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Virginia Woolf’s The Waves explores the inner lives of its six characters through a sequence of connected soliloquies. Try writing a story using only soliloquies. Choose a scene that involves multiple characters, like a Thanksgiving dinner or a holiday party, and move between their inner monologues, building the setting and plot through each character’s unique thoughts and observations. When layered together, the different streams of consciousness will create the world in which these characters live.

As winter approaches, the days are getting shorter and shorter making it a perfect time to write an aubade, a poem set at dawn. Though its tradition is rooted in love poetry, modern masters like Philip Larkin have used the form to muse on the darker side of sunup. Whether in the tradition of John Donne’s “The Sun Rising” or Larkin’s “Aubade,” write your own version that explores how the early hours spin your imagination.

Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of Poets & Writers' California Office and Readings & Workshops (West) program, describes her visit to a writing workshop led by P&W-supported writer Alicia Partnoy for the organization Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)

Alicia Partnoy is a poet, translator, and survivor of the Argentine genocide. She is best known for her memoir, The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival (Cleis Press, 1998). Her most recent book is the poetry collectionFlowering Fires [Fuegos Florales] (Settlement House Books, 2015), and other works include Little Low Flying [Volando bajito] (Red Hen Press, 2005), Revenge of the Apple [Venganza de la manzana] (Cleis Press, 1992), and with Gail Wronsky, So Quick Bright Things [Tan pronto las cosas] (What Books Press, 2010). Partnoy teaches at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and presides over Proyecto VOS-Voices of Survivors.

Sylvester Owino and Alicia Partnoy This past September, I had the opportunity to sit in on a bilingual English/Spanish writing workshop taught by P&W-supported poet and memoirist Alicia Partnoy. The workshop was part of a retreat held in Malibu, California, by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). CIVIC is a national nonprofit organization that works to end the isolation and abuse of people in U.S. immigration detention through visitation, independent monitoring, storytelling, and advocacy. 

The retreat's workshop brought together CIVIC staff, volunteer visitors from nearly twenty states, and people who were previously held in U.S. immigration detention to help them tell their stories. It was a day of personal exploration and joining together in passionate commitment to a cause.

"Writing about the abuses against us was the only way to let it out," recounted Sylvester Owino, who was detained by U.S. immigration for nine years before regaining his freedom.

Owino's statement, which came after a group writing exercise, echoed what workshop facilitator Partnoy described earlier in the day—after she "disappeared" and was imprisoned in Argentina, and having arrived in the United States as a refugee, she felt desperate because no one knew the stories. She wrote her memoir, The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival, and earned a PhD, out of desperation—to have the stories told, to show the suffering she went through and the suffering of others. "We cannot speak for others if they die," she said, "we speak without them."

Partnoy spoke of "testimonial texts" and "testimonial value" and explained that stories, poems, pictures, and paintings are all "texts." Novels can be written based on testimonials. Poems can tell a story. If a letter was found in the pocket of someone who was killed while crossing the border, it has testimonial value.

I wasn't sure how everyone present was drawn to the cause, but more than a few had personal connections, whether it had been a husband, a mother, or other family member who was or is currently detained. Partnoy made the point that "when a family member is imprisoned, the whole family is punished." And she noted: "Children imprisoned with parents is the current harrowing situation."

Your mother isn't in prison
your mother has
birds in her blood,
grates and bars
don't detain her
nor padlocks,
nor is she in prison,
nor has she left you.

This is how Partnoy's incredibly moving poem "Lullaby Without the Onion" from her most recent collection, Flowering Fires [Fuegos Florales], begins. Partnoy sang her poem, evoking Miguel Hernández's famous poem, which was set to music, "Lullaby of the Onion" [Nanas de la cebolla]. She also shared work that her mother, painter Raquel Partnoy, and daughter, poet Ruth Irupe Sanabria, have written about their experiences.

As retreat attendees wrote in groups on a palabrarma (word weapon) prompt (credited to Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuña) using the word solidaridad (solidarity) supplied by Partnoy, emotions ran high and tears and knowing nods were exchanged as they began the necessary work of sharing their stories and experiences:

"Who am I without you?" read one participant.

"Lament shared is hope given?" questioned another.

"A hand raises to meet the hand behind the wall."

"We connect."

The hope is for the work generated during this workshop to be published as an anthology—making it the first project to use the voices of detention visitors and formerly detained immigrants together, and giving unprecedented insight into immigration detention and the work of CIVIC. To learn more and support the creation of this compilation, please visit CIVIC’s website.

Photo: Sylvester Owino with P&W-supported workshop leader Alicia Partnoy. Credit: Jamie FitzGerald.

