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Mario Bonifacio writes short fiction. He served for ten years in the U.S. Army, both active and reserve, as a field artillery and cavalry officer, including a combat deployment to Iraq. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and has participated in the Voices From War writing workshop since 2014.

Back when war was a concept that only existed to me in history books or on the news, I wrote for myself—well, for myself and for the strangers who were out there, faceless, and felt things similar to me, even if they never read my work.

I chose active duty in the U.S. Army in 2003 and my writing slowed. Being trained for war, training a platoon for war and, eventually, war itself, all pulled my thoughts outward; reflections that could have once filled notebooks now remained on Texas shooting ranges and ambling desert roads in Iraq. The external world I’d chosen was dangerous and not to be taken lightly, but as I'd learn in the years that followed, so was ignoring the internal conflict that inevitably followed many of us home.

When I returned home from war, I focused on my professional reintegration, which was far from easy but a welcome distraction and enough to convince myself that I was happy—that to be walking and breathing was all I needed to be happy. To be anything but seemed a crime against the memory of those unlucky enough to have not made it back. But I knew enough to understand my happiness was worthy of distrust, like the way you feel when entering a rush hour subway car with what seems like too many available seats.

I joined the Voices From War workshop, sponsored by Poets & Writers, at first, to remain connected to other veterans, not yet convinced I wanted to write about my time serving or the issues I, and veteran friends, faced while readjusting. I obviously knew there was writing out there about the Iraq War, in addition to movies and other media, but I passively avoided it. The world beyond the military offered no shortage of lessons to learn, so why use my limited facilities to hear others speak about something I had already experienced firsthand? Much of it was pretty terrible anyway—inaccurate and exaggerated.

It was the other participants in Voices From War who convinced me that this wasn't a problem to be avoided, but rather one to be solved—a problem that would persist until we rose up to tell our version of the story. After all, no one but us had the memories to draw upon, to become the voices from the war in Iraq.

After completing my first few works and participating in my first readings, both in conjunction with the workshop, I was able for the first time to see those faceless readers I'd once imagined—people who might never have heard a war story directly from the source, people who feel they don't have a voice, and people I served alongside who, for many reasons, cannot tell their own stories.

In the most literal sense, our story doesn't exist unless we write it down. And I very much want our stories to exist.

Photos: (top) Mario Bonifacio. Photo credit: Christina Garofalo. (bottom) Voices From War workshop participants. Photo credit: Kara Frye Krauze.

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

Many people were overjoyed to learn several weeks ago that Inky, an octopus at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, had escaped from his tank, wiggling through a drainpipe in the floor that eventually led him out into the ocean. NPR reporter Scott Simon commented, “it's hard not to note that Inky chose to bolt from surroundings in which he was safe, secure, and hand fed, for the dangers of an open sea that teems sharks, seals, and whales that might eat him. Inky chose liberty over security.” Write a personal essay about a time when you chose freedom, whether via a daring escape or by bravely walking away, from a lifestyle you weren’t satisfied with that may have seemed like a safer, more stable route. Were there risky obstacles to overcome? What are your thoughts about your decision in hindsight?

“Can we really mold a narrative around something that defies narrative itself?... How can we re-create an experience that eludes the conscious mind?” In “This Is Your Brain on Fear” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, J. T. Bushnell asks these questions as he explores the relationship between narrative storytelling and the often fragmentary, uncertain nature of memory and observation when people experience trauma. Write a scene of high stress, fear, or trauma for a first-person narrator that makes use of “selective description of external details.” Resist the temptation to fill in the blanks or describe the passage of time in a linear way. Explore the way the human brain processes events, and incorporate your findings into your storytelling.

Submissions are currently open for the BOMB magazine poetry prize, which is given biennially for a group of poems. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in BOMB magazine. Bhanu Kapil will judge.

Using the online submission manager, submit up to five poems totaling no more than 10 pages and a $20 reading fee, which includes a one-year subscription to BOMB, by May 15. Simultaneous submissions are accepted. The winner will be announced on July 31. For questions, e-mail firstproof@bombsite.com.

Bhanu Kapil is the author of five full-length hybrid works of poetry and prose, including Schizophrene (2011) and Ban en Banlieue (2015). She teaches writing at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and at Goddard College’s low-residency MFA program.

Founded in 1981, BOMB is an independent nonprofit magazine that publishes conversations between artists of various disciplines; original works of fiction and poetry; novel excerpts; and first-time translations into English. The magazine also sponsors a fiction prize, which is given in alternating years. Previous winners of BOMB’s poetry contest include Daniel Poppick, Steve Dickison, Amanda Auchter, J. R. Thelin and Matthew Reeck. 

