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Today the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced the finalists for its 2016 book awards. The annual prizes honor outstanding books in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, autobiography, biography, and criticism published in the United States in the previous year.



Listed below are the finalists in poetry, fiction, and autobiography. For a complete list of the thirty finalists, visit the NBCC website.  

The finalists in poetry are Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Tyehimba Jess’s Olio (Wave); Bernadette Mayer’s Works and Days (New Directions); Robert Pinsky’s At the Foundling Hospital (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Monica Youn’s Blackacre (Graywolf).

The finalists in fiction are Michael Chabon’s Moonglow (Harper); Louise Erdrich’s LaRose (Harper); Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown); Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (Harper); and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (Penguin). 

In autobiography, the finalists are Marion Coutts’s The Iceberg (Black Cat); the late Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude (Bloomsbury); Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl (Knopf); Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between (Random House); and Kao Kalia Yang’s The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father (Metropolitan).

The winners will be announced on March 16 at a ceremony in New York City, which is free and open to the public.

In addition to the finalists, the NBCC announced the recipients of three special prizes: Margaret Atwood received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award; Yaa Gyasi received the fourth annual John Leonard Prize for a first book for her debut novel, Homegoing (Knopf); and Michelle Dean received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

First given in 1975 and considered among the most prestigious literary prizes in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are the only prizes conferred by a jury of working critics and book review editors. The NBCC is comprised of a thousand critics and editors across the country, and the twenty-four-member board of directors selects the awards finalists.

Robin Lampman is a published poet and an educator with thirty-five years of experience teaching in universities, high schools, and elementary schools. She received a master’s degree in Bilingual Education and has taught literature in two languages in public schools in New Mexico, Texas, and New York, as well as at the University of Monterrey in Mexico and the American School of Madrid in Spain. Lampman published a volume of poetry by eighth graders in Harlem, which was made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Big Read grant. For the last several years she has been teaching writing classes for the Noble Maritime Collection including adult classes on poetic forms and food literature. Cooking the Books, an anthology which includes recipes, poetry, essays, and memories relived by her students is available at the Noble Maritime Museum. Lampman is the literary chairperson for the Staten Island Creative Community and organizes their Second Sunday Spoken Word events, and publishes the Staten Island Creative Community Journal of Literature and Art.

As a poet and educator who has been teaching literature and promoting poetry at schools and museums in New York and New Mexico, as well as in Mexico and Spain, I have always been on the lookout for ways to give poets a voice. Several years ago, I began serving as the Literary Chairperson for the Staten Island Creative Community and organizing Second Sunday Spoken Word events.

In June of 2015, the event was attended by ten poets, and we were each other’s audience. In February 2016, we received the first of four Readings & Workshops grants. Since then we have been able to fund a poet who once lived in Staten Island but now lives in Manhattan, a poet who writes in both English and Spanish, and a poet who writes in both Japanese and English. Our audience as well as our pool of writers has grown.

We have hosted readings at the Makers Space, the Hub, the St. George Day Festival, and the National Lighthouse Museum. We will be reading at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition in the spring. But to fully understand the impact that Poets & Writers has had on us, you must let me describe our last event to you.

On the eighth of January, the day after the first snowstorm of 2017, Second Sunday Spoken Word was scheduled to present “Poetry in Many Languages.” Though the snow had subsided, the streets were still white and the temperature was frigid. We wondered who would brave the streets to read a poem. We wondered if anyone would come out in the cold to listen to poetry, much less poetry read bilingually.

At 2:00 PM the gallery was empty. We shoveled the sidewalk and salted the ramp. An hour later, the gallery was full. Marilyn Kiss read in Spanish, Kevyn Fairchild in Hungarian, Malachi McCormick in Irish, Dominic Ambrose in Italian, Lorenzo Hail in French, and Lingping Chen, who had come in on the ferry, read in Chinese.

Henry Van Campen, recipient of the R&W grant for this event, read from his new book, Internal Externals, in both Japanese and English. Hiroki Otani concluded the event singing original lyrics in Japanese. We all sang along. “Ganbaro,” we sang. “Hello, goodbye, and take courage.”

Who braves the storm to read a poem? Who braves the storm to hear poetry in many languages? It is a testament not only to the strength that support from Poets & Writers has given Second Sunday Spoken Word in Staten Island, but to the strength inherent in the diversity of New York City. It is a testament to the power of poetry.

