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Andrea (Andy) Young blogs about her readings—supported by P&W grants—in New Orleans. Her third chapbook, The People Is Singular, was published in 2012. Her poems, essays, and translations have been featured internationally and in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Callaloo, Guernica, and the Norton Anthology of Language for a New Century. Since 2012, she has been dividing her time between New Orleans, where she works for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Egypt, where she works for the American University in Cairo.

The P&W-supported readings I’ve done in New Orleans, like most of my writing from the last couple of years, were inextricably linked to revolution and the uprisings in the Arab “world.” These grants have catalyzed readings that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The readings took place at the Antenna Gallery, a dynamic gallery space which features writers as all as visual artists, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Loyola University, and, at the invitation of the Tulane Arabic Club, at a restaurant which no longer exists called Little Morocco.

Most of the poems I read on these occasions were from a chapbook called The People Is Singular, a collaborative response to the Egyptian revolution featuring my poems and the photography of Salwa Rashad, an Egyptian photographer. All of these readings featured words that try to find a home somewhere between observation and engagement, between Arabic and English, between two cultures. As the spouse of an Egyptian poet, and the mother of two, I am part of a family that constantly seeks to find a point of balance between these things.

Poetry helps me to find that place, and these readings created opportunities to share it. Since January 2011, I have often been asked by American friends and family to help them understand what’s going on in Egypt: to direct people to reliable news sources or to give further context to the headlines. Poetry, of course, is about more than the facts, but I have found that it has served these last couple of years, among other things, to flesh out experiences that may feel distant, other.

Each of these readings also provided opportunities to explore different ways of presenting work. At the Antenna Gallery, I conducted a multimedia presentation with projections of Rashad’s work, soundscapes, and different reading styles. At Loyola University, I hung a small exhibit of Rashad’s work to accompany the poems. At the New Orleans Museum of Art, the reading was in a small gallery space filled with artwork providing a different context.

At Little Morocco restaurant, my husband, Khaled Hegazzi, and I read all the work bilingually, accompanied by the oud and guitar. The restaurant was packed, and the aromas of lamb, cardamom, carrots, and mint tea floated around our voices. It was January 2011, a frightening and exciting time at the beginning of what would come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” My chapbook was yet to be published, but the poems I chose (many in translation from Arabic) were in the spirit of the times. In the question and answer session after the reading, one person asked, “What would you call what is happening in Egypt now?” And I responded, “I’d call it a revolution.” Little did I know how big it was or how long the struggle would be. I continue to seek words that make the narrative(s) of these times tangible and human, though there are times I am hopelessly mute. These opportunities to read and share my attempts to voice my thoughts have helped me to feel that they matter to others and the world.

Photo: Andy Young. Photo Credit: Khaled Hegazzi

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans 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.

Writers share many creative qualities and artistic processes with painters. Both are engaged in the difficult endeavor of portraying oneself through art as an artist. Write six hundred words about you as a writer, manipulating your words and sentences like different brush strokes to create an image of how you perceive your artistic self. Be bold. Be thoughtful. Be candid. Self-portraits are rarely flattering. Art is about truth and true artists never spare themselves.

Fiction writers know that conflict drives plot. Tension and drama imbue life into our characters and propel their stories forward. Human nature, however, craves tranquility and clarity. Write five hundred words describing your protagonist at peace—truly one with the universe, even if only for several seconds. Perhaps your character is sitting on a park bench and staring at a bruised cloud, or on a crowded subway car listening to the rails below, or walking out of a cemetery with a beer in hand. Peace is unique to everyone.

Poet and fiction writer Mia Couto of Mozambique has won the 2014 Neustadt Prize for Literature. The $50,000 prize is given internationally for lifetime achievement.

Couto, 58, is the first Mozambican author to be nominated for and to win the prize. His books include the novels Sleepwalking Land and The Last Flight of the Flamingo and a short story collection, Voices Made Night. His works have been published in more than twenty languages.

