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The Rona Jaffe Foundation has announced the winners of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards. The annual awards are given to six emerging women writers of exceptional talent; each winner receives $30,000.

This year’s winners are poet Airea D. Matthews; fiction writers Jamey Hatley, Ladee Hubbard, and Asako Serizawa; and nonfiction writers Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas and Danielle Geller. The winners will be honored at a private awards ceremony in New York City on September 15.

Beth McCabe, director of the Writers’ Awards program, stated in a press release, “All of our award winners are writing as exiles to some degree and investigating the historical, political and profoundly personal ramifications of this state of being…. Their work has led them in different directions but each, I believe, is profoundly connected to her sense of place—homeland—and digging deep to come to terms with her personal history through her writing.” 

Established in 1995 by novelist Rona Jaffe (1931–2005), the Writers’ Awards program has since given more than $2 million to women in the early stages of their writing careers. Previous winners include Eula Biss, Rivka Galchen, ZZ Packer, Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Tracy K. Smith.

There is no application process for the awards; the Foundation solicits nominations each year from writers, editors, critics, and other literary professionals, and an anonymous committee selects the winners.

To learn more about the winners and program, visit the Rona Jaffe Foundation website

(Photos, clockwise from top left: Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, Danielle Geller, Ladee HubbardAsako Serizawa, Airea D. Matthews, Jamey Hatley) 

British music critic, librettist, and author Paul Griffiths’s novel Let Me Tell You (Reality Street, 2008) is told from the point of view of Ophelia, the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Using an Oulipo type of constraint, the novel uses only the 483 words spoken by Ophelia in the original play. Choose one of Shakespeare’s plays, and make a list of words spoken by one character in a pivotal scene, or part of a scene. Write a poem inspired by this list of words, allowing your creative impulses to dictate whether you use only words from the list, or include a few additional words of your own.

Caridad De La Luz is considered one of America's leading spoken word poets known as “La Bruja.” She was awarded Comité Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Women Legacy Award in 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for excellence in writing from the Bronx Historical Society in 2013, and honored as a Bronx Living Legend by the Bronx Music Heritage Center. She was presented with a Citation of Merit from the Bronx borough president and named “Top 20 Puerto Rican Women Everyone Should Know.” The New York Times called her "a juggernaut" and she is best known for her captivating performance on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.

On August 19, 2016, I performed as host and master of ceremonies for Bronx Fashion Week for the third time since it began. What was unique about this summer fashion show was that it celebrated young fashionistas, designers, and child models ranging from three years of age to teenagers. The performance on the runway went seamlessly, pun intended, and proud parents sat in the audience beaming with pride. It took place in the center of the Mall at Bay Plaza in the Bronx, allowing shoppers unaware of the event to come and look on from all levels of the mall. They cheered and watched excitedly. It was a lovely sight and for most of the models, it was a first time experience.

I performed a poem I wrote called “The Bronx,” an ode to the borough I love so dearly. Born and raised, I will always reside here. It felt so empowering to share that poem to close the event, leaving the audience with words to ponder and pride to celebrate. The audience walked away knowing that after a lovely event held in our very own community, great events will continue to take place, but what they don’t know is that this event was made possible by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers has funded performances organized by community producers that I’ve been hired to host. With their openness to fund and support me, I have been able to incorporate elements of poetry and spoken word onto the platform of the runway in the fashion world where poetry is rarely, if ever, heard.

So many literary events have taken place over my twenty-year career with the support of Poets & Writers, helping me to reach my community and expand their awareness of what being a contemporary poet and writer really means. My mission is to inspire people to express themselves more openly and poetically, and thankfully, Poets & Writers has been instrumental in that mission.

Poetry has always been a platform where beautiful things emerge, so now it can be said that poetry is in fashion—even on the runway.

Photos: (top) Caridad De La Luz takes the stage. (bottom) Young models walk the runway. Photo credit: Juan Carlos Guevara Peek-A-Pose Studio.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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 & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The National Poetry Series has announced the winners of its 2016 Open Competition. Each of the five winning poets will receive $10,000 and publication in 2017 by a participating trade, university, or small press.

