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Melba Joyce Boyd is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and the author of thirteen books, including nine collections of poetry. She is the recipient of two Library of Michigan Notable Books awards, an Independent Publishers Award for Poetry, a Michigan Individual Artist Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 NAACP Image Award in Literature.

Before the powers that be decided there should be yet another Detroit Renaissance, the arts community was active, vital, and invigorating the city’s center. On Saturday, September 20, 2014, from noon till sundown, Detroit was the site of the third annual Midtown Literary Walk. The weather was congenial and the settings sunlit, like the mood of the audience, sauntering from an historic location to a new-age café, wandering through an art gallery, and sipping wine with poetry in the garden of a nineteenth-century mansion.

The Midtown Literary Walk is the brainchild of Carole Harris, Detroit artist and designer known nationally for her quilt art, who partnered with M. L. Liebler, Wayne State University professor, award-winning poet, and cultural organizer extraordinaire, to plan and execute the project.

It was a mellow and memorable day, imbibing literature with aromatic, herbal teas at SocraTea, listening to writers framed by sculptures and paintings at N’amdi’s Gallery, and engaging the melding of secular voices into sacred space at the Hannan House. At five events in four locations, hundreds gathered to listen to a stellar lineup of writers, featuring award-winning writers, spoken word artists, and musicians.

Charles Baxter, acclaimed novelist, poet, editor and essayist; Laure-Anne Bosselaar, winner of an American Library Association Notable Books award for Poetry; and Melba Joyce Boyd, recipient of an Independent Publishers Award and two Library of Michigan Notable Books awards, read their works.

The program showcased Ann Holdreith, a Pushcart Prize nominee; Walter “The Soul” Lacy, a poet and hip-hop artist; and Lisa Lenzo, who received a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award and won first prize from the Georgetown Review in 2013 for her story "Strays." They graced the stage with M. L. Liebler & the Good Shepherd Poetry Blues Band.

Detroit Poet Laureate Naomi Long Madgett, winner of the 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, was the veteran writer and guest of honor, while Adrian Matejka, whose book The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013) was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, came from Indiana University to read.

Others featured included fiction writer and poet Peter Markus, a Kresge Arts Fellow in Literary Arts in 2012; Christine Rhein, who is the recipient of the 2008 Walt McDonald Poetry Prize; and Judith Roche, who has received two American Book Awards and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize.

In addition to sites that hosted the event, cosponsors for the Lit Walk included: the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Wayne State University Press, the Wayne Writers Forum, Wayne State University’s Department of English, and the Knight Foundation. The Lit Walk, which is free and open to the public, has become an annual tradition in Detroit, nurturing literary culture in the heart of the cultural center of the city.

Photo: Lit Walk Writers (top) Naomi Long Madgett (bottom) Photo Credit: L. Bush

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Detroit 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.

5.07.15

From: The Time Is Now

In Medieval Gaelic and British culture, bards were poets and musicians who were employed to commemorate the stories of their patrons. Imagine you are a bard, and you have been hired by a friend or family member to recant a particular tale of bravery, loyalty, or heroism. Perhaps your best friend just trained to run a marathon, or your brother got all A's on his finals. Then write your piece and regale your “patron” with it the next time you see him or her. Make your language dramatic and lyrical, and incorporate some meter or rhyme if you like. For examples, revisit Shakespeare's work, or read the lyrics of some of Bob Dylan's popular songs, like "Tangled Up In Blue." 

The Poetry Foundation announced today that Alice Notley has won the 2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual award of $100,000 honors the outstanding lifetime achievement of a living U.S. poet.

With a career spanning more than four decades, Notley, sixty-nine, is the author of twenty-five books of poetry, including The Descent of Alette (Penguin, 1996); Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin, 1998), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Disobedience (Penguin, 2001), which won the Griffin International Poetry Prize; and Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems 1970-2005 (Wesleyan, 2006), which was awarded the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Notley’s other honors and awards include the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Foundation of Contemporary Arts grant. Later this year, Notley will publish two new poetry collections: Certain Magical Acts and Benediction.

Poetry magazine editor Don Share said of Notley’s work, “Like Whitman, she is simultaneously one of a kind and a poet for each of us: an exemplary, humane, and ultimately essential writer.” Robert Polito, the president of the Poetry Foundation, added, “Book by surprising book, [Notley] reinvents not only herself as a poet, but also what it means for anyone to write a poem at this volatile moment in our history.”

Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly and sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, the prize is one of the most prestigious American poetry awards and among the largest literary honors for English language works. Adrienne Rich won the inaugural award, and recent winners include Nathaniel Mackey, Marie Ponsot, and W. S. Di Piero.