Italo-Ethiopian author Gabriella Ghermandi, who nominated Couto for the prize, said, “He is an author who addresses not just his country but the entire world, all human beings.”

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma; World Literature Today, the university’s magazine of international literature and culture; and the Neustadt family, the international prize is awarded to a poet, fiction writer, or playwright. Couto was chosen by a jury of nine international authors.

Established in 1969, the award is given every two years. Previous winners include Elizabeth Bishop, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Munro, Octavio Paz, Orhan Pamuk, and Mo Yan.

Couto is the twenty-third laureate of the Neustadt Prize and will accept the award at the University of Oklahoma during the Fall 2014 Neustadt Festival.

The holiday season is here, which means you will soon be a guest at a work party, gathering of friends, or family-oriented celebration. This is the season for poets. Begin your “Thank You” poems now. Celebrate what companionship means to you and express your gratitude for the honor of being invited. Make your poems personal and sincere. (Consider attaching each poem to a nice bottle of wine and personally hand it to your host.)

P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and The Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kamilah Aisha Moon author photoPoets & Writers funds a wonderful workshop at a senior citizen recreational center in Manhattan called the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. A good friend of mine, Samantha Thornhill, regularly facilitates the workshop. I recently had the pleasure of being a guest instructor for one session, and it was an afternoon that I will continue to treasure for many reasons. What a treat to sit at the table with these women and experience their hard-won insights and revelations, their beauty. To witness their respect for what reading and writing poetry has always afforded them—how it delights, soothes and edifies; the sweet and profound awe it inspires.

Poetry is time travel. The opening free-write exercise “Give me back...” asked the women to reflect on the past. They transformed as they shared fifteen minutes later the many reveries they brought back to life, eyes sparkling as they showed through metaphor and great sensory detail what they once had and who they used to be "back in the day," and what their once young, supple bodies could accomplish (one of the ladies being a dancer). "Give me back my long, luxurious curls...nights with my husband before the kids came along. Just give me back my husband, gone now." They recalled what mattered and still does, expressed gratitude for what rose in the wake of loss along the way. There was sensuality, sass, and a healthy irreverence from a woman in her eighties as she read mantras for living that got her this far in life, until her respiratory problems took over and shortened her time in our session.

We discussed persona poems, compared lyric to narrative poetry, and explored space as breath in a poem. We studied form as the setting and craft as tools to compose these word-diamonds we hew from our personal experiences. The afternoon sun poured into the windows; we all glowed. It reminded me of the line in a Rumi poem, “Sunlight fell upon the wall / the wall received a borrowed splendor.” The sheen of discovery, recognition, acknowledgment, and transcendence filled the room. I always want to remember and keep sacred that this is a human business. As poet Jon Sands often says, we are “emotional historians.”

Two years ago, I taught a Poets & Writers-sponsored workshop filled with sixth grade honor students at the Young Women's Leadership Academy in Queens. For ten weeks, we focused on elements of craft and discussed the work of published poets, unpacking what each poem had to offer us. We created an anthology. These girls were gifted and bright beyond their young years, their poems suffused simultaneously with innocence and wisdom. Kristalyn proclaimed, “My name is a dragon / just like me! It has power / and can let loose.” In an ode to her fingers, Tearah wrote “You clasp my knuckles in prayer...you hold my pen, my writing sword!”

The young women made me hopeful for their individual futures and the future of the world. The more mature ladies filled me with the strength to face my own golden years with grace, and to handle the inevitable curves and challenges ahead with the same aplomb they exhibited. I was struck by how, in both workshops, the students' faces shone with the same wonder, and conveyed a careful stewardship and thoughtfulness when giving such astute feedback and suggestions. I was honored to encourage the young women to experience poetry for the first time, and equally honored to witness many of the older women use poetry to relive some major events that shaped their lives.

Among the many important moments, both of these workshops affirmed that poetry contains a brilliance that we can access and own for a lifetime. Through poetry, we can transform ourselves and change others as we sit around each other's poems like campfires for warmth and sustenance. For as long as we can hold our “writing swords,” we possess the power to draw breath, to speak, and to listen.

Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

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. Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Submissions are currently open for the annual Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Awards. The prizes are given to published poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers of African descent.

To apply, publishers and may submit four copies of books published in the United States in 2013 with a $30 entry fee by November 22. Submissions must be mailed to Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, 12138 Central Avenue Suite 953, Bowie, MD 20721. Books of poetry, fiction (including novels, novellas, and short story collections) creative nonfiction (including memoirs and essay collections), and general nonfiction are eligible.

Eligible writers must be of African descent from any area of the diaspora. Visit the website for complete submission and eligibility guidelines.

The winners of the 2012 prize were announced last week at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The prize in poetry was awarded posthumously to the late Lucille Clifton for The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (BOA Editions). Esi Edugyan won in fiction for her novel Half-Blood Blues (Picador); Fredrick C. Harris won in nonfiction for The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and Rise and Decline of Black Politics (Oxford University Press).

Natasha Trethewey, the United States Poet Laureate and author most recently of the collection Thrall, was also honored at the ceremony, along with nonfiction writers Wil Haygood and Isabel Wilkerson.

Founded in 1990 and named in honor of authors Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, the Hurston/Wright Foundation seeks to “discover, educate, mentor, and develop African American writers.”

In the video below, poets gathered in New York City earlier this year for Blessing the Boats: A Tribute to Lucille Clifton, a celebration of the late poet's life and work on the occasion of the publication of Collected Poems.

Halloween costumes reveal much about who we are underneath our contrived, ordinary selves. Think back to your childhood and relive your favorite Halloween costume—why you chose it, what it divulged about you, and how it felt putting on the costume. Something mysterious and compelling happens when we try to be something or someone else. Explore that experience. Write five hundred words.

Halloween evokes the power of tradition, superstition, and society. Our children dress up as heroes, goblins, and villains and scamper along our neighbors’ sidewalks, lawns, and driveways beseeching candy. Write six hundred words about a confrontation between an adult homeowner and a group of children. Allow the colors, tones, noises, smells, and feel of Halloween to inform—if not define—your writing. Be funny. Be scary. Be creative.

Halloween week is here. Write a poem about something you feared as a child. As adults we fear loneliness, intellectual and financial ruin, and—of course—death. However, children experience the world and their own humanity differently; yet, their fears are just as scary, valid, and profound. Begin the poem as an innocent child. End the poem as a mature adult.

Author Bennett Sims has been selected to receive the 2014 Bard Fiction Prize. Given annually to an emerging writer for a book of innovative fiction, the prize includes a $30,000 cash award and an appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College for one semester.

Sims receives the award for his debut novel, A Questionable Shape, published by Two Dollar Radio this past May. He will complete his residency during the spring 2014 semester, during which time he will continue his writing, meet with students, and give a public reading.

Bennett Sims
Photo credit: Carmen Machado

“The judges delight in welcoming to the literary community of Bard a writer whose first novel represents a powerful (and very readable) fusion of genres—a story about the vagaries of human perception which is also a wild romp of zombies biting through a curiously lyrical apocalypse,” the Bard Fiction Prize committee wrote in a press release. “The author was one of the last students of David Foster Wallace, who was the first reader of the first version of this haunting novel of love and estrangement.”

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sims has studied at Pomona College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A Public Space, Conjunctions, Electric Literature, Tin House, and Zoetrope: All-Story.

Established in 2001, the Bard Fiction Prize is given to writers under the age of forty. Last year’s prize was awarded to Brian Conn for his experimental novel, The Fixed Stars (Fiction Collective 2, 2010).

To apply for the 2015 prize, fiction writers may submit a curriculum vitae, a cover letter explaining the project they plan to work on while at Bard, and three copies of a published book of fiction by July 15, 2014. Visit the website for more information.