Photo: (top) Robin Lampman at the National Lighthouse Museum. Photo credit: Michael McQueeny. (middle) Malachi McCormick recites his poems in Irish. (bottom) Lingping Chen reading in Chinese. Photo credit: Robin Lampman.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

“I began writing poetry as an act of survival,” writes Safiya Sinclair in “Shadows of Words: Our Twelfth Annual Look at Debut Poets” in the January/February 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Think about how you might look at your own writing as an act of survival: What are the most troublesome issues and sources of conflict in your everyday life, whether small and tangible or large and amorphous? How might the practice of putting pen to paper and giving words to emotions be integral to your encounter with these obstacles? Write a poem that helps you think through and voice your troubles.

“Surely nothing as simple as a notebook and a pencil could have saved my grandma, just as when things turned darkest for me, my wife had to intervene. Yet I still feel lucky that I became a writer when I did. Because for years those journal pages helped me hold myself together when the world pulled me apart.” In “Writing the Self: Some Thoughts on Words and Woe” in the January/February 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Frank Bures discusses the benefits of expressive writing and the power the practice has to expand one’s sense of self. Over the course of several days, jot down notes exploring your current emotional state. Perhaps these notes will be the start of an essay or an exploration that continues.

Wraps, bubble tea, pork belly, kale, elaborate hamburgers, macarons. Different years are prone to different food trends, with the popular items appearing everywhere from fine-dining establishments, to fast food joints and snack trucks, to packaged goods and home cooking. Incorporate a trending food item from a certain time period into a short story. How does the insertion contribute a specific sense of time and place into your piece? What does it tell the reader about your characters’ lifestyles?

The finalists for the 2016 Story Prize have been announced. The annual prize is given for a story collection published in the previous year. The winner receives $20,000 and the finalists each receive $5,000.

The finalists for this year’s prize are Rick Bass for For a Little While (Little, Brown), Anna Noyes for Goodnight, Beautiful Women (Grove Press), and Helen Maryles Shankman for They Were Like Family to Me (Scribner). Prize founders Larry Dark and Julie Lindsey selected the finalists from 106 submissions; Harold Augenbraum, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and Daniel Goldin will choose the winner.

“These three books stood out from a large and varied field, each offering skillful storytelling, beautifully detailed language, and a whole greater than its parts,” said Dark. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on March 8.

Established in 2004, the Story Prize is one of the largest prizes given for a story collection. Recent winners include George Saunders for Tenth of December, Elizabeth McCracken for Thunderstruck, and Adam Johnson for Fortune Smiles.

 

The cento, whose name is derived from a Latin term meaning “patchwork,” is a form of fragmented poetry originating in the third century consisting of lines taken from poems written by other poets. Contemporary centos often offer a humorous juxtaposition of contrasting images, ideas, and tones. Read centos written by John Ashbery and Simone Muench, and then try writing your own, sampling verses from diverse time periods, styles, and subject matter, and citing your sources at the end.

Kimo Armitage is the author of over twenty children's books, and his first novel, The Healers, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in April 2016. He is currently looking for a publisher for his first collection of poetry, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

My writing group tells me to submit to the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry. I am hesitant. I am not ready for New York City and my inner voice tells me that I might never be ready.

Luckily, my writing group is there for me. We meet monthly and workshop our work. After I receive positive feedback for the poems, I decide to listen to them and send in my collection of poems. These poems are inspired by the traumatic and joyous histories of people in the Pacific who have been affected by colonization, nuclear weapon detonation, immigration, foreign military occupation, and other events. Hawaiʻi is another world compared to New York City and I do not know how I—a Hawaiian, Chinese, Maori, English, and Portuguese Pacific Islander raised by my mother’s parents—will be received. My worry is that my voice and my stories will be dismissed. I am shocked when I am told that I have won.

Now, I am in New York City. I am excited and terrified. I have just arrived on the red-eye into JFK. Alicia Upano, a fabulous writer and the WEX winner for fiction, arrived the day before and we are meeting for brunch at a famous NYC dim sum eatery. She is also from Hawaiʻi and we are friends. My first task is to drop my luggage off at the hotel—included in an all-expenses-paid trip to the city to meet with agents, authors, publishers, and others in the literary community, as well as the opportunity to participate at a one-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming.

I hail a cab to get into the city. My suitcase is filled with gifts for the people that I will meet. There are boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and aromatic coffee from Hawaiʻi. I have also brought along copies of my completed poetry manuscript, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

Alicia meets me at the hotel. We cab to Chinatown and eat an amazing lunch. We sightsee before heading back to the hotel for our initial meeting with Bonnie Rose Marcus and Wo Chan, who work in the Readings & Workshops (East) department at Poets & Writers.

