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The Whiting Foundation announced the winners of the Whiting Awards yesterday. Now in its thirtieth year, the annual awards are given to ten emerging writers in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Each winner receives $50,000.

The 2015 winners in poetry are Anthony Carelli of New York City; Aracelis Girmay of New York City and Amherst, Massachusetts; Jenny Johnson of Pittsburgh; and Roger Reeves of Chicago. The winners in fiction are Leopoldine Core and Dan Josefson, both of New York City, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi of South Bend, Indiana. The winner in nonfiction is Elena Passarello of Corvallis, Oregon. The winners in drama are Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn, both of New York City. The winners will participate in a reading tonight at BookCourt in Brooklyn.

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards support “exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture.” Previous recipients include poets Linda Gregg, Jorie Graham, Terrance Hayes, Li-Young Lee, Nathaniel Mackey, and Tracy K. Smith; fiction writers Lydia Davis, Deborah Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, ZZ Packer, and Tobias Woolf; and nonfiction writers Jo Ann Beard, Wayne Koestenbaum, Ian Frazier, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts.

Each year the New York City–based Whiting Foundation selects a small committee of writers, scholars, and editors to judge the prize. The judges, who remain anonymous, select the recipients from a pool of nominations the foundation solicits from writers, professors, editors, agents, critics, booksellers, and other publishing and theater professionals. There is no application process.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Anthony Carelli, Aracelis Girmay, Jenny Johnson, Roger Reeves, Elena Passarello, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Dan Josefson, and Leopoldine Core. (Whiting Foundation)

Last night in New York City, Elizabeth McCracken was announced the winner of the tenth-annual Story Prize for her collection Thunderstruck (The Dial Press). The $20,000 prize is awarded for a short story collection published in the previous year.

The finalists, who each receive $5,000, were Francesca Marciano for her collection The Other Language (Pantheon) and Lorrie Moore for her collection Bark (Knopf). In addition, Kyle Minor received the Story Prize Spotlight Award—a prize of $1,000 given for a collection that merits additional attention—for his second collection, Praying Drunk (Sarabande Books). During last night’s event, the finalists read and discussed their work on stage with prize director Larry Dark.

A former public librarian who currently teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, McCracken has received literary grants and awards from numerous organizations including the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy in Berlin. McCracken’s previous books include the story collection Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry, the novels The Giants House and Niagara Falls All Over Again, and the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figure of My Imagination. Thunderstruck is her first short story collection in two decades.

“When you read this book it’s hard to believe it’s her first collection in twenty years—these stories are funny, nuanced, and self-assured,” said prize director Larry Dark. In her on-stage discussion with Dark, McCracken talked about her process, her return to the short story form, and the importance of humor in her writing. “The extent to which I believe that there is redemption in the world of sadness—it is by humor,” she said. McCracken also discussed her use of sensual detail and the importance of creating “evidence that the world in the story existed.”

Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from a record 129 submitted books, representing 85 different publishers. The winner was selected by three judges: Arsen Kashkashian, a book buyer and general manager of the Boulder Bookstore; Noreen Tomassi, director of the Center for Fiction in New York City; and author Laura van den Berg. “Each story in the collection reads like a masterwork, rich and confident and surprising, and together they form an electrifying whole,” the judges said of McCracken’s work. “She writes with such an open and compassionate heart that even the most damaged and lost of her characters thrum with life.”

Established in 2004 to honor the short story, the Story Prize is the largest award given for a book of fiction in the United States. Previous winners include Mary Gordon, George Saunders, Steven Millhauser, and Tobias Wolff.

“Let it be known:  I did not fall from grace. / I leapt / to freedom.” The ending of Ansel Elkin’s poem "Autobiography of Eve" is packed with confidence. Write an essay reflecting on a time when you felt a similar sense of empowerment. Maybe you ended a stifling relationship, or went back to school to train for a new career? Write about the initial fear and the certitude of your actions.

Children’s stories are often allegorical and presented in a straightforward manner. This week, take your favorite children’s story, fairy tale, or myth and complicate it. Use the original as a jumping-off point to introduce wild elements, unlikely back stories, and off-center characters.

“It was so overwhelming.… It’s hard to put into words because, for the first time in thirty-three years, I’m seeing light.” Jerry Hester is the first patient in North Carolina to receive the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, the world’s first FDA-approved device that restores vision to the blind. This “bionic eye” helps people with retinis pigmentosa recognize light. This week, try to put into words the experience of seeing light for the first time after years of darkness. 