This year’s winners are William Brewer’s I Know Your Kind, selected by Ada Limón, to be published by Milkweed Editions; Sasha Pimentel’s For Want of Water, selected by Gregory Pardlo, to be published by Beacon Press; Jeffrey Schultz’s Civil Twilight, selected by David St. John, to be published by Ecco; Sam Sax’s Madness, selected by Terrance Hayes, to be published by Penguin Books; and Chelsea Dingman’s Thaw, selected by Allison Joseph, to be published by University of Georgia Press. 

The Princeton, New Jersey–based National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to “recognize and promote excellence in contemporary poetry” and to “provide a structural model for collective literary publishing ventures.” Past winners of the annual Open Competition include Joshua Bennett, Hannah Gamble, Terrance Hayes, Douglas Kearney, and Sarah Vap. For submission information, visit the National Poetry Series website

(Photos from left: William Brewer, Sasha Pimentel, Jeffrey Schultz, Sam Sax, Chelsea Dingman)

The Pageant of the Masters is a tableaux vivants—or “living pictures”—event held every summer at Laguna Beach’s Festival of the Arts in Southern California. The long-running tradition features hundreds of costumed volunteers who stand still for ninety-second intervals posing in elaborate re-creations of masterpieces of art. Write an essay describing the artwork—classical or contemporary—you would choose to “live” in. What would your role and pose be? Who would be your supporting cast of posers? What narration and music would accompany your tableau vivant?

In “Return and Repeat, Culminate and Continue: On Crafting the End in Fiction” in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Jennifer De Leon draws a connection between the sestina poetry form—in which six words are repeated throughout—and John Gardner’s “return and repeat” method of ending a fictional piece by returning to key elements of the story. Find a short story you’ve written in the past and select six important aspects of the story, such as characters, words, and images. Write a new, alternate ending by reiterating or revisiting these motifs on the last page.

Have you ever stepped onto foreign soil—whether it be another town, state, or country—and immediately felt like you were in a different galaxy? Or conversely, have you traveled to a seemingly faraway place only to find that it felt surprisingly just like home? Write two short poems about places you have visited or passed through, and explore your expectations and feelings of familiarity or strangeness in each one. For inspiration, read about Baarle, a small European village situated partially in Belgium and partially in the Netherlands, with its international borders actually cutting through the middle of shops, living rooms, and backyards.

Poets & Writers' sixth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 30, 2016, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Beyond Baroque, the Los Angeles Poet Society, Mixed Remixed Festival, QueerWise, and the Roots and Wings Project came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. Readings & Workshops (West) program associate Brandi Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

Connecting Cultures Readers

This past June, Connecting Cultures marked its sixth year celebrating the Los Angeles literary scene with a diverse group of voices and work. It feels like each year grows in power—with these organizations continuing to cultivate and support writing that’s unique, emerging, and all-around stunning. At the reception before the reading, I witnessed, and gladly participated in, rounds of hugging, handshaking, and wide smiles. We come to these spaces to let ourselves share what makes us human and this reading was no exception.

If only we could replace traffic citations
with love tickets, demanding
that one be more affectionate with their children.
If only there was a love meter you had to feed
every hour, or a
love-station where
the trains are never on time
but nobody cares because they're
all listening to
their love-pods or
updating their status on Lovebook.

Armine Iknadossian, representing literary organization and host for the event, Beyond Baroque, opened the night with the above lines from her poem “United States of Love” from her collection United States of Love and Other Poems. Beyond Baroque serves the Venice and larger West Los Angeles community through a long-standing free workshop series and a generous list of events and readings throughout the year.

The ever-elegant Dorothy Randall Gray brought a walking stick she had rescued and read a poem inspired by it—a kind of found art ekphrastic piece. She represented the Los Angeles Poet Society, an organization a few years old and dedicated to bringing people in the literary community together. The outreach and pure positive energy that project directors Jessica Wilson-Cardenas and Juan Cardenas give to the community is what keeps this organization strong.

