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Since 2011, P&W has supported creative writing workshops for Los Angeles seniors through the sponsoring organization EngAGE, a nonprofit that fosters the arts, wellness, and lifelong learning for seniors in Southern California. It started with workshop leader Hannah R. Menkin, and since then P&W has supported workshops led by Morgan Gibson, Mike "the Poet" Sonksen, Michael C. Ford, and Oshea "Food4Thot" Perry-Luja. The workshops, which now take place at both the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies, bring together creative seniors in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and some even in their nineties. Participants are multitalented—some paint, some sing, some act—and all of them have discovered or rediscovered a love of writing. In part one of a two-part blog report, Melissa Sipin, the McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops Fellow, reflects on an interview with a few of the workshop participants. (Stay tuned for part two next week!)

Oshea Perry-Luja, Felicia Soisson-Segal, Abigail Howard

“It always helps me to look at the world in the kind of sensuality that poetry pulls out of you,” said Felicia Soisson-Segal, one of the participants in the P&W–supported poetry workshop for residents at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony.

After an hour-long drive across the sprawl of Los Angeles, from the Westside to Burbank, I had just arrived with my colleague, Readings & Workshops (West) director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, to meet with a group of senior writers for an interview on the workshop series and their creative process. What Felicia said struck me in a profound way, reshifting how I understand poetry’s effect on my daily life—how it allows me to think-feel the world more sensually, to be more present, even after enduring the mind-numbing traffic of L.A.

I first met Felicia and the other participants after Poets & Writers and the cosponsoring organization EngAGE held a reading for seniors from the North Hollywood and Burbank Senior Artist Colonies. The event was called “On Being a Kid: A Poetry Reading by Los Angeles Senior Artists,” and the poems that were read during the event harkened back to Felicia’s sentiments, that the power of writing allows one to think-feel the world, as if we were curious children again. 

Abigail Howard, another Burbank workshop participant, expounded on what Felicia said by describing the writing process: "When I started the poetry workshop and started writing poetry, something opened up. And the feedback from other people said: This was okay; what opened is good.” She continued, “It’s as if I lived in a little dark cave inside of myself and I was able to open up little tiny windows to let something out that I didn’t even know was there. And then that got bigger and bigger.” Abigail’s words reminded me that it is poetry then, and what it pulls out of you, that liberates you from the “dark cave,” which alludes back to the centuries-old allegory of Plato’s cave and the enlightenment of self.

Oshea Perry-Luja, the workshop facilitator for Burbank, instructed his classes with this in mind, saying: “I believe we have been working on the soul.” Over the course of the workshops, Oshea and the participants became very close, affectionately dubbing themselves “Oshea’s OWLs—Old White Ladies” after they visited one of his open-mike sessions for youth in Inglewood and recognized they were among the few white audience members there. Oshea described the workshops as a harmonious cross-cultural and cross-generational experience: “We all come from different backgrounds, and yet we are able to harmonize through writing. It’s been music that we’ve been creating together.”

It is my belief that poetry brings out what the body think-feels, which is what D. H. Lawrence once said: “The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions.... All the emotions belong to the body, and are only recognized by the mind.” This is what poetry pulls out of us: the ageless and timeless inner life.

See photos and video from the 2015 Lit Crawl event, On Being a Kid: A Poetry Reading by Los Angeles Senior Artists, which featured participants from the P&W–supported EngAGE writing workshops at the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies.

Photos (from left): Workshop leader Oshea Perry-Luja and workshop participants Felicia Soisson-Segal and Abigail Howard. Photo credit: Tess. Lotta.

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.

Submissions are currently open for the 2016 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, an annual award given for a full-length manuscript by a poet living in the Upper Midwest. The winner receives $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions.
Administered in partnership with Milkweed Editions and the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation, the award was established in 2011 with the goal of celebrating the work of exceptional poets from the Upper Midwest; poets residing in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin are eligible to apply. The editors of Milkweed Editions will select five finalists, and acclaimed poet A. Van Jordan will select the winning manuscript.

To enter, submit one hard copy of an unpublished, book-length collection of poetry, along with a single-page cover sheet that includes contact, submission, and biographical information to: ATTN: Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, Milkweed Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Open Book, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

The deadline to submit is March 1. There is no entry fee. The winner will be announced in April or May. Visit the website, or call the Milkweed Editions office at (612) 332-3192 for more information.

Milkweed Editions is one of the nation’s leading independent, nonprofit book publishers. Established in 1980, the publisher’s mission is to “identify, nurture, and publish transformative literature, and build an engaged community around it.” The press publishes fifteen to twenty titles per year.

