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This week, think of something that has happened to you recently that was stressful, traumatic, or unpleasant. Write a poem about this event as you experienced it, regardless of anyone else’s perspectives or feelings on what occurred. Then rewrite the poem from the perspective of someone else involved in the situation. This new poem may not reflect the truth, but sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that everything has a flip side.

Detroit’s new Write a House program has announced the winner of its inaugural writers residency, through which renovated houses in Detroit are given permanently to creative writers.

The winner is Casey Rocheteau, a poet, writer, historian, and performance artist currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Rocheteau is the author of the poetry collection Knocked Up On Yes, published by Sargent Press in 2012; her next collection, The Dozen, will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2016. She has also self-published four books, released two spoken-word albums, and has performed slam poetry and led writing and performance workshops for youths and adults throughout the United States.

“Being granted with this opportunity to take root in a city so rich with history, creativity and tenacity is truly an honor,” Rocheteau wrote on the Write a House blog. “I look forward to exploring Detroit and getting to know its literary community.” She plans to move from Brooklyn to Detroit in November.

Billy Collins, the former U.S. poet laureate and one of the judges that selected Rocheteau, said of her work, “These are witty but deeply serious poems. The poet uses straightforward language and clear syntax to address some of the more frightening aspects of racism.”

Serving as judges alongside Collins were dream hampton, Major Jackson, Sean MacDonald, Michael Stone-Richards, Tamara Warren, and Write a House cofounder Toby Barlow. Hundreds of poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers applied for the residency; Rocheteau was chosen from a shortlist of ten finalists that was announced in August 2014.

Detroit will welcome Rocheteau to the city’s literary community at a public event sponsored by the Detroit Free Press on September 19. Write a House will open a new round of applications in early 2015 for its next set of houses, which will be located in the same Banglatown/No Ham neighborhood where Rocheteau will reside.

To learn more about the Write a House program, read an article in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: Casey Rocheteau, credit Thomas Sayers Ellis, 2013.

Red Hen Press, founded by Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull, has been a part of the Los Angeles publishing world since 1994 and remains one of the few literary presses in the city. Red Hen hosts a series at the historic Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. A P&W–supported reading on September 9, 2014 featured poets Afaa Michael Weaver, Douglas Kearney, Brett Fletcher Lauer, and Robin Coste Lewis and was moderated by Red Hen Press founder Kate Gale. R&W (West) program assistant, Brandi M. Spaethe, attended the reading and writes on her experience.

Annenberg Community Beach House

My first time at the Annenberg Community Beach House, I arrived when the sun was still just high enough to sink into the ocean as four wonderful poets read their work. One reader commented: “How can I compete with that?” The audience faced the reader who faced a wall of windows. We were all part of the spectacle for each poet who stood at the podium. They were a reflection of the setting sun and the turn of day to night.

In the 1920s, William Randolph Hearst erected a mansion for Marion Davies on the site where the Annenberg Community Beach House currently resides, and it became a place for Hollywood stars to congregate. Joseph Drown purchased the house from Davies in the 1940s and converted the property into a hotel and beach club. Many years later, the state took over and continued to run it as a beach club until the Northridge earthquake in 1994 damaged all properties on site. The Annenberg Community Beach House was built via a grant from the Annenberg Foundation as a place for the Santa Monica community and surrounding communities. 

Red Hen Press has sparked a tradition of poetry at the beach house with past readers who include Susan Straight, Ilya Kaminsky, Camille T. Dungy, and Ron Carlson. One of the night’s readers, Brett Fletcher Lauer from Brooklyn, New York, joked with me about arriving far ahead of schedule due to a warning from the locals about the traffic. He said it gave him a chance to sit outside the beach house and enjoy the scenery. After the reading, P&W–supported writer Douglas Kearney waxed poetic about the ocean at night and how daunting a thing it was. Many of us made note of the space, commenting on its magic.

First to the podium was Robin Coste Lewis, who is currently in the PhD in creative writing program for poetry at the University of Southern California. Her elegance and poise matched the power of her words while the low sun highlighted her beautiful ensemble. Brett Fletcher Lauer read work from his recent book A Hotel in Belgium, making note of its darkness, which was never deprecating or pitiful, but rather stunning in its revelations—enough to make you consider your own station. P&W–supported poet Douglas Kearney, in true Kearney fashion, shifted the tone of the reading with eye-opening crescendos and anaphoras from his published work, including his most recent book of poetry, Patter. His performance asked us to sit up and pay attention. The sun sank lower, almost out of sight now, almost gone. The final note, and a rising one, was P&W–supported poet Afaa Michael Weaver. He shared poems from a variety of his publications with a wisdom that seemed to come from a life of having seen much darkness and written through it. The audience listened intently, catching its breath as he delivered each line. 