P&W-supported poet Koon Woon, October’s Writer in Residence, was born in a timeless village in China in 1949. In 1960 he immigrated to Washington State, first to the logging town of Aberdeen, then to Seattle, where he now resides. He turned to poetry while he was a mathematics and philosophy student coping with mental illness. Later he attended the workshops of Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington. At the age of forty-eight, Koon’s first book, The Truth in Rented Rooms, was published by Kaya Press

Koon Woon

When I reached the age of fifty-six, I joked, “I have outlived Theodore Roethke by one year already, but he is immortal.” Now that I am sixty-four, am I a little bit jaded as far as poetry is concerned? I’ve received some small recognitions and awards for my poetry, but more than anything, poetry enabled me to weather the storms of life, gave me an aesthetic sense, and encouraged me to ask questions. I am glad that some young people today are as fervent as I was back in my early thirties about poetry. Now I am passing the torch to younger poets, as well as publishers, organizers, and advocates of poetry.

It seemed fitting, for my final post, to hand that torch to one such up-and-comer. When Amber Nelson was fresh out of college in 2005, she and Will and Sarah Gallien hatched the e-journal alice blue review. They sought to give a voice to poets that “major” print journals ignore. Amber also created handmade chapbooks published by alice blue books. She’s worked with such innovative Seattle groups as APRIL (Authors, Publishers, and Readers of Independent Literature).

These young people have merged information science and technology with poetics. They give webinars and organize online Google hangouts. Their poems are tweeted and texted, nimble fingers portraying nimble minds. I’m sad when I imagine my books going out of print, but I’m excited that new innovators are populating the scene. What they do—I am banking my last poetry dollar on it—is crucial to our survival.

And now, here’s Amber in her own words:

Amber Nelson

Will Gallien, Sarah Gallien (then Burgess), and I founded alice blue review in a shared apartment in the Northgate neighborhood of Seattle. It was founded out of a desire to see and publish more of the work we really liked. We were interested in taking good writing seriously, but not taking ourselves too seriously. As such, we wrote up our mission statement:

We’re a confused collective of marble designers who, after discovering a set of encyclopedias, decided to stick our pinkies into the asphalt parking-lot of words. We seek innovative poetry and prose, work that quivers nervously for attention, work that teethes endlessly on doorknobs. We could toss out a grocery-list of writers—from Spicer to Borges, or O’Connor to O’Hara—but that would confuse you. alice blue is published on a hidden mountain-top between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.

We also wrote silly bios for our masthead, for example: “I want to be just like you when I grow up. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights.”

That was my own bio—a quote from The Breakfast Club. And our rejection letters, which we spent a lot of time working on, were a combination of the “standard form letter” and language stolen from writers we love. We had a ridiculous shared blog, where we posted our first rejection letters (among other ridiculous things).

In starting alice blue, we were also responding, in a way, to what we saw as a serious lack of literary community in Seattle. That’s not to say that there weren’t people writing, and writing communities in Seattle, but they weren't involved in or interested in the work that was compelling to us. There were (and still are) plenty of open mics catering to the slam/spoken word community. There was a lot of "nature writing.” They weren’t, however, “our” community. So we hit the Internet and made one for ourselves.

We split up—geographically—for a while, but kept publishing alice blue, which became better known. After graduate school at Boise State, I moved back to Seattle and got involved with some of the writers Koon mentioned. With Greg Bem, I founded the Seattle Poetry Panels (SPP), influenced by his experiences in the world of library science and an invitation to him from Google to host an online reading via Google hangout. So we started SPP and invited Paul Nelson to host our first panel on the “State of Seattle Poetry.” You can watch that here:

Simultaneous to all of this, I was working on alice blue review and alice blue books. I was working on a chapbook called MONSTER: A GLOTTOCHRONOLOGY that really was a monster to make. There was a letter M hand cut from the cover, a velum slip, and a double-signature. As a palate cleanser, I decided to do Shotgun Wedding, a quick and dirty chapbook series—something that would just be photocopied and saddle stapled. I focused on writers from the Pacific Northwest whom I thought everyone should know about. I’m working on the next batch of this series now.
I have several readings coming up, and a book release party for my first full-length book (out from Coconut Books) on November 1 at Open Books. I have my friends in the literary community to thank. We are a supportive bunch here, I think. Everywhere I turn, it seems, one writer is reaching out to another.

