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Rebecca Hoogs is the author of the chapbook, Grenade (GreenTower Press, 2005) and the poetry collection, Self-Storage (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Zyzzyva, the Journal, Poetry Northwest, the Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, among others. She won the 2010 Southeast Review poetry contest and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Artist Trust of Washington State. Hoogs is the Program Director for Seattle Arts & Lectures and occasionally co-directs and teaches in the Summer Creative Writing in Rome program for the University of Washington. 

Rebecca HoogsWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
I think what makes Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) unique is not only the breadth of our programming, but the way we interweave our public programs with our education program, Writers in the Schools (WITS), whenever we can. At each of our lectures and readings, we open the evening by featuring a young student writer reading their original poem, story, or memoir. After, we encourage the young writer to sit beside the featured author at the booksigning table—two peers, side by side—to sign copies of their work for the audience. These moments in the spotlight can be utterly transformative for our young writers—often we hear that it’s the first time their parents are seeing them in such a positive light. These are magical moments and it’s an honor to use the SAL stage not only to present the best authors of our time to Seattle’s readers and writers, but to give them a glimpse of the best writers of the future, as well.

Many of these writers also visit a WITS classroom while they are in Seattle. For instance, James McBride, the opening speaker in this year’s Literary Arts Series, spoke with a group of several hundred students at Garfield High School (where some classes were reading his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water). Bringing real-life authors to students during the school day is just as important to us as bringing them to the evening presentation.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Last spring, after many years of trying, I finally succeeded in persuading Anne Carson to return to Seattle to appear in our Poetry Series. As Anne and her partner Currie and I planned for their visit, what would happen onstage evolved: We added musicians, invited collaborators, and I was asked to track down “as many sheets” as I could get. The resulting performance was a one-of-a-kind night featuring Anne’s words in many voices (including her own), a chorus of Gertrude Steins, music by the lovely local musicians Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, and, of course, those sheets rising up and down in a meditative dance-poem. It was a magical night that took risks, pushed boundaries, and asked the audience to join the performers in riding on the possibility of failure or flight. It was a dream come true.

What was your most successful literary program, and why?
What a hard question! There are so many ways to look at success and so many different kinds of successful programs. However, I feel that our Literary Arts Series event with George Saunders last spring epitomizes our most successful programs. He was one of the most moving, funny, and inspiring people I’ve ever heard speak and many of our long-time audience members left saying that it was one of the best—perhaps even the best—lecture that they’d ever heard in the twenty-six years of our series. That, to me, is pretty high praise. Different events will appeal to different folks, but my ultimate goal is that—at the end of every lecture or reading—someone leaves saying, wow, that was the best event I’ve been to in years.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Watching the World Series with Robert Hass at a sketchy bar down the street from our venue, fifteen minutes before his reading.

Helping an author undo the forgotten tailor tacks on his new suit, ten minutes before he took the stage.

Hearing 2,500 voices sing “Because the Night” with Patti Smith after her reading from her memoir Just Kids.

And, just last week, being blown away by the visual kismet and crazy layering of Matthea Harvey reading her poems (sponsored by Poets & Writers—thank you!) about glass girls in a glass factory in the Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass, under the Space Needle and below a full moon occasionally pierced by planes. It was an amazing night in which the setting magnified and reflected her work in all the best ways.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I strive to put together series that are not only comprised of my personal favorite writers, but who are the favorite writers of our community (or who will be!). As a result, I read much more broadly than I would otherwise and am more open-minded. To then get to hear authors in person speak about their work, to offer insight into their process, to reflect on their career, is a gift that just deepens the experience of reading.

As a poet, the Poetry Series provides the most direct inspiration for my own work. As host for the series, I am preparing for weeks in advance—reading casually at first, perhaps, and with increasing intensity and adrenaline (and yes, anxiety) as the event looms and my introduction and interview of the poet near. Preparing in this way reminds me of what I always loved (in the end) about school—reading work deeply and then synthesizing through writing and questions, lodging the work into my own conscious and subconscious. I am sure that this kind of deep reading has inevitably given me new tools, ideas, and forms to experiment with, but most of all, it has given me pleasure.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
There’s critical synergy in the work we do. Through Writers in the Schools, we’re cultivating the next generation of readers and writers while simultaneously supporting our region’s writers (we pay more than $200,000 a year to the fabulous local writers to serve as WITS writers-in-residence). These young writers are featured on the stages of our public programs and the writers-in-residence also receive free tickets to our Literary Arts Series and Poetry Series (free inspiration for their own writing life!). Each year, thousands of readers and writers of all ages are uplifted, challenged, and ultimately changed through tales of persistence, insights into the writing process, new cultural context, critical lenses into literary history, and intimate vignettes of partnership. Together, we remember what it means to be human and share a story. Together, we write that story.