The shortlist for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award has been announced. Sponsored by Booktrust, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, and the EFG Private Bank, the annual prize of £30,000 (approximately $46,000) is given for a short story by a writer who has been published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. The finalists will each receive £1,000 (approximately $1,535). The winner will be announced at an award ceremony in a London on April 24.

This year’s shortlisted stories are Rebecca F. John’s “The Glove Maker’s Numbers,” Yiyun Li’s “A Sheltered Woman,” Elizabeth McCracken’s “Hungry,” Paula Morris’s “False River,” Scott O’Connor’s “Interstellar Space,” and Madeleine Thien’s “The Wedding Cake.” Subscribers of the Sunday Times can read the finalists’ stories on the publication’s website.

Judge critic and broadcaster Alex Clark says that the six shortlisted stories “represent the variety, ambition and invention we encountered throughout the judging process—and they also reflect the continuing health and vitality of this wonderful form.” The prize’s cofounder and chief of judges Lord Matthew Evans says, “We have six brilliant but utterly different examples which showcase the best of the short story form—ambitious in imagination, global in scope, yet all packing an emotional punch that will stay with readers for a long time after they have finished reading.” Sir Richard Eyre, Aminatta Forna, Andrew Holgate, and Elif Shafak round out this year’s judging panel.

Established in 2009, the international prize aims to promote and celebrate the excellence of the modern short story. Previous winners include Kevin Barry, Junot Díaz, Anthony Doerr, Adam Johnson, and C. K. Stead. This is the first year in the prize's six-year history in which five out of the six finalists are women.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Yiyun Li, Paula Morris, Scott O’Connor, Elizabeth McCracken, Madeleine Thien, Rebecca F. John.

Kara Krauze founded Voices From War in 2013 and teaches literature and writing in the workshop for veterans, along with writer Nathan Bradley Bethea, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Krauze has worked in publishing, the mental health field, and community organizing. A writer of fiction and creative nonfiction, her work has been published in Quarterly WestCenter: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Highbrow Magazine, the Daily BeastHypothetical Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Krauze holds a BA from Vassar College in International Studies and a MA in Literary Cultures from New York University. Voices From War offers writing workshops for veterans and related literary programming.

I’ve been thinking of Virginia Woolf and her “moments of being,” the captured experiences and memories that press up, suddenly intense and vivid, and the “room of one’s own” she argued for as a necessary space to write (and of course there is her call for an income to make it possible—five hundred pounds, was it?). Mostly, I have thought of this space as literal. In New York City, perhaps not a whole room in our cramped living quarters, but at least a corner. Right now I’m thinking of the room where the Voices From War workshop meets, not in an apartment, not tucked away, but in a community center at the 14th Street Y in New York City. Instead of an empty room for solitude, the physical space is populated. Around the table are veterans from multiple generations, mostly men, a woman or two. Mark the participants’ ages and then the decades, and we can unpeel eras of war: Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea. A lot of unknowns within a wide array of experiences, even among those with commonalities. But the space is shared and everyone has stories, some of which they will write about.

This has become more important to me than I expected, more important than I can even understand. These writers and their stories are the tiles in the mosaic of our history. Stories not yet written, stories (factual or fiction) not fully formed until they arrive from their authors on paper, later edited, shared, and revisited.

I’ve never been in an active war zone. I’ve never held a gun—a sentence that falls far short of the stories, absences, and significant details lurking behind its assertion. But when a student writes of wishing to cradle an M-5, I know just what he means. In the middle of that sentence—the words buoying the gun, holding it—I might have been writing about one of my babies, my children.

This is what I mean about the room: Virginia Woolf’s room, the room in our New York City East Village community center, a preschool by day (that a few years ago my own two boys attended) and now where veterans of varied ages and experiences (before, during, and after war) meet with me and my coteacher, Nate. Nate, who was deployed to Afghanistan and was posted in South Korea, is just one thread running quietly through the room—a fifty-year gap between instructor and the workshop participant who served there during his war. The room is a space we’ve made. We remake it each week, pushing away the noise of the outside world. 

Many individuals and key institutions help create that shared room with its white walls and empty space that suddenly fill with people, fill with words. The wonderful supporters at the 14th Street Y who understood and understand why this class matters. All of the participants in the workshop—from our start in season one in fall 2013, to this latest group, both returning and new, as we begin season four.

