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Mike Geffner is the founder and producer of the Inspired Word literary/performance series and the Queens Lit Fest. For thirty years, he was a professional journalist who published stories in USA Today, Details magazine, Village Voice, Texas Monthly, the Writer, and Sporting News. He’s won awards for both column and feature writing, and was acknowledged seven times for excellence by the annual anthology Best American Sports Writing. Geffner retired from journalism in 2011 and is currently working on a book of poetry, tentatively titled Slogging Toward Death.

This was late March 2015. I was chatting with the event booker of a charming pub in Long Island City called LIC Bar. The place was already hosting several literary events and I felt it had the potential for something wonderful of my own. I just wasn’t sure what.

LIC Bar has the uniqueness of being broken into three distinct areas: a bar in front with antique-wood floors, brick walls, and a tin ceiling; an outdoor garden patio in the middle under the peacefulness of willow trees; and a private room in the back with a fireplace.

I mulled over a ton of ideas in my head before the words that would change my life spilled out: “How about a Queens Literary Festival?” It seemed perfect—the readings in the private room, the vendors in the patio, the schmoozing in the bar.

The booker agreed and we set a date for the first weekend in August. However, the second I left the bar, the reality hit: What did I just sign up for? How do you put together a two-day festival for an entire NYC borough in just four months?

It was daunting to say the least, though as a former journalist, I was used to dealing with deadline pressure and getting things done quickly. And as someone who has lived all his life in Queens, who loves his borough, I believed in the mission: to bring together Queens’s diverse literary community, to honor our literary artists, to create a dynamic event that would be unpretentious, all-inclusive, and filled with heart.

With the help of Inspired Word assistant producer, Poetry Teachers NYC founder, and fellow Queens resident Megan DiBello, aka Make It Happen Megan, we made it happen. We produced a cool logo, postcards, and T-shirts. We put together excellent programming, which included several notable Queens-based reading series; the current and previous Queens poets laureate, Maria Lisella and Paolo Javier, respectively; and an open mic that would level the playing field and make everyone feel involved.

We were written about in all the Queens newspapers prior to the event, and Megan, Maria, and I even appeared in studio on NY1.

It ended up being a glorious event. We had two sunny days, drew over three hundred people, and I’m proud to say that despite the event being free we paid all the featured artists with sponsorship money, including generous dollars from Poets & Writers.

This year’s event (July 16 to 17, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, open to all ages this time) will be on a grander scale. For one, the site is the wondrous wide-open space along the waterfront called LIC Landing, a symbol of the new Queens and which offers a stunning, unfettered view of the Manhattan skyline. We’re also collaborating with Hunters Point Parks Conservancy (leading the building of an ambitious new Queens Library of Hunters Point) and COFFEED, a coffee chain that donates 10 percent of its profits to nonprofit foundations and which owns and donated the event space. We’ve added, as well, a tireless arts visionary, Mark Christie, president of Friends of Queens Library of Hunters Point, as an organizer/consultant. And, once again support from the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers.

I know now what I’ve gotten myself into. We’re smack on the forefront of Queens’s culture renaissance, part of a movement to make Queens a literary destination, not just a pit stop to Brooklyn or Harlem. We’re forever on the timeline of Queens history. What an amazing thing from a few blurted out words.

You can follow the Queens Lit Fest on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @QueensLitFest. For more info, to RSVP, donate, or to sign up for the open mic, go here.

Photos: (top) Mike Geffner. (bottom) Megan DiBello.  Photo credit: (top) Jay Franco. (bottom) Mike Geffner. Artwork credit: Edward Cox.

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 form the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

From cities across the globe come reports of increasingly untraditional and casual fashion choices when it comes to getting married: brides in New York City who opt to wear wedding pants instead of a gown, and couples in Beijing showing up to the marriage registration office wearing “sleeveless shirts and shorts, or slippers.” Write a personal essay that examines the progression of your own clothing choices. Have you gone through phases when your outfits—whether influenced by a job, emotional state, or cultural shifts—were formal or informal, plain or adorned, monochromatic or colorful?

Irish author Lisa McInerney has been announced the winner of the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies (John Murray). The annual book award is open to women writers from anywhere in the world writing in English, and carries with it a £30,000 (approximately $43,500) prize.

