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In a letter to the Swedish Academy, Bob Dylan explained that he would not be attending this weekend’s Nobel ceremony and banquet to accept the Nobel Prize in Literature because of “pre-existing commitments.” Think of a time you have been unable—or unwilling—to appear at an important event. Was the decision-making process a foregone conclusion, or did you waver? Do you generally take on many commitments or few? Once made, do you stick to them? Use this essay as an opportunity to explore your social priorities, and memories of other times in your life when you’ve been needed in two places at once.

At a ceremony last night in New York City, the Center for Fiction announced Kia Corthron as the winner of the 2016 First Novel Prize. Corthron, who will receive $10,000, won the prize for her debut novel, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter (Seven Stories Press). The annual award is given for a debut novel published in the previous year.

Kia Corthron has written and produced more than fifteen plays, and written for television shows such as The Wire. The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is her first novel, and tells the story of two pairs of brothers growing up during the Civil Rights Movement. Corthron lives in Harlem, New York.

The finalists for the prize were Emma Cline for The Girls (Random House), Nicole Dennis-Benn for Here Comes the Sun (Liveright), Yaa Gyasi for Homegoing (Knopf), Krys Lee for How I Became a North Korean (Viking), Kaitlyn Greenidge for We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books), and Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Each finalist will receive $1,000. The longlist for the prize was announced in July and included twenty-five debut novels.

This judges for the 2016 prize were Chris Abani, Kate Christensen, Rivka Galchen, Kate Walbert, and Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the 2015 prize for The Sympathizer (Grove Press).

Previous winners include Tiphanie Yanique for Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead Books) in 2014 and Margaret Wrinkle for Wash (Atlantic Monthly Press) in 2013.

The Center for Fiction, established in 1820 as the Mercantile Library, is devoted to encouraging people to “read and value fiction and to support and celebrate its creation and enjoyment.” Based in New York City, the organization administers several literary prizes and fellowships, runs reading groups and writing workshops, and hosts events in its space.

 Photo: Kia Corthron

Browse through the winning photographs of this year’s National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest, and select the one that most readily captures your imagination. Write a one-thousand-word piece of flash fiction inspired by this photo, and by the ways in which it both presents the natural world and offers insight, comparison, and reflection of humanity’s place within it. To go a step further, try writing more than one flash fiction story focused on a different perspective of the same photo.

Submissions are now open for the Biographers International Organization (BIO) Hazel Rowley Prize, given annually for a proposal by a first-time biographer. The winner receives $2,000, a detailed manuscript reading by an established agent, a yearlong membership in BIO, and publicity through the organization’s website and newsletter, Biographers Craft.

Hazel RowleyCitizens or permanent residents of the United States and Canada writing in English who are working on a biography that has not been commissioned, contracted, or self-published—and who have not yet published a biography, history, or book of narrative nonfiction—are eligible. To apply, fill out the online entry form and upload a book proposal, résumé, and writing sample in one document totaling no more than 20 pages with $50 application fee by December 31. The winner will be announced during BIO’s 2017 conference in Boston on May 19.

First awarded in 2014, the prize is named for the late Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), the author of four biographies and a generous supporter of the Biographers International Organization. Previous winners of the prize include Holly Van Leuven for her biography of actor Ray Bolger, and Robert Marshall for his biography of New Age author Carlos Castaneda.

Biographers International Organization is the world’s only literary organization dedicated to biographers and biography. Founded in 2010, the organization “informs, supports, promotes, defends, and advocates for its members.” For more information about the prize, visit BIO’s website

(Photo: Hazel Rowley)

12.06.16

From: The Time Is Now

The landay is a form of folk poetry from Afghanistan consisting of a single couplet—nine syllables in the first line, and thirteen in the second line—that is generally written anonymously and often recited or sung by women. As poet and journalist Eliza Griswold writes, “It must take on one of five subjects: meena, love; jang, war; watan, homeland; biltoon, separation; and, finally, gham, which means despair or grief.” Read more about the form and its historical and contemporary practices in Griswold’s piece in Poetry magazine. Then, write several landays of your own—biting, bawdy, or lamenting.