Jackson Bliss, first runner-up for the Poets & Writers' 2013 California Writer's Exchange Award in fiction, represented the Mixed Remixed Festival by bowling us over with his moving words: “Siddhartha watched the silent miracle of correspondence unfolding before his eyes and wondered how many countries the postman carried in his hands today, how many miles his envelopes had traveled to inhabit aluminum boxes, where one day they would hibernate forever inside old shoeboxes, spongy minds, and expansive landfills. It seemed like such a waste of language.” The Mixed Remixed Festival is the nation's premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals, through films, books, and performance.

Laura Davila

There isn’t enough room in a small blog post to give you the power from all the voices in attendance. Like from QueerWise, a group of queer, senior spoken-word performers who brought Randy Gravelle and Jen OConnor to the stage, gifting us with stories of being queer in this world from perspectives reaching far back beyond our time of growing acceptance and celebration of queer lives and identities.

The young writer who closed the night, and who had been at this reading two years earlier representing 826LA, was the Roots and Wings Project’s very own Laura Davila, who delivered a poem responding to the part of the world that sees her blindness as a burden. “How brave you are,” she mimicked the voices she heard around her or “I wonder what it’s like to get up in the morning for you,” as if she was somehow missing something. “People reduce me to some pair of ‘broken eyes’ / as if sight is the only way to experience / the world.” Hardly a dry eye stood in applause with the closing of Davila's poem, which capped a reading where every voice, unique and explorative in its own right, gave us something honest and vulnerable and necessary.

Photo (top): Los Angeles Connecting Cultures group. Front (L-R): Jamie Moore, Patricia Zamorano, Brandi M Spaethe. Back (L-R): Heidi Durrow, Joe Levy, Jackson Bliss, Jesse Bliss, Laura Davila, Jen OConnor, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Richard Modiano, Dorothy Randall Gray, Norman Molesko, Jessica Wilson Cardenas. Photo credit: Jamie FitzGerald. Photo (bottom): Laura Davila. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

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.

If a statue in your likeness were to be someday erected in your honor, would you want to be rendered realistically, cartoonishly, or in abstract? Do you envision a marble bust or a whimsical woodcarving or perhaps to be cast in bronze? In what pose or action would you want to be commemorated? Write an essay describing what you imagine as the most suitable representation and location for your hypothetical statue, and include an examination of the reasons for your specifications. For inspiration, read about the recent hubbub over a Lucille Ball statue

In 2015, BuzzFeed launched its Emerging Writers Fellowship program with a mission to “diversify the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” The annual fellowships, run by BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, Saeed Jones, are given to four nonfiction writers and include a $12,000 stipend and career mentorship from BuzzFeed’s editorial staff. The fellows spend four months in BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City or Los Angeles and focus on writing personal essays, criticism, and cultural news.

After the success of the first class of fellows—more than six hundred writers applied—Jones is looking ahead to the next round of fellows, who will begin in January 2017. With applications opening today—the deadline is October 1—Jones speaks with Poets & Writers Magazine about the program’s first year, his goals for its second year, and tips for applicants.

Do you feel like your initial goals for the program were accomplished in its inaugural year?

I’m proud of everything we accomplished with the fellowship’s first class and what we learned from one another throughout the process. The fellows had a joyfully rigorous four months of work while also getting to sit down with writers like Rembert Browne and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, as well as agents and editors. The fellows are well on their way to what I hope are the next steps in brilliant, sustainable careers. That said, it’s just not in my nature to be satisfied for long. I want to introduce the next class of fellows to even more industry mentors and have more roundtable discussions about what the writer’s life looks like. And, more generally, I’m so eager to apply everything I learned from the first class. We have so much work to do. The urgency is almost overwhelming. Our lives, as literary citizens, depend on artists being empowered to illuminate culture.

How would you describe your experience working with the inaugural fellows?

