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“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.

For over forty-five years, the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS) has hosted nationally and internationally acclaimed poets in the welcoming and intimate setting of the Katonah Village Library in Northern Westchester County. Each reading is followed by an interactive Q&A session, as well as a reception and book signing. The distinguished poets who have appeared over the years include six poets laureate of the United States, six poets laureate of New York State and sixteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001-2003, directed the series for seventeen years and continues to serve on the poetry advisory board. The series draws an audience, not only from Northern Westchester, but also the greater Tri-State region. The series provides a valuable service to the community—hearing live poetry is an important experience that differs from reading a poem on the page. KPS believes it is important to broaden the audience for poetry, and reaches out to regional high schools and colleges. The series is pleased to take part in creating a vibrant and intellectual literary community of readers, writers, and educators.

How many years and poets does it take to make an incredible reading series? In the case of the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS), forty-seven years, six U.S. poets laureate, sixteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and a host of renowned poets. This lively poetic scene would not be possible without vital support from grantors like Poets & Writers, a dedicated group of poetry lovers of all ages, and the wonderful venue of the Katonah Village Library.

The series began in 1967 with Robert Phillips showing up at the library with a gallon of wine, some cheese, and a poet in tow. When Bob left to join the faculty at the University of Texas, he handed the baton to Billy Collins. A few years later, prompted by the small turnout at a Samuel Menashe reading, I offered, as good friends tend to do, to help Billy with the series. I didn’t realize that I would inherit most of the organizational duties due to his 2001 inauguration as U.S. poet laureate! After my stead as Co-director, Director, and now as Poetry Advisor, I continue to be nourished by my involvement in the series and fondly refer to it as my personal MFA program. As Billy Collins aptly said, “If you sat on the steps of the Katonah Village Library for the past twenty-three years [and now forty-seven!] without moving, nearly every notable American poet would walk by you."

The intimate, informal atmosphere of our readings, and the book signing reception that follows, encourages everyone to interact with each other and the featured poet. Visiting poets often comment on the vibrancy and enthusiasm of our audience. Not only have we built an audience, but along with them, a thriving community of readers and writers.

Some highlights:

• Stephen Dunn’s reading two weeks after September 11, 2001, which audience members said helped them cope with the tragedy

• The Ilya Kaminsky reading in 2003 moved people to tears

• Many moments of laughter provoked by Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, Ellen Bass, and other poets

• A young mother with leukemia who credited the series with upgrading her quality of life as she underwent treatment

• Dylan Thomas’s "A Child’s Christmas in Wales" recited by James Navé every December, a community ritual drawing families and folks of all ages

Given the current strength of KPS, it is hard to believe that in the 2009-2010 season, the series came close to losing solvency. Help came in the unlikely guise of a September 2010 article in the New York Times, “Even Poetry is Undergoing Setbacks.” Surprisingly, unsolicited checks arrived from as far away as California! With those funds and the creation of a new Executive Committee, the series was revived. KPS now offers four annual readings, as well as some additional community events and workshops. The Katonah Poetry Series also has a new media presence to take it into the twenty-first century, including a website (featuring unique poet interviews), a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and coming soon—Instagram! Our recent Billy Collins reading attracted nearly three hundred people, and we are confident that we will be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary in 2017. Does that make us one of the oldest— and newest— reading series in the United States? Please “friend us” and we’ll look forward to welcoming you to the KPS family.

Photo: (top) Committee members from left: Van Kozelka, Director of Katonah Village Library; Leisha Douglas, Ph.D., KPS Poet Advisor; Julie Nord, KPS Publicity; Andy Kuhn, KPS VP; Moira Thielking, KPS President; Marlene Gallagher, KPS; Stephen Peeples, KPS Treasurer; Jessica Bennett, KPS; Barb Chintz, KPS.
Photo: (2nd from top) Ellen Bass reading from her new collection, Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014).
Photo: (3rd from top) Billy Collins Reading.
Photo: (bottom) Billy Collins connecting with fans. Photo Credit: Leslye Smith, Studio Smith Photography.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

Good Halloween costumes distill the essence of what or who you are dressing up as, so that it’s immediately recognizable. This week, think about the scariest Halloween costume you’ve ever seen. What was it about the costume that really made an impact on you?  

The fright-seekers are gearing up to get scared this week, visiting haunted houses, riding haunted hayrides, and stumbling through cavernous corn mazes. Imagine one of your characters is hired to be a monster for one of these frightful events. Why does she take the job? Does she like scaring people, or does she just need the money? What does her costume look like? Does she feel guilty about frightening people?