The finalists were Cynthia Bond’s Ruby, Anne Enright’s The Green Road, Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

The judging panel consisted of five women: novelist Elif Şafak; journalists Naga Munchetty and Laurie Penny; writer and singer Tracey Thorn; and former lawyer and television personality Margaret Mountford, who served as judge chair. The committee selected McInerney’s novel from a hundred fifty entries.

McInerney’s novel tells the tale of how a messy murder affects the lives of “five misfits who live on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society.” At today’s award ceremony in London, Mountford said, “After a passionate discussion around a very strong shortlist, we chose Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humor and skillful storytelling. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner.”

McInerney, thirty-four, began her writing career in 2006 with a personal blog called Arse End of Ireland, in which she documented working-class life in modern Ireland with a unique brand of cynical wit. The blog gained traction, and McInerney has since written for various Irish news and culture, feminist, and entertainment websites. Her short story, “Saturday, Boring,” was published in Faber & Faber’s Town and Country anthology in 2013. She lives in Galway.

Founded in 1996, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was established to recognize “excellence, originality, and accessibility in writing by women throughout the world.” The award is the U.K.’s most prestigious annual prize for a full-length book of fiction written by a woman. Previous winners include Ali Smith, Eimear McBride, Téa Obreht, and Zadie Smith. For more information, visit the prize website

This week, write a scene in which your main character experiences a series of coincidences over the course of a single day. Perhaps he sees the same stranger twice in one day, or finds that he is wearing the exact same outfit as someone he encounters. Is he eager to derive meaning from the occurrences, or does he dismiss them as possessing no significance? What is revealed about his personality by the response to these coincidences? Will he be proven wrong?

Last night, at a ceremony in New York City, the winners of the twenty-eighth annual Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”) were announced. The awards recognize excellence in LGBTQ literature, critical studies, and drama, and are given in twenty-five categories determined by more than ninety judges.
The awards in poetry were given in three categories: The Lesbian Poetry award went to Dawn Lundy Martin for Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life (Nightboat Books); the Gay Poetry award resulted in a tie between Nicholas Wong’s Crevasse (Kaya Press) and Carl Phillips’s Reconnaissance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and the Transgender Poetry prize went to kari edwards’s succubus in my pocket (EOAGH Books).

In fiction, the awards were administered in five categories: The Lesbian Fiction award went to Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta; Hasan Namir won in Gay Fiction for God in Pink (Arsenal Pulp Press); Anna North won the Bisexual Fiction prize for The Life and Death of Sophie Stark (Blue Rider Press); Roz Kaveney took home the Transgender Fiction award for Tiny Piece of Skull: Or, a Lesson in Manners (Team Angelica Publishing); and the LGBT Debut Fiction prize went to Victor Yates for A Love Like Blood (Hillmont Press).

During the reception, poet Eileen Myles was honored with the organization’s Pioneer Award, and nonfiction writer Hilton Als received the Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature.

A complete list of winners in all twenty-five categories, as well as photos of the awards gala, are available on the Lambda Literary website.

Lambda Literary is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to celebrating and advancing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer literature. In addition to the annual Lammy Awards, the foundation administers prizes for emerging and mid-career writers, hosts the Writers Retreat for Emerging Voices, and sponsors the LGBT Writers in Schools program

Most people spend at least a few minutes a day in front of a mirror, whether while brushing teeth at the bathroom sink at night, or involved in a focused morning makeup or hairstyling routine. Spend a more intensive amount of time in front of a mirror and write a self-portrait poem as you study your own reflection. How has your face evolved over the years? Do your features seem more or less familiar the longer you look? Are there particular elements of your face that remind you of certain people or memories?

Cecily Schuler received their MFA in Writing from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Having attended both the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center, Schuler has had their work featured in the Offing, Fairy Tale Review, Wicked Banshee, Ellipsis, and Duende, and anthologized in great weather for MEDIA and Fire Stories: Further Thoughts on Radically Rethinking Mental Illness. Schuler's chapbook, 296, chronicling the author's experience living with multiple mental health diagnoses, is available from Next Left Press. Schuler cofounded and manages Union Square Slam, a weekly poetry open mic/slam in the heart of New York City.

