5 Insider Tips for Surviving West Chester

Keynote Speaker Natasha Trethewey

In June 2008 I arrived at the West Chester Poetry Conference for the first time and boy, was I nervous! I wasn’t sure what to expect and I didn’t think I would know anyone or that anyone would speak to me! Of course I was completely wrong about that–I pretty soon found people I had published in The Barefoot Muse and others who knew my name from online forums and zines, and I was fine. I’ve been back every year since and wouldn’t miss it for the world. However, for those of you who might be going for the first time, or maybe haven’t attended for a while, I thought I would put together this short blog post.

1. Bring & Wear Layers

Most of the events take place either in the Sykes Student Union building or the Swope Music building, and both buildings are heavily air-conditioned (and I mean heavily–I have seen goose bumps!) However, the June weather is typically warmish (and can be sweltering) and you will be walking around campus a fair bit–the dining hall is by the dorms, which is at least a 5 minute walk from Sykes, and Swope is again a 5-10 minute walk from Sykes. Plus, there was The Year The Aircon Broke in Swope. We sweated buckets!

2. Make Friends with Someone Who Has Transport

This is less important if you are staying in the dorm, although those 5-10 minute walks aren’t exactly pleasant if it happens to be raining, but if you are at the hotel, it’s a pretty good idea to have back-up for the shuttles. Yes, they do run as scheduled, but mishaps can occur, and you may miss one. My minivan has saved a panelist more than once from a late arrival.

3. Eat Heartily at Dinner!

Dinner is earlyish by my standards (Starts at around 6.30-7) and lots of stuff happens afterwards, including much imbibing of legally intoxicating substances, if you’ve a mind. So make sure you consume enough to keep you going. The food is typically excellent, so this shouldn’t be a hardship.

4. Yes, You Really Can Sit Anywhere!

One of the best things about the conference is that the faculty really do mingle completely with the paying attendees. So yes, if you see Molly Peacock at lunch and you’ve always been a big fan, or you spot an open chair next to A.E. Stallings at a panel, it really is okay to sit down and start a conversation. You just probably shouldn’t whip a book out for signing while they are trying to eat (although I’ve seen it done.)

Finally, 5. Don’t Try to Do Everything!

The schedule is packed with good stuff, although some events are concurrent, so it isn’t even possible to do everything. At West Chester you can eat, breathe and sleep poetry 24 hours a day. However, you should probably look the schedule over in advance and choose one daytime session each day that is missable to you, and then miss it. Walk around the pretty university town, sit in the comfy seating area in the Union building with a book, or go back to your room and take a nap. That way, at 8 p.m. when it’s time to head over to Swope and hear the readings by our amazing faculty, you’ll still be raring to go! Just don’t miss MY reading!

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