It was a thrill to work with writers I’m confident I will be reading for the rest of my life. Each morning I walked into the newsroom and saw Esther Wang, Chaya Babu, Niela Orr, and Tomi Obaro sitting at their desks was another morning that I was reminded that transformative change is still possible. Investing in diversity and emerging voices doesn’t just have to be a conversation on panels and roundtables; it can be a reality. Publishing their work was surprisingly emotional because I knew that each essay and reported story was, in effect, an experience in watching a writer’s career evolve before my eyes. Also, it meant a great deal to see how eager my colleagues at BuzzFeed News were to meet the fellows themselves, take them out for coffee, read their work, and give them advice. I’m excited we get to do this again in January.

What will be different about the program in its second year?

Being based in the newsroom, getting face time with other writers and editors, comes with so many benefits—last year our fellows sat just a few feet away from Pulitzer Prize–winning editor and journalist Mark Schoofs, for example. BuzzFeed has a great office culture and it’s important for our fellows to be able to take advantage of its atmosphere. That said, not everyone lives in New York City. Weird, right? Stranger still is the lingering idea that the only way a writer can make it is by packing up all of her belongings and moving to Brooklyn. Fortunately, our brilliant deputy culture editor, Karolina Waclawiak, is based in Los Angeles, so this will be the first year that fellows will have the option of being based in either our New York City headquarters or in our Los Angeles office. Whichever coast they land on, all four fellows will work very closely with Karolina and me. Everyone wins!

Do you have any advice for applicants?

In short, the application is intended to give candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves as writers and advocate for the work they’ve already done. Strong applicants need to make a case for why they need mentorship, time, financial support, and a sustained editorial relationship in order to take an ambitious step forward in their career. Listen, I get it. There isn’t a writer among us who wouldn’t benefit from having more time and money on their hands. That said, I’m drawn to candidates who are able to thoughtfully explain why this fellowship is an investment in a future that could create meaningful change. Another bit of advice: The first test of any application is whether or not the candidate actually followed the directions. This is a minimum expectation, but it also illuminates how a writer will respond and act upon editorial feedback. All editors are different, of course, but I doubt many of us enjoy repeating ourselves.

Approximately how many original pieces will each fellow write during the four-month period?

We don’t have a quota. The emphasis is on giving the fellows as many opportunities as possible, and the editorial support necessary, to put their best work in front of BuzzFeed’s audience. We also encourage the fellows to pursue various modes of writing, especially styles that may be new for them and will push them out of their comfort zone. A writer with a strong reporting background should, of course, seize upon cultural reporting stories but expect to brainstorm and write essays driven by personal narrative or cultural criticism as well. I think versatility is an important aspect of a sustainable career. And I’d encourage applicants to read work from the first fellowship class in order to get a sense of that range.

In addition to the establishing the fellowship program, you launched READER, a literary vertical on BuzzFeed, in March. How will the new fellows’ work intersect with READER?

READER is BuzzFeed’s home for original poetry, short fiction, essays—both personal and reported—as well as comics. It’s also where we feature the work from the fellows, so we get to see excellent work from emerging writers published alongside the work by writers like Mark Doty, Eileen Myles, Solmaz Sharif, Helen Oyeyemi, among others. Just as BuzzFeed is known for a range of content, BuzzFeed READER is designed to feature a great range of literary work. And the fellows—excellent as they are—absolutely have a home amidst that work.

Can you speak a bit to how both READER and the fellowship program help accomplish your goals of broadening cultural coverage and diversifying publishing?

My main goal is to use BuzzFeed’s tremendous platform to highlight excellent writing that matters. Valuing diversity—in terms of identity, style, and range of coverage—is just one part of being an editor in pursuit of that excellence; it’s doing my job. Waiting until there’s a body bleeding in the street and then hurriedly reaching out to black poets for their work is not excellence. It’s panic. So, our strategy is to focus on cultivating a dynamic readership, masthead, and pipeline of writers. All three components are essential. I want the work I’m doing as an editor to outlive me, so to speak, so that means the decisions my team acts upon are driven by our desire to make substantive changes with sustainable impact.