For a period of eighteen months in the late 1970s, an unexpected pairing of communities took place: the building that housed the San Francisco Club for the Deaf, a social club for the deaf community, became the venue for notable punk rock shows and album recordings. In an article about a Deaf Club event in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Opal Gordon, a deaf performer, said, “Music is strong, [deaf people] can feel the vibrations. Punk is perfect because it’s loud, it’s heavy, it’s in your face.” Write a poem in which you imagine experiencing a musical performance—whether punk, classical, country, or jazz—that you can see and feel, but not hear. Think about the ways in which music can transcend sound, focusing on the visual or literal attitude of the performance.

The Dungannon Foundation announced yesterday that Andrea Barrett is the winner of the 2015 Rea Award for the Short Story, which honors a U.S. or Canadian writer who has made a “significant contribution to the discipline of the short story as an art form.” Barrett will receive $30,000.

“Andrea Barrett has continually enlarged the geography of her imagination, and her lucky readers have been the beneficiaries of those explorations, experiencing, as her characters so often do, the way our own small pasts bear on our own small present,” wrote judges T. C. Boyle, Bill Henderson, and Karen Shepard in a press release. “Barrett offers us the news from other worlds as a way to understand our own…. And she accomplishes those broad thematic implications with a precise and quietly intelligent style that surprises and disturbs and gratifies. That deceptive formal modesty keeps our focus on the world at the fiction’s heart and produces testimonies designed to celebrate the attested rather than the attester. The result has been a body of stories that like all great fiction expands our knowledge, brings us more fully into contact with the suffering of others, and supplies intense and gorgeous pleasure.”

Barrett is the author of six novels and three story collections, most recently Archangel (Norton, 2013). Her 1996 collection, Ship Fever, won the National Book Award, and her 2002 collection, Servants of the Map, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She teaches at Williams College and in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and is particularly known for her historical fiction, the intertwining of characters across books, and her interest and use of science in her work.

Established in 1986 by writer Michael M. Rea, the Rea Award has been given in recent years to T. C. Boyle, Elizabeth Spencer, Richard Bausch, and Charles Baxter. Rea established the award to “foster a literary cause, to ennoble the [short story] form, to give it prestige.” The Washington, Connecticut–based Dungannon Foundation—also founded by Rea—also sponsors the Rea Visiting Writers and Rea Visiting Lectures series at the University of Virginia, as well as the Selected Shorts program at Symphony Space in New York City.

Listen to Barrett's 2013 interview with Studio 360, produced by PRI and WNYC Radio.

Photo Credit: Barry Goldstein

Think of a work of art—a film, book, painting, or song—that has received significant critical acclaim, but that you cannot stand. That you might, in fact, hate. Write an essay exploring why this work grates against your aesthetic sensibilities. Approach this not as a hatchet job, but an honest, probing examination of the work and why you believe it falls short. Consider what your distaste may reveal about your own sense of art and what the critical praise reveals more generally about our arts culture.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced today that Joy Williams has won the 2016 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. The annual award of $5,000 “recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction.”

One of the most respected contemporary short fiction writers, Joy Williams is the author most recently of The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, published last fall by Knopf. Williams’s short fiction is known for its crisp, elegant prose, dark wit, and ability to seamlessly permute from the real to unsettlingly unfamiliar. Richard Ford, a member of this year’s PEN/Malamud selection committee, said that Williams’s stories are “incandescent, witty, alarming, often hilarious while affecting seeming inadvertence (but not really) in their powerful access to our human condition. She is a stirring writer and has long been deserving of the Malamud Award.”

Williams is the author of five story collections, four novels, and two works of nonfiction. She has received the Rea Award for the Short Story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. 

Williams will receive her award and read from her work at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on December 2.

Now in its twenty-eighth year, the PEN/Malamud Award was established in 1988 to honor the short fiction author Bernard Malamud, who died in 1986. The 2016 selection committee for the award included H. G. Carillo, Richard Ford, and Margaret Talbot. Previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Lorrie Moore, Adam Haslett, George Saunders, and Deborah Eisenberg. 

Kevin Barry's novel Beatlebone (Doubleday, 2015) imagines John Lennon taking a mini pilgrimage to an island he's purchased off the west coast of Ireland. Led by his driver, Cornelius, they jump from one strange encounter to another as they try to avoid the paparazzi and make it to the island. Write a story in which the main character is someone famous in popular culture. Research the character, try to inhabit them far beyond the public persona, and send them on a journey that reveals the person beyond the limelight. 

In During (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), the new collection by National Book Award finalist James Richardson, there are, in addition to many wonderful poems, dozens and dozens of aphorisms (a poetic specialty of his), including gems like, “Maybe what interests me in the mirror is not myself but that person who looks so interested in me.” Try your hand at writing a handful of aphorisms, focusing on the way they use brevity and clarity to find their way into an idea. For inspiration, read more of Richardson’s aphorisms, and some from his favorite aphorist Antonio Porchia.