The week is an amazing mix of meetings, information, and being genuinely starstruck. We discuss literature and topics in Uptown offices, trendy restaurants, private homes, and modest workspaces. Each person listens and offers advice. These resonated with me:

Send your poetry out to different publishers. It will get your name and work out until you find the right publisher.

You have to write. Period.

Storyline is just as important as character (and vice versa).

There is a difference between writing and editing. You need both.

There is no single path. All writers have their own journey.

It is the last advice that cinches it for me. The New York literary scene is intimidating and frustrating and worthwhile at the same time. I am beyond grateful for being chosen to see how it works. But the greatest takeaway for me is that there is no right way to get here. Never pass up an opportunity; it might be the key that lets you in.

Photos (top): Kimo Armitage, (middle) Kimo Armitage and Sarah Gambito, Kimo Armitage and Alicia Upano. Photo credit: Alycia Kravitz. Photo (bottom, left to right): Kimo Armitage, Maureen Egen, Marie Brown, Alicia Upano, Bonnie Rose Marcus, Elliot Figman. Photo credit: Anonymous.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Submissions are open for the 2017 Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize, given biennially for an essay. The winner will receive £20,000 (approximately $24,570), and five runners-up will each receive £1,000 (approximately $1,230). The winning essays will be published in an awards anthology.

Using the online submission system, submit an essay between 2,000 to 8,000 words with a £20 (approximately $25) entry fee by January 9. The winner and runners-up will be required to attend the award ceremony held in the United Kingdom; travel expenses are not covered. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The 2017 judges are Travis Elborough, Kirsty Gunn, Daniel Mendelsohn, Rosalind Porter, and Sameer Rahim. The winners will be announced on June 28.

The Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize was established in 2013 to honor the essayist William Hazlitt. Michael Ignatieff won the 2013 prize for “Raphael Lemkin and Genocide”; David Bradley won the 2015 prize for his essay “A Eulogy for Nigger.”

Based in the United Kingdom, Notting Hill Editions is committed to “the best in essayistic nonfiction writing.” The press takes its cue from “the vivid contribution of the short text to European cultural life.”

 

Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses words, threads, and plants to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices From Within the Anti-Violence Movement (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016), facilitates trauma-focused writing and embroidery workshops, and has had writing published in places like OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, the Establishment, HandJob, and the Feminist Wire. She is the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press, which has their first issue out this month. A queer and trans affirming, trauma-informed herbalist, Patterson offers sliding scale care as a practitioner with the Breathe Network as well as through her own practice Corpus Ritual Apothecary. Recently, she finished a graduate program with a thesis focused on translating embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative nonfiction. You can find out more at ofthebody.net.

What makes your workshops unique?
The workshops I offer are multi-dimensional. They’re grounded in writing through, with and about trauma (however people define that for themselves), and in reading other people’s writing about trauma and violence. There’s a somatic approach so we attend to the wisdom in our bodies that we sometimes forget, which might look like lying on the ground and breathing deeply. We hold space for each other in a way that feels really loving, expansive, and honestly, these days, it feels necessary and transformative. I’ve offered them in LGBTQ centers, at harm reduction clinics, in veterans hospitals, and universities. We’re living in a burning world and a lot of us have always felt that singe so it helps to unpack it on the page and turn it into something. I mean, trauma is always on the page but centering it in this way, I think, gives people permission to do the work they have been wanting and needing to do.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
First, I thank people for showing up. Showing up is the hardest part especially when you’re inviting people to show up and write about their hardest experiences. I try to let go of demands and expectations and I let people know that they never have to share out loud if they don’t want to. (And actually, more times than not, most, if not all people, share out loud.) We build a shared altar. I bring a freshly brewed herbal tea to calm nervousness and support the heart. I remind everyone that wherever they are and whatever comes out of the pen, for that moment, is just right. There’s plenty of time for editing—these workshops are for digging inside and generating.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
Mostly just hearing from people that they felt more connected to their writing practice and, in turn, to themselves. That they feel heard and understood. That they felt something in their body soften or move around just a little.

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I recently finished a thesis (and soon to be manuscript) on trauma, somatic writing and embroidery—using stitch as a metaphor for making and remaking the wound—and it was incredibly difficult work so I’ve been taking a little breather. Some weeks the only time I write is in the workshop, which feels a bit funny to admit. But I also get to remember how writing supports me feeling more in my own life, more alive.

