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In the early twentieth century, anthropologist Franz Boas published claims that the Eskimo languages had dozens or more words for snow—claims that have been pored over and analyzed, debunked and reaffirmed, and criticized and clarified in countless investigations since. Think of a natural or cultural phenomenon, such as a certain type of food, or an emotion, that you believe deserves or warrants a larger vocabulary. Write a poem that presents these new words—perhaps compound words of your own invention—along with their definitions and an exploration of why these articulations are significant to you. 

As the month of November winds down, the deadline approaches for several poetry contests. Whether you’re looking to submit a single poem or a full collection, here are contests with a deadline of November 30—all of which offer a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

If you have a full-length poetry manuscript ready to send out, consider submitting to the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition; the White Pine Press Poetry Prize; the Bear Star Press Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, given to a writer residing in a state west of the central time zone; the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Competition; or the Burnside Review Press Book Prize, judged by Ada Limón. The Cider Press Review Book Award is also open for submissions and will be judged by Anne Harding Woodworth; the winner will receive $1,500 and publication.

The University of Georgia Press is also accepting submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts to its Georgia Poetry Prize; in addition to $1,000 and publication, the winner will receive travel expenses to give readings at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University, with a $1,000 honorarium for each event. David Bottoms will judge.

For writers looking to publish their first book of poetry, the BOA Editions A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize is open for submissions. The winner will receive $1,500 and publication; Brenda Shaughnessy will judge. New Issues Poetry & Prose is also open to submissions for its annual Poetry Prize. The winner will receive $2,000 and publication; David Rivard will judge.

For poets over the age of fifty, check out the Two Sylvias Press Wilder Series Book Prize. Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy will judge.

The University of North Texas’s Rilke Prize is given for a poetry collection published in the previous year by a mid-career poet. The winner will receive $10,000 plus airfare and lodging to give readings at the University of North Texas and the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex in April 2017. U.S. poets who have published at least two previous poetry collections are eligible.

And if you only have a few polished poems, not to worry! Poetry International is accepting submissions for its annual C. P. Cavafy Poetry Prize, given for a single poem. The Munster Literature Center Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, given annually for a poem, includes €1,000; publication in Southword; a weeklong residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland; and up to €600 in travel expenses, as well as lodging and meals, to give a reading at the Cork International Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland, in February 2017. Mary Noonan will judge.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. For more upcoming contests, visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar.

 

 

Joan Gerstein, originally from New York, has lived in California since 1969. A retired educator and psychotherapist, Gerstein has been writing poetry since elementary school, and her writing is featured in multiple San Diego publications as well national and international periodicals. She has volunteered to teach creative writing to incarcerated veterans at the county jail for almost two years and finds it stimulating and extremely rewarding. She has led the workshop for veterans at the Vista jail for six years. Her poetry has been published in Tidepools, Magee Park Poets Anthology, A Year in Ink, Summations, and the San Diego Poetry Annual. She served as the editor of the special Veteran's Section of the San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-16. San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild partnered with Gerstein recently for a series of P&W–supported veteran workshops.

Joan GersteinWhat makes your workshops unique?
The veterans are in a specially designed program called Veterans Moving Forward and are required to participate in all classes including my creative writing workshop. As such, the men have a wide range of writing skills and interest in the writing process. There is also much fluidity because new participants enter weekly and some depart. I offer a combination of workshops such as poetry, memoir, fiction writing, and if there are requests, classes focused on grammar and sentence and paragraph structure. I also offer my editing, typing, and submission services for those who either wish to enter a contest or are writing something of which they want my feedback. Because they are currently incarcerated and have little access to computers, I meet individually with those men, edit and type up their material, get their approval of final product, and if relevant, submit their entries to various periodicals and veteran anthologies.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
Attending the workshop is mandatory but participation varies. I offer a vast number of different exercises to ensure that everyone can hopefully respond to at least some. Sharing of work with the group is voluntary. I often suggest that men work in pairs or groups to allow more reserved men to participate without undue attention. While they are doing assignments, I make a point of walking around the room and working individually with men who rarely share with the group.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
The men are extremely appreciative as a group and individually. I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy my weekly workshops and feel especially rewarded when I work individually with the writers, and their submissions are accepted. 

