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“O, thou ever restless sea / God’s half-uttered mystery," wrote Albert Laighton in his poem “The Missing Ships” (1878). While significantly fewer ships go missing nowadays, search teams have recently been pouring all of their effort into finding the wreckage of Malaysia Flight 370. The longer the search team takes, the higher the likelihood the secrets inside the aircraft’s black box will be lost forever. This week write a poem about searching for a “lost ship.” Consider the ocean’s depth, the cleansing powers of its salt water, and the hopelessness of its vast magnitude. 

Today in New York City, the Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes. Of the twenty-one prize categories, awards in letters are given annually for works published in the previous year by American writers.

The winner in fiction is Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown). The finalists were Philipp Meyer’s The Son (Ecco) and Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Atlantic Monthly Press). The winner in poetry is Vijay Seshadri for 3 Sections (Graywolf Press). The finalists were by Morri Creech’s The Sleep of Reason (The Waywiser Press) and Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke (Penguin).

A complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories is available on the Pulitzer Prize website. Winners will each receive $10,000.

Last year’s winners included fiction writer Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House) and poet Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap (Knopf).

The Pulitzer Prizes, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism, were established in 1911 by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher, and were first awarded in 1917. Longtime prize administrator Sig Gissler, 78, recently announced that he will retire later this year. The Pulitzer board has formed a committee to nominate his replacement; inquiries about the position can be directed to Susan Glancy at nominations@columbia.edu.

Submissions for the 2015 prizes will open in May. 

The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry announced the shortlist for its 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize on Tuesday. Two awards of $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253) each are given annually for poetry collections published during the previous year, one by a poet living in Canada and another by a poet living internationally.

The international finalists include Rachel Boast for Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Brenda Hillman for Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press), Carl Phillips for Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Mira Rosenthal for her translation from the Polish of Tomasz Rózycki’s Colonies (Zephyr Press). The Canadian finalists include Anne Carson for Red Doc> (Knopf), Sue Goyette for Ocean (Gaspereau Press), and Anne Michaels for Correspondences (Knopf).

The seven finalists will each receive $10,000 CAD (approximately $9,114) and will be invited to read on June 4 at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. The winners, who will each receive $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253), will be announced on June 5 at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards ceremony.

The 2014 judges, chosen by the Griffin Trust trustees, are Robert Bringhurst of Canada, Jo Shapcott of the United Kingdom, and C. D. Wright of the United States. They read 539 poetry collections, including 24 translations, from 40 countries.

Based in Toronto, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry was founded in 2000 by chairman Scott Griffin and trustees Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, and David Young. Carolyn Forché joined as a trustee in 2004.

Publishers may submit books for consideration by the annual deadline of December 31. Visit the Griffin Trust website for more information and complete guidelines.

Fady Joudah and Candian poet David W. McFadden won the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prizes. Joudah won for his translation from the Arabic of Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan's Like a Straw Bird It follows Me (Yale University Press); McFadden won for his collection What's the Score (Mansfield Press).

Phillips: Dinty W. Moore; Carson: Peter Smith.

Rachel Guido de Vries is a poet and fiction writer. She has written three books of poems: How to Sing to a Dago, (Guernica, 1996); Gambler’s Daughter, (Guernica, 2001), and The Brother Inside Me (Guernica, 2008). Her first children’s book, Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story, (Bordighera, 2008) was a winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People Award. Bordighera Books will publish a new collection of her poems, A Woman Unknown in Her Bones, and a new children’s picture book, Stati Zita, Josie, in 2014. She is a poet-in-the-schools, and gives workshops independently. She lives in Cazenovia, New York.

One of the things I love about Poets & Writers is the support of readings and workshops outside of the academy. Don’t get me wrong: I went to grad school at Syracuse University in the mid to late '70s and I have received funding from P&W to do readings at colleges and universities for thirty-some years. But it has been the readings and workshops outside of the academy that have most enriched me. This support has allowed me to offer poetry to male and female inmates at a psychiatric center for convicted felons in Marcy, New York, where I was a poet in residence for over ten years; at migrant farm worker camps in western New York, where workers left the fields after sunset, and after a day of digging potatoes. They would shower before coming to workshop, and that often meant we would be writing poems after nine at night, in a small trailer, or in the juke, the common kitchen area at a migrant camp.

I’ve done workshops with senior citizens and with inner city kids and adults in the city of Syracuse. What a gift this has been. I have seen poems blossom in every setting, and I have come to cherish working with marginalized communities—I feel enriched by what I have learned from these students, and I hope that I have at least on occasion brought to celebration voices not frequently heard, by writers too often silenced by poverty, education, or class, race, or gender.

For me, the support of Poets & Writers has been a kind of writer’s lifeline, connecting me to students I would never otherwise encounter. Their desire to write, and their love of words, their ability and interest in the image as a way into meaning, and into sharing the meaning of their lives is profound, and often startling. Asking young poets to write about peace, a seven-year-old wrote: “War is as savage / as a hunter in deer season / Peace is a descendant of Aphrodite / War is a descendant of Ares.”

