While people like Cate Marvin, Susan Schultz, & Craig Santos Perez have queried similarly in the past, speculating on a variety of causes for rejection, proposal applicants are still left wondering at the end of the process each year, where we went wrong. Did bias play a role? Are the panelists and I not noteworthy enough? Was the proposal poorly worded? Is my focus on the least popular genre? Etc.
On the process, Christian Teresi clarified last year in an interview:
We want the process to be as democratic and transparent as possible. We are always thinking about ways in which we might improve those goals. A detailed explanation of the “Selection & Scoring Process” can be found on the AWP website, but in short what happens is each committee member ranks the proposals within the given modules based on a set of defined criteria. The committee’s aggregate scores are then averaged, and the highest scoring proposals within each module are accepted.
So we are told attention is paid to each proposal by each committee member. And that each proposal is averaged into a final score and ranked. But at the end of the day, rejection in hand, we hopeful applicants who put in time and effort writing proposals with their justifications, having invited and convinced other writers to share their time and participate, are not privy to where we went wrong, not even a hint.
MY QUESTION: Why is AWP capable of spending time judging, tallying, averaging, ranking and then informing each applicant of their accepted or rejected status, but it remains impossible, despite having already ranked each proposal and reached a consensus, to inform us of that ranking? If you want the process to be as “democratic and transparent” as possible, wouldn’t sharing those final scores with your applicants be a step in making more transparent this democratic process? It would also permit us to think about how to improve our proposals next year.
AWP, since you’ve already done the tallying, by not permitting us to know where we stand in the big picture feels like shadowy obfuscation and actually does make us wonder about the true democracy of the process. This may sound like sour grapes, but I would like to have a vague idea where my proposal placed so that I can know if I should bother trying to improve it for next year — Or is an investigation of the influence of gender in publishing merely a subject AWP doesn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole? Would such queries resound with AWP’s practices to boot? With no sense of why, my speculations are left to ‘run wild’… & I don’t think I’m alone.
In other AWP news, I return to my usual refrain: If writers did not have access to alcohol at this year’s conference, you better believe this would be a men’s issue. Wait! I mean, women AND men would care, speak out, shout their demands for access from the rooftops & book fair tables, etc.
But I hear very little outcry about the lack of daycare, which *pretty often* falls on the shoulders of writers who happen to be female (Wait! I know some men, even personally, take care of their babies at AWP – I know – hence the “pretty often”). This need for childcare affects attendance & participation, among other issues. Teresi notes in the aforementioned interview that insurance for childcare is too costly, but I wonder, as AWP maps out hotels and locations, how much childcare factors into the planning (as might access to bars? etc). Teresi states:
However, whenever possible we will provide information on local childcare providers as recommended by the hotel, and attendees can contract with them individually. We will work toward making this information available both on the website and in the conference program.
Has AWP been working on locating options for parents who bring children this year? Did they last year? Do they network these parents so that they might be able to collaborate and share babysitting duties, thus permitting more mobility? To date, I see no mention of the above ‘childcare providers’ on the AWP site, nor do I see any discussion module set for parents to attempt to mobilize on their own steam on the AWP Conference forum. I realize it’s early still, so perhaps AWP officiators will remedy this absence. Perhaps.
SANDRA SIMONDS started an online petition for on-site daycare here – click and sign.
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Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She serves on the executive board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and is co-editing with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edited the anthology Bettering American Poetry 2015 and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.