I am continually amazed, impressed, humbled, and educated by the individuals who have given their service in complex times and places, and who continue to serve in multiple ways. Jacob Siegel, a talented writer and veteran, helped launch seasons one and two. Nathan Bradley Bethea, who was a coteacher in season three, continues to share his insightful analysis and exceptional craft now teaching in season four. Designer eperez gave visual representation to Voices From War by designing our logo. The two smallest members of my family continue to teach me why and why not with their Lego battles on the floor, the toy soldiers on their desk, and in bed with their stories, still shielded from the all too real blood in the world.

A huge thank you to Poets & Writers, an invaluable supporter from our first workshop, for advocating again and again for writers and readers, for veterans, for voices shaping their stories and waiting to be heard. Poets & Writers and the 14th Street Y in Manhattan’s East Village give us the physical room that creates the interior room—a space of community, of voices shared that lift each other up and care for their words. These stories matter.

Photo (top): Kara Krauze, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: James Burry

Photo (right): Nathan Bradley Bethea, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: Yoonkyung Lim 

Photo (middle): Voices From War classroom photo. Photo Credit: Nathan Bradley Bethea

Photo (bottom): Group photo from the Voices From War "Literary Showcase" event with Veteran Artist Program.

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

The term “ultracrepidarianism,” or the habit of giving opinions and advice on issues outside one’s scope of knowledge, comes from a comment made by Greek artist Apelles to a shoemaker who criticized one of the artist’s paintings. The phrase “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam,” essentially means that the shoemaker should not judge beyond his own soles. This week, write an essay on the value of voicing opinions regardless of your expertise on the subject matter.

So many great films have been released over the past year, many of which have been adapted for the screen from works of fiction and creative nonfiction. This week, think of a movie you love that isn’t based on a book and try to write a short story version of it. Examine the types of shots used, the lighting, how scenes are staged, and try to translate these visuals into the structure of your story. For inspiration, read this article in Electric Literature

The winners of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes for Literature were announced at a press conference this morning at Yale University. The international awards, administered by Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, are given to English-language writers of fiction, nonfiction, and drama for a body of work or extraordinary promise. Each winner receives $150,000.

The 2015 winners are, in fiction: Teju Cole (U.S./Nigeria), Helon Habila (Nigeria), and Ivan Vladislavić (South Africa); in nonfiction: Edmund de Waal (U.K.), Geoff Dyer (U.K.), and John Jeremiah Sullivan (U.S.); and, in drama: Jackie Sibblies Drury (U.S.), Helen Edmundson (U.K), and Debbie Tucker Green (U.K). Read complete bios of each winner here.

The Windham Campbell Prizes were established in 2013 by Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. There is no submission process, and winners are determined by an international group of invited nominators, a jury in each category, and an anonymous selection committee.

In September, the winners will gather from around the world at Yale for an international literary festival celebrating their work. All events are free and open to the public.

“The Windham Campbell Prizes were created by a writer to support other writers," said Michael Kelleher, director of the program. “Donald Windham recognized that the most significant gift he could give to another writer was time to write. In addition to the recognition prestige it confers, the prize gives them just that—with no strings attached."

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library houses the Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell Papers. For more information about the awards and winners, visit windhamcampbell.org.

Photos: Teju Cole, Geoff Dyer, John Jeremiah Sullivan.

“When you cut into the present, the future leaks out,” William S. Burroughs stated about the cut-up technique. This method of writing poetry uses the cutting and layering of pieces of printed text to reveal meaningful insight. This week, take a printed work of writing and tear it apart. Then reassemble it in a fashion that communicates something deeper. With some clever rearranging, these cut-up words and phrases will reveal their own message.  

Submissions for the Black Earth Institute (BEI) 2015-2018 fellowships are currently being accepted until March 15. An organization dedicated to supporting artists who address social justice, environmental issues, and spirituality in their work, BEI will award six fellowships of $3,000 each, given over the course of three years, to emerging and established poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and other artists.

Fellows will receive an annual $1,000 stipend to support a single, larger project such as a book, or several smaller projects that combine the “artist’s creative direction with the goals and values of BEI.” In addition to completing individual projects, fellows will edit an issue of BEI’s literary journal, About Place, which carries with it a separate $1,000 stipend, and participate in various panels and readings associated with the institute. Fellows are also expected to attend BEI’s annual retreat, which will be held October 8-11 in Black Earth, Wisconsin.