Photo: Rebecca Hoogs      Credit: Libby Lewis Photography
Support for Readings & Workshops events in Seattle 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 open for the sixth annual InkTears Short Story Prize, given for a short story. The winner will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,500), and his or her story will be e-mailed to the InkTears readership.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,000 to 3,500 words with a £6 (approximately $9) entry fee by November 30. Both unpublished and previously published stories are eligible. The winner, runner-up, and four finalists will be announced by March 30, 2015.

Founded by writer and technology entrepreneur Anthony Howcroft in 2009, InkTears is a website devoted to short fiction. Readers receive a story via email each month. In a short video posted in May 2014, Howcroft—who chairs the judging panel for the prize—offers advice to writers who are submitting to the short story contest: Make it a story only you can tell; read the rules; show, don’t tell; make sure to use a consistent point of view; and focus more on the story than on its grammar.

Tom Serengeti won the 2013 prize for his story “Messenger to Riverlea.” For the 2013 competition, InkTears received over five hundred submissions.

Looking back, can you pick out a moment in your life that was altered by a simple action or pure happenstance? Perhaps someone you met under unfortunate circumstances (a fender-bender, at the doctor's office) ended up becoming a close friend of yours. Maybe, as a result of getting hopelessly lost, you discovered a diner that serves the best cherry pie you’ve ever had in your life.  This week, write an essay about one of these instances. Or, if you’ve had multiple experiences of this nature, try and string them all together in the same piece. 

At a ceremony Thursday night in New York City, the winners of the 2014 National Book Awards were announced. The awards, now in their sixty-fifth year, are given annually for books published in the previous year in the categories of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people’s literature.


Louise Glück won the award in poetry for her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Phil Klay won the award in fiction for his debut short story collection, Redeployment (Penguin). Evan Osnos won the award in nonfiction for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Jacqueline Woodson took the award in young people’s literature for Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books). Each winner receives $10,000.

The finalists in poetry were Fanny Howe, Maureen N. McLane, Fred Moten, and Claudia Rankine. The fiction finalists were Rabih Alameddine, Anthony Doerr, Emily St. John Mandel, and Marilynne Robinson. Read a complete list of finalists here, as well as the longlists from which they were chosen.

Earlier in the evening's programming, the National Book Foundation awarded Kyle Zimmer, founder of the Washington, D.C.–based children’s literacy nonprofit First Book, with the 2014 Literarian Award, given for outstanding service to the literary community.

Legendary science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin, meanwhile, received the foundation’s annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. “Ursula Le Guin has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art,” said Harold Augenbaum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, in a statement. “Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

In receiving the award, which was presented at the ceremony by Neil Gaiman, Le Guin spoke of the importance of writing in a capitalist society, in which books are often considered commodities rather than works of art. She called upon writers to harness their art as tools of resistance and change: “The profit motive is often at odds with the aim of art…” she said. “The name of our beautiful reward is not profit, it is freedom.”

Top: Glück, Klay, Osnos, Woodson. Bottom: Le Guin.

Surrealism seeks to express the workings of the mind and imagination free from conscious control of reason and convention. This week, try to write a surrealist scene for a story you’ve been working on. To start, you could take a dream you’ve had recently and rewrite it, swapping the characters in your story for the characters in the dream. Read up on symbolism, and consider what certain types of images or events mean in dreams. Use this Dream Dictionary as a resource.

Do you have a message for the world? Something that you wish you could scrawl on the side of a building in spray paint, or paste up on a billboard for all to see? This week, write the poem that’s itching to get out of you. Imagine what the words would look like ten feet tall and try to embody that power on the page.

Marcia Arrieta blogs about her experience teaching a P&W–supported writing workshop series at Elizabeth House, a place of refuge for homeless pregnant women and their children in Pasadena, California. Arrieta is a poet, artist, and teacher, whose work appears in Of/with, Alba, Rivet, So to Speak, 13th Moon, Eratio, Catch & Release, Alice Blue, Melusine, Osiris, Web Conjunctions, Sugar Mule, Cold Mountain Review, Dusie, and the Last VISPO Anthology, among others. The author of one poetry book, triskelion, tiger moth, tangram, thyme (Otoliths, 2011), and two chapbooks, experimental: (Potes & Poets, 2000) and the curve against the linear/An Uncommon Accord (Toadlily Press, 2008), she received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College. Over the years, she has led numerous writing workshops at Franklin High School and John Adams Middle School in Los Angeles, and The Women’s Room and Centennial Place in Pasadena. Arrieta edits and publishes Indefinite Space, a poetry/art journal.