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I’m not sure this has affected my work except as possible subject matter to use in my writing, however the experience has enriched my life and given me a greater understanding of the challenges facing discharged military. My students range from men in their young twenties to veterans of the Vietnam War, of every race and background, from all over the United States as well as foreign countries. I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of their sacrifices and challenges.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for veterans?
This is a creative outlet for many. For men who already enjoy writing and do it regularly, it is an opportunity to hone their craft and a showcase for them to share their material. If they want, I work with the men individually to fine-tune their writing. I offer several opportunities for the men to submit poetry and prose to various contests or veteran publications. For all the men, I hope to expose them to various styles of writing as well as many writers. For example, I may read excerpts from A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca, so the men can see that anyone can overcome odds including incarceration, and even become a great writer. The various exercises we do, individually and in small and large groups, encourage critical thinking. Most participants, even those that insist they “can’t write,” will find some success and surprise themselves.

Photo: Joan Gerstein  Photo credit: Joan Gerstein
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.

The Lannan Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2016 Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships. The awards honor writers who have made “significant contributions to English-language literature,” while the fellowships recognize writers of merit who demonstrate outstanding potential. This year the foundation awarded a total of $850,000 in awards and fellowships to a group of seven poets and fiction writers.

The 2016 award recipients are fiction writers Kevin Barry and John Keene, and poet Tyehimba Jess.

Kevin Barry is the award-winning author of the novels Beatlebone (Doubleday, 2015) and City of Bohane (Graywolf, 2011), and the story collections Dark Lies the Island (Graywolf, 2012) and There Are Little Kingdoms (Stinging Fly, 2007). John Keene is the author of the fiction collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015), the novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995), and the poetry-art collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006). Poet Tyehimba Jess is the author Olio (2016) and Leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. 

The fellowship recipients are poets Don Mee Choi, Craig Santos Perez, Solmaz Sharif, and Ocean Vuong.

Don Mee Choi’s published works include the poetry collections Hardly War (Wave, 2016) and The Morning News Is Exciting (Action, 2010), as well as several translations of Korean poet Kim Hyesoon. Craig Santos Perez is the coeditor of two anthologies of Pacific Islander literature and the author of three poetry collections, most recently the American Book Award–winning from unincorporated territory [guma’] (Omnidawn, 2014). Solmaz Sharif’s debut collection, Look (Graywolf, 2016), was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her other honors include an NEA fellowship and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Ocean Vuong’s debut collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, was published by Copper Canyon in 2016. He has received the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, as well as honors from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Candidates for the awards and fellowships are first nominated by a group of writers, publishers, editors, and literary scholars. The Lannan Foundation’s literary committee selects the winners. There is no application process.

The annual Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships program aims to expand the audience of contemporary poetry and prose and to inspire the creation of more English-language literature. Visit the website for more information about the awards and winners.

Last night in New York City the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 National Book Awards. Daniel Borzutzky won in poetry for his collection The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press), and Colson Whitehead took home the fiction award for his novel The Underground Railroad (Doubleday). Ibram X. Kendi won in nonfiction for his book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell won in young people’s literature for the graphic memoir March: Book Three (Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing). Each winner receives $10,000.

The ceremony was hosted by comedian Larry Wilmore, who along with award judges, winners, and presenters returned to the power and importance of literature, particularly in the current political climate. “Books give us hope,” said Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation. “There’s no better way to start conversations about the world than reading. Let’s change the world one book at a time.”

