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Submissions for the Black Earth Institute (BEI) 2015-2018 fellowships are currently being accepted until March 15. An organization dedicated to supporting artists who address social justice, environmental issues, and spirituality in their work, BEI will award six fellowships of $3,000 each, given over the course of three years, to emerging and established poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and other artists.

Fellows will receive an annual $1,000 stipend to support a single, larger project such as a book, or several smaller projects that combine the “artist’s creative direction with the goals and values of BEI.” In addition to completing individual projects, fellows will edit an issue of BEI’s literary journal, About Place, which carries with it a separate $1,000 stipend, and participate in various panels and readings associated with the institute. Fellows are also expected to attend BEI’s annual retreat, which will be held October 8-11 in Black Earth, Wisconsin.

To apply, submit a letter of intent to blackearthinstitute@gmail.com. Upon acceptance of the letter, BEI will notify applicants and request a full interview. Complete submission guidelines can be found on Black Earth Institute’s website.

Founded in 2005 by author and professor Patricia Monaghan and physician and social activist Michael McDermott, the Black Earth Institute focuses on “re-forging the links between spirit, earth and society” through art and “bringing artists together to foment change.” Previous fellows have included LaTasha Diggs, Annie Finch, Roberta Hill, Tom Montgomery Fate, and John P. Briggs. Fellows have participated in panels at various art and environmental events, including the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, and the Iowa State Wildness Conferences.

For six years and counting, Poets & Writers has supported poetry writing workshops at Hillsides, a home and school for foster youth in Pasadena, California. The partnership began when Hillsides school librarian Sherri Ginsberg expressed an interest in holding a creative writing workshop series for students in the library. P&W staff suggested Brendan Constantine, who for three years worked his poetic magic on her students. In 2012, Mike Sonksen stepped into the role of workshop leader, forming a close bond not only with the students, but with Ginsberg as well—so much so, they cowrote this post!

Sherri Ginsberg and Mike SonksenMike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, is a third-generation Los Angeles native acclaimed for his poetry performances, journalism, and as a mentor for teen writers. His books include I Am Alive in Los Angeles (iUniverse, 2006) and Poetics of Location forthcoming from Writ Large Press. His weekly KCET column, L.A. Letters, celebrates literary Los Angeles. Sonksen recently completed an interdisciplinary MA in English and History at California State University Los Angeles and teaches at Southwest College.

Sherri Ginsberg has been a librarian for over thirty years, and has designed libraries and written book reviews. For nearly nine years she has worked at Hillsides, bringing in authors, musicians, magicians, and many others as guest speakers. One of her favorite workshops is poetry with Mike the Poet.

Sonksen: Dating back to September 2012, I have been visiting Hillsides in Pasadena to teach poetry workshops in the library with the teens who attend there. Each week I bring a different poetry exercise. Sherri is always there to offer students an encouraging word or a book recommendation. We have greatly enjoyed working together. The fruits of our collaboration have led to several on-campus readings and the publication of a few chapbook anthologies.

Ginsberg: Mike has been coming to our library for over two years now and has a "poetic" touch with our very challenging students. The kids are always excited to see him and ask for him when he hasn't been around for a few weeks. He appears and they start writing. It always enhances our program since these kids are extremely reluctant, not only to write poetry, but to put any of their thoughts on paper. We are thrilled with this program.

Mike entices the students to write some very cool poetry that we wanted to share. For privacy, the names have been removed from these excerpts: 

Drawing of Mike SonksenIf I was invisible
I would scare people and get into concerts
without being seen by security.

Me against the world
against stress
the strain
Maybe I need to just let go,
to let it flow.

Dogs are great
without hate
never fish without bait
because love is stronger than hate.

My mom tries to hold on to the little kid
but I know she's gonna hurt
the day I tell her I gotta go.

