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Some phrases, such as "toe the line," are so ingrained in our minds that we automatically link the phrase with its intended meaning (in this case, to conform to a set of rules) without thinking about the literal meaning (carefully placing your toes along a line on the ground). This week, pause for a moment and try to imagine the actions described in these idioms. When someone says you're "barking up the wrong tree," what do you picture? Is there an idiom that you use frequently, or that you've always been a bit confused by? Write a short personal essay about what this idiom means to you. Then do some research into its history, and if you decide to go further, look up how similar sentiments are expressed idiomatically in other languages.

Think back to your childhood, to the stories you remember being told. Was there a particular story you wanted to hear over and over again? This week, try and remember that story, and choose one of the characters from it. Take that character and write an entirely different story centered around new obstacles. For example, if you choose Pippi Longstocking, write a story in which she is raising her own family, or has become the captain of her father's ship after his retirement.

American writers Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler have made the shortlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, announced today by the Booker Prize Foundation. This year the prize was open for the first time to writers of any nationality whose fiction books were written in English and published in the previous year in the U.K. The winner, who will receive £50,000 (approximately $80,000), will be announced in London on October 14.

The finalists are: American writers Joshua Ferris for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking) and Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail); Australian writer Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus); and British authors Howard Jacobson for J (Jonathan Cape), Neel Mukherjee for The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus), and Ali Smith for How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton). The six finalists were selected from a longlist of thirteen announced in July.

“As the Man Booker Prize expands its borders, these six exceptional books take the reader on journeys around the world, between the U.K., New York, Thailand, Italy, Calcutta and times past, present and future,” said A. C. Grayling, chair of the judges. “It is a strong thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English.” Along with Grayling, the 2014 judges are Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Alastair Niven, and Erica Wagner.

Established in 1969, the Man Booker Prize was originally awarded to a writer who was a citizen of the U.K., the British Commonwealth, Zimbabwe, or the Republic of Ireland. Jonathan Taylor, chair of the foundation, announced the prize’s expansion last September. Recent winners include Eleanor Catton, Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, and Howard Jacobson.

Upper left: Joshua Ferris, photo by Laurent Denimal; Upper right: Karen Joy Fowler, photo by David Levenson

9.09.14

From: The Time Is Now

In the early and mid-twentieth century, the Dadaists would compose poems by making random selections from found text. This week, let your subconscious do the work. Take a newspaper article, or other piece of text, and carefully cut out each word. Next, throw all the clippings in a bag. Then, take one word out at a time. Arrange the words on a table in the order you drew them from the bag, and copy them down. As the Dadaists say, "The resulting poem will resemble you."

The Rona Jaffe Foundation has announced the recipients of the twentieth Rona Jaffe Awards, given annually to six emerging women writers. The foundation offers awards of $30,000 each to poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers.

The 2014 winners are poets Danielle Jones-Pruett of Salem, Massachusetts, and Solmaz Sharif of Oakland, California; fiction writers Olivia Clare of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and T. L. Khleif of Ann Arbor, Michigan; and nonfiction writers Karen Hays of Minneapolis and Mara Naselli of Grand Rapids, Michigan. They will be honored at a private reception in New York City on September 18, and will give a reading at New York University on September 19.

Novelist Rona Jaffe (1931–2005) established the awards in 1995 to “identify and support women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers.” The foundation has awarded nearly $2 million to emerging women writers. Previous recipients include Rachel Aviv, Elif Batuman, Eula Biss, Sarah Braunstein, Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Aryn Kyle, Rebecca Lee, Dana Levin, ZZ Packer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Syzbist, and Tiphanie Yanique.

The recipients are nominated by writers, editors, publishers, academics, and other literary professionals, and chosen by a committee of judges selected by the Rona Jaffe Foundation. To learn more about the history and growth of the awards, read the Q&A with Beth McCabe, director of the program, in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: Rona Jaffe

Alice Lovelace is a cultural worker, poet, playwright, and performer. She is coeditor of “Art Changes” at In Motion Magazine, an online journal dedicated to issues of democracy. Lovelace earned her MA in Conflict Resolution at Antioch University’s McGregor School. Her focus is on community art as a form of mediation. In 2011, Lovelace and visual artist Lisa Tuttle collaborated on “Harriet Rising,” commissioned by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program and Underground Atlanta, for its four-month long exhibit, Elevate: Art Above Underground in Atlanta, Georgia. The installation remained at Underground Atlanta for one year, and was named one of the fifty best public art projects in the nation by Americans for the Arts’ 2012 Public Art Network Year in Review. 