The winners reinforced the idea that books can both advance and record social change. In his acceptance speech, poetry winner Daniel Borzutzky said, “Literature and poetry can serve as the means of preserving social and historical memory.” Fiction winner Colson Whitehead, whose book The Underground Railroad follows the story of two slaves trying to escape via the Underground Railroad, accepted the award and urged everyone to “be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power.” Nonfiction winner Ibram X. Kendi, whose book details the history of racist ideas in America, said, “In the midst of racism there is the human beauty of the resistance to racism. That is why I have faith.”

“Let me tell you something,” Wilmore said after Kendi’s speech. “The National Book Foundation is woke.”

Congressman John Lewis, who along with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell won in young people’s literature for the third installation of Marchwhich chronicles Lewis’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement—took the opportunity to note how the social climate in America has changed. To explain the award’s significance to him, Lewis, who is the congressman for Georgia’s fifth congressional district, spoke through tears of being denied a library card growing up in a segregated Alabama. “I love books,” said Lewis. “Thank everyone, thank you, National Book Foundation.”

Earlier in the evening, the foundation gave the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to the nonprofit Cave Canem. Established twenty years ago by poets Cornelius Eady and Toi Dericotte, the nonprofit works to advance African American poetry. Poet Terrance Hayes presented the award, and cited the Latin meaning of Cave Canem—“beware the dog”—to explain the importance of the organization’s work, especially in the face of ongoing discrimination. “Cave Canem is the fortification of your language, your history, your future,” said Hayes. “We must be the dog that guards the house.”

The foundation also honored biographer Robert Caro with its Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Caro has written several notable biographies, including The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Knopf, 1975), and a set of four biographies about Lyndon Johnson.

The finalists for the awards were announced in October; each receives $1,000. The annual awards are given for books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people’s literature published in the previous year. Interviews with the winners and finalists, as well as the full video from last night’s ceremony are available on the National Book Foundation website.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the literary world’s most prestigious prizes. The 2015 winners were Robin Coste Lewis in poetry for Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf), Adam Johnson in fiction for Fortune Smiles (Random House), and Ta-Nehisi Coates in nonfiction for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau).

Photo (left to right): Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, Congressman John Lewis, Daniel Borzutzky, Colson Whitehead, Ibram X. Kendi

“Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it,” writes Marilynne Robinson in her 2004 novel, Gilead. “I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave…to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.” The winter holiday season is often associated with generosity and giving—being generous with one’s home and spirit, and the giving of thanks and gifts. Write a personal essay about a time when you have been the giver or receiver of a great act of generosity. Explore the connection between courage and generosity, reflecting on the exemplary people or events you encountered. What do you find are the greatest emotional challenges to doing something so bravely useful?

What do we mean when we call a story Dickensian? Often it is a lengthy work incorporating one or more of these elements: a dramatic and convenient twist of events, social-justice themes, a sentimental tone, a bustling city setting, a large cast of characters with vivid personality traits. Choose a memorable character from a Dickens story, such as Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger, Miss Havisham, or Abel Magwitch. Write a short story in which this character has been inserted into un-Dickensian circumstances—perhaps a solitary exploration of the wilderness, a contemporary technology-filled existence, or a supernatural landscape. How do you maintain a Dickensian feel while ensuring that this piece reflects your unique creative voice?

Corporeal Voices has launched a new $10,000 grant for Oregon writers. The Voice is a Muscle Grant will be awarded annually to an Oregon poet, fiction writer, or nonfiction writer. The 2017 grant will be given to a writer of color; the 2018 grant will be given to a LGBTQ writer.

“We are dedicated to amplifying artistic voices by extending direct financial resources to writers,” write the staff of Corporeal Voices. “Your artistic labor is important and urgently needed. Art is the counter voice to cultural repression. Writers matter.”

Using the online submission system, writers of color may submit up to 20 pages of poetry or prose by December 5; there is no entry fee. Students enrolled in a degree-granting program are not eligible to apply. The winner will be notified by December 25.

The grant is administered by Corporeal Voices, a nonprofit foundation dedicated “to recognizing the voices, bodies, and lives of writers as socially vital to society.” Established by writer Lidia Yuknavitch, Corporeal Voices is “committed to non-hierarchical collaborations, to the body as a site of resistance and resilience, to new forms of storytelling, and to new relationships to the planet and to one another.”