The care she had for me was unconditional.
Her face was so beautiful.
I miss the spark in her eyes that would look into mine
to say how much she loved me.
I feel the hardest
I cry the heaviest
My tears draw blood
and glow brightest
I'm terrified of my past

Sonksen: The Hillsides students write very powerful words, and I am always thrilled after one of our afternoon sessions. What started in the fall of 2012 with a five-week session has evolved into a workshop that we have continued over the last two-and-a-half school years. After we finish each five-week session, I usually come back a few weeks later to start another round. I am thankful for Poets & Writers’ sponsorship of these workshops, and for introducing me to Sherri Ginsberg and Hillsides.

Photo (top): Sherri Ginsberg and Mike Sonksen. Photo (bottom): Student drawing of Mike "the Poet" Sonksen.

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

Forgiving someone can be difficult, and at times might seem impossible. We’ve all been asked to overlook mistakes, understand the blunderer’s side of the story, and trust that her intentions were pure. But when was the last time you listened to your own pleas and forgave yourself? If there’s something from the past that still upsets you, write a letter to yourself asking for forgiveness. If you feel you’ve achieved inner peace over an issue, write about what the journey was like to get to that state of mind.

This week, dream up some technical advancement and incorporate it into the story you’re working on. It could be an improvement on something in use today, like smartphones or television sets, or it could be something completely new. Perhaps one of your characters is prescribed an experimental new medication that improves his memory. Write about how this new technology affects him and the potential impact it has on society as a whole. 

Noah Warren of New Orleans has won the 2015 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for his debut poetry collection, The Destroyer in the Glass. He will receive a fellowship at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut, and his collection will be published by Yale University Press in April 2016. The annual prize is given for a debut poetry collection by a poet under the age of 40.

Carl Phillips, the series judge since 2011, chose Warren’s manuscript from over five hundred entries. “The Destroyer in the Glass impresses at once with its wedding of intellect, heart, sly humor, and formal dexterity, all in the service of negotiating those moments when an impulse toward communion with others competes with an instinct for a more isolated self,” says Phillips. “The poems both examine and embody the nexus of joy and sorrow, of certainty and confusion, without which there’d be none of the restlessness that makes us uniquely human.”

Warren, who was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, graduated from Yale University in 2011. He is the recipient of Yale University’s Frederick Mortimer Clapp Fellowship, and has published work in AGNI, Poetry, the Southern Review, and the Yale Review.

Warren is the 110th winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, which is the oldest poetry prize in the United States. Past winners include John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, and Jean Valentine. Ansel Elkins won in 2014 for her collection, Blue Yodel, forthcoming from Yale University Press in March.

Photo: Noah Warren, Credit: Ana Flores

This week, write a poem about your name. When you were born, you were given a name before beginning to develop a sense of self. Have you grown into your name, or have you always resisted it? Knowing who you are today, where you’ve come from, and where you see yourself going, would you choose a different name for yourself?

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in the Notre Dame Review, Prairie Schooner, Mad Hatters' Review, Indiana Review, Metazen, Ninth Letter, Sein und Werden Review, the Really System, Konundrum Engine Literary Magazine, the Journal, the Volta, Parthenon West Review, and Caliban, among others. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog the Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. Kahl is editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song, and the vice president and events coordinator of the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has a public installation of his poetry in Sacramento, California called In Scarcity We Bare The Teeth. He currently houses his father's literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann's book of photos of Chile, 1932.

Tim Kahl

What makes your organization and its programs unique?
The Sacramento Poetry Center is a community-based literary arts organization that has been in place for over thirty years. We provide Monday night readings on a weekly basis as well as specialized readings that are organized on a come-as-they-may basis (as we have for Sacramento’s Beer Week, or the poetry/jazz/visual arts reading at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, or for UC Davis’s MIND Institute to support autism research). We also organize a number of outreach programs for youth literacy and guidance and counseling for youth. One night a week there is a workshop sponsored by the center geared towards making line edits. There are other privately-led workshop groups that use our space during weekday evenings.

The thing that makes Sacramento Poetry Center unique is that it provides readings with a different host every week so that the range of work varies significantly from week to week. For this reason, we are pretty much free of any ideological or aesthetic biases. As long as you have an inkling for how to read and perform your work, you will be considered for a feature and can always participate at the open mic that is generally part of the Monday night reading. We maintain our programming free of any educational institutional support, and our events are almost always free.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
A special event that Sacramento Poetry Center sponsored was the West Coast premiere of Stephen Dunn’s book Lines of Defense. Over two hundred people packed the spacious entryway at the Sacramento County Public Library to hear Dunn and others give a reading.