“Harriet Rising” was born in 2011 when visual artist Lisa Tuttle asked me out for lunch and we discussed the possibility of an artistic collaboration. That was the year the country began reflecting on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The art would be on display at the Underground Atlanta, a shopping and entertainment district in downtown Atlanta. Lisa and I joined our interests in community-built art, envisioning the project as an opportunity to educate the public about universal social conditions faced by women and girls, and the organizations women have built in resistance.

The focus on Harriet Tubman was the perfect choice. Her contributions to the war effort are seldom mentioned or taught. We often see paintings or photos of Tubman as an elderly woman, but she was in her late twenties to early thirties when she brought over three hundred people out of the South, up the Ohio River to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Years later, during the Civil War, she was commissioned by President Lincoln as spy and strategist for the Union Army. She also served as a nurse to black soldiers, while challenging the President and Congress over the issue of equal pay for equal service and sacrifice. In the 1863 Campaign on the Combahee, she helped over seven hundred slaves escape plantations along the river in South Carolina.

“Harriet Rising” was commissioned by the City of Atlanta and Underground Atlanta, as part of the exhibit, Elevate: Art Above Underground, which opened in October 2011. Lisa installed “Harriet Rising” onto eight four-sided columns in the heart of an Atlanta downtown hub. On the four sides of each column, we combined photography, poetry, historical and educational text, honoring the spirit and legacy of Harriet Tubman, the American hero.

The exhibit included oral histories of current women activists. One fall Sunday afternoon, women dressed in white arrived at the American Friends Service Committee Georgia Peace Center to tell me their stories, and to have Lisa photograph them. They were asked to wear white to signify their relationship to Harriet Tubman, who dreamed of being led to safety by a heavenly host of “ladies in white.” The women were members of 9to5 Atlanta, Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, Georgia WAND, Refugee Women’s Network, SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Women Watch Afrika, Inc., Tapestri, Inc., and the Toni Cade Bambara Writers/Scholars/Activists Collective.

bookcover

Funding from Poets & Writers for our Readings & Workshops program allowed us to include some of the most dynamic poets from the local slam scene. I was joined for onsite readings by Theresa Davis, Mariangela Manu Mihai, April 'Ap' Smith, Chauncey Beaty, and M. Ayodele Heath, along with singer/activist Monica Simpson. Three times we called, and the community gathered around Harriet’s columns. The crowds grew. We had repeat visitors and earned the attention of those standing in nearby businesses.

Working with Lisa Tuttle and the community of women organizers was a dream come true for a poet/cultural worker like me—I was able to play a major role in a popular public art exhibit and to bring the voices of over thirty women into the public arena. I can’t wait to do it again!

Photos: (top) Alice Lovelace at US Social Forum. Photo Credit: Nic Paget Clarke. (bottom) Harriet Rising Book Cover. Photo Credit: Lisa Tuttle.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

It may be a drag to be the bearer of bad news, but consider the recipient. Would you want to learn that your significant other is ending the relationship through words on a tiny screen? Sometimes we can't connect in person and we must rely on phone calls, texts, or e-mails to communicate difficult news. But what if you could recruit a messenger, a total stranger, to deliver your message for you? How would that alter the message? Write about a message you wish could be delivered by a stranger. For inspiration, watch filmmaker Miranda July's performance piece involving the new mobile app, Somebody.

As everyone recovers from, and reacts to, the shocking announcement that the popular cartoon character Hello Kitty is not a cat but a human girl, take a moment to think about how leaving certain details ambiguous could enhance or detract from a character's impact in a story. Do you have any characters that have elements of their backstory, or ambiguous qualities, that are never explained? If you have a character whom you feel is hiding something for whatever reason, write a scene in which this secret is revealed.

This week write a poem that sets out to explain an item, idea, or process. Begin the title with "How..." or "Three Reasons Why..." or some other phrase that introduces what is about to be explained. Maybe you will pick apart a particular habit you have, or analyze a fear that seems illogical. Don't feel obliged to reach a concrete conclusion. Instead, see where the thought pattern takes you. Is this poem really about why you think bunk beds are unsafe, or does it begin to address something else?

