AWP 2024 Bookfair Discoveries

I took last week off from posting because I was on my way back from the annual AWP Conference, which this year was in Kansas City. We decided to drive since we were bringing along bunches of books to sell—and, on the plus side, we did sell bunches of them, which didn’t make the 12-hour drive any shorter but did at least make it feel worth it.

I love conferences, and the AWP conference in particular—I’ve been to most of them that have happened over the last 15 years. What I love about it being such a huge conference is that you really can tailor your experience to what you need in that moment, and that plus the moving location gives each year’s a slightly different feel.

Having a table meant this year I spent a lot more time in the bookfair than in past years—and, really, I’m not mad about it. I’ve learned a lot from going to the panels, but the bookfair and offsite readings are the real gems of the conference, where you really get the chance to make connections, have fun, and learn some new stuff all at the same time.

Of course, it also always takes a bit of time for me to process all the new stuff I learn about during AWP. I’ve spent the past week or so going through all the books, flyers, and whatnot I picked up in my bookfair wanderings and figured I’d share some of my favorite discoveries here in case they’re also new finds for some other folks out there.

Cool journals & magazines

SLAB – Boggs Fiction Contest

I knew that SLAB existed before because they’re based out of Slippery Rock University (just a hop skip and jump from Pittsburgh). The hot tip I learned at the conference is that they extended the deadline for their annual Boggs Fiction Contest to March 17th. A deadline extension is usually a good sign that they’re still actively looking for things to publish or give money to. Other things I like about this contest: it has a good entry-to-prize ratio ($10 to enter, $650 1st place), and they consider longer short stories (up to 10,000 words).

Midnight Chem

This is a relatively new lit mag with only one issue under their belt so far. Normally I wait until a market’s at least a few years old to give them much attention (given new journals’ annoying habit of flaming out and folding), but this one is founded by former editors of Reed Magazine—in other words, people who know what it takes to run a successful journal, and know what they’re getting into by starting one. I’m also into their overall mission, which is to provide a home for genre-bending and experimental work. They’re not open for subs at the moment but their first issue is worth a read and I’m definitely going to keep them on my radar.

Good Life Review

I’ve had kind of a heart thing for Omaha since I visited last summer and realized it’s actually a pretty cool little city, so my attention was instantly snagged when I saw Good Life Review was based there. It’s another fairly new one, just founded in 2020. That said, they’ve secured an institutional connection, operated by graduates and MFA candidates from the University of Nebraska, which is a positive sign in my mind of their potential staying power. It’s another one whose mission stirs my soul: “to lift the strange, the daring, the underrepresented, and reveal complexities hidden in the Heartland and beyond.” They’re also a paying market ($75 a piece).

Last Syllable

Last Syllable is another lit mag baby, just founded in 2023 with one issue under their belt. What caught my eye about them is that they’re filling a much-needed niche: providing a home for long prose. They publish fiction and CNF of 5,000-25,000 words in length. As someone who often writes stories in that range—and knows just how frustrating it can be to find a home for them—I’ve very much got my eye on Last Syllable and am definitely rooting for them to stick around long-term.

Black Lily

Last newbie I’ll call out on this list is Black Lily, a print-only goth/punk zine whose first issue debuted at the conference. The quality of work in the first issue is excellent, which makes me very excited to see what they’ll do in future issues. Definitely worth following and checking out for folks who like their literature dark and weird.

Adi Magazine

Onto a slightly more established journal, Adi Magazine was founded in 2019—which is only 4 years, true, but also means they kept chugging away through Covid, a solid indicator of their staying power as far as I’m concerned. They’re dedicated to “rehumanizing policy” with fiction, poetry, essays, and narrative journalism that explore policy and its impact on real human lives. Each issue is themed and they’re currently reading on a theme of “disobedience to orthodoxies” (through the end of February).

Cool presses

Quilted Press

Quilted Press is the exact kind of hybrid publishing model that I love and want to support. They’re an anti-capitalist collective of independent authors, and from what I can see do a good job merging the best of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Authors get creative control and full ownership, while also getting the support and audience of a press, and they distribute their books through indie book sales rather than big corporate sellers. I also appreciate that they focus on providing a home for non-traditional stories, with a focus on queer stories and other marginalized voices that might not get attention from bigger markets.

Broken River Books

Another writing collective I was very happy to stumble across, in part because of their mission but also because their books are right up my speculative alley. They started as a more traditional small press in 2013 but have since shifted into a 5-author collective who write mostly in the horror, cyberpunk, and crime region of the literary world. I picked up Rios de la Luz’ Itzá at the conference and they have bunches of other titles I’ll probably add to my TBR list in the future.

Creature Publishing

Speaking of awesome horror, if you’re into dark literature with a feminist bent, this is a press you should know about. I’ve been hip to them for a couple of years (first encountered them at the 2022 AWP conference in Philly) but I was reminded of them at this year’s event and picked up V. Castro’s new collection, Out of Aztlan, which I anticipate loving just as much as Goddess of Filth.

Bullshit Lit

This one could’ve gone in the above section, too, because they’re both a press and a literary journal. They first caught my eye because they’re cross-state neighbors, based in Philadelphia, then hooked me with their vibe. They’re a home for lovers of “the inane, the ugly, and the funky”, all of which tickle my heartstrings. If you write that kind of stuff and want to send it their way, be aware their reading periods are very short (around a week or two). On the plus side they announce them pretty far ahead of time so you can plan ahead and set yourself a reminder.

Cow Tipping Press

All the work published by Cow Tipping Press was created by someone with a developmental disability, which is the first very cool thing about them. Their overall mission is to create more opportunities for people with autism or Down syndrome to get their voices heard. They also teach writing classes, host readings, and do other cool things in their home town of Minneapolis. I picked up one of their books, Fill Them With Food, at the conference, and based on how fun the cover is I’m very excited to dig into it.

Cool literary organizations

Scrappy Literary

There were a lot of different places offering writing retreats at AWP and I scoped out a few of them, but Scrappy Literary was the one that really stood out. They feel more low-key and accessible, and I appreciate the emphasis on community and their DIY vibe.

Unicorn Authors Club

The founder of this organization was on a panel I attended and had a lot of great wisdom to share about building a community. The Unicorn Authors Club is an online community where BIPOC writers and allies can get support, mentorship, and resources to finish and publish their book.

Pen Parentis

This community is specifically for writers who are parents, giving them resources and support to maintain their creative life alongside their family life. I saw this one and instantly filed it in the “I don’t need this, but I know lots of people who do” category. Definitely sounds like something that would be helpful for anyone writing while raising little ones.

…I still have to go back through my notes from panels and check out the available virtual content, so I may do a future post with some tidbits of wisdom. I’ve definitely had plenty to keep me busy over the past week just with my bookfair discoveries (and more than doubled my TBR list, but such things can’t be helped when you go to AWP).

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