Emma Tao White was born in Shanghai and came to the United States at age ten, living in the Midwest until she completed her education. For twenty years, she juggled a medical career and managed a family of five children. In her forties, she returned to school and became a licensed clinical psychologist. She now lives in San Francisco, where for the last ten years, she has facilitated writing groups for seniors in senior centers, senior housing, and adult day health centers including the P&W–supported Project Access at the Coronet Apartments. Over the same time period, she has been writing her own life stories.

Senior Writers

For several years, I’ve facilitated writing groups at adult day health centers and senior apartment buildings where the participants range from the elderly and/or disabled with good cognitive and physical functioning to those who have approached dementia and need assistance with the physical act of writing. Writing abilities range from retired professional writers to those who need assistance to write due to brain injury, muscle disease, or arthritis. 

One of the most enthusiastic writers, who I have dubbed “Happy Camper,” has a severe stutter. Each week, he writes a page or more detailing the highlights of his week. With public transportation, he often gets around the entire Bay Area. He frequently expresses joy and appreciation for this group: “I am glad we have an outlet to explore and put down our thoughts and ideas on our journey of life.”

Another writer I call the “Doughnut Man” developed Baker’s Lung from making doughnuts for over thirty years. Since he was still too young for social security, he went on to a second career as a security guard. A few years ago he had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia that hampered his ability to find and say words. With persistent effort, he has noticeably improved. He shared in his writing how after trying different jobs as a young man, he found doughnut making the most satisfying. 

After having a stroke about twenty years ago, one woman uses the class to practice her handwriting. Her concentration is admirable whether she is practicing her name, numbers, or the ABCs. Another participant writes romantic poems in Spanish, based on song lyrics she remembers from her youth. And yet another participant began her autobiography years ago, and at ninety-two, she still has the ambition to write a book about her colorful life that began in Scotland when her father, a graduate student from China, married his landlady’s daughter. She stopped work on her manuscript just as the Cultural Revolution was to begin.

One of our most prolific writers is a professional entertainment writer in her home country. In the beginning, she wrote about her delight with her cat and how they live together. Then she began to write about her childhood, her health, and what she finds satisfying as she ages. She said she does not want to just “extend arms and open mouth” in her old age.

Among the various immigrant groups in the Bay Area, the elderly Asian immigrants arrived at different ages, some when they were young while others were brought over by their children who came first to study and become established. They get the most pleasure from being around family on weekends and holidays, eating and laughing together. Because many of them live in social circles of other Asian immigrants, they do not see the upheaval of having survived wars and traversed continents as worthy writing material. Or perhaps they have buried their traumatic memories and moved on.

One man recounted how he arrived in this country with his young children and worked for the same company until he retired. After being widowed, he’s very content living with his son. One day, tears streamed down his face as he wrote about how he wished he could see more of the world with his wife, a longing perhaps he had not acknowledged before.

Those who write gain a sense of satisfaction in being able to put their thoughts down on paper, and have a place to voice their feelings and opinions, and at the same time, preserve their precious memories. With the realization that their time on earth is finite, this activity provides a means to leave a part of themselves to others. With their varied backgrounds, the writing group gives them a chance to write and share the rich and full lives they have lived and are living.

Photo: Senior writers reading.  Photo credit: Emma Tao White.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Do you have a work or fiction or nonfiction ready to submit? As we head into the weekend, consider submitting to the following contests—which offer prizes of up to $10,000 and have deadlines within the next two weeks.

University of Iowa Press Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction: Publication by University of Iowa Press will be given for an essay collection; Meghan Daum will judge.
Deadline: December 10
Entry Fee: $10

Friends of American Writers Literary Awards: A prize of $4,000 will be given for a book of fiction or nonfiction published during 2016 by a writer who is a resident of the Midwest (or who previously resided in the Midwest for at least five years) or whose book features a Midwestern setting.
Deadline: December 10
Entry Fee: None

Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest: A prize of $10,000 and publication in Creative Nonfiction will be given for an essay on the theme of “The Dialogue Between Science & Religion.” A $5,000 runner-up prize will also be awarded.
Deadline: December 12
Entry Fee: $20

Willow Books Literature Awards: A prize of $1,000 will be given for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction by a writer of color. Story collections, novellas, novels, essay collections, and memoirs are all eligible.
Deadline: December 15
Entry Fee: $25