Photo: Saeed Jones Credit: BuzzFeed / Jon Premos

Last week, a young man from Virginia used suction cups to climb up the exterior of the sixty-eight-story Trump Tower building in midtown Manhattan, drawing the attention of eyewitnesses as well as millions more who watched live streaming videos on social media. Write a short story in which a character pulls off a risky and unusual stunt in an effort to communicate an important message to someone. Is the outsized gesture effective? What does his choice of action reveal about his personality? Are there unintended consequences involving the spectators?

Instead of using GPS coordinates or traditional street numbers and names, a postal mail service in Mongolia will begin using a new address location system, created by a British tech start-up, in which the world map is divided into trillions of nine-square-meter patches and assigned a unique three-word code. Find the code for your own address at the What3Words website or create your own code. Then write a poem inspired by the combination of these three random words and how they connect to your concept of home.

David Campos is a CantoMundo fellow, the author of Furious Dusk (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), and winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Luna Luna, Prairie Schooner, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and many others. Campos received an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California in Riverside in 2013 and his BA from California State University in Fresno in 2010. Currently, he lives in Fresno and teaches English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. As a part of Poets & Writers' Rural Libraries Tour project with California Center for the Book, Campos taught workshops at the Kings County Library, Tracy Branch Library, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in California's Central Valley.

David Campos I drove down Highway 99 and took the 43, a two-lane highway, watching developments turn into vineyards, orchards, and the expansive agricultural land California’s Central Valley is known for. A tourist might be entranced with the plant life, but I couldn’t help but think of the houses, the sheds, the men, women, and children covered in the ninety-degree heat. The town of fifty-three thousand was quiet when I drove in on a Saturday morning where the Kings County Library in Hanford was still closed. They opened early for the workshop I was to give; I entered the space and prepped, greeting each of the twelve attendees trickling in.

And I knew not a lot of writers trickle into a small town’s library to give workshops and readings. In a town that lacks access to writers, poets, and artists in their area that can mentor, shape, or inspire the future in their medium, my presence was appreciated, and I accepted the responsibility of giving everything I could in the short amount of time we had together.

The Hanford Branch library group that had signed up for the workshop brought it. We worked on creating one single poem based on a tangible object that they held dear. A high schooler, accompanied by her mom and another family member, blew me away with her final draft. So much so that I told her if I was an editor, I’d publish it. I suggested she submit to places. Each one of the participants worked through their drafts diligently and with purpose. I felt honored to have worked with them. 

Then up the 99 I went to visit the Tracy Branch Library to give another workshop. While we drafted a poem, we mostly talked about where to write from, the sources we think could be used and those that they hadn’t thought about.

Lastly, the wonderful group of middle schoolers at Voices Academies engaged in bilingual poetry. Their workshop was focused on names—names given, names earned, names of things they’re associated with. They wrote lists, and then on a large piece of butcher paper, they combined their work in both Spanish and English.

I walked away from each of these sacred learning places thinking about the responsibility we have as artists and writers—at least those with the means to travel—to visit those smaller “markets.” It’s too easy to become complacent in our larger cities, and larger markets, to only read at universities or bookstores. I know I’m guilty of this, but I know the poetic spirit doesn't just exist near the meccas of literature. It lives in Hanford. It lives in Tracy. It lives in the young and bright minds at Voices Academies. The literary landscape of the future needs us. Go there. Find the voices eager and ready to change the world.

Photo: David Campos.

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.

This Summer Olympics season, many U.S. fans look forward to cheering on the country’s swimming, gymnastics, and decathlon athletes. In other countries, the most closely watched competitions are sports like canoeing, handball, rugby, table tennis, and trampoline. Look over the list of sports at the Rio Olympic Games, and choose one you’ve had an established connection with, or one that seems newly fascinating. Write an essay that explores your attraction to this sport. What are your opinions about the extreme athleticism and discipline of the competitors? How do your memories of past Olympics differ from today’s games?

Setting up a lemonade stand in the neighborhood has long been a popular way for kids to have fun in the summertime, and learn some basic skills about operating a business. Write a short story in which a lemonade stand plays a pivotal role. Is your main character one of the kids, or one of the customers, or perhaps just a passerby for whom the sight of the stand catalyzes another inciting action?

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