The State of the Union is an annual address in which the President of the United States delivers a speech to Congress on the condition of the country and reports on plans, priorities, and recommendations for the future. Choose an arena or environment that you preside over in some way, such as a bedroom, office cubicle, spot in the backyard, or table at a café. Then, write a personal essay in the form of a speech addressing the state of things in your chosen entity—describe the current conditions and announce any plans you have for the future.

In the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Tom Spanbauer talks about using the “redemptive voice,” which “can have the effect of a third-person omniscient voice...but also the very important added benefit of having a personality, actually being a part of, and speaking from, inside the story.” Write a short story in which your narrator’s voice is both informal and informed. How will you take advantage of a point of view that can travel through time and space?

February 8 marks the new year on the lunar calendar this year. On the Chinese zodiac, this date marks the passage from the Year of the Sheep, a year of prosperity and promise, to the Year of the Monkey, a sign known for mischief and playfulness. Write a poem about this animal sign, looking beyond the typically cited characteristics of the monkey and exploring the lesser-known traits that might be associated with your own specific wishes or worries for 2016.

Claremont Graduate University announced last week the finalists for the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. The annual award is given to honor a book by a midcareer poet. The finalists for the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, given annually for a debut poetry collection, were also announced.

The finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award are Kyle Dargan for Honest Engine (University of Georgia Press), Ross Gay for Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press), Amy Gerstler for Scattered at Sea (Penguin), Fred Moten for The Little Edges (Wesleyan), and Jennifer Moxley for The Open Secret (Flood Editions).

The finalists for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award are Meg Day for Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street), Bethany Schultz Hurst for Miss Lost Nation (Anhinga Press), Michael Morse for Void and Compensation (Canarium Books), Danez Smith for [insert] boy (YesYes Books), and Henry Walters for Field Guide a Tempo (Hobblebush Books).

The judges for both awards were Stephen Burt, Elena Karina Byrne, Brian Kim Stefans, Don Share, and judge chair Chase Twichell. The winners will be announced in March and honored at a ceremony in April at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Previous winners of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, now in its twenty-fourth year, include Angie Estes, Afaa Michael Weaver, Marianne Boruch, Timothy Donnelly, and Chase Twichell. Previous winners of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, established in 1993, include Brandon Som, Yona Harvey, Heidy Steidlmayer, Katherine Larson, and Atsuro Riley.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Dargan (Dale Robbins), Gay (Zach Hetrick), Gerstler, Moxley, Moten

Myguail Chappel works in the DeKalb County Public Library's Adult Services department. For over ten years Chappel has coordinated diversity programs including One County, Many Voices; Pub Fiction; International Café; the Jubilee of Reading Book Club Conference; and outreach programs to local nonprofit community organizations in the DeKalb community in Decatur, Georgia. Throughout his tenure, Chappel has leveraged funding from Poets & Writers to develop poetry readings and literary readings that highlight the talents of local and national writers who share in the library’s vision of inclusiveness, diversity, and education to nontraditional library patrons and avid library users.

What makes your program unique?
The DeKalb County Public Library’s annual Jubilee of Reading Book Club Conference is unique because it allows booklovers and book clubs an opportunity to meet national and local award-winning authors in an intimate setting. The format of the conference allows attendees to hear each author discuss their writing, ask questions of the author, take pictures, and receive a personalized signed copy of the author’s work. This one-of-a-kind library event is held annually and with the assistance of Poets & Writers, this past year we were able to leverage resources and invite two nationally known authors Nea Simone and Deborah Johnson.

What recent program have you been especially proud of and why?
With the assistance of funding through Poets & Writers, our annual April Poetry Month program, which honors the works of poets, was a highlight for the DeKalb County Public Library. Poet Theresa Davis performed to poetry enthusiasts. Many attendees expressed they were new to her work, but had seen a listing of the event on the Poets & Writers Literary Events Calendar. This helped to expand the library’s publicity resources and allowed for the poet to gain new followers.

What was your most successful literary program, and why?
The most successful literary event has been the fifteenth Annual Jubilee of Reading Book Club Conference that was held on December 5, 2015. Normally we cap registration at one hundred attendees, but with the assistance of Poets & Writers we were able to accommodate over one hundred and fifty attendees. The energy and reception for the conference was magical. Authors and book lovers e-mailed me after the conference expressing that the event was both informative and fun. Author Deborah Johnson wrote, “I am sending you a proper, written thank you but just wanted to send a quickie now to let you know how honored I was to be asked to participate in the Jubilee of Reading. What a fantastic event—everything so well organized and with such fantastic participants.”