The finalists have been announced for the inaugural Write a House residency, a new program through which a formerly vacant home in Detroit is renovated and given permanently to a creative writer.

The ten finalists are Lydia Conklin of East Sandwich, Massachusetts; Matthew Fogarty of Columbia, South Carolina; Adam Morris of San Francisco; Anne Elizabeth Moore of Chicago; Jason Reynolds and Casey Rocheteau, both of Brooklyn, New York; Aisha Sabatani Sloan of Los Angeles; Valerie Vande Panne of Detroit; Darryl Lorenzo Wellington of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Monika Zobel of Bremen, Germany. Finalists' bios can be found on the Write a House website.

The winner will be announced on September 19, and will be invited to move into his or her new house soon thereafter.

Write a House received roughly 350 applications in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from throughout the United States and abroad. “Many of our best applicants came from right here in Detroit,” the organizers wrote in an announcement on the Write a House blog. “There were many excellent and inspiring submissions, and if we could give a home to every talented writer who applied, we would.”

The organization plans to open applications for its next house in early 2015.

The judges were Write a House cofounder Toby Barlow, along with poets and writers Billy Collins, dream hampton, Major Jackson, Sean MacDonald, Michael Stone Richards, and Tamara Warren. Finalists were selected based on the quality of their work and for their potential to contribute to the neighborhood and the literary culture of Detroit.

For more information on Write a House, read an article on the program currently featured in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: The first Write a House property, located in Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood. Credit: Andy Kopietz.

P&W supported poet Aliki Barnstone blogs about her reading for Saint Julian Press in Houston, Texas. Barnstone is also a translator, critic, and editor. Her books of poems are Bright Body (White Pine, 2011), Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (the Sheep Meadow Press, 2010), Blue Earth (Iris, 2004), Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002), a National Books Critics Circle Notable Book, Madly in Love (Carnegie-Mellon, 1997), Windows in Providence (Curbstone, 1981), and The Real Tin Flower which includes an introduction by Anne Sexton and was published by Macmillan in 1968, when Barnstone was twelve years old. She is Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Aliki BarnstoneOn April 4, 2014, I participated in a reading at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, which was organized by Ron Starbuck, editor and publisher of Saint Julian Press, and cosponsored by Poets & Writers. Ron beautifully orchestrated the event in a truly unique way that I found exhilarating and profound.

There were three poets—Melissa Studdard, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and myself—and there was a pianist, John Hardesty. Before the reading, we poets e-mailed Ron the poems that we planned to read, which was a first for me. There was a bit of back and forth between the four of us, so we could get the timing and the length right. Then Ron arranged the poems into sets. I was a little disconcerted when he changed the order of the poems I’d sent, but I was also open to the adjustment because the whole event was so unusual (and his re-ordering proved to be a much better unfolding).

The usual circumstance, as the readers of this blog know, is that each author is given a certain amount of time, and then whatever happens, happens—which can work well or can lead to some consternation when someone reads too long or if one person is miffed to read first and perceives that he or she is a “warm-up” for the “headliner” who reads last.

All those prospects for unseemly drama were eliminated by Ron’s process. He printed out scripts for us, which were ordered in three-ring binders and placed on music stands. John Hardesty played a prologue, each of us read a set, and between readers, John responded with improvisation. We each read two sets. John’s music was meditative and created an atmosphere that was receptive to poetry and to the ineffable.

When I give readings, I usually have a set list with alternatives, depending on how the audience responds. The musical interludes combined with the script made this unnecessary, so the part of my mind that usually considers whether I’m reading the right poems was free to listen to the music and my wonderful fellow poets, and to commune with all the souls present.

The format freed me in other ways too. I must admit, I find that when I’m reading with others I can’t be as attentive as I’d like. If I read after someone, I can’t give my undivided attention to his or her reading because I’m too revved up (and I’m also thinking about alternative poems to read that might better dovetail with the reader before me). However, if I read before someone, then I may still be too distracted to concentrate fully on the person’s work, because I’m recuperating from my own reading. Despite my regard for the other person’s work and my best intentions, there’s still a bit of noise in my mind.