Marcia ArrietaIn the first poetry/writing workshop in a series sponsored by Poets & Writers at Elizabeth House in Pasadena, California, a young mother writes about a hummingbird:

She looked at me and then flew away.
That’s when I knew on the floor—I shouldn’t stay.

Five weeks later at the culminating reading and book publication of Writing from Elizabeth House, a hummingbird hovers in the center of the cover collage. The hummingbird, a symbol of goodness, sweetness, and light, became a symbol for us of perseverance, writing, and communication, as did Maya Angelou’s powerful poem “And Still I Rise.”

The mission of Elizabeth House is “to provide shelter, hope, and support to homeless pregnant women and their children, addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic needs in a nurturing atmosphere.”

When I first arrived there to lead my workshop, I learned that not only would I have eager, creative young women around the table, but also their babies—ranging in age from weeks old to six months. Needless to say, we had a lively time between the reading, discussing, writing, and sharing of our work, and the babies—sometimes crying, nursing, content, yelling, sleeping (ah, for the baby sleeping!).

Elizabeth House writing workshopThroughout the workshops, several women told me they were so happy to be writing again and in touch with their creativity. One woman expressed her gratitude for the workshops since they were exactly what she needed at this time in her life, with a six-month-old and her uncertainty as to a job and place to live after Elizabeth House. Another woman revealed she never wrote or read poetry, but by the final workshop, she was able to express herself in a beautiful poem entitled “Life.”

At the reading, the audience was very impressed with the quality of the women’s work—especially the honesty and depth of thoughts and emotions expressed. The book I created for them will always be a reminder of their time at Elizabeth House.

I was amazed and inspired by these young women—their lives, their babies, their writing. It was a privilege to work with them and learn of their dreams, struggles, and strength. I think I brought them optimism and hope through the literature we analyzed and the biographies of the poets and writers we studied—Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Audre Lordemany of whom also experienced difficult times, but ultimately triumphed.

Photo (top): Marcia Arrieta. Credit: Kevin Joy. Photo (bottom): Elizabeth House workshop participants and Marcia Arrieta (at right). Credit: Kali Ratzlaff.

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

As Thanksgiving draws closer, it’s a time to be thankful for what you have and to think of those who are in need. Is there an organization you volunteer for in your community? Are there times you wish you had a helping hand from someone? This week, write an essay about what giving and receiving support means to you. 

This past Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, eight thousand helium balloons were released into the night sky over Berlin. This week, write a story that takes place in Berlin on the day of the ceremony. Perhaps one of your characters grew up with the Berlin Wall up. Maybe one of your characters is traveling across Europe and just happens to be in Berlin that day. In your story, break down some personal barriers between characters, or try to unite them on a common ground.   

The next time you catch a glimpse of your shadow, study it for a while. Observe how it moves when you move, how it looks in different kinds of light. Think about what it would feel like if one day you looked for it and it wasn’t there. Write a poem to your shadow as if it were an old friend.

Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). The recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers, Inc., Kundiman, Rattle, and the Asian American Literary Review, Leigh serves as the Poetry Editor of Kartika Review. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a PhD student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The book tour was a risk. On good days, we called it an investment. Averaging early thirties, we were young enough to “stop everything and do this!” but old enough to be concerned about our finances. We decided against crowdfunding, dug into our savings, and reminded each other, “you only live once.” We would never publish first books again.

The four tour-bound poets—Michelle Chan BrownCathy Linh CheSally Wen Mao, and I—found each other through Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves emerging Asian American writers and instills in its fellows, an irrepressible belief that their words matter.

Book tours, we discovered, were a lost art. With few contemporary examples to emulate, we fashioned our tour from imagination. We created haphazard lists of venues, cities, and people we know or sort-of-used-to-know. The lists gave birth to the Honey Badgers Don’t Give a B**k Tour, our homebrewed, multi-week, poetry performance on wheels.

We woke early on futons and air mattresses (and once a yoga mat) strewn across the homes of strangers and friends. While we rewarded ourselves with the occasional Red Lobster feast or a quick dip in a lake, the tour was hardly a glamorous affair. We spent our long drives catching up on sleep or on freelance work, plus tweeting and tumbling so our moms could keep track of us, up and down the east coast.