A convicted felon in the prison workshop wrote a poem beginning: “My heart is like a little bird…” His big, muscled frame the cage of safety, perhaps, for that little bird beating away inside of him. A Christmas poem written by a young inmate was heart breaking—he wrote all about what he did not want for Christmas, including no more living on the street, no more shame to his mother. The repetition of the phrase “I don’t want” followed by such poignant hopes is a poem that has stayed with me for decades. In fact, I often use that idea—what one does NOT want for Christmas—as a poetry exercise for students.

In a way, I think the sheer honesty and truth of these poets have kept me humble and in awe of the power poems have to move us to voice and insight. Their work has sharpened my own work, the clarity of image, the meaning I hope to evoke. The pure imagery created in these workshops, without artifice or self consciousness, is moving. I believe and have always believed that poetry is a gate to true literacy; that the image is often a key to unlock what I call the “Blue Door,” the door within each of us, behind which all we need to say and all we know is waiting to be set free on the wings of poems, borne up on faith and the belief in what one knows.

Photo:  Rachel Guido de Vries.  Photo Credit:  Anonymous

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

There are certain events and activities that can feel odd to do alone. Going to the movies, attending a concert, and eating in a restaurant are common things that people would rather do with a buddy. But what about the times when you simply can’t find anyone to go with you, for whatever reason, or when your buddy backs out at the last minute? Write about an experience you’ve had when going by yourself was the only option. How did it make you feel? Did it turn out all right in the end? If going to an event or engaging in a typically social activity by yourself is not a big deal, or you happen to prefer it, write about a specific instance that exemplifies why you feel this way.

Dieting is the most common New Year’s resolution, and the most difficult to stick to. Sure, we essentially know what’s healthy and what to avoid overindulging in, but when a doctor or nurse tells you to change your eating habits it weighs much heavier on your conscience. Does one of your characters have a diet that is putting his health in jeopardy? Try writing a scene in which that character is told by a healthcare professional to overhaul his eating habits. How does this character react? If this character can no longer have some of his favorite foods, how does this affect his mood and his day-to-day routine?

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize, has announced the shortlist for its 2014 award. Now in its nineteenth year, the £30,000 (approximately $50,000) London-based prize is given to a woman writer from any country for a novel written in English and published in the previous year.

The finalists are Nigerian American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah (Knopf), Australian author Hannah Kent for Burial Rites (Picador), British American author Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Bloomsbury), Irish author Audrey Magee for The Undertaking (Atlantic Books), Irish author Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Faber & Faber), and American author Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown).

This year’s shortlisted books were selected from a longlist of twenty. The shortlist boasts one previous Orange Prize winner, one previously shortlisted author, and three debut novelists.

The judges for the 2014 prize are Helen Fraser, the chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust; Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; writer Denise Mina; Times columnist, author, and screenwriter Caitlin Moran; and Sophie Raworth, a BBC broadcaster and journalist.

“We are very excited by the books we have chosen for the shortlist,” said Helen Fraser, the chair of judges, in yesterday's announcement. “Each one is original and extraordinary in its own way—each offers something different and exciting and illuminating.” The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on June 4.

Established in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women throughout the world, the Women’s Prize for Fiction was renamed and took on new sponsorship last year after a longtime partnership with telecommunications company Orange. The prize is anonymously endowed, and is the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by women. Any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality, country of residence, age, or subject matter, is eligible.

American author A. M. Homes won the 2013 Prize for her novel May We Be Forgiven. In the video below from the Guardian, British author Jeanette Winterson interviews Homes about her winning book.

Frank O’Hara wrote Lunch Poems while sitting in Times Square during his lunch hour. This week, take time during your lunch hour to pause and reflect on what’s going on around you. Write down a description of the space you’re in, the details of your lunch ritual, the conversation you’re overhearing or participating in, or any other such observation.

Children are often reminded not to talk to strangers, and for good reason. As we get older, communication with strangers isn’t as dangerous, but it can still be uncomfortable. This week, think about a conversation you have had with a stranger in an awkward situation. Who started it? Did you feel safe? After talking, did you feel like you knew this person any better? Did you ever see this person again, and if not, would you want to?

Reality television might not be that in touch with “reality," but it is still a source of entertainment for many people. Whether or not you enjoy The Real Housewives of New York (or Beverly Hills, Atlanta, etc.) or any other shows of that nature, there might be something to learn about characterization through watching these people battle it out on screen. This week, create a character that you think would be perfect for one of those types of shows. Then put your character in a scenario in which he or she must go through a dramatic, emotional struggle publicly, in front of millions of viewers, with another person or group of individuals. The key is to really amp up the drama and imbue the scene with as much nail-biting tension as you can muster.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced today that Karen Joy Fowler has won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her most recent novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The $15,000 prize honors a book of fiction by an American author published in the previous year.

Fowler is the author of six novels, including the bestselling The Jane Austen Book Club (Putnam, 2004), and five short story collections. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, published by Marian Wood last May, is loosely inspired by the work of psychologist Winthrop Kellogg in the early 1930s, and tells the story of a young woman raised with a chimpanzee as a sister.