In his 1821 essay “A Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes, “Poetry is…the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things; it is as the odor and the color of the rose to the texture of the elements which compose it….” Make a list of words and phrases that describe the surface textures, odors, and colors that surround you as this year draws to an end, choosing the details that are most evocative of the season. You may find yourself drawing inspiration from the contrasting primary colors of holiday cheer, bright puffy parkas or dark wool coats, the shiny prints and textures of patterned gift wrap, the stark tones of snow, or the scents of fragrant conifers and baked desserts. Write a trio of poems, each focusing on one type of sensory input. Select an element—setting, narrator’s voice, repeated words, or a specific object—that stays constant through all three, tying them together.

Currently an adjunct college professor at SUNY Empire State College, Linda Griggs is the founder, host, and coordinator of Palace Poetry Group, which is in its tenth year of existence. She has been a mentor at Empire State College; a mental health counselor; and a transition supporter for Vietnamese “boat people” and refugees from war in Ethiopia and Somalia, using arts and crafts and, sometimes, poetry. With her husband, she is a backyard gardener, making the earth productive and healthy. Griggs self-published the chapbook Love Poems of the Universe (2003), wrote and illustrated The Night of the Starfish People (Willet Press, 2011), and is the author of the chapbook The Balance of Love (Willet Press, 2012).

Palace Poetry Group is free and open to the public at DeWitt Community Library in DeWitt, New York. Our group started in 2007 and has a monthly poetry reading with a different featured reader every month and an open mic. The goal of this poetry group is to help poets find their poetic voices and, in that process, encourage each other. Once a year, we have an additional special reader and a workshop for poets.

I found it was important to be sensitive to the poetic needs of group members and to find featured readers who could challenge those needs. Thanks to Poets & Writers’ grants, we are constantly inspired by excellent poets who expand members’ world views and expose them to different ways of poetic expression.

Three poets who received P&W grants in 2016 were Joseph Bruchac, Michael Czarnecki, and Barbara Crooker. All have different ways of expressing poetry while clearly illustrating their views on the world. Joseph and Michael are master storytellers. Joseph told his stories and read his free verse poems about nature, justice, spirituality, and Native American culture, describing how these themes relate to the good of all of us. Michael used free verse as well as the poetic expressions of haiku and haibun, a Japanese literary form combing condensed prose and haiku, to express experiences he’s had traveling throughout the United States—recording his feelings and his approach to looking at nature and life. Barbara Crooker read her free verse poems choosing ordinary experiences and perceptions of nature to express caring, compassion, and joy in life.

Each featured reader expressed interest in audience members listening to them, using anecdotes and humor to express their ideas. For example, Joseph Bruchac used humor and stories to lead audience members to an understanding of Abenaki culture and beliefs. He listened carefully to each poet in the open mic—including a poet who read in Spanish, a language he is fluent in—and said something positive about each of the poems. Palace Poetry Group members were able to look anew at the way they wrote and fine-tune their own poetry, thus developing their poetic voices, the goal of our group.

(top, left to right) Lindsey Bellosa, Linda Griggs. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (middle) Palace Poetry Group tenth anniversary cake. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (bottom, front row, left to right) Jane Schmid, Donna M. Davis, Paul R. Davis, Eileen Rose, Linda Griggs, Martin Willitts. (back row, left to right) Michael Cheslik, David Harper, David Forrest Hitchcock, Paul Shephard, Stephen Brace. Photo credit: Sue Harper.

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.

Do you write novels, short stories, or essays? Spend some time this weekend polishing those manuscripts; below is a round-up of prose contests with a deadline of November 15. These contests offer prizes ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, as well as publication.

For short prose writers looking to submit a full-length manuscript, the Pleiades Press Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose awards $2,000 and publication by Pleiades Press for a collection of short stories, flash fiction, essays, or lyric essays. Jenny Boully will judge. Submit a manuscript of 90 to 200 pages with a $25 entry fee.