Our annual conference in mid-April is an all-day affair that features workshops, lectures, and discussions by many prominent academics who come to lead these small group sessions. After the workshops in the morning and early afternoon, lunch is provided, and the main presenters give a combined short reading in the late afternoon. Energy and enthusiasm is always high for this event. It tends to sustain the energy of attendees for weeks.

The Tule Review is our semiannual literary magazine that features writers from across the country and has organized events to feature those readers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as Sacramento.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
There was an evening when Kate Greenstreet came to perform her poems for her book The Last 4 Things. I didn’t realize that she likes to “get in character” for her readings and channel the voice that is speaking in the book. Often for books that are more conceptual, or at the very least not very narrative, I like to ask the author some questions about the overall project of the book—about craft and more—in order to help both writers and non-writers in the audience have a better understanding of the work. As I did this with Kate (unwittingly getting in the way of her channeled character), she started to shoot darts at me with her eyes. I didn’t quite understand why I was off-target with these kinds of questions. Other writers had gladly fielded them before.

After the reading, Kate informed me where she was coming from, and I apologized for my misunderstanding. The next time she came, for her book Young Tambling, I stayed out of the way and was treated to her mysterious manner of creating the live voice behind her work on the page. I was surprised by the different feel to her reading. There was a general feeling of her embroiling the audience in a circumstance of mysterious pronouncement. These were poems on the page in a book, but she had transformed the reading into a piece of theater that had provocatively aligned itself with the audience. The fourth wall had disappeared. I found myself riveted, entranced, and I wondered how that happened, how she did that.

How do you find and invite readers?
All kinds of ways. We are continually receiving solicitations from writers and poets throughout the country who are passing through town (Sacramento is a little over an hour away from San Francisco) or are setting up book tours in general. Also, there are thematic readings that occur from time to time that a host will put together. For these, the host will actively seek readers who might have something to offer for the theme of the night. Sometimes the readings are assembled in line with the release of a local literary magazine or publication. 

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
Often I write for the “stage” as much as I do for the page. Even when I do write specifically for the page, I am fully cognizant of how a piece might be read or performed. Works that I have written in the past that weren’t explicitly aware of themselves as spoken artifacts seem dry when I look at them today. As the old poetry adage says: Ya gotta make it sing. Sometimes this means literally as well as figuratively. Put another way, in Ken Babstock’s words, “Poetry is a vocal prosthetic for people who can’t sing.” And for people who can sing? That road is open, too.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
The organization serves as primarily a support group for both experienced and inexperienced writers in the area. It gives both of these groups an opportunity to interact freely without any inhibiting and uncomfortable formal social constraints or power relations getting in the way. It makes the literary arts approachable.

We also provide financial support to other local literary arts organizations. Other literary organizations use our Facebook page to promote their events so that the site becomes something of a local literary billboard.

Sacramento Poetry Center allows poets and writers to pursue their form of literary art in the purest sense without any status-conscious posturing that might occur at some institutions of higher education. It allows for comfort and camaraderie, and it permits artists to venture to extremes without worrying about stepping on any official toes.

Photo: Tim Kahl    Credit: Penny Kline

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

Submissions are currently open for the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, given annually for a short story by a writer who has not yet published a book of fiction. The winner will receive a scholarship, valued at $2,195, to attend the 2015 Writers Workshop from June 13 to June 20 in Gambier, Ohio. The winning story will also be published in the Kenyon Review.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 1,200 words with an $18 entry fee by February 28. All entrants will receive a one-year subscription to the Kenyon Review. Ann Patchett, whose most recent book is the essay collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper, 2013), will judge. The winner will be announced in late spring.

