My Davidson | A Student Blog Photo Essay: English Scholars Go to AWP Conference

a compilation of images from a conference featuring young men and women

In February, Abbott Scholars in Davidson College’s English Department had the opportunity to attend the AWP (Association of Writers & Writer Programs) Conference in Kansas City. Check out their photos and reflections. 

About the Authors

Photo Bio
a young man with black hair and facial hair wearing a white button-up

Michael Chapin ’24 (he/him) is an English major from Atlanta, Georgia. Outside of being an Abbott Scholar, he is an avid runner, traveler and photographer, and in that vein, he serves as vice-president of Davidson’s running club. He also serves as co-president of SIAD (Student Initiative for Academic Diversity) where he works to help Davidson hire professors committed to creating and supporting creative and inclusive spaces.


a young white male wearing a straw hat and t-shirt

Mason Davis ’24 (he/him) is an English and Philosophy double major from Baltimore, Maryland. Outside of Abbott Scholars, Mason is a self-proclaimed “frequent patron of Davis Café, occasionally an active member of Phi Gamma Delta, and a big fan of the English department.”


a young woman with dark brown hair wearing a floral top and smiling

Taylor Dykes ’24 (she/her) is an English major and Digital Studies minor from Westminster, California. Outside of the classroom, she has been involved with Union Board, Writing Center, and PASA (Pan-Asian Students Association). 


a young white woman with brown hair smiling on a beach with a sunset behind her

Isabel Smith ’24 (she/her) is an English and Gender & Sexuality Studies double major from St. Augustine, Florida. Outside of the classroom, she is involved with the Van Every/Smith Galleries, Lula Bell’s Resource Center, and Hobart Park. 


Isabel Smith '24: Poetry & Book Fairs

The Abbott Scholars Program allows students to spend a year crafting either a scholarly or creative thesis on a topic of their choice, working alongside a director, a reader, and the other scholars. You get an extended period of time to produce strong writing, opportunities to talk with visiting authors, and the ability to request funding for related research and travel.

a group of young men and women standing and smiling

Abbott Scholars

One travel opportunity is the chance to attend the Association of Writers & Writer Programs (AWP) conference, which seven of us went to in February of this year. This year, the conference was in Kansas City, and it lasted three days: Thursday to Saturday. Each of us individually picked what panels to go to each day. I am writing a poetry thesis, so the first talk I attended was “Sound and Color: Poets and Visual Artists in Exquisite Exchange.” The presentation was my favorite of all of them because of how illuminating and beautiful it was. Each poet had partnered with a visual artist, and they shared the process of working in tandem to create together, displaying photographs, blurbs of text exchanges, paintings, and finally, the finished poetry. Due to this experience, I decided to incorporate visual art into my own practice, and I have since begun working on finding available art as well as creating some myself. Additionally, my mother is a painter and my father is a poet, so I was very excited to share what I had learned with the both of them.

Throughout the few days, I attended panels on drafting tips and tricks (featuring Davidson Professors Parker and Shavers), sharing elegies, queer post-religious poetry, and trans poetics, all of which were a pleasure and incredibly helpful. Another important aspect of the conference was the bookfair. It was a labyrinth, spanning an entire floor of the huge conference center. Besides fun and silly booths — like one labeled “Poetic Help”  — the bookfair featured presses, literature reviews, and MFA programs, so I got the chance to talk to experts in the field of writing and publishing. They also tended to give out free books, excitingly, so I got quite the haul, all of which I can’t wait to read. At night, the seven of us — Tavie Kittredge, Michael Chapin, Nate Bagonza, Mason Davis, Taylor Dykes, Abby Morris, and myself — would explore the city, including events put on by AWPers. We went out to dinner together and attended the keynote, a poetry reading at a cat cafe, and a Rock & Roll-themed reading. It was amazing to bond with my peers and explore a new city. Thanks to the funding of the Abbott Scholars Program, I know much more about how to pursue a future in writing.

a collection of books on a black carpet
a group of young men and women take a selfie
a young woman stands in front of a red skyline in a small city

Michael Chapin ’24: Surrounded by Passionate Writers

The seven of us traveling together really solidified the bonds we’ve been building over the past semester and allowed us to spend time together outside of our thesis work, whether that was over Thai or ramen for dinner or just taking the time to explore the city. 

a sign reading "welcome to the AWP24 Conference & Bookfair!"

Getting to spend that time at AWP was incredibly special because, for me at least, it was the first time being surrounded by people deeply connected and committed to writing in all its forms. We attended events ranging from poetry readings at cat cafés to queer narrative presentations in speakeasy bars. 

My personal highlight of the conference was listening to Jericho Brown deliver the keynote speech in which he called on us to challenge the world as we know it — to challenge book bans and our perception of the world as impossible to change. Brown asked why we can’t imagine a better world while acknowledging that a better world is not created without a fight. A quote from the speech that has stuck with me in the weeks since was his question: “If the fight is against fascism, who do we need to be if we lose that fight?” And then, who do we need to be to win?

a plate of barbecue in Kansas City

Trying a taste of Kansas City barbecue!

two young people walk a city street

Exploring the streets of Kansas City.

Mason Davis '24: The Impact of AWP

The best part of the conference? Talking to authors, talking to MFA directors, talking to independent publishers … Being honest about what I wanted to know and not feeling awkward about lacking experience was so valuable. 

The best single moment I had was cornering Susan Choi and telling her how much I loved Trust Exercise. She seemed so delighted that I loved the book, which warmed my heart. AWP carried an infectious feeling of immense creative potential that has stuck with me vividly.

a group of young men and women take a selfie
a group of young people sit around a table in a convention hall

Now that I’ve seen a piece of the literary world, I want to be a part of it. I loved talking about books and the book-world all day. It felt a bit like the Davidson College campus except that everyone wants to do creative writing. That was a dream for me. I felt sad coming back to reality ... Sitting side-by-side with people who have just done a fantastic reading, or highly regarded editors, or publishers etc. etc. made me feel like my goals are imminently possible. There is so, so much writing out there and so many people making it work, somehow. If they can do it, so can I. 

I'd also been skeptical about MFA programs (how will I afford it? is it even necessary?), but meeting all those MFA students and directors has convinced me that I'd be doing myself a serious disservice by not applying to programs in the next 1-5 years, depending on where life takes me. Not to get ahead of myself.

I want to express my gratitude to the Abbott family (and personally Susan, who was so wonderful to share a dinner with) for the opportunity to, in a sense, role-play as a 'real' writer for an extended weekend and get to try on those shoes. I liked how they fit. I can only speak with certainty for myself, but I know I felt (re)invigorated in becoming a person of letters.


  • March 26, 2024