Notley and the winner of the Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism will be honored at a ceremony in Chicago on June 8. The Poetry Foundation will announce the winner of the Pegasus Award later this month.

At the Poetry Foundation website, listen to a podcast featuring Notley, who reads and discusses her work, and read a new interview with the Ruth Lilly Prize winner.

This week, have a character stumble upon an abandoned object that is oddly out of place. Perhaps a wedding ring is spotted dangling from a tree branch on an afternoon hike, or a stack of family photographs is found stuffed in a handbag for sale at a thrift store. Write this scene into one of your stories. Does your character recognize this item? Does he or she keep it, or try to find the owner? Consider how this scene might help develop your character or unexpectedly affect the main plot of your story.

Digital poetry is a form of electronic literature that incorporates the use of computers to display and interact with the work. Heavily influenced by concrete and visual poetry, digital poetry includes use of hypertext, computer generated animation, coding, and holograms. This week, look into some of the digital poems in the Electronic Literature Collection and brainstorm how you'd create one of your poems digitally. If you have programming skills, or know someone who does, put your plan into action and create your own piece of electronic literature!

Submissions are currently open for the Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. An annual award of $1,000 and publication in Creative Nonfiction is given for an essay on a specified theme. This year’s theme is “The Weather.” The runner-up will receive $500. Essays should “combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element, and reach beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning.” The editors will judge. 

Using the online submission manager, submit a previously unpublished essay of up to 4,000 words along with a $20 entry fee—or $25 to receive a four-issue Creative Nonfiction subscription—by May 11. Submissions are also accepted via postal mail to Creative Nonfiction, Attn: WEATHER, 5501 Walnut Street, Suite 202, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Founded in 1993 by Lee Gutkind, Creative Nonfiction was the first literary magazine to exclusively publish “high quality nonfiction prose,” and remains the largest literary publication in the genre. Past contributors include prize-winning authors Annie Dillard, Gordon Lish, Francine Prose, and C. K. Williams. For more information about the contest, e-mail information@creativenonfiction.org, or call (412) 688-0304.

Beth Gorrie volunteers her time as Executive Director of Staten Island OutLOUD. She spearheads the organization’s program planning and has adapted over twenty-five global classics for OutLOUD’s spoken-word performances. As an actor during the first few years of her working life, she performed with the Chicago Theatre of the Deaf and served as an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Chicago. In New York City, she appeared in a variety of Off-Off Broadway productions and in a series of film installations by award-winning filmmaker William Lundberg, a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. Gorrie attended Columbia University Law School where she was an editor of the Journal of Law & Social Problems, and spent a summer in rural India on a human rights fellowship. She is a former partner in a leading New York law firm and has participated in community service in Harlem.

What makes your programs unique?
Staten Island OutLOUD gathers neighbors to explore global literature together, and to share ideas. Our first event took place shortly after September 11, 2001 when we had a deep need to gather together.

Since then, Staten Island OutLOUD has grown and has continued that spirit with a varied series of grassroots gatherings. Throughout the year, we host free events to explore global literature, our diverse backgrounds, our history, and our mutual concerns. OutLOUD is entirely volunteer-driven.

We operate on a small budget, but we’re very productive. Since our establishment in September 2001, we’ve served over 23,000 participants with over six hundred free events, in twenty-one languages.

What recent project have you been especially proud of, and why?
From September 2014 through March 2015, Staten Island OutLOUD hosted a series of forty community events about Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird. When we started planning our series a year earlier, we never guessed how timely it would be, following the July 2014 death of Eric Garner, an African-American neighbor of ours who died in police custody.

Our “Mockingbird” series explored national and local civil rights history, together with music and poems from the Civil Rights Movement, and from the Depression years in which the novel is set.

Tensions ran high during the months after Garner’s death, but our series fostered thoughtful discussions. Staten Islanders talked, listened, and considered the many facets of the crisis.

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Adults with special needs sometimes attend Staten Island OutLOUD programs. At one event when we discussed a variety of twentieth-century poems, a woman with mental disabilities gathered her courage to comment on a poem by Dylan Thomas. She had never spoken in public before, and she knew that the audience included teachers, attorneys, and other professionals. Everyone encouraged her, and as she spoke, she began to hold herself more confidently, and her voice grew stronger. Everyone was moved when she read, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups?
Staten Island OutLOUD’s work proves that when people have a forum and a stimulating entrée for conversation, they respond thoughtfully. Stereotypes can fade and real communication can begin. Our work with teens and with elders underscores the value of writing workshops for those members of our community. Our writing workshops have enabled people to find their unique voices. For teens who may have manifested behavior problems before they began our workshops, some of those problems began to ebb as they focused their energy on writing and as they gained confidence in their work. Elders who had never done any creative writing before participating in our memoir and poetry workshops have drawn real satisfaction in exploring their writing talent, in reflecting on their life experiences, and in recognizing how powerful their pens can be.