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Every event that has been hosted has had memorable moments. The most common theme for me would be seeing the joy that literary and poetry readings bring to the audience and the authors. The written word is sacred and to have that sacredness shared from each individual author’s perspective opens up the diverse world we live and participate in.

How do you cultivate an audience?
DeKalb County Public Library has created a great literary following through programming that we offer throughout the year. At the programs, we ask if attendees would like to be contacted about future events and use this database as a way to advertise, along with publicity through local newspapers, flyers, and Poets & Writers' resources, including the free Literary Events Calendar.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
A value cannot be placed on literary programs. The readings have allowed community participants an outlet to begin sharing their stories: to heal their inner conflicts and place value on their lives. Hosting authors has increased our community value by educating the public and creating a more educated society, gaining new readers, and allowing for diverse groups of people to connect and share their love of reading. The programs also give authors a platform to share their work and expand their audience.

Photo: Author Nea Simone at the Jubilee of Reading Book Club Conference. Photo credit: Angela Ried.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Atlanta, Georgia 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.

Submissions are currently open for the North Carolina Writers Network (NCWN) Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, given annually for an unpublished short story. The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication in the Thomas Wolfe Review.
All writers, regardless of location, are eligible to apply. Using the online submission manager, submit two copies of an unpublished short story or self-contained novel excerpt of up to 3,000 words, along with a $25 entry fee ($15 for NCWN members), by January 30. Writers may also submit via postal mail to: North Carolina Writers Network, Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, Great Smokies Writing Program, Attn: Nancy Williams, One University Hts, UNC Asheville, NC 28804. The winner will be announced in early April. Visit the website for more information.

Administered by the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize honors celebrated North Carolina novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938), a contemporary of William Faulkner who influenced many authors of modern American literature. The award has been given annually since 2006; previous winners include Mesha Maren (2015), Susan Levi Wallach (2014), Jude Whelchel (2014), and Kevin Winchester (2013).

Photo: Thomas Wolfe

Borat, RuPaul, and Ziggy Stardust are some well-known and colorful alter egos whose identities have served a purpose for their creators. Have you ever imagined or assumed an alternate identity? Write an essay about this character—or who this character could be, if you’re imagining for the first time—and where she stands in relation to your own psyche and personality. What does this second self allow you to express, and why?

In The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000), Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi catalog the fictional places of world literature. From Italo Calvino’s invisible cities to Umberto Eco’s abbey in The Name of the Rose, Crusoe’s island to the vast worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, the volume explores how so many worlds of the imagination have come to influence our own. For an exercise, write your own guide for a fictional locale of your creation or one that you’ve recently encountered in reading. Consider what most characterizes this space: Is it the unique architecture of a structure, a brutal climate in harsh terrain, or the unique customs of an isolated people? 

The challenge is simple: Write a poem that is a single sentence long. But don’t write just any old sentence. Instead, challenge yourself to sustain the sentence for as long as possible. Use all the tools of syntax, grammar, and poetic form to help keep it going. While these tools are already at play when writing a poem, the single-sentence constraint will force you into exciting and unexpected rhetorical solutions. For inspiration, read this article on one-sentence poems by poet Camille Dungy.

Margo Perin is the author of the novel The Opposite of Hollywood (Whoa Nelly Press, 2015) and editor of Only the Dead Can Kill: Stories From Jail (Community Works/West, 2006) and How I Learned to Cook: And Other Writings on Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004). She has taught writing to incarcerated populations, people challenged by life-threatening illnesses, migrants, refugees, elders, and at-risk youth and adults, and has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle MagazineO Magazine, and on NPR's "Talk of the Nation." She blogs about a recent P&W-supported writing workshop she conceived and facilitated for San Francisco youth under the auspices of California Poets in the Schools.

Margo PerinIn September and October 2015, I embarked on a series of workshops that linked formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth at the Success Center San Francisco with high school students across the street at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA). I called the project Building Bridges.

The intent of the series was to provide the opportunity for formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth to write about their often invisible life experiences as they develop their creative writing and critical thinking skills, to shed light on their perspectives, and to provide the rare opportunity to foster literary community between young writers of different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. The workshops would not only help build bridges between young writers, but also between Success Center and SOTA staff, and family and community members.