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

On Wednesday night in New York City, the winners of the 2015 National Book Awards were announced. The poetry award went to Robin Coste Lewis for her collection, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf). Adam Johnson took home the fiction award for his story collection Fortune Smiles (Random House). Ta-Nehisi Coates won in nonfiction for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau). Neal Shusterman won in young people’s literature for Challenger Deep (HarperCollins). Each winner receives $10,000.

Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in poetry and visual studies at the University of Southern California, and a Cave Canem fellow. Voyage of the Sable Venus is her debut poetry collection, which questions the historical idea and role of the black female figure in America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and is the recipient of a 2015 MacArthur Genius grant. Between the World and Me is a meditation on race in America, written in the form of a letter to the author’s son. Coates dedicated his award to his friend Prince Jones, who was killed by a police officer in 2000. In his acceptance speech, Coates said, “I have waited fifteen years for this moment.”

Adam Johnson won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son. He has received a Whiting Award and fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches creative writing at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco. In his winning collection, Fortune Smiles, Johnson “delves deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal.”

Publishers submitted 1,428 books for review this year: 419 in fiction, 494 in nonfiction, 221 in poetry, and 294 in young people’s literature. The awards are given annually to American writers who published books in the previous year. The finalists each receive $1,000.

Novelist Don DeLillo received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for his lifetime contribution to American literature. Novelist Jennifer Egan introduced DeLillo, and said of his work, “He has an empath’s gift for capturing colloquial rhythm and speech…I’m so grateful to DeLillo for proving to my generation that fiction can still do anything it wants.” 

Meanwhile, James Patterson was presented with the Literarian Award for outstanding service in the American literary community. Patterson donated more than one million dollars in grants to independent bookstores last year, and has donated thousands of books to children and schools in need. Patterson said in his acceptance speech, “I feel compelled to help independent bookstores survive and prosper, and help school libraries any way that I can…let’s find a way to make sure there is another generation of readers out there.”

Read about the winners and finalists, and watch the full video from last night’s ceremony at the National Book Foundation website.

The National Book Foundation was founded in 1986 with the mission to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.”

Ekphrasis is a term commonly applied to poetry, in which a poem describes, or is inspired by, a work of art, often a painting or a sculpture. More broadly, it can be attributed to any genre of writing in response to a work of art. Think of the first film, photograph, painting, or song that left a strong impression on you. Spend some time experiencing it again, and then write an ekphrastic personal essay. Focus on why it resonates with you, and explore the memories, feelings, associations, and observations that surface.

In a recent conversation with President Obama, Marilynne Robinson observes that "people are so complicated. It’s like every new person is a completely new roll of the dice." This week, select a work-in-progress and add a new character to the story. Maybe it’s a stranger who gets involved in the plot, or someone from your protagonist’s past who suddenly shows up. You might decide whether this new character makes things easier or more difficult for your protagonist, or you might remain undecided as you write and see where this new relationship takes the story.

In “Mermaids and Matryoshkas: The Secret Life of a Poetic Sequence” by Sandra Beasley in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Matthea Harvey talks about "harvesting words from the dictionary... to create the vocabulary bank for new poems." Grab a dictionary, flip through it, and put your finger down on a random page. Record the word you land on and go to the next page and write down the word that appears at the same spot, repeating until you have accumulated a vocabulary bank to work from. Write a poem by constructing surprising associations, perhaps thinking of familiar words in an unexpected way, or drawing a personal connection to a new term.

Submissions are currently open for ScreenCraft’s 2015 short story contest. A prize of $1,000 and a consultation with an Academy Award­–winning writer and a Hollywood literary manager will be given for a short story or novella with “special cinematic potential.” One second-place winner will receive $300 and a consultation with a literary manager, and ten finalists will receive publication on ScreenCraft’s website and will have their stories submitted to ScreenCraft’s network of literary magazines and publishing professionals.
ScreenCraftUsing the online submission system, submit an original short story or novella of up to twenty thousand words along with a $39 entry fee by December 5, or with a $49 entry fee between December 6 and the final deadline of December 19. For an additional $50, writers will receive professional feedback on their work. Writers over the age of eighteen, who have not earned more than $50,000 from professional writing services for film or television in the previous year, are eligible to apply. Multiple submissions are accepted. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The judges are Emily Cooke, senior editor at Harper’s; Valerie Cates, executive story editor at Random House Films; Cheston Knapp, managing editor of Tin House; and Diana Ossana, Academy Award–winning screenwriter of Brokeback Mountain, which she adapted from a short story. Ossana notes that she is looking for “stories that resonate emotionally, in any direction. I’ll be looking for stories that move me, that are structurally sound, and that have compelling characters.”

Founded in 2012, ScreenCraft is an independent screenwriting consultancy “dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed.” ScreenCraft hosts regular live events in New York City and Los Angeles, a variety of annual screenplay and short story competitions, destination residencies, and an annual fellowship program.