The 2015 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, which offers workshops and readings, will be held at Kenyon College from June 13 to June 20. The faculty in fiction includes Lee K. Abbott, Caitlin Horrocks, and Nancy Zafris. Workshops are limited to ten participants each. Established fifteen years ago, the conference also offers workshops in poetry, creative nonfiction, and the art of text.

Previous winners of the prize include Amy Victoria Blakemore for her story “Previously, Sparrows” and Heather Monley for her story “Town of Birds.”

Photo: Kenyon College

The interplanetary travel nonprofit Mars One is holding a competition for those eager to be the first humans to live on Mars. One of the finalists has said, “If I die on Mars, that would be an accomplishment.” Would you ever volunteer for such a mission? Do you have what it takes to survive on a desolate, desert planet? Write about how you’d feel if you got the opportunity to leave Earth. What would you miss, and what would you be glad to leave behind?

Is one of your characters overwhelmed by all the tasks she needs to do on a daily basis? Have her hire a family member as a personal assistant. Maybe her retired father or grandmother needs a part-time job. Write about the kinds of things she would have the assistant do for her, and all the wacky situations that result from this new relationship.

The ancient Greeks believed that the heart is the seat of everything, not only emotion but reason as well. The Romans then developed an entire theory around the circulatory system, concluding that the heart is where emotions take place, while rational thought occurs in the brain and passions originates in the liver. Today, despite developments in medicine and technology, the heart is still used as the universal symbol for love. This week, write a poem about your theory of where love originates. If you feel it comes from the heart, write about why you think this idea has endured for so long. 

The shortlist for the 2015 Folio Prize for fiction was announced today. The eight finalists, selected from a list of eighty works, are 10:04 by Ben Lerner (Granta), All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber), Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Granta), Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta), Family Life by Akhil Sharma (Faber), How to Be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton), Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (Viking), and Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber).

FolioNow in its second year, the annual Folio Prize is awarded for a book of fiction published in the United Kingdom in the previous year. The prize is open to writers from any country, and aims to “celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” The winner receives an award of £40,000 ($60,000). George Saunders won the inaugural 2014 Folio Prize for his short story collection Tenth of December (Random House).  

Acclaimed writers William Fiennes, Rachel Cooke, Mohsin Hamid, A. M. Homes, and Deborah Levy compose this year's judging panel. The judges are members of the Folio Prize Academy—an international group of 235 writers and critics. Fiennes, the judging panel Chair, stated in a press release that the shortlisted works “manage to be both epic and intimate—in fact, they show those dimensions to be two sides of the same coin. They’ve surprised, moved, challenged and enchanted us. They’ve made us laugh. They’ve grown and deepened when we read them again.”

The winner will be announced on March 23 in London in a ceremony following the Folio Prize Fiction Festival. The festival, which will return for its second year at the British Library, will feature panel discussions from authors and critics from the Folio Prize Academy, as well as readings from the shortlisted authors.

The prize is sponsored by the London-based Folio Society, which publishes high-quality illustrated editions of classic and contemporary works. Visit the Folio Prize website to learn more.

Photos above, left to right: Ben Lerner (credit FSG), Colm Tóibín (credit Scribner) and Ali Smith (credit David Levenson, Getty)

Winner of the 2014 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry, Harry Moore is a retired community college English professor. His poems have appeared in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, English Journal, Alabama Literary Review, POEM, the Cape Rock, the South Carolina Review, Avocet, Anglican Theological Review, Main Street Rag, the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and other journals. He is the author of two chapbooks, What He Would Call Them, published in September 2013 by Finishing Line Press, and Time’s Fool, published in January 2014 by Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press. Moore serves as an assistant editor of Poem, a literary magazine in Huntsville, Alabama. He lives with his wife, Cassandra, in Decatur, Alabama. 

When Bonnie Rose Marcus from Poets & Writers called in early April last year to say that I had won the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry, I was at first astonished—then elated—then overwhelmingly grateful. I'm in what Dylan Thomas would call my seventieth year to heaven. I had taught the masters—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickinson, Yeats, Eliot—to community college freshmen and sophomores for forty years. Seizing moments from a regimen of lectures, student conferences, committee meetings, and paper grading, I had scribbled fragments into a journal, publishing my first poem in 1991 at age forty-seven. From then until my retirement in 2009, I managed to complete and publish one or two poems a year.