Red Hen Press will host the next Annenberg Community Beach House reading on October 14th at 6:30 PM, featuring Leia Penina Wilson, Genevieve Kaplan, Jessica Piazza, and Mary Johnson. The readings are free. More information can be found here

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

This week, in the spirit of celebrating the freedom to read, think about a book you’ve read that’s been banned. (For a list of banned and challenged classics, visit the American Library Association's website.) How would your life be different if you never had the opportunity to read this book? Or if nobody could? Write a short personal essay exploring how you feel about Banned Books Week and why this particular book is so meaningful to you.

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Payton James Freeman Essay Prize, cosponsored by the Freeman family and Drake University’s English department. The prize will be given for an essay on a theme. The winner will receive $500 and publication in the Rumpus, and will be invited to read at Drake University in Des Moines in February 2015.

Using the online submission system, submit an essay of up to 3,500 words on the subject “After the Unhappy Ending” by September 30. There is no entry fee. The students and faculty of Drake University will select the finalists; Cheryl Strayed will choose the winner. The winner and finalists will be announced in December 2014.

The Freeman family established the award to honor their son Payton James Freeman—who died at the age of five from the genetic disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy—and to raise awareness about the disease.

Judge Cheryl Strayed is the author of the popular memoir Wild (Knopf, 2012), the novel Torch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), and Tiny Beautiful Things (Knopf, 2012), a collection of pieces from Strayed’s advice column for the Rumpus, Dear Sugar.

Photo: Cheryl Strayed (Joni Kabana)

Ideally, people become accustomed to fire drills so that when there is a real fire, they will calmly gather their things and exit the building as practiced. After all, this is the point of such drills. But what if one person in the group consistently reacted in the opposite fashion? Write a situation in which a routine fire drill decends into chaos because one person insists, against all information provided by those in positions of authority, that everyone is in grave danger.

This week, write an ode to something you’ve never had. It could be an emotion, a relationship, or a possession. Approach it as a loss rather than an absence—use your imagination to try to know what you’ve never known. For example, if you’ve never had a pet dog, write about your ideal pet dog and what it’s like not to have her in your life.

Harnessing the healing power of words through writing helped Deborah Mayaan recover from serious illness. Her essays and poems have appeared in a wide range of publications including Woman of Power, Sin Fronteras, Maize, Unstrung, and Rattlesnake Review, and anthologies including Sister/Stranger and She Who Was Lost Is Remembered. Her journalism articles on health and spirituality topics have appeared in Spirituality & Health Magazine, the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Lifestyle, the Tucson Weekly, and the Arizona Jewish Post. She loves teaching writing workshops and earned an MA in educational psychology. She also brings writing opportunities to people through art installations in public spaces. The Tucson Pima Arts Council awarded a grant for her installation “Fountain of Peace” in which participants write about what they need to release or strengthen to be at peace. Mayaan has led P&W-sponsored workshops with the Tucson Medical Center, University of Arizona Cancer Center, and Congregation Chaverim.

Deborah MayaanWhat techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
I put a strong emphasis on creating a group that serves as an emotionally safe container. Each time we meet, I reiterate the importance of confidentiality and also attend to physical needs. I not only remind people of the location of drinking water and the bathroom, but also check in about their comfort with the temperature, lighting, and room configuration (with, of course, a great deal of variability depending on how much we can change in different spaces). I also remind people that sharing writing is optional. If people do choose to share, they also choose if they’d like to receive feedback, and what kind. I often use a meditation bell timer to set time boundaries on shares so that there is an opportunity for everyone to share at least once in a smaller group, or to give more people an opportunity in a larger group.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a workshop leader?
It’s been very rewarding to witness real shifts in people’s lives. In a recent workshop at the University of Arizona Cancer Center on the topic of “What am I living for?” I appreciated seeing how energized people were by developing visions and goals for challenging phases of life. I liked hearing about how it helped them focus and take action. In a recent workshop at Tucson Medical Center Senior Services, the focus was on writing a will of ethics and values as a way to pass on a spiritual legacy. A woman said that it helped her open up her heart. Several people commented on how the plan for sharing the ethical will with their families, and updating it regularly, had great potential for changing the family dynamic in order to express feelings and to share personal growth.

