Conference and Book Fair of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, April 8–11, 2015, Minneapolis

Part I, The Convention Center and the Letter

The Minneapolis Convention Center is a sprawling four-level, stadium-sized structure with a large lawn where Minneapolitans picnic on sunny days. A glass-enclosed overpass called the Skyway connects some surrounding hotels with the center, opening early in the morning and closing late at night. Users therefore get protected access above the street level, moving safely and efficiently to the center. Though it is enclosed and access seems possible only through the hotels, I did see a man sleeping on the floor one morning, his belongings arrayed next to him.

At our hotel, the Millennium Hotel Minneapolis, we climbed two flights of stairs in the lobby in order to enter the Skyway. The hotel is one of a chain, and its website describes it as having recently undergone a $22 million renovation. It has the sleek, upscale look that business travelers like but is more modest—in pretensions as well as size—than the Hilton, which we visited a couple times to meet with friends. In addition to access to the convention center, the Millennium has a lobby with a fireplace, a pool, a spa, and a geodesic dome on the top floor that offers a nearly 360-degree view of the city. Our last night in the city, we went to the dome and found a private party going on in one of the hotel rooms. To my surprise and delight, the sign posted outside announced the host as Bennington College's writing seminar program.

We had a history with Bennington.

The college requires students to intern with an employer during the so-called field work term (FWT), which falls between semesters. We became aware of FWT several years ago, when a student named Anna Kariel contacted us to see if we would sign up as an employer and allow her to do her field work with us (she had a female relative living in Hawai‘i whom she wanted to see and could stay with). The FWT is an intensive internship that lasts several weeks, during which the student must work several hours daily. In fall 2013, William Larsen applied to MANOA, and we accepted him as an intern for spring 2014. Will had just entered the freshmen class and was an amateur musician (guitar and banjo), actor, and juggler, among other things.

At the AWP book fair, held in a cavernous hall of the convention center, my co-workers were tending our exhibit booth when a woman came by and dropped something off. When I returned, I was told that a professor of Will's had delivered, at his request, a note and a jar of Vermont maple apple drizzle. In the quiet that settles around you when you focus on some small thing in a crowd, I read the warm and affectionate note from Will. It was the sort of expression of friendship, kindness, and appreciation that you always hope to get but rarely do, and I was amazed and touched. Then, when we went to the dome on the last evening of our stay and I saw the Bennington sign, I felt as if a circuit had been completed. My office mates and I had traveled thousands of miles from Honolulu to Minneapolis, and once there had reconnected with a friend we'd made back home.

The AWP conference brings people together—sparks new connections and strengthens old ones—in ways such as this. Expectations are high at the start of the conference, and even if you have been to previous ones, you begin with a sense of adventure. This is the result of journeying far from home with a sense of purpose that unites you with colleagues from all over the country. That this happens for only a few days once a year gives the experience a precious quality: associations formed through common purpose become relationships, and the annual renewals of these are very sweet.

Coming next: Part II, Meeting Our Panelists