Chautauqua Institution Chautauqua Prize: A prize of $7,500 will be given for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction published during the previous year. The winner also receives a weeklong, all-expenses-paid summer residency at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.
Deadline: December 15
Entry Fee: $75

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Zadie Smith, author of the new novel, Swing Time (Penguin Press, 2016), considers dancers who have influenced her writing in a recent essay for the Guardian. About Mikhail Baryshnikov, she says: “He has high and low modes, tough and soft poses, but he’s always facing outwards, to us, his audience.” Write an essay that begins with one of your memories of watching a dancer. How does the dancer’s body move through space? Did you feel a connection with the performance and the artist? Were you moved emotionally?

Earlier this month, actress Emma Watson hid books with handwritten messages in the London Underground and New York City subway stations as part of the community project Books on the Underground. Write a short story that begins with a character hiding a book in an unlikely place, like a bus stop or a graveyard or the hollow of a tree. What book would be hidden and why? Is anyone supposed to find it, and if so, what happens after? Is the discovery the beginning of a mystery?

BuzzFeed has announced the recipients of its second annual BuzzFeed Emerging Writer Fellowships. Four nonfiction writers will each receive $12,000 and career mentorship from BuzzFeed’s senior editorial staff. Beginning in January, the fellows will spend four months in BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City or Los Angeles and focus on writing personal essays and cultural criticism.

The 2017 fellows are: Jennifer Hope Choi, a Brooklyn, New York–based creative nonfiction writer who is currently at work on a memoir, and whose writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, the Atlantic, and elsewhere; Frederick McKindra, a writer based in Brooklyn, New York, who is at work on a novel, and whose writing interrogates the intersections between race, sexuality, gender, and socio-economics; Nichole Perkins, a writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, whose pop culture writing and personal essays have appeared in Vulture, Fusion, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere; and Pier Dominguez, a writer from Colombia whose cultural criticism and pop culture essays have appeared in Newsday, Remezcla, Univision, and elsewhere. Read more about the fellows.

BuzzFeed’s editorial staff selected the 2017 fellows from a pool of more than three hundred applicants. Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, launched the BuzzFeed Emerging Writer Fellowship program in 2015 with a mission to “diversify the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” The inaugural fellows were Chaya Babu, Tomi Obaro, Neila Orr, and Esther Wang.

Read our exclusive interview with Jones about the first year of the program and his goals for its second year. 

(Photos from left: Jennifer Hope Choi, Frederick McKindra, Nichole Perkins, Pier Dominguez)

In an essay for the Ploughshares blog, Emily Smith discusses representations of witches in literature and how they are usually associated with fear and terror. In her exploration of Macbeth, Smith notices that, “Shakespeare’s witches are…followed by dark clouds of rain.” Write a poem using dark or gothic imagery, such as a woman being followed by dark clouds of rain. What emotions are elicited from your depiction? Is she focused on the storm clouds or does she notice them only peripherally? How might you alter your rhythm and sounds to mimic those of a thunderstorm?

Teaching artist Marge Pellegrino recently led a series of P&W–supported writing workshops for the YWCA’s La Escuelita’s summer program. Pellegrino has written about grief and resilience for children. Since 1999, she has directed programming for the Owl & Panther expressive arts project that serves refugees impacted by torture, trauma, and traumatic dislocation. Her book Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln Press, 2009) is a Smithsonian Notable Book, Southwest Best Book, and Judy Goddard Award winner for excellence in young adult literature. Her book Too Nice (Magination Press, 2002) is available in five languages.

Missing You Workshop Cohort

The neighborhood surrounding the House of Neighborly Service’s La Escuelita knows loss. Many of the youth who participate in the YWCA’s La Escuelita summer camp have family members who have died too young. Some have relatives who have been incarcerated. Some youth come from mixed-status or undocumented families who are separated from loved ones by deportation.

The series of five P&W–supported “Missing You” writing workshops invited neighborhood youth from five to seventeen years of age to explore new ways to hold memories and reach out to those they love. They played with writers’ tools to create a small body of work that tapped spatial and linguistic intelligences. They let their illustrations fuel a “simile portrait.” They felt the cadence in their “I Miss/I Remember” list poems. They composed letters to the people they love and imagined how the voice of that person might sound in an answer. Some of the participants were particularly engaged when they stitched together narratives that captured details of a time they spent together with the person they miss.