Although retirement and a monthly poetry workshop increased my production—including the publication of two chapbooks—I had no idea I might win the WEX Award. Learning that my voice reached across miles and mountains, across yawning generation gaps, and across gender, social, economic, and ethnic lines affirmed for me the value of two decades of hard work and opened real possibilities for the future.

My week in New York City in October planned and guided by Poets & Writers was, from start to finish, a series of wonders. I experienced the efficiency and warmth of the P&W staff, especially Bonnie Rose Marcus and Lynne Connor. I got to know and appreciate fellow Alabamian and talented fiction winner Bryn Chancellor. I saw Thurber’s drawings preserved on the wall of the New Yorker suite of offices. I gazed over Manhattan from the nineteenth-floor balcony of New Directions, publisher of William Carlos Williams. I listened to literary agent Georges Borchardt describe his odyssey from Berlin to Paris to New York sixty years earlier. My wife and I stayed in the lovely Library Hotel.

I read at McNally Jackson Bookstore, and was introduced by poetry judge and fellow Southerner Evie Shockley. I chatted over lunch with poet Alicia Ostriker; over drinks with Martha Rhodes of Four Way Books; over coffee in the Village with Davidson Garrett, the taxi driver poet; and over dinner in Soho with Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri. On the last day, I walked a mile through Central Park among falling sycamore leaves to lunch with benefactor Maureen Egen and others. And all the while I knew that a month of leisure and seclusion at Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming awaited me in 2015. The week was a joy, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the writing desk.

Although to our modern ears the bouncy optimism of Robert Browning’s "Rabbi Ben Ezra" sounds jingly and hollow—“Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be”—I like to think the creative impulse and the poetic voice can survive the shocks of advancing age. The WEX Award tells me this is so—that in age no less than in youth, in the words of Emily Dickinson, we “dwell in possibility / A fairer house than prose.”

Photos: Harry Moore (top), Harry Moore and Evie Shockley (middle).   Photo Credit: Margarita Corporan.

This award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors, and retired Deputy Chairman and Publisher of Hachette Book Group, USA.

PEN American Center has partnered with digital and television news network Fusion to establish the inaugural PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize. The $10,000 prize will be awarded annually to a “promising young writer of an unpublished work of nonfiction that addresses a global and/or multicultural issue.” Writers under the age of thirty-five who have published at least one nonfiction piece in a national periodical are eligible. The submission deadline is February 27.

Using the online submission manager, submit an original nonfiction manuscript of 8,000 to 80,000 words, along with a resume or CV that includes publication history, and a $35 entry fee. All entries will be read anonymously. Visit the PEN website for complete guidelines.

“Fusion is committed to supporting the next generation of journalists and writers,” said Fusion Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Daniel Eilemberg. “We are thrilled to partner with PEN to reward excellence in literature and journalism while promoting free expression.”

The judges for the inaugural prize are distinguished writers Roxane Gay, John Freeman, and Cristina Henríquez. Gay is the co-editor of PANK magazine, and the author of the books AyitiAn Untamed State, and Bad Feminist. Her memoir Hunger will be published next year. Freeman is the former president of the National Book Critics Circle, editor of Granta magazine, and the author of The Tyranny of EmailHow to Read a Novelist, and most recently Tales of Two Cities: The Best of Times and Worst of Times in Today’s New York. Henríquez is the author of three books, including The Book of Unknown Americans, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2014.

For over nintey years, PEN American Center has worked to protect and celebrate freedom of expression through writing. PEN runs numerous programs to support writers and confers over $150,000 in literary awards each year.

The winner of the PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize will be announced this spring, and will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony in June. Questions about the prize can be directed to awards@pen.org.

This week, write about a time when you were out of your element, immersed in a community or culture that you felt was very different from your own. Observe your own behavior as an anthropologist would. Write about how this relocation and disorientation affected the way you reacted to the people around you, and caused you to reflect on yourself.  

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