What makes your program(s) unique?
I would say that, while we share components of each, we are not your average open mic, poetry reading, or poetry slam. Union Square Slam (USS) was created to not only serve the local and national slam poetry circuit, but more so to provide a creative space for our local poets and authors to branch out, foster, and showcase their particular talents and interests. We are looking to showcase the broad range of overlapping scenes here in New York City, as well as poetic style and talents from other regions of the country.

We encourage audience engagement in a number of ways: “If You Feel Something, Say Something.” If someone says something on the mic that moves you, it’s the culture of the show to respond to that movement through snapping/clapping, moans/groans, shouting and talking back. On paper that sounds like a ruckus, but at the show it can be encouraging and empowering. We also offer writing workshops with highly skilled facilitators before the show each week. Sometimes we ask for donations that go towards the facilitator, but more often than not, the workshops are free! All of the organizers are also working artists, and we know how challenging it can be to keep creating while volunteer organizing on top of working a 9-5. These weekly workshops are just another way we hope to generate community-based quality work for our show attendees.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
We inherited a venue and show day/time from another open mic/poetry slam in January 2015. Over time, it became clear that the venue and our show were growing in different directions artistically and aesthetically. In November of the same year, we switched venues to our current home in the Bureau of General Services - Queer Division. It was such a relief in so many ways: not only were we in a venue dedicated solely to literary and visual arts, we could now serve all ages and accommodate folks who use wheelchairs. We have managed to build a steady and returning audience, book and fund our features (thanks P&W!!) and have a successful slam season, culminating in USS sending our very first team to the National Poetry Slam in Decatur (Atlanta), Georgia this August. It was a lot of rigmarole, and yet people have come out of the woodwork to offer us support in countless ways. (Speaking of which, please consider helping USS reach its fundraising goals for the team by donating here.)

How do you find and invite readers?
Part of Union Square Slam’s mission is to amplify voices of the oppressed. We aim to book features who self-identify in one or more of the following: people of color and/or queer/LGBTQIA and/or disabled/alter-abled/neurodiverse and/or poor/working class. We don’t go looking for artists who fit these criteria; rather, we check ourselves against this standard as we are booking. Our organizers have been involved in different aspects of not just the national slam scene, but other literary scenes throughout New York City, so between us, we’ve had a wide range of featured poets this year.

Photo: (top) Cecily Schuler. (bottom) Grand Slam Champ Nkosi Nkululeko. Photo credit: (bottom) Guangpyo David Hong.

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.

The Feminist Press has partnered with TAYO Literary Magazine to launch the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, which will be given for debut books of fiction or nonfiction by women and nonbinary writers of color. The winner will receive $5,000 and a publishing contract with the Feminist Press.

Novels, short story collections, and works of narrative nonfiction are eligible. Women and nonbinary writers of color (or those who self-identify as nonwhite) may submit a complete manuscript of 50,000 to 80,000 words along with a cover letter that includes the following: an author statement, a brief bio, how the book fits with the work and mission of TAYO and the Feminist Press, a list of up to three influential writers, and the manuscript’s word count. The deadline is July 31. Complete guidelines here.

Entries will be read by a group of judges made up of staff, board members, and allies of the Feminist Press and TAYO Literary Magazine. The top five manuscripts will then be sent to final judges Tayari Jones and Ana Castillo, who will select the winning manuscript. The winner will be announced in February 2017.

The new prize was founded in honor of novelist, essayist, journalist, and activist Louise Meriwether, age 93, who published her first novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, in 1970. The book, about the life of a poor black family in the post–Harlem Renaissance era, was one of the first contemporary American novels to feature a young African American girl as the protagonist, and went on to inspire the careers of authors such Jacqueline Woodson and Bridgett M. Davis.

TAYO—a which means “us” or “stand up” in Tagalog—is a magazine dedicated to publishing works of poetry and prose that “slice into the phantasmagoria of the oppressed, marginalized, post-colonized, and diasporic life.”The Feminist Press, founded in 1970 at the City University of New York, is a nonprofit press established to “advance women’s rights and amplify feminist perspectives,” and champion “silenced and marginalized voices in order to support personal transformation and social justice for all people.