Known for writing genre-bending work, Fowler also cofounded the James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, a literary prize given annually for works of science fiction and fantasy that explore the understanding of gender. The prize is named for science fiction author Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pen name James Tiptree Jr.

In the following podcast from Aspen Public Radio’s First Draft series, Fowler discusses the new book, her process and inspiration, and how she came to be a writer.

The judges for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award were Madison Smartt Bell, Manuel Muñoz, and Achy Obejas. Fowler’s novel was chosen from more than 430 novels and short story collections. In a statement released this morning, Muñoz said, “Fowler captures an altogether new dimension of the meaning—and heartbreak—of family dynamics.” Smartt Bell added, “This is a book that really does tell us something new about what it is to be human—and what it is not to be."

The finalists for the award included two short story collections, Joan Silber’s Fools (Norton) and Valerie Trueblood’s Search Party (Counterpoint); and two novels, Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles (Riverhead) and Percival Everett’s Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf). Each finalist will receive $5,000.

Fowler and the four finalists will be honored at the 34th annual PEN/Faulkner Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 10. 

In the video below, Fowler reads an early excerpt from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, originally published in the literary magazine ZYZZYVA.

The first card in the Major Arcana of the tarot, a deck of cards used by mystics for divination, is called “The Fool." He is depicted on the card as gliding towards the edge of a cliff with the sun rising up behind to light his way, beginning a new journey full of unlimited potential. Have you recently set out on a new journey? Or are you itching to try something new, be spontaneous, and break out of your routine? Write a poem that captures the excitement of the first day of a new adventure. It could be a physical journey, like traveling to a distant land, or an emotional journey, like the start of a new relationship. Whatever path you choose, make sure it’s exhilarating!

Poet Sueyeun Juliette Lee reports on her P&W–supported reading and workshop with the experimental Houston collaborative Antena. Lee is the author of Underground National (Factory School Press, 2010), That Gorgeous Feeling (Coconut Books, 2008), and Solar Maximum, forthcoming from Futurepoem Press. In addition to her writing, Lee publishes innovative work by multiethnic authors through Corollary Press. She also edits for The Margins, the web magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts.

Antena, made up of Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, is a language justice and experimentation collaborative, currently in residence at the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum. In addition to curating an immense exhibition of book arts and small presses from the Americas (North, Central, and South) alongside text-based visual work by eleven artists from Latin America and the U.S., they also pulled together artists, small press publishers, and writers to convene this past February for a weekend of workshops and dialogues about community and art in a multi-national exchange. I was one of the invited artists.

Encuentro participants

In order to facilitate this cross-cultural exchange, Antena utilized real-time interpretation, which required all participants who weren't comfortable in both English and Spanish to wear headsets and radio receivers. Bilingual interpreters were present at each event and interpreted live for the participants by broadcasting on different radio channels. Though it was often challenging to listen through the headset, the experience underscored and manifested the obstacles we must wade through if we want to have a true encuentro, or encounter, with difference.

Block print

The workshops ranged from creating language-oriented artwork together, such as making a massive collective block print with Nuria Montiel of all of our favorite phrases, or participating in performance experiments led by Autumn Knight, who invited us to engage each other in playful new ways. The evenings were devoted to performances of all the featured artists’ work.

I was incredibly impressed by the audience’s diversity. There were of course many undergraduate students there, since we were located on the University of Houston’s campus, but Antena’s commitment to community and access was evident in the range of other workshop participants and attendees from all walks of life. One older woman approached me and told me she was not a “poetry type,” but was profoundly moved by all the things she had heard that night. She was clearly deeply affected. Isn’t that the greatest feat we can hope art will accomplish?

I was astonished by the cross-arts resonances that emerged between us. For example, I met Guatemalan visual artist and indigenous activist Benvenuto Chavajay, who asked me about the kite I had made for the exhibition. His country has an annual kite celebration, and we discussed the ways that kites impact national and cultural identities. Though I am a Korean American, raised outside Washington D.C. by immigrants, and Chavajay is of Mayan descent, we had very similar understandings about the kind of transformative work we wanted to accomplish through our art, and the way that we understand our relationship to our heritages and histories.

There are many moments from the Encuentro that I will never forget—especially watching Stalina Villarreal toss her “bouquet” of poems into the air and hearing Ayanna Jolivet McCloud’s skin as she rubbed the microphone across her body.

Top: Encuentro participants; credit: Pablo Gimenez Zapiola. Bottom: A collaborative block print; credit: Sueyeun Juliette Lee.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston 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.

This week, dust off your earliest memories. Why have those particular images stuck in your mind over all these years? Are they related to a specific event or chain of events? Try to write about and connect these moments in a short essay.

This week, have your character either lose or find an object, pet, or set of directions. Explore how this event opens up unexpected possibilities for your story. Will two characters meet for the first time because of this mishap? Will your protagonist be late arriving somewhere as a result?

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