Haunted houses are a classic setting for ghost stories. This week, write a poem about the house you live in as though it were haunted. Imagine what kind of spirits might live there, why they remain, and how they inhabit the space. Describe the sound of the creaky floorboard near the refrigerator, the way the windows slide shut on their own, and the weird smell near the fireplace. For inspiration, read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Haunted Houses.” 

Submissions are currently open for the Madison Review’s Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry and Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction. The prizes are given annually for a trio of poems and a short story. Each winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Madison Review.

Using the online submission system, submit either three poems totaling no more than fifteen pages, or a story of up to thirty pages with a $10 entry fee by November 1. The editors of the Madison Review will judge.

Established in the early 1970s, the Madison Review is the undergraduate student­–run journal of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The biannual review has published the work of poets Stephen Dunn, Lisel Mueller, and C. K. Williams, and fiction writers Charles Baxter and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The 2013 poetry prize–winner was Steve Tomasko for his poems “And No Spiders Were Harmed,” “The Plane of the Ecliptic,” and “An Inordinate Fondness.” Phillippe Diederich won the fiction prize for his short story “The Falling.” The winning pieces were published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Madison Review.

Kirkus Reviews has announced the winners of its inaugural Kirkus Prize. Established this year to celebrate the eighty-first anniversary of Kirkus Reviews, the $50,000 prizes will be given annually for a book of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature published in the previous year.

Lily King won the fiction prize for her novel Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press). The finalists were Siri Hustvedt for The Blazing World  (Simon & Schuster); Dinaw Mengestu for All Our Names (Knopf); Brian Morton for Florence Gordon (Houghton Mifflin); Bill Roorbach for The Remedy of Love (Algonquin Books); and Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests (Riverhead). Kate Christensen, Stephanie Valdez, and Marion Winik judged.

Roz Chast won the nonfiction prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury). The finalists were Leo Damrosch for Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press); Elizabeth Kolbert for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Holt); Armand Marie Leroi for The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Viking); Thomas Piketty for Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press); and Bryan Stevenson for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau). Sarah Bagby, Sloane Crosley, and Gregory McNamee judged.

Kate Samworth won the young readers’ literature prize for her picture book Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (Clarion). Claudette S. McLinn, Linda Sue Park, and John Edward Peters judged.

The 2015 Kirkus Prize will be awarded to books published between November 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, and given a Kirkus Star review. For a traditional Kirkus review, authors, agents, or publishers may submit two copies of a book at least four to five months before its publication date. Self-published authors may order a Kirkus Indie review for $425 (for a review in seven to nine weeks) or $575 (for a review in four to six weeks). The editors of Kirkus Reviews estimate their reviewers cover eight to ten thousand books every year and give 10 percent of those books a Kirkus Star. Founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, Kirkus Reviews is published twice monthly. 

Upper Left: Lily King, photo by Winky Lewis. Upper Right: Roz Chast, photo by Bill Franzen.

10.23.14

From: The Time Is Now

When you sit down to write, do you invoke a muse? Who is this muse, and what do you ask of her? Is this someone in your day-to-day life, or an unearthly entity—like the nine muses in Greek mythology? This week, write a personal essay about a person who brings you inspiration, courage, and clarity in moments of creative effort. 

Is there a celebrity that you think one of your characters is destined to meet? Write a scene in which he or she has a chance encounter with this famous person. Have the two carry on a normal conversation before your character recognizes this person is a celebrity. Perhaps this star has some words of wisdom to impart to your character (or the other way around), or maybe he or she is just looking for a friend. For inspiration, watch this video in which recording artist Jay-Z meets a woman named Ellen in a New York City subway car.

Is there a simple fact that you find amazing? Think of some tidbit of knowledge that somehow altered your perspective or filled you with a new sense of wonder. It could be something very basic that changed your daily routine, or something that sparked your interest to learn about a new topic further. For example, did you know your age actually represents the number of times you have orbited around the sun? Write a poem incorporating your fact and meditate on why it fascinates you.

Poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney’s third poetry collection, Patter (Red Hen Press, 2014), examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. His second book, The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009), was a National Poetry Series selection. He has received residencies and fellowships from Cave Canem, The Rauschenberg Foundation, and others. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry, nocturnes, Pleiades, The Boston Review, The Iowa Review, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, and Callaloo. Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family in California’s Santa Clarita Valley and teaches at CalArts.