Photo: Bridgett M. Davis and Louise Meriwether in 2014. Credit: Muneesh Jain

Poets Norman Dubie and Liz Howard have won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prizes, given annually for books of poetry published in or translated into English in the previous year. They each received $65,000 Canadian (approximately $50,000). Alice Oswald, Tracy K. Smith, and Adam Sol judged.

Poet Norman Dubie won the International Prize for his collection The Quotations of Bone (Copper Canyon Press). Dubie, 71, has published twenty-nine poetry collections and teaches at Arizona State University in Tempe. “The poems in Dubie’s newest collection are deeply oneiric, governed by vigorous leaping energy that brings the intimate into contact with history, and blurs the distinction between what is real because it once happened, and what is real because of the emphatic manner in which it has been felt,” wrote the judges in their citation.

Liz Howard took home the Canadian Prize for her debut collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland & Stewart). “These poems are filled with energy and magic, suspended between competing inheritances, at home in their hyper-modern hybridity,” said the judges. “Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent confronts its legacies with vivid imagery and crackling language, and introduces us to a bold, original poetic voice.”

The finalists for the International Prize were Joy Harjo for Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton), Don Paterson for 40 Sonnets (Faber & Faber), and Rowan Ricardo Phillips for Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists for the Canadian Prize were Per Brask and Patrick Friesen for their translation from the Danish of Ulrikka S. Gernes’s Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books) and Soraya Peerbaye for Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press). Each finalist received a $10,000 honorarium for participating in the Griffin Prize shortlist reading on Wednesday in Toronto.

Established in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize was founded to “serve and encourage excellence in poetry.” Each year the trustees—Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, and David Young—along with Scott Griffin, the founder of the prize, select the judges. This year’s judges read 633 poetry collections from 43 countries.

Previous winners of the International Prize include Michael Longley, Brenda Hillman, Fady Joudah for his translation of Ghassan Zaqtan, and David Harsent. Recent winners of the Canadian Prize include Jane Munro, Anne Carson, David McFadden, and Ken Babstock.

Publishers may submit titles for the 2017 prize. The deadline for books published between January 1 and June 30 is June 30; the deadline for books published from July 1 to December 31 is December 31.

Photos: Dubie (Matt Valentine), Howard (Ralph Kolewe)

 

Planning to submit to writing contests this summer? Here are several contests in poetry and prose with an application deadline of June 15. Each prize offers at least $1,000 and publication.

In poetry, the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award and the University of Akron Press Akron Poetry Prize offer prizes for full-length poetry manuscripts. The winner of the Library of Poetry Book Award receives $1,000, and the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize receives $1,500. Allison Joseph will judge the Akron Poetry Prize.

In prose, the Curt Johnson Prose Awards offer two prizes of $1,500 each and publication in December for a short story and an essay. One runner-up will receive $500. Anthony Marra will judge in fiction and Eula Biss will judge in nonfiction.

Two short fiction contests—the New Rivers Press American Fiction Short Story Award and Rosebud’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award—offer $1,000 for a short story. For the American Fiction Prize, a $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given. The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award gives awards of $100 each to four runners-up. Previous final judges for the American Fiction Short Story Award include Charles Baxter and Ann Beattie; this year’s judge has not been announced. Roderick Clark will judge the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award.

For fiction writers with published books, the Bard Fiction Prize offers $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College for a published book. The prize is open to writers under the age of forty. Alexandra Kleeman won the 2016 prize for her book, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.

Visit the Grants & Awards database and submission calendar for more contests with upcoming deadlines. Complete submission guidelines, including eligibility requirements and entry fees, are available on the contest websites. 

Our favorite actors and musicians often seem larger than life because they are able to produce powerful performances using personae that may or may not belie their more mundane, daily existence. Someone might always be the demanding diva or the goofy comedian on screen and live up to that reputation, or be the complete opposite once out of the public eye. Write a personal essay about one of your favorite celebrities, current or past. Describe the circumstances around your earliest encounters with this person's star quality, taking into account the elements of that celebrity image that were particularly striking or resonant for you. If you were to meet this person and have a heart-to-heart conversation, what would you share or hope to discover? How might your admiration change?

