouri for the Annual Writing and Writers Conference.

This conference, commonly abbreviated to AWP, is the largest writing conference in North America annually and attracted nearly 8,000 attendees, where around 2,000 of these individuals were students, nine of them coming from Ohio Wesleyan University.

Over 430 on-site events and 160 off-site events were hosted by the AWP conference, providing a hub of writers within the Kansas City Convention Center, and even more scattered throughout the city, in local coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, and more. 

While participating in the conference, students could attend panels hosted by accomplished authors, writers, and all aspects of the writing community. Many panels focused on a more traditional side of writing, editing, and publishing, while others focused on the modernization of written communication into multiple abstract forms, such as the panel titled The Page Blinks Black: Image, Text, & Screen. This panel concentrated on multimedia forms of writing, and incorporating audio, visual performance, and images, to have a role within a larger written body of work.

Another panel that focused on writing careers outside of writing traditional style books was called Alternative Careers in Writing, where drama performances or literary journalism were discussed by those successful in the field. 

The rise of experimental forms of writing is increasingly popular in the writing community, with works that employ lyrical, rhythmic sentences, similar to poetry, with narratives or stories being increasingly labeled as essay writing, literary journalism, and prose. This idea pushes away the typical notion that writing pieces must be classified into one of three traditional categories, being nonfiction, fiction, or poetry. Categorization steers writers away from exploring form, narration, structure, and more within their craft. Rather, allowing writers to identify work as cross-genre, prose, or essay, pushes them to grow their craft rather than attempting to define it, existing in an area in between.

Amy Butcher, director of the Creative Writing program at Ohio Wesleyan University, supports genre-bending work, often citing John D'agata’s novel, ‘The Lifespan of a Fact’ in nonfiction-centered classes. This novel argues the notion that nonfiction writing has to be entirely true, pushing for literary freedom within nonfiction narratives and memoir writing. 

Another panel included at the AWP conference called Ordering Essay Collections questioned the notion of what nonfiction writing is and how it can be defined while exploring essays, narrative nonfiction, and memoirs. Included as a host on the panel was Melissa Febos, who visited the Ohio Wesleyan Campus for a book reading, signing, and writing salon as a part of the OWU Visiting Writer Series on OWU Connection Day in February. In Febo’s writing, she challenges the boundaries of nonfiction writing, similar to D’agata and Butcher, by exploring the ways that truth is subjective to one’s perspective.

Most recently in the OWU English Department Visiting Writer Series, Lars Horn delivered a reading, book signing, and multiple class visits from April 10th to 11th. Lars Horn is the author of The Voice of the Fish. This novel is a work of lyric essay, combining rhythm, voice, and structure to nonfiction writing.

Horn explores what nonfiction writing is capable of by immersing readers in narrative storytelling through vignette structures, historical contexts, and poetry within a larger essay. During a class visit, Horn shared with Creative Writing Concentrates that static art, such as writing, is capable of holding visual and physical properties, using the terms movement, depth, and texture to describe their work. 

While the streets of Kansas City were bustling with imaginative ideas of writing for a short weekend in February, students were able to implement these into their writing when back in Delaware, Ohio. This opportunity served as a beneficial visit for undergraduates to explore writing as a limitless and malleable art form, a thought growing within the community.

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