Imagine that you’ve been chosen to be the representative of your neighborhood and tasked to fill a time capsule that will be sealed and buried for one hundred years. Write a letter to future inhabitants who may unearth and open your time capsule. Describe the items you've included and explain their value and importance in the world today. Would you choose technological products, favorites books, or personal photographs or letters? What would you hope to offer the future through your selections?

In Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals (Harper Design, 2014), Dinah Fried’s photographs are inspired by passages from some of her favorite classic and contemporary works of literature. Create a reversal of Fried's project by imagining the fictitious life story behind a meal. Look through some photos of complete meal spreads from different time periods, countries, and types of establishments and choose a photograph that piques your storytelling instincts. Develop a unique character, setting, and situation inspired by the food, tableware, and mood in the photograph.

In Writers Recommend, Camille Rankine shares that her ideas and inspiration come from “eavesdropping on the world.” This week, collect phrases from overheard conversations, the radio, TV, or magazine articles. When you have a quiet moment, read over your notes and pick one quote that especially sparks your imaginative impulses. Write a poem that uses the found quote as a first line. Explore your immediate reactions and emotions, and allow those feelings to develop the tone of the lines that follow.

Linda B. Adams is director of the Gouverneur Public Library in New York, where she wears many hats; one of which is running writing programs for teens and tweens. She holds an MA in English and is a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the Academy of American Poets, and the Horror Writers Association. In her spare time Adams writes stories and novels that she hopes people will read one day and that will keep them up at night. You can follow her @lindabwriter on Twitter.

Public libraries have become the hubs of their communities. In many small towns in the upper reaches of New York State, they may be the only place where people of all ages can gather. And one thing libraries gather is stories; our shelves are full of books that tell the stories of our humanity, whether they be nonfiction, memoir, or the truths wrapped in the imagination of fiction. So much of the time, we forget that stories are not just in books, that they are within us all, and we are living them every day.

As a writer and library director, my goal is to bring writers and writing programs to the small corner of the universe that is Gouverneur. With a small budget, this is not always an easy task. However, thanks to funding from Poets & Writers, we were able to do just that. Michael Czarnecki provided programs at the Gouverneur Library centered around story and our interconnected humanity. A poet and oral memoirist, Michael has a gift for encouraging and bringing out the stories of others. In his Palm of the Hand workshop, he shared a technique that helped to pull stories out of ourselves: flashes of moments in our lives that serve to illuminate the whole.

Whether those who attended the workshop planned a genealogy project, a journal, a memoir, or just wanted to rediscover themselves, they learned that they could write their own stories. Those of us who are writers know how difficult the work is. But we are willing to do that work; many of us need to. The people who attended this workshop would not have described themselves as writers, however, after the workshop, they all left with a small memoir and the discovery that, to some degree, we are all writers.

Michael, along with Sue Spencer, brought home how important story is and the many forms it takes with their program All One Song, which featured Sue’s percussion as a complement to Michael’s oral memoirs and photography. Audience participation was welcome and encouraged. The performance opened a window through which the audience could sense their own connection to nature and its rhythms.

Michael also shared stories of growing up in the 1960s in his performance piece See, It Was Like This. For some attendees, that period in our history was just that. For others, Michael’s stories brought back their own coming-of-age memories. From tales of hitchhiking and being one with nature to watershed moments, he kept the audience’s interest. But those who attended know it was more than that. I could see the way his stories sparked memories and shared experience; it was a palpable thing. Michael is a master at getting at the common heart of us all. He has a way of speaking that draws people in, makes them feel that his stories are their own. And to some extent, they are. We are the stories we tell; we are the stories we share.

Photo: Sue Spencer and Micheal Czarnecki.   Photo Credit: Rachel Hunter, Property of Gouverneur Tribune Press.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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.

Think of a song that you would consider a lifelong favorite, even if your love for it now is attributed more to a strong sense of nostalgia than to your current musical tastes. Does hearing the song unexpectedly on the car radio or in a restaurant suddenly transport you to a different time or instantly change your mood? Write a personal essay about the memories you have associated with the song, and how the lyrics might have resonated with a certain significance in your past. How has your understanding and appreciation of the song evolved?

Development team Bit Byterz is currently in the process of completing creation of Memoranda, a video game inspired by twenty of Haruki Murakami's short stories. The game employs Murakami's trademarks of bizarre surrealism and characters who are in search of something they’ve lost. Continue this chain of inspiration by writing a short story revolving around an object or person—or even something more conceptual—that has been lost. Allow your scenes to unfold as a series of puzzles and problems to solve, as your main character journeys to locate the lost item.

This week, listen to a poem new to you—by a contemporary poet or a bygone poet—and jot down the words, phrases, and images that are most striking or memorable to you. Then write your own poem inspired by this list of words. How do you transform someone else's poetic intuition and choices into a work that demonstrates your personal idiosyncrasies and specific aesthetic sense?

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