Conferences & WriterMom Dilemmas

awpFor years, I’ve been hearing about AWP (the Association of Writers Programs conference). I wanted desperately to be on one of the panels this year, but I missed the proposal deadline. A couple months ago, I got invited to fill in when someone dropped out of a debut novelist panel. As it turned out, I’ll be presenting with my fellow Deb, our own fabulous Louise Miller.

Before I became a mom, conferences used to be non-stop immersion into my writing life. As an extrovert and a workaholic, I thrived in the fast pace and the constant engagement. AWP is particularly intense, with literally hundreds of panels to choose from. Still, I couldn’t wait–I wanted to drink in as much as I could.

Until I realized that the final day of AWP was also the day I had planned to take my daughter to her first in-the-theater movie. I had bought the tickets. I had talked it up. Even though it was six weeks away, she was already impatient to go. Mommy, is the movie happening today? I couldn’t miss this. What kind of mother gets her kid all excited about a movie then flakes? Certainly not me. I was determined to come back early and be a good mom.

KikiWhen it comes to movies, I’ve been very conservative with my daughter. Disney and Pixar are generally too intense, violent, sexist, scary and/or sexualized for my parenting tastes. I prefer for her to ingest media with strong female leads. There’ll be a ton of boy movies she’ll see later, when I no longer have total veto power over what she watches. Meanwhile, it’s hard to find a movie in the theater that meets with my approval. Here was this one time opportunity to see Kiki’s Delivery Service, a Hayao Miyazaki film. The perfect follow up to the only movie I’d let her see on the small screen, one of Miyazaki’s other films My Neighbor Totoro.

I had made my decision: I would come home early and be a good mom. But before I bought my plane tickets, I picked my way through the seemingly endless schedule. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that I would have to miss a few critical panels if I came home early. I was profoundly torn. Seeing my firstborn child’s first movie? Networking for my debut novel?

But when I looked closer, I wasn’t really torn, just worried people would me mad at me: my daughter would be disappointed if I missed the movie. My partner would be stressed if I was gone for longer. But was I really torn? Nope. Not really. I’m that extrovert, that workaholic who wants to be at the conference.

Suddenly, I began to look at it differently. Instead of asking Bad Mommy questions, I began to ask Bad Debut Novelist questions: How could I spend money for airfare, hotel, and conference registration and not take full advantage of the conference?

Slowly, the plan began to unfold. I bought my airline tickets. I made plans to crash one night with a friend who lives in the area. I downloaded my conference schedule. And you know what? I started to get excited. Not only for the conference, but also for the daddy/daughter movie date that my family gets to have.

By the time this post goes live, I’ll be in Los Angeles, speaking on a panel of debut novelists. In a writers conference. Right where I’m supposed to be. Yes, it’s good to be vigilant about the kinds of role models my daughter sees on screen, but the most important role model is me–her mom–a woman going after her dreams with passion and conviction.


Author: Aya de Leon

Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to

One Reply to “Conferences & WriterMom Dilemmas”

  1. I attended the AWP session that featured you, Louise Miller, and the other debut novelists. What a great session! So glad you opted for AWP! I look forward to reading UPTOWN THIEF when it’s available.

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