What effect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
Working with people who are facing death helps keep me awake to the present moment, and reminds me not to play it too safe. The practice of writing a will of ethics and values is rooted in my Jewish culture and teaching it has helped me become clearer about my own values. The combination of these reminders has given me the courage to become increasingly vocal in addressing current issues in Israel. I’ve organized healing rituals and written about them. I’ve recently started writing creative nonfiction that includes reporting, memoir, and political reflection. Here in Tucson, some of us are drawing connections between border issues in Israel and Palestine and the U.S. border with Mexico. On both borders, separation walls, guard towers, and the detention and questioning of people based on their ethnicity are all used to restrict the movement of people through regions that have been their homelands for generations. Israeli writers like Avraham Burg and Ari Shavit have written about how the unhealed trauma of the Holocaust may possibly be reenacted in Israel—in the creation of a state system of racial discrimination, along with those eerily similar guard towers and detention camps. A friend of mine is currently on a trip to Germany that includes speaking publicly about U.S.-Mexico border issues and praying at Dachau, and our conversations have helped bring all these threads together. Since I’ve seen such deep healing shifts in myself and others, I have hope for the healing of societal issues when we address our shared needs for safety, security, and self-determination. I don’t yet know what actions I’ll take to share and place this writing, but I’m carving out time to write.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for seniors?
Seniors usually have the time to write, but can hold themselves back, not trusting their voice, feeling constrained by what people will think, or simply procrastinating without knowing why. Writing workshops give a structure in which people can write an entire ethical will, or get started on a larger project like a memoir.

Photo: Deborah Mayaan     Credit: Amy Haskell
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 longlist for the 2014 National Book Award in Fiction has been announced. The list represents a notable range of emerging and established writers, including such heavy-hitters as Richard Powers (who won the award in 2006) and Pulitzer Prize winners Marilynne Robinson and Jane Smiley, alongside debut novelist and Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle, and Molly Antopol and Phil Klay, who were both nominated for debut story collections.

The ten long-listed finalists are: Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press); Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans (Norton); John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner); Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin); Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Knopf); Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck & Other Stories (The Dial Press); Richard Powers, Orfeo (Norton); Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Jane Smiley, Some Luck (Knopf).

Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2004 novel Gilead, has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award, for her novels Home (2008) and Housekeeping (1980). Antopol was named one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 recipients in 2013.

The judges in for the 2014 National Book Award in Fiction are Geraldine Brooks, Sheryl Cotleur, Michael Gorra, Adam Johnson, and Lily Tuck. Publishers submitted a total of 417 titles for this year's award.

The nonfiction longlist was announced yesterday, and the poetry longlist was announced on Tuesday. The longlist in young people’s literature was released on Monday.

Shortlists in all four categories will be announced October 15, and the winners on November 19 at the National Book Foundation’s annual awards ceremony in New York City.

For bios of the finalists and judges, visit the National Book Foundation website.

Photo: Marilynne Robinson

Have you ever been the subject of a work of art? What is it like to look at someone else’s artistic interpretation of who you are? This week, write a piece analyzing why the artist made the compositional choices he or she did. If you’ve never had a work of art created for you, write about how you’d want to be portrayed. What medium, lighting, color palette, and setting do you think would capture your spirit? Who would you want to create the piece? Where would you want it displayed?  

Does one of your characters have an obsession with their appearance? Is she the type that habitually glances at every reflective surface in order to catch a glimpse of herself? Does this behavior have a negative effect? This week, write a story in which this character can no longer examine her appearance. Perhaps she goes on a camping trip, or decides to take down all the mirrors in her house. Think about how this change in circumstance can impact the character’s mood, confidence, and outlook on life.

Louise Glück and Edward Hirsch and are among the ten longlisted finalists for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry, which were announced this morning. Hirsch is nominated for his most recent book, Gabriel (Knopf), an elegy for his son, who died at the age of twenty-two. Glück makes the list for her twelfth collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The seven other books competing for the $10,000 prize include Collected Poems (Knopf) by Mark Strand, Roget’s Illusion (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) by Linda Bierds, A Several World (Nightboat) by Brian Blanchfield, Second Childhood (Graywolf) by Fanny Howe, This Blue (FSG) by Maureen N. McLane, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions) by Fred Moten, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf) by Claudia Rankine, and The Road to Emmaus (FSG) by Spencer Reece. Both Glück and Strand have served as poet laureate of the United States and have won Pulitzer Prizes. Earlier this year, Rankine recieved the $50,000 Jackson Prize from Poets & Writers, Inc.