Photos: Top: Koon Woon reads with Beacon Bards at the Station coffee shop in Seattle. Credit: Greg Bem. Below: Amber Nelson. Credit: Amber Nelson.
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.

In October, Poets & Writers supported readings by several writers at apexart in New York City. Project director Marie Burns blogs about the unique Double Take: Writers Reading Series.

Chris SorrentinoAuthor and Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio organizes apexart’s Double Take: Writers Reading Series. Each season, participants are tasked with the same assignment: Select a partner, reflect upon a shared experience, and produce creative responses—essays, stories, poems—inspired by that topic. Both participants are then invited to read what they’ve written back to back, showing just how different perception and prose can be.

Earlier this month, with generous funding from Poets & Writers, Inc., apexart hosted two Double Take readings. As the crowd packed into apexart’s lower Manhattan gallery, they listened to Library of America editor in chief Geoffrey O’Brien and his writing partner B. Kite describe the twisted plot of a futuristic adventure film without ever disclosing the film’s name. Rather than reflect upon an experience the pair had already shared, they decided to watch this new movie separately and write without comparing notes. The audience was captivated by the delivery of each essay as they followed the exciting narration of a sci-fi thriller.

Vijay Seshadri, the Michele Tolela Myers Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and his writing partner, Rachel Cohen, focused on a gallery-hopping hobby they haven’t been able to enjoy since Rachel moved from New York to Boston. Their friendship stemmed from a shared love of art history, and Vijay wrote specifically about the Museum of Modern Art’s 2011 De Kooning Retrospective. Sharing past museum anecdotes, Vijay described how he wished his friend Rachel had been around to wander the galleries with him on one of his seven visits to the exhibition. His essay and poems were a lovely ode to their friendship and to their shared love of culture.

During our second reading of the season, we heard from Nelly Reifler and Cathy Park Hong as they imagined futuristic surveillance technologies. Nelly wrote a product summary for a newly released mindreading app with the capacity to track streams of thought while scanning the user’s subconscious and the subconscious of others in their memory. The app could explore hopes, worries, and fantasies while recalling moments as image data. Her story noted all of the app’s “benefits” including the app’s ability to reevaluate all contributing sides of a story in painstaking detail. Most audience members were relieved they weren’t due for an upgraded OS anytime soon.

Continuing this theme of prying into personal lives, we heard from Chris Sorrentino, a core faculty member at the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y, and Andrew Hultkrans, on one of history’s most notorious patrons of surveillance. Before delving into the complex character of Richard Nixon and discussing his place in history, Chris and Andrew screened a series of political advertisements from Nixon’s 1968 campaign to share with the audience. The late Sixties were a troubled and turbulent time, and each campaign ad was more intense than the next, ending with the ominous slogan, “This time vote like your whole world depended on it.” The campaign clips set the stage for the Nixon Double Take. While discussing egos and opposing truths in politics, the audience couldn’t help but think of the government shutdown and that maybe next time, they should vote like their whole world depended on it.

Photo: Chris Sorrentino discusses Nixon.

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Everyone has a favorite article of clothing—an inherited wedding dress, a flannel shirt borrowed from an old friend, a warm pair of socks received on Father’s Day. Find an article of clothing that you can’t throw away because of an emotional connection. Write six hundred words describing why this piece of clothing means so much to you, and use it as a source to explore people, time, and how simple objects can possess so much meaning.

“Fiction is experimentation; when it ceases to be that, it ceases to be fiction,” storyteller John Cheever once stated in an interview. Place your protagonist in an unexpected situation—trapped in a chimney, confronted by a ghost, or suddenly penniless. Unforeseen conflict reveals hidden character flaws and virtues. Don’t self-edit. Though it may not make the final draft, experimental writing deeply informs both style and character. Writing is the act of failing forward every time you sit down.

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