Photo: (top) Beth Gorrie at Huckleberry Finn at High Rock workshop. Photo: (bottom) Cast of Moby Dick marathon reading. Photo Credit: Staten Island OutLOUD.

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 Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

When was the last time you looked through old pictures? This week, set aside some time to revisit photographs of yourself from the past. Pick one and write an essay from the point of view of your younger self. Try to recall what you were feeling in that moment. Have your feelings changed over the years?

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry. A prize of $2,000 and publication by Pleiades Press, with distribution by Louisiana State University Press, will be given annually for a poetry collection. The winner will also be invited to read at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. The editors will judge.

Using the online submission manager, send a poetry manuscript of at least 48 pages with a $25 entry fee, which includes a poetry collection published by Pleiades Press, by May 4. Submissions may also be sent via postal mail to Pleiades Press, Department of English, Martin 336, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093.

Established in 2000, Pleiades Press is housed at the University of Central Missouri. The press releases several poetry books each year and also publishes the literary journal Pleiades. For the past fifteen years, the press has also administered the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize. Recent winners include Adrian C. Louis, Katie Bichkham, Abigail Cloud, Katy Didden, Bruce Snider, and Julianna Baggott.

This week, think about what types of stories you write most often and the elements you tend to use when building your story. Then, write a story in a genre you've never tried before being sure not to employ any of your usual techniques. If your stories don't often include romantic themes, make romance a main plot point. Instead of always writing in the first person, try third person omniscient. Even if you've already discovered your favorite style of writing, it's good to dust off other instruments in your literary arsenal every now and then.

Submissions are currently open for the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction, given biennially for a short story by a writer who has not yet published a full-length work of fiction. The winner will receive $1,000 Canadian (approximately $830) and publication in the Malahat Review. Elyse Friedman will judge.

Submit a story of up to 3,500 words with a $30 entry fee, which includes a subscription to the Malahat Review, by May 1 via e-mail to horizons@uvic.ca or via postal mail to the Malahat Review, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Station CSC, Victoria, B.C. V82 2Y2, Canada.

Judge Elyse Friedman has written three novels, a short story collection, and a poetry collection. In an interview with the Malahat Review, Friedman says, “I don’t think writers should ever aim for a place on any spectrum. Real writers don’t aim. They open and spill. And their words find the place where they’re supposed to be. My writing tends to be accessible and there’s usually a plot involved, often a high-concept premise, but I like to read all kinds of writing. I don’t care if there’s plot, or if the writing is difficult or the narrative is disjointed—as long as there’s truth and rhythm and talent.” Friedman cites Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” J. D. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” Vladimir Nabokov’s “Symbols and Signs,” and Steven Millhauser’s “In the Reign of Harad IV” as amongst her favorite short stories.

Established in 1967, the Malahat Review is one of Canada’s oldest literary journals. Housed at the University of Victoria, the journal publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and administers several annual and biennial contests. Recent winners of the Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction include Kerry-Lee Powell for her story “Palace of Brine,” and Zoey Peterson for her story “Next Year, For Sure.” The prize was first awarded in 2007.

Photo: Elyse Friedman (George Gooderham)

Music and poetry both use sounds and lyrical passages to stir up emotion. This week, put on a piece of classical or instrumental music with a pen and paper nearby. While listening, jot down any ideas that come to you, any emotions you experience, any images you see. Once the piece ends, play it from the beginning and start writing a poem that embodies the music. Let your syntax mirror the music's movement, your sounds blend and layer like the instruments in an orchestra, and your themes evoke the story within the piece of music you've chosen.

Alanna Lin Ramage is a writer, songwriter, and artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Little Tokyo Branch Library, where she hosts innovative, community-building events and workshops at the Los Angeles Department of Writing and Power (LADWP!*). She has studied poetry with Thomas Sayers Ellis and poetics and performance theory with Jon Wagner and Mady Schutzman at California Institute of the Arts. Ramage composes original lyrics and music for film and television. This year sees the release of a cover album inspired by the Beatles in tandem with publishing her first collection of poems about monastery wildlife in Northern California.

Alanna Lin Ramage

A few years ago, in a fit by candlelight, I came up with a syllabus for a workshop called Alters/Altars. It was designed to help a person write and explore their way into an alter ego—the poetic self that feels its own voice and power while feeling all, but not revealing all.