When Joseph O. Legaspi, one of Kundiman’s founders, invited us to read with acclaimed poet Patrick Rosal as part of New York City’s Bryant Park Word for Word series, we jumped at the chance—especially when we learned that the Poets & Writers Readings and Workshops program would fund the event.

With over two hundred people in attendance, the Word for Word reading was our largest gathering on tour. It was a life-giving privilege not only to perform, but also to be financially compensated for a performance at the Bryant Park Reading Room, a space created during the Great Depression to welcome the out-of-work masses.

Several nights later, at one of our final readings in a Washington, D.C. bar called Petworth Citizen, only one person showed up. A community activist whom none of us knew personally.

Michelle, Cathy, Sally, and I exchanged surprised glances as we had nearly resigned to packing up without doing a reading at all. Then we resolutely pulled our chairs into a circle to include our new friend, plus Michelle’s husband, our second and only other audience member. We took turns performing our poems in that circle with as much energy as the first time. Then, we thanked the woman who sat with us by gifting her signed copies of each of our books.

I understood then that the fuel we had received in New York City took us through D.C. and to numerous other communities. It would not be a stretch to say our small gesture was an extension of the gifts first given to us by organizations such as Kundiman and Poets & Writers.

The extension continued when, a few weeks after the tour, I moved to Chicago and became one of the friends with an air mattress, as I hosted Cathy Che and poets Jess X. Chen and Paul Tran on a stop for their visual poetry tour, Lights Trauma Revelation. I read my poems, as one of four local poets, for their performance at the Marble Room, a Chicago reading series that hosted us in a Wicker Park dance studio, tucked under a train station. And there, Poets & Writers showed up once again to fund part of the reading.

I joked recently that I get paid as a poet when a stranger writes to say he resonates with my book, or when an old college friend finds a copy at an independent bookstore.  But with the Readings & Workshops program's generosity, I'm blessed and grateful to receive occasional financial compensation, as well. Whether friend or funder, I want to thank you, dear supporters, for your continued confidence in the importance of our words.

"Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows" - Book Trailer from Jess X Chen on Vimeo.

Photo (top): Eugenia Leigh. Photo Credit: An Rong Ku

Photo (bottom): Patrick Rosal, Cathy Che, Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao. Photo Credit: Honey Badgers Don't Give a Book Tour Tumbler page

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. 

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago and Washington, D.C. 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.

We all have music artists that we connected with in our youth. But as time goes on, our music tastes tend to change. This week, pick a song you haven’t listened to in over ten years and give it another try. Write a short personal essay about your reaction to the song. What was it about that song that made you connect with it at the time? Do you still like it as much as you did then? If not, what do you think that says about how you’ve changed as a person?

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot.” This rhyme commemorates the failure of the plot to assassinate King James I of England on November 5, 1605. The plot’s failure was due in part to the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who was guarding explosives placed beneath the House of Lords. This week, learn about a treasonous plot that was foiled and write a short story about it. Retell the historical event as it happened, or use the facts as inspiration for an original story involving your own characters.

Submissions are open for the Table 4 Writers Foundation’s third annual grants, given annually to fiction and nonfiction writers over the age of twenty-one. The winner will receive $5,000 and two runner-ups will each receive $2,500.

The grants are given for short stories, essays, or novel or memoir excerpts that somehow deal with New York City. To apply, submit four copies of four to ten pages (or 1,000 to 2,500 words) with the required entry form and a $10 entry fee via postal mail by November 15. Applications should be mailed to 1650 Broadway, Suite 405, New York, NY 10019.

The Table 4 Writers Foundation established its writers grants in 2012 in honor of restauranteur Elaine Kaufman. Kaufman, who passed away in 2010, ran an Austro-Hungarian bar on the Upper East Side of New York City for over forty-seven years. The restaurant was a favorite among writers, journalists, and editors. Kaufmann, who always sat at table four, was known for offering support and advice to writers.

The 2014 recipients will be announced in February and celebrated at the foundation’s annual spring gala in New York City. The 2013 recipients are Matthew Perron, Kurt Pitzer, Danny Thiemann, Jennie Yabroff, and Karen Yin. They each received $2,500, and their winning entries can be read on the foundation’s website. The foundation received over one hundred entries for the 2013 contest.

Photo: Elaine Kaufman

In Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Rosencrantz muses, “We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?” If you were to imagine death as something tangible—an object, a location, or a living thing—what would it be? Write a poem meditating on why this particular thing symbolizes loss, and the coming of an end.

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