Christina Fialho is an attorney and cofounder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). In the fall of 2015, she invited P&W­–supported writer Alicia Partnoy to lead a writing workshop at the CIVIC annual retreat, and in this blog she shares about the resulting anthology Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which collects writing and artwork by people in immigration detention, and their family members and allies. Fialho also blogs for the Huffington Post, and her writings have appeared in MSNBC.com, the Washington Timesthe Hill, among other publications. She has produced an award-winning documentary and non-narrated shorts, which have appeared on NPR and in the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico. She has received fellowships from Echoing Green and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Fialho serves on the Board of the ACLU of Southern California.

Call Me Libertad book cover

Twenty years ago on April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, ushering in an era of mass detention and deportation of immigrants. A few months later, the president signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Together, these laws doubled the number of people in U.S. immigration detention from 8,500 each day in 1996 to 16,000 in 1998. The immigration detention system is now a multibillion dollar industry that detains 34,000 people per day and enriches private prison corporations and local governments at taxpayer expense.

Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which I coedited with Alicia Partnoy and Kristina Shull, is the first book to combine the voices of people in immigration detention with their family members and allies to give unprecedented insight into immigration detention. This multilingual book of poetry and art grew out of a writing workshop taught by P&W–supported poet and memoirist Alicia Partnoy for the organization CIVIC. The authors include Sylvester Owino (who spent nine years in detention), Eldaah Arango (whose father was detained and deported), and Katherine Weathers (who visits people in immigration detention).

"Writing about the abuses against us was the only way to let it out, slowly, so slowly. It is still coming out," writes Owino. The suffering that millions of immigrants have experienced in U.S. immigration detention over the last twenty years cannot be justified. This book, published by CIVIC, is an effort to liberate our political imagination so that we may build together a country without immigration detention. Reserve your copy here.

Photo: Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders anthology cover design by Art24 photography and design with art by Marcela Castro.

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 open for the Malahat Review’s 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry, given biennially for a single poem by an emerging poet. The winner will receive $1,000 Canadian and publication in the Malahat Review. Steven Heighton will judge.

Writers who have not yet published a full-length poetry collection are eligible. Submit no more than three poems of up to 60 lines each with a $30 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to the Malahat Review, by May 1. The winner will be announced in July and interviewed for the review’s monthly e-newsletter and website. Submissions can be made via e-mail to horizons@uvic.ca, or by postal mail to University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Stn CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Y2, Canada. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Steven Heighton has written more than ten books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, most recently the story collection The Dead Are More Visible (Knopf, 2012). “Right now the poems that most compel me are the ones that choke me up—poems that could rip the heart out of a wheelbarrow,” says Heighton in an interview with the Malahat Review. “I’m also gravitating toward work that emerges from the nightmind, as I call it—poems born of dreams and hallucinations. Weird, oneiric stuff. By the same token, I’m tired of poems that seem primarily to be auditioning for a collegial constituency, demonstrating the poet’s fluent familiarity with the films, songs, shows, apps, etc. that he or she knows colleagues to be co-immersed in. Intertextuality of that kind can be brilliant and effective, for sure, but only in the context of work emerging from some deeper psychic impulse.”

Recent winners of the prize include Laura Ritland, whose poem “Vincent, in the Dream of Zundert” was chosen by Julie Bruck from almost eight hundred submissions; and Kayla Czaga, whose poem “gertrude stein loves a girl” was chosen by Mary Dalton from more than five hundred submissions.

Established in 1967, the Malahat Review is based at the University of Victoria in Canada. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, and administers several contests each year.

In “Recovering the Classics” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Jonathan Vatner reports on the project by San Francisco companies DailyLit and Creative Action Network, along with other community partners, to revitalize interest in classic novels by creating new, eye-catching cover designs. Choose a classic novel you’ve read in the past with a book cover you find particularly memorable. Write a short essay examining the features that make the design striking, drawing upon the relationship between the artistic style of the cover and the novel’s contents. Does the design resonate with your own aesthetic sensibilities?

If you haven’t heard of it already, a “promposal” is a request for a date to high school prom through a dramatic gesture often involving witty puns and surprise declarations of affection in public, all recorded on camera and shared widely on social media. Write a scene in which a secondary character carries out an elaborate “promposal.” Is it angst-ridden and cringe-worthy, or humorously slapstick? Does the success or failure of the act offer foreshadowing for the atmosphere of the entire story?

Technological and scientific advances have recently enabled surgeons to implant a chip into a human brain that, through a computer, can send signals to the body allowing a person living with paralysis to regain movement. Write a poem reflecting on your own observations about autonomy, the role of technology, and the physical mechanisms of the body. Think of unique ways to describe the inner workings of our minds, muscles, and limbs.

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