As someone who has been digging into my own history of trauma as well as collective trauma for years, it feels nice to be connected to other people doing similar work. As a younger writer, I felt so ashamed about the directions my writing took, particularly in wanting to write about violence I had experienced, so I feel really alive when I get to shape these spaces and invite other writers into them. I’m also just incredibly inspired by the quality of writing that I get to experience in these workshops every week. I get to remember how many incredible writers there are out there just looking for a room to write in.

Photo: Jennifer Patterson (top). Class materials (bottom). Photo credit: Jennifer Patterson.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

“Truth is a matter of the imagination,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin in her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. For many writers, artists, and filmmakers in the latter half of the twentieth century, envisioning the truth of the twenty-first century and beyond meant creating dystopian worlds, universes in which human society has adapted its systems to accommodate technological transformations, global climate change, postapocalyptic geographies, and consumerist greed. Consider the 1971 episode of Name of the Game titled “L.A. 2017,” directed by Steven Spielberg; the 1982 film Blade Runner, set in 2019; Stephen King’s 1982 novel, The Running Man, set in 2025; the 1993 film Demolition Man, set in 2032; and William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s 1967 novel, Logan’s Run, set in 2116. Do you remember your childhood fears and visions of what the future would hold? What dramatic changes in society have you witnessed? Write an essay about the hopes, worries, and predictions for the future that are most pressing for you now. Do you have any dystopian predictions for the future? How are your worries a reflection of both your individuality and the larger world?

Claremont Graduate University has announced the finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Both awards are given for poetry collections published in the previous year; the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award is given to a midcareer poet and the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award is given for a debut poetry collection.

The finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award are Vievee Francis for Forest Primeval (Northwestern University Press), Tyehimba Jess for Olio (Wave Books), Ada Limón for Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions), Jamaal May for The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books), and Patrick Rosal for Brooklyn Antediluvian (Persea Books).

The finalists for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award are Derrick Austin for Trouble the Water (BOA Editions), Rickey Laurentiis for Boy With Thorn (University of Pittsburgh Press), Jordan Rice for Constellarium (Orison Books), Ocean Vuong for Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press), and Phillip B. Williams for Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books).

“Poetry has the power to remind us of what is truly significant, worthy, and lasting in our culture,” said Lori Anne Ferrell, the director of the Tufts Poetry Awards. “This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards at Claremont Graduate University, and once again we honor the careers of talented poets, both new and midcareer, who are finalists for these distinguished awards. Their voices—diverse, compassionate, challenging—represent America at its best.”

The judges for both prizes are Don Share, Elena Karina Byrne, Terrance Hayes, Meghan O’Rourke, and Brian Kim Stefans. The winners will be announced in February and honored at a ceremony in April in Los Angeles.

Established in the early 1990s, the Tufts Poetry Awards honor the memory of Kingsley Tufts. Recent winners of the Kingsley Tufts Award include Ross Gay, Angie Estes, and Afaa Michael Weaver. Recent winners of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award include Danez Smith, Brandon Som, and Yona Harvey.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Francis, Jess, Limón, Rosal, May.

Last year the Atlantic reported that researchers using computer systems to analyze the emotional trajectories of protagonists in nearly two thousand works of English-language fiction found that there are just six basic storytelling arcs: “1. Rags to Riches (rise), 2. Riches to Rags (fall), 3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise), 4. Icarus (rise then fall), 5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise), 6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall).” Think of a story that you often tell in your own life, perhaps a childhood memory that involves schools friends or a family occasion, or an adventurous incident that happened on a trip or vacation. Does it seem to align with one of these basic plotlines? Write a short fiction piece that maps the major elements of your story onto a different, unexpected arc.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too?” wrote Emily Dickinson in one of her most popular poems, published in 1891. Have you ever jotted down a memo to nobody in particular? Ever sent out to sea a message in a bottle? Left a note on a wall or a park bench to someone, anyone, who might happen upon it? All these types of missives have in common a sense of mystery surrounding the identity of the recipient, and an uncertainty about the intended recipient ever receiving the communication. Write a series of short poems addressed to an unknown person. How does removing the certainty of an addressee place more emphasis on other external factors, like geography and physical distance, and your own current preoccupations and state of mind? As you engage in a conversation with Nobody, what insights are revealed?

Ten years ago, James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” passed away on Christmas Day. In a Rolling Stone article from 2007, Gerri Hirshey writes that Brown’s “musical calls to social justice were not as eloquent as Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches. But they were equally heartfelt.” In fact, after Dr. King’s assassination, Brown televised his concert in Boston and urged fans not to “react in a way that’s going to destroy your community.” Write a personal essay that explores a time you experienced music or a musician bringing a community together during difficult times. Did you feel more hopeful?

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