Success Center and SOTA youth each explored and wrote personal narratives through poetry, prose, and spoken word, and read and responded to each others’ personal narratives. In addition, both groups responded to the feedback, creating an ongoing dialogue of understanding.

The workshops culminated with a reading by Success Center youth that was attended by staff, who expressed a deep appreciation and greater understanding of the life stories and literary talents of their students. To further connect the Success Center and SOTA, I facilitated a visit to SOTA by the Success Center Client Service Specialist, who gave a presentation to students and staff on the demographics and struggles that Success Center youth commonly face. It is my hope that the relationship between these institutions will continue and help to reinforce the bridge of understanding and the literary community initiated by the generous funding of Poets & Writers.

This project was extremely enlightening in terms of highlighting the vast difference in economics, education, literacy, feelings of self-worth, social support and validation, and services for youth in the same city and, in this case, for youth attending schools directly across the street from each other. While many of the students at SOTA can expect to continue into higher education and compete for jobs in fields of their choice as they continue to develop as writers, students at the Success Center struggle every day just to attend class to get their GED and improve their literacy.

I am deeply grateful to the sponsoring organization California Poets in the Schools for their generous, honest, and steadfast dedication to their mission as they provide opportunities for youth to find and express their literary voices, and to Poets & Writers for providing the funding to work with the Success Center writers, which would not have been possible otherwise. I am hoping to share what I learned through this project with the reading public, and with other writers and educators to help further "building bridges" between diverse populations.

Photo: Margo Perin.  Photo credit: Marci Klane.

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. 

Submissions are currently open for the 2016 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, given biannually for a creative nonfiction manuscript-in-progress by an emerging author. The winner will receive a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press. The winner will also receive editorial support and guidance from Graywolf Press to complete the project. Brigid Hughes, founding editor of independent literary and culture magazine A Public Space, will judge.

Writers residing in the United States who have not published more than two books of nonfiction are eligible to apply. No prior publication is required. Using the online submission manager, submit a one-page cover letter that includes a brief biographical statement, a two to ten-page overview of the manuscript, and a minimum of a hundred pages, or 25,000 words, from the manuscript by January 31. There is no application fee.

The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize “emphasizes innovation in form,” and seeks “projects that test the boundaries of literary nonfiction,” rather than “straightforward memoirs.” Previous winners include Riverine by Angela Palm, The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness by Kevin Young, and Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss.

Founded in 1974, Graywolf Press is now considered one of the leading nonprofit literary publishers in the country. The press is “committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature.” Visit the website for more information.

Read an interview with Graywolf’s executive editor, Jeff Shotts, in the November/December 2014 issue of Poets & Writers.

Fiction writer Ann Pancake has received the inaugural Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and Community Fellowship. As part of the fellowship, Pancake will spend several weeks in residence at the Ala Kukui retreat in Hana, Hawaii. She will also participate in outreach events and present a public talk on the contemporary writer’s social responsibility at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.

Sponsored by the Manoa Foundation of Honolulu, the annual fellowship was established by Frank Stewart and Debra Gwartney to honor the seventieth birthday of acclaimed writer and naturalist Barry Lopez, who is the author of fourteen books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the short story collection Outside (Trinity University Press, 2014). The fellowship is given to a writer whose work “contributes to an awareness of the civic and ethical obligation of artists; that helps us understand, through storytelling, that the survival of a human world depends upon a commitment to integrity, empathy, and compassionate reconciliation; and inspires us to take social responsibility for the perils, which we have created ourselves, to the human and non-human world.”

Fellows are nominated and chosen by a committee of editors and writers. This year’s judges were Barry Lopez, Debra Gwartney, Jane Hirshfield, Pico Iyer, and Frank Stewart.

Ann Pancake has written several novels and short story collections, most recently Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley (Counterpoint Press, 2015). She lives in Seattle and teaches at the low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.

Watch Barry Lopez give a keynote address at Poets & Writers Live in Portland, Oregon, last fall.

While some people vow not to make any resolutions for the New Year, others are busy drawing up fresh goals—often involving self-improvement measures such as diet and exercise regimens; reading more; picking up a new language or hobby; or improving a financial situation. For 2016, turn your gaze outward and write a list of three resolutions, each focused on a different person in your life. It may be a close friend or family member, or someone you come into contact with on a daily basis but with whom you are only superficially acquainted—a neighbor, coworker, mail carrier, or coffee-shop barista. Write a trio of short essays in which you imagine what you can add to your encounters with each person in the coming year to invigorate your interactions. Predict how small gestures can potentially propel you into a dynamic new direction.

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