Five shortlisted finalists will be announced on October 15. The longlist for young people’s literature was announced yesterday, and the longlists for fiction and nonfiction will be announced in the next two days. Winners in each category will be announced at the National Book Foundation’s annual awards ceremony in New York City on November 19.

The judges for this year’s poetry prize are Eileen Myles, Katie Peterson, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Paisley Rekdal, and Robert Polito. The panel considered more than two hundred submissions. Books written by U.S. poets and published in the United States between December 1, 2013, and November 30, 2014, are eligible for this year’s awards.

To read conversations with both Edward Hirsch and Louise Glück, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Watch a video of Hirsch speaking as part of a panel on Why We Write at the most recent Poets & Writers Live event in New York City.

Photos: Glück (Webb Chappell), Hirsch (Tony Gale)

We all have questions buzzing around in our heads. They could be questions about the future, a love interest, or what to make for dinner. We usually turn to family and friends for advice on such concerns, but what if you could ask your favorite poet? How would he or she respond? This week, pick a question that’s been on your mind. Then channel the voice of a poet of your choice who answers your question and offers much-needed advice.

Estelle Ford-Williamson, is coauthor of Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a "Lost Boy" Refugee, and editor of the Lou Walker Center Writers Anthology, Vols. 1 and 2. She has received Poets & Writers grants to teach creative writing to young adults who have timed out of the foster care system in Atlanta, Georgia.

On the other end of the phone, a willing librarian listened: Would a library in north-central New York State be interested in a former Lost Boy of Sudan and his coauthor reading and discussing their recent book about his experience fleeing death in a religious/ethnic war, and his subsequent life adapting to Atlanta and now living on two continents?

Fortunately, the answer from Oswego Public Library’s Edward Elsner was yes. My coauthor Majok Marier and I began to put together an extensive road trip that included readings in four cities far from our Atlanta roots: Lakewood (Cleveland), Ohio; Oswego and Syracuse in New York; and Washington, D.C. One grant to appear at the Oswego Public Library was the catalyst that encouraged us to set up other readings–the grant was through Poets & Writers. During our tour, we met former Lost Boy John Bul Dau, author of God Grew Tired of Us and a South Sudan aid leader, and many others involved in refugee issues.

Our book, Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a “Lost Boy” Refugee was published in May by McFarland and Company. It updates the story of the young men and women, thousands who arrived in America in 2001. Their resettlement was a part of an unprecedented airlift to provide futures for the young children facing limited lives in refugee camps due to a decades-long war. Now young men and women, they are spread throughout the United States (Australia and Canada, too) as they pursue an education and jobs that enable them to support family back home, as well as help build the new nation of South Sudan.

The welcome was warm at the Oswego Library, the “Castle on the Hill.” The historic building is a shrine to abolitionism and to the Free Library movement as the library was built by noted abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Our book tour coincided with heated protests in another part of the country to block entry of underage migrant children from Central America. It was probably one of the most emotional times in the recent national debate on refugees in the United States.

The reading yielded only appreciation, encouragement, and a desire to learn more about Majok and our journey together as coauthors of his story–his semi-nomadic life as young Dinka tribesman in the Rumbek area before fleeing his village in the war. Even more interest centered on his goal of drilling the first water wells in such villages.

Our trip affirmed the value of such face-to-face exchanges, and I highly recommend that writers contact this library and other venues in states and cities served by the Readings & Workshop program. All it took was a minimal amount of research, a willingness to cold-call possible sponsors, and an interest by a library to enrich their patrons’ literary experiences.

Photo: (top) Estelle Ford-Williamson. 

Photo: (bottom) Estelle Ford-Williamson, Majok Marier, and John Bul Dau. Photo Credits: Richard Williamson.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Some phrases, such as "toe the line," are so ingrained in our minds that we automatically link the phrase with its intended meaning (in this case, to conform to a set of rules) without thinking about the literal meaning (carefully placing your toes along a line on the ground). This week, pause for a moment and try to imagine the actions described in these idioms. When someone says you're "barking up the wrong tree," what do you picture? Is there an idiom that you use frequently, or that you've always been a bit confused by? Write a short personal essay about what this idiom means to you. Then do some research into its history, and if you decide to go further, look up how similar sentiments are expressed idiomatically in other languages.

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