Douglas KearneyWhat are your reading dos?
Gosh—reading dos. I remember that the writing of these poems was driven by some kind of dynamic source—intellectual, emotional, physical. If I remember that, it animates the poems, even the quieter ones. Going to hear a reader read a poem is simply not the same thing as reading it yourself. So as a poet giving a reading, I see no point in being absent from the work while presenting it live (reading in Times New Roman, I call it). That’s what the book is for. That does not mean that you have to shout, switch accents, and sing (though that’s often an honest part of the composition for me and many others)—but I think being present is necessary and audiences can tell, even when your version of present is to read without much affect.

How do you prepare for a reading?
Most of my preparation is around getting my voice ready. I’ll scat a bit so I know where my range will be and to get my tongue limber. It’s funny, it also gets me surer of enunciation. Then, there are two rap tracks I perform: Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar’s “Definition,” and Latyrx’s “Say That.” Both are two-emcee crews, so it stretches me out a bit in terms of timbre, cadence, and breath control. As the work has gotten more mercurial, more shard-full, I sometimes do Nicki Minaj’s verse from “Monster.” Then, I pray that I don’t get in the way of the work, that I don’t embarrass my ancestors and contemporary friends and family, and give thanks I get to do this at all.

When it comes to picking my “set,” I want to do a different one for every reading. But if I’m a bit nervous, I lean on past sequencing. I want to get out of that habit—explore the “deep cuts” (ha!) a bit more.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I don’t know how pleased crowds are with my poems that work. I’ll say the ones that are probably the most likely at getting the unsettled responses, that I think the work solicits, are the “Miscarriage” poems from Patter, and my “peppy poem about the Middle Passage,” “Swimchant for Nigger Mer-folk” from The Black Automaton. These work because most folks seem to know how they should react to the surface subject matter—yet, the poems don’t go there without some complications. I think the surprise of that is engaging to audiences.

Additionally, I’ve come to pay a lot more attention to the banter between poems as an extension of the writing in a live setting. So I rework setups a lot. A dear friend of mine, playwright, performer, poet, and musician Eisa Davis has referred to the banter as “my stand-up.” I do study comedians to work out timing, cringe humor, and audience interaction.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been a part of?
Two things! Once, way back at a group reading in San Diego, some guy stood up in the middle of one of my poems, shouted “Parasites!,” and stormed out. That was fun!

And once, I was having a public dialogue with Amiri Baraka in the Bay Area. I read a poem called “The Chitlin Circuit.” This involved me leaping from the stage and stalking around the crowd, getting louder and louder as I repeated a passage of the poem. When I got back to the stage, Mr. Baraka looked at me like I had grown horns—but bright, beautiful, thorny horns! Then, he read “Ka’Ba”—and it was like a balm spread over the room. I had never truly known so much love and yearning for peace was in that poem—and I understood viscerally something about the late poet and the power of poetry I had never known before.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on:
Something for my kids. They are working at being high-maintenance.

Photo: Douglas Kearney     Credit: Eric Plattner

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

Last Wednesday, a full lunar eclipse occurred in the early hours of the morning. Its red hue has earned the lunar event the title of a “blood moon.” It is part of a rare series of eclipses known as a “tetrad,” when the moon is completely covered by the earth’s shadow for four eclipses in a row. Some people believe it to be a sign of things to come, while others see it as simply a unique, astronomical event. This week, write about what eclipses, blood moons, and other unusual celestial events make you think about.

The National Book Foundation has announced the shortlists for its 2014 National Book Awards. The finalists in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people's literature were announced this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition by Mitchell Kaplan, cofounder of Miami Book Fair International and former president of the American Booksellers Association. 

The finalists in poetry are Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Fanny Howe, Second Childhood (Graywolf Press); Maureen N. McLane, This Blue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions); and Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press).

The finalists in fiction are Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press); Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner); Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin); Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Knopf); and Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The finalists in nonfiction are Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury); Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books); Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton); and Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright).

The finalists in young people’s literature are John Corey Whaley, Noggin (Atheneum Books); Deborah Wiles, Revolution (Scholastic); Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books); Eliot Schrefer, Threatened (Scholastic); and Steve Sheinkin, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Books Press).

The finalists were selected from a longlist in each category. Fiction heavyweights Richard Powers and Jane Smiley failed to make the cut, while relative newcomers Phil Klay and Emily St. John Mandel join Pulitzer Prize–winner Marilynne Robinson, whose novel Home was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2008. On the poetry side, veteran Edward Hirsch was also cut from the longlist, while favorites Glück, Howe, and Rankine (who earlier this year received the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, Inc.) top the list.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on November 19, headlined by Daniel Handler—also known as Lemony Snicket. 

Photo: Claudia Rankine

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