Another opportunity for short prose writers—very short prose writers, that is—is Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest, which awards a prize of $1,008.15 and publication in Quarter After Eight for a single prose poem, a short short story, or a micro-essay. Ander Monson will judge. Submit up to three pieces of no more than 500 words each with a $15 entry fee, which includes a subscription to Quarter After Eight.

In addition to $3,000 and publication in Writer’s Digest, the winner of Writer’s Digest’s Short Short Story Competition will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in August 2017 in New York City. Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 1,500 words with a $20 entry fee; the entry fee goes up to $25 after November 15.

One of the world’s richest prizes for a collection of short fiction, the Story Prize annually awards $20,000 for a book published in the previous year. Two runners-up will each receive $5,000, and one entrant will receive the $1,000 Story Prize Spotlight Award,  given for a collection that merits further attention. Larry Dark and Julie Lindsey will select the three finalists and the Spotlight Award winner; Harold Augenbraum, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and Daniel Goldin will choose the Story Prize winner. Publishers, authors, or agents may submit two copies of a book published between July 1 and December 31, 2016 with a $75 entry fee. (The deadline for books published during the first half of the year was July 15.)

The Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award occasionally offers a prize of $1,000 for a fiction or nonfiction manuscript that has been rejected by a commercial publisher and  “overlooked by today’s high-pressure, bottom-line publishing conglomerates.” An editor at a U.S. or Canadian publishing company must submit a formal letter of nomination. There is no entry fee.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. For more upcoming contests, visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar.

As the dust settles from this year’s U.S. presidential election, think of a time in your youth when you participated in a school election or were involved with the student council. Were you optimistic of the changes that could be made? Did you vote with enthusiasm or take part in any protests? Write an essay reflecting on your experiences and what was important to you then, and how this might say something about who you are today.

This Friday marks the deadline for editors to nominate stories for a new annual fiction prize. Sponsored by PEN America and Catapult, the inaugural PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers honors twelve emerging fiction writers for debut short stories published in the previous year. Twelve winning writers will each receive a prize of $2,000, and their stories will be included in an annual anthology, The PEN America Best Debut Short Stories, to be published by Catapult.

Debut stories published in online magazines, cultural websites, or print magazines distributed in the U.S. in 2016 are eligible. A debut story is defined by PEN as the writer’s first short story publication that has undergone an editorial review process and has been accepted and published by a publication with which the author is not professionally affiliated. Authors must be either U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.

Using the online submission system, editors of participating publications may submit up to four stories of no more than 12,000 words each, along with the required eligibility and consent form, by Friday, November 11. Authors may not submit their own work. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The winners will be honored at the annual PEN Literary Awards ceremony in New York City.

Launched this year, the PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize aims to help launch the careers of new writers. The award is named for and supported by the family of Robert J. Dau, a Petoskey, Michigan–based arts advocate who passed away last year.

The Saharan silver ant is able to survive in the extreme temperatures of the Sahara Desert, which often reaches almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit, with the help of physiological adaptations including highly reflective hairs that deflect the sun’s rays and longer legs, keeping them further above the hot sand. Write a short story that explores how a human character adapts when placed in a geographical location with extreme atmospheric conditions. Is your character alone or part of a pack? You may choose to write a story based in reality, or one that incorporates elements of the fantastic.

“By existing in a cinematic space, Shakespeare can feel alive and present,” says Ross Williams, founder of the nonprofit New York Shakespeare Exchange, whose film project Maya C. Popa writes about in “The Shakespeare Sonnet Project” in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. The project aims to collect videos of each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets performed by actors in different locations in New York City, with a future series to be filmed in locations in the rest of the country and abroad. Browse through some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and choose one that reminds you of a place you know, or which evokes a site-specific memory. Write your own sonnet in response, bringing phrases and ideas used almost half a millennium ago into the present by incorporating cinematic imagery of a contemporary locale. 

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