As personal information and financial transactions become increasingly digitized, more and more reliance is placed on online accounts and password-protected websites, thus the number of accounts any person maintains is growing each year. At the same time, studies report that most people reuse the same five or so passwords, and the most popular ones remain the same, year after year, such as: password, 123456, football, baseball, and qwerty. Write a short story in which your main character finds a list of important passwords. What does the combination of passwords and accounts reveal about the person who created them? Is there a pattern that leads to the discovery of additional information? If there are consequences for your character's unexpected access to someone else's private data, how do they play out in the context of your story?

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016) and winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Best New Poets, Best American Experimental Writing, Zócalo Public Square, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were: The Case of Emeline, On This Muddy Water: Voices From the Houston Ship Channel, and From My Mother's Mother. Joseph serves as vice president of the Writers@Work executive board and is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. She blogs about her P&W–supported reading for the Poesía Peligrosa series at the University of California in Riverside.

Janine Joseph

A 2009 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow, I was invited late last year to “take over” their Instagram account for a whole week so that followers could meet me and get a sense of my "New American" story. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I shared pictures and brief stories about my family’s immigrant beagles, my Lolo Lazarus, and what it was like to live, for the first time, in a landlocked state. As the publication of my debut collection of poetry, Driving Without a License, was (then) just a few months away, I talked also about my experiences as a formerly undocumented American. Through luck or happenstance, a student and the vice president of PODER (Providing Opportunities, Dreams, and Education in Riverside) at my alma mater, University of California in Riverside (UCR), saw my posts and asked if I might be interested in doing a reading for a specially themed Poesía Peligrosa event during their upcoming Immigrant Awareness Week.

I graduated from UCR in the spring of 2005—three years before PODER, which “seeks to provide assistance to undocumented students through mentorship, financial assistance, and community building,” was established, so this invitation and event was an emotional homecoming for me. In short, the partnerships between PODER, Teatro Quinto Sol, and the office of Chicano Student Programs at UCR, coupled with the generous monetary support from Poets & Writers, made it possible for an undocumented student group to bring me in to read about my experiences as an undocumented person. To add to the significance of this event even further: It brought me back to the very school where I had studied creative writing as an undocumented student.

And what a gift the occasion was. Poesía Peligrosa, which was hosted by two current UCR undergraduates, brought together a mix of music, theater, and poetry to the stage. The night began with an interactive performance by UCR's Theater of the Oppressed, followed by my reading from Driving Without a License, and ended with students sharing their own immigration-themed work. The audience, which consisted of current UCR students, alumni, UCR staff, and family members, was lively, attentive, and welcoming. There were also students and their chaperones from a local high school in attendance. Later, I looked around the room from where I sat in the back and imagined that this would have been my community nearly a decade ago, had the organization existed. I was overjoyed and relieved to know that current students had the support and space I had once longed for.

It is my hope that this event sets a personal precedence, particularly in how I plan readings in support of the book, and that I will be able to give back to other undocumented student groups around the country. It is my hope, too, that the students who I had the great privilege of meeting continue to share their stories and continue to complicate our ever-expanding American identities. I am thankful to Poets & Writers for supporting this effort, these events, and writers with immigrant backgrounds like ours.

Photo: Janine Joseph. Photo credit: Jaclyn Heward.

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.

"Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them," writes Oscar Wilde in his 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Drawing upon your own experiences with parents, guardians, mother or father figures—or your personal history as a parent yourself—compile a short list of specific memories and observations divided into three categories: love, judgment, and forgiveness. Would you agree with Wilde that children's love for and judgment of parents are inevitable, but forgiveness of them may be less so? How might you see forgiveness as a more conscious component of a parent-child relationship? Write a three-part poem that explores the many nuances of a parent-child relationship as it evolves with age.

Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard has been celebrated for her ability to use natural events as doorways into spiritual contemplation, as in her essay “Total Eclipse.” Write an essay about the most impressive natural event you’ve witnessed. It could be grand, like a tornado skirting the edge of a midwestern town, or more humble, though no less impactful, like a spider approaching prey caught on its web. What questions and realizations did this event spur in your mind? Why has it remained in your memory? What does it say about your relationship to nature?

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