One morning they wrote about the metaphorical trash in their lives on scraps of colored paper. They ripped the paper up, put the small pieces in a blender with water, “transforming trash into treasure,” and created a beautiful handmade paper cover for their book, which held their own story of resilience. Their last exploration held up gratitude. They wrote about things they valued about a brother, a tio, abuela, or the mother who loved them, in order to feel how gratitude can lift their spirits, like the last line of a great poem.

Each workshop ended in sharing within the cohort—a time when their words traveled on sound, when they could see others respond to what they had kept tucked in their hearts. A time when the writing and sharing could break through the isolation caused by a buildup of grief and separation. Hearing the others’ stories let them know they weren’t alone with these feelings.

The series culminated in a shy and proud reading for the community elders.

Photo: La Escuelita “Missing You” workshop with Marge Pellegrino.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Tucson is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The 1987 John Hughes film Planes, Trains and Automobiles stars Steve Martin and John Candy as a mismatched pair both trying to travel from New York City to Chicago in time for the Thanksgiving holiday in what proves to be a comedic journey filled with bad luck, misunderstandings, and ill-timed coincidences. At its core are two central characters who seem to have philosophical outlooks, priorities, and skills that clash, and whose differentiation occupies much of the screen time and seemingly much of their respective psyches. Write an essay about a time when you were in a difficult situation and at complete odds with another person involved. Did you find yourself dwelling on your differences, and if so, how did that affect the trajectory of the outcome of events? In what ways might your differences have been emphasized by the attraction to larger-than-life oppositions?

“During the day, as I worked, I clarified daydreams, rehearsed thoughts. Phrases rose up, and as I shoveled compost, mulched garlic, or turned over the soil, the phrases turned too…. The world’s margins shrank but also grew luminous. After working outside in my body all day long, my mind felt brightly lit.” In “Turning the Soil” in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Tess Taylor writes about her revelatory experience volunteering at a farm while at a writing residency in southwestern Massachusetts. Try to carve out a few hours this week to spend engaged in an activity that is very different from—and outside of—your usual working environment. Get your hands dirty in a garden or park, sit quietly in a library, or people-watch at an airport or train station. Allow your mind to roam over unexpectedly fresh images and phrases that surface, and then write a series of flash fiction pieces inspired by your time spent “outside.” 

Planning to do some writing over the holiday weekend? Have something ready to submit? Here are a few upcoming deadlines for prose writers (and a few more for poets, too)—including publication prizes for individual stories and essays, chapbook and full-length book awards, and academic fellowships.

Narrative Fall Story Contest: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a short story, a short short story, an essay, or an excerpt from a longer work of prose of up to 15,000 words. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication is also awarded.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$24

Fish Publishing Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,360) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story of up to 5,000 words.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$25

Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize: Three prizes of $1,000 each, publication by Arcadia Press, 25 author copies, and distribution to Arcadia subscribers are given annually for a poetry, fiction, and nonfiction chapbook of 15 to 45 pages.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$20

W. Y. Boyd Literary Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually by the American Library Association for a novel published in 2016 that is set in a period when the United States was at war.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry fee:
None

Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction: A prize of $1,000 is given annually by the Langum Charitable Trust for a book of historical fiction published in 2016.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry fee:
None

Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Writing Fellowships: Seven-month residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, are given annually to four poets and four fiction writers who have not published a full-length book in any genre. Each fellowship includes a private apartment and a monthly stipend of $750. For fellowships from October 1, 2016, through April 30, 2017, using the online submission system submit up to 35 pages of fiction (include a synopsis if submitting a novel), a personal statement
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry Fee: 
$50

Stanford University Wallace Stegner Fellowships: Ten two-year fellowships, five in poetry and five in fiction, are given annually to emerging writers. Each fellowship includes a $26,000 annual stipend, a tuition waiver, and health insurance. Submit 10 to 15 pages of poetry or a fiction manuscript of up to 9,000 words, composed of two short stories, one short story and a novel excerpt, or a novel excerpt.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry Fee: 
$85

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Check out our latest roundup of poetry deadlines, and for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar.

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