Ron’s arranging genius allows the readers to interact wholly with each other, John’s music, the audience, and the place itself. For me, it was a particular joy to immerse myself in Leslie’s and Melissa’s work, and to hear their poems performed aloud while simultaneously seeing them laid out on the page.

Four at TrinitiyThe venue and the audience contributed to a feeling of connection, high spirits, and aesthetic abundance. The series is held in the beautiful chapel of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, with its gorgeous stained glass windows and paintings. The chapel was filled to capacity with people who are regular attendees, as well as newcomers.

This event came at a pivotal moment in my career since my book, Madly in Love, was just reissued as a Carnegie-Mellon Classic Contemporary. The fact that I could celebrate this significant publication in Houston, where I have familial ties, was especially gratifying. My uncle, Howard Barnstone, designed the Rothko Chapel; my aunt, Gertrude Barnstone, is a well-known artist and activist; and my cousins, George Barnstone and Lily Barnstone Wells, and their families still live in Houston and are active members of the community.

In the course of meeting people in Houston, making connections and reconnecting, I was deeply touched to discover that people see me as part of a legacy. The reading generated a lot of interest in my work, and the fact that there was a lot of talk about bringing me back makes me very happy.

Hear recordings of Barnstone and her fellow readers from this event.

Photo: (top) Aliki Barnstone. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

(bottom) John Hardesty, Ann-Marie Madden Irwin, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and Ron Starbuck. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston 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.

Before online shopping became a convenient and popular method of purchasing things, one would have to go to a specialty store to find uncommon and rare items. Many of these specialty stores are closing their doors due to rising rent prices and dwindling customers. Is there a specialty store you used to frequent that has since closed up shop? Or do you wish there was a good video store stocked with foreign films, or a record shop with an incredibly knowledgeable staff in your town? Think about the process of going into a store and sifting through their stock until you discover something, versus having Amazon recommend something based on your previous purchases. Is there any difference? Which method do you prefer?

Some people, once they find a place they like, really make themselves at home. This week, write a story about a regular at a local bar, restaurant, or coffee shop. Why has this person latched on to this particular place? Does he or she always order the same thing? How do the other patrons feel about this person? Try to have all the action in the story take place inside the establishment.

8.26.14

From: The Time Is Now

In the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, award-winning poet Louise Glück discusses her craft: "For me it's tone—the way the mind moves as it performs its acts of meditation. That's what you're following. It guides you but it also mystifies you because you can't turn it into conscious principles or say precisely what its attributes are....You have to be surprised by what it is capable of unveiling." Focus on tone this week as you write, and see where it takes you. Don't think about facts, about what's real or true, but instead the fleeting impressions, strange daydreams, and disjointed thought patterns that bubble to the surface throughout your day. Let your mood be the filter through which your verses come to light.

Submissions are open for the twenty-seventh annual Oregon Book Awards, sponsored by the Portland-based nonprofit Literary Arts. The annual prizes are given for books by Oregon residents published in the previous year. The winners will receive $1,000 each and will be announced at an awards ceremony in Portland in April.

Awards are given in the following categories: poetry, short fiction, the novel, creative nonfiction, general nonfiction, children’s literature, young adult literature, drama, and readers’ choice. Submit two copies of a book published between August 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014, with the required entry form and $40 entry fee by August 29. Submissions should be mailed to Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington, Portland, OR 97205. Writers who are Oregon residents and who live in Oregon for at least six months of the year are eligible. Self-published books are eligible. The judges for each category will be announced when the finalists are announced in January; all judges are from out of state.

The 2014 winners include poet Mary Szybist for her collection Incarnadine (Graywolf), chosen by Kwame Dawes; fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin for her story collection The Unreal and the Real (Small Beer Press), chosen by Alan Cheuse; nonfiction writer Jay Ponteri for his memoir Wedlocked (Hawthorne Books), chosen by Ander Monson; and fiction writer Amanda Coplin for her novel The Orchardist (Harper Perennial), chosen by readers.

Literary Arts has administered the Oregon Book Awards for twenty-seven years. The organization also offers the Portland Arts & Lectures series, Oregon Fellowships, Writers in the Schools program, and Delve Readers Seminars.


Photo: Ursula K. Le Guin, the 2014 fiction winner. Credit: Motoya Nakamura

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