To apply, submit a letter of intent to blackearthinstitute@gmail.com. Upon acceptance of the letter, BEI will notify applicants and request a full interview. Complete submission guidelines can be found on Black Earth Institute’s website.

Founded in 2005 by author and professor Patricia Monaghan and physician and social activist Michael McDermott, the Black Earth Institute focuses on “re-forging the links between spirit, earth and society” through art and “bringing artists together to foment change.” Previous fellows have included LaTasha Diggs, Annie Finch, Roberta Hill, Tom Montgomery Fate, and John P. Briggs. Fellows have participated in panels at various art and environmental events, including the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, and the Iowa State Wildness Conferences.

For six years and counting, Poets & Writers has supported poetry writing workshops at Hillsides, a home and school for foster youth in Pasadena, California. The partnership began when Hillsides school librarian Sherri Ginsberg expressed an interest in holding a creative writing workshop series for students in the library. P&W staff suggested Brendan Constantine, who for three years worked his poetic magic on her students. In 2012, Mike Sonksen stepped into the role of workshop leader, forming a close bond not only with the students, but with Ginsberg as well—so much so, they cowrote this post!

Sherri Ginsberg and Mike SonksenMike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, is a third-generation Los Angeles native acclaimed for his poetry performances, journalism, and as a mentor for teen writers. His books include I Am Alive in Los Angeles (iUniverse, 2006) and Poetics of Location forthcoming from Writ Large Press. His weekly KCET column, L.A. Letters, celebrates literary Los Angeles. Sonksen recently completed an interdisciplinary MA in English and History at California State University Los Angeles and teaches at Southwest College.

Sherri Ginsberg has been a librarian for over thirty years, and has designed libraries and written book reviews. For nearly nine years she has worked at Hillsides, bringing in authors, musicians, magicians, and many others as guest speakers. One of her favorite workshops is poetry with Mike the Poet.

Sonksen: Dating back to September 2012, I have been visiting Hillsides in Pasadena to teach poetry workshops in the library with the teens who attend there. Each week I bring a different poetry exercise. Sherri is always there to offer students an encouraging word or a book recommendation. We have greatly enjoyed working together. The fruits of our collaboration have led to several on-campus readings and the publication of a few chapbook anthologies.

Ginsberg: Mike has been coming to our library for over two years now and has a "poetic" touch with our very challenging students. The kids are always excited to see him and ask for him when he hasn't been around for a few weeks. He appears and they start writing. It always enhances our program since these kids are extremely reluctant, not only to write poetry, but to put any of their thoughts on paper. We are thrilled with this program.

Mike entices the students to write some very cool poetry that we wanted to share. For privacy, the names have been removed from these excerpts: 

Drawing of Mike SonksenIf I was invisible
I would scare people and get into concerts
without being seen by security.

Me against the world
against stress
the strain
Maybe I need to just let go,
to let it flow.

Dogs are great
without hate
never fish without bait
because love is stronger than hate.

My mom tries to hold on to the little kid
but I know she's gonna hurt
the day I tell her I gotta go.

The care she had for me was unconditional.
Her face was so beautiful.
I miss the spark in her eyes that would look into mine
to say how much she loved me.
I feel the hardest
I cry the heaviest
My tears draw blood
and glow brightest
I'm terrified of my past

Sonksen: The Hillsides students write very powerful words, and I am always thrilled after one of our afternoon sessions. What started in the fall of 2012 with a five-week session has evolved into a workshop that we have continued over the last two-and-a-half school years. After we finish each five-week session, I usually come back a few weeks later to start another round. I am thankful for Poets & Writers’ sponsorship of these workshops, and for introducing me to Sherri Ginsberg and Hillsides.

Photo (top): Sherri Ginsberg and Mike Sonksen. Photo (bottom): Student drawing of Mike "the Poet" Sonksen.

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

Forgiving someone can be difficult, and at times might seem impossible. We’ve all been asked to overlook mistakes, understand the blunderer’s side of the story, and trust that her intentions were pure. But when was the last time you listened to your own pleas and forgave yourself? If there’s something from the past that still upsets you, write a letter to yourself asking for forgiveness. If you feel you’ve achieved inner peace over an issue, write about what the journey was like to get to that state of mind.

This week, dream up some technical advancement and incorporate it into the story you’re working on. It could be an improvement on something in use today, like smartphones or television sets, or it could be something completely new. Perhaps one of your characters is prescribed an experimental new medication that improves his memory. Write about how this new technology affects him and the potential impact it has on society as a whole. 

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