In February of this year, thanks to support from Poets & Writers and the Little Tokyo Branch Public Library, I was able to teach a five-week version of the workshop in downtown Los Angeles.

One premise I was working with included the physical effect of writing as a physical act. For each class, participants would read their pieces aloud and receive positive feedback from the group. In some cases the reading would be formal, at the front of the room. On other days, I had readers stand in the middle of a group circle that echoed words or phrases as the story unfolded. One writer noticed that she read to a mostly quiet circle. She later commented that she realized she had to read "painfully slowly" to give listeners a chance to register her words more fully. She reread her piece to us and we happily listened to every word.

In another exercise, we gave alternate names to one another. The unspoken invitation was: “What name suits me in your opinion? What is my sonic incarnation? Do you really think it’s ‘Bubby?’”

The first workshop started with participants reading personal biographies or ads, and then writing fictional personal ads for someone other than themselves. The exercise allowed us to get to know each other while ascertaining each person’s unique writing style. Week two’s life stories were especially intense, offering glimpses into epic quests for love and destiny. Week three featured hypothetical after-life sequences from each person—revealing visions of beautiful, earthy, sublime, and often hilarious realities to come.

Alters/Alters Photo CollageWe had a dynamic, talented, and punctual group. It was a pleasure to discuss personal creative journeys, hear the mix of angst, frustration, wisdom, confidence, and steady determination that characterized each person. The group had great discussions about what makes a “healthy writer” versus what makes a “happy writer.”

My favorite session of the workshop included an assignment that asked participants to write about a sublime or transcendent moment. The results were diverse and fantastic. There was a great relationship-ending-epiphany story, an excellent dim-sum-as-travel-as-exploration-of-life story, a profound unity-with-wild-crustaceans story, and a stirring overcoming-self-while-overcoming-mountain story.

The session made me think about how creative anxiety can sometimes blind us to the larger themes we've experienced in life. It may keep us from sharing the stories we’ve already lived or from inventing stories that might express what we know.

So how do we move past this anxiety? Decide what themes are important to you based on your life experience. Once you have: Write on! (OK, that was a bad pun. I’m a workshop leader—it’s allowed.)

Writing alters you. Be brave and do the work; you just might tell a riveting story as you sacrifice your fears.

Photo 1: Alanna Lin Ramage; photo 2: Alters/Altars workshop. Credit: Alanna Lin Ramage and Anne Rieman.

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 two essay prizes: the Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize and the Southampton Review’s Roger Rosenblatt Comic Essay Prize. The deadline for both prizes is May 1.

The Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize is given biennially for an unpublished or published essay. The winner will receive £20,000 (approximately $30,370), and five finalists will each receive £1,000 (approximately $1,518). The winning essays will be published in an anthology to be published in October 2015. The winners and finalists are required to attend the award ceremony at Kings Place in London on October 3, 2015. Travel expenses are not covered.

Using the online submission system, submit an essay between 2,000 to 8,000 words with a £20 (approximately $30) entry fee by May 1. Essays published in a print or online journal between January 1, 2014, and April 30, 2015, are eligible; essays published in a book are ineligible. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Eileen Battersby, Michael Ignatieff, Phillip Lopate, Adam Mars-Jones, and Raymond Tallis will judge. Watch a video of judges Ignatieff, Lopate, and Mars-Jones discussing the art of the essay at the 2015 Jewish Book Week in London.

Judge Michael Ignatieff won the inaugural prize in 2013 for his essay “Raphael Lemkin and Genocide.” The runners-up were J. T. Barbarese, Belle Boggs, Leslie Jamison, Andrew O’Hagan, and Sameer Rahim. Notting Hill Editions established the prize in honor of the English essayist William Hazlitt (1778­–1830). Devon, England­–based Notting Hill Editions exclusively publishes essays, and is committed to “the vital role essays have had in our literary, artistic, philosophical, and political cultures.”

The Roger Rosenblatt Comic Essay Prize, launched this year by the Southampton Review, will be given annually for a humorous essay. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Summer 2015 issue of the Southampton Review. Patricia Marx, a former writer for the New Yorker and for Saturday Night Live, will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit an essay of up to 5,000 words with a $15 entry fee by May 1. On the journal’s website the editors write, “We won’t even try to tell you what we’re looking for. The comic impulse resists definition, and we like it that way. But if your comic muse has led you to an essay that you consider a match, throw caution to the wind and send it to us.” All entries will be considered for publication. The winner will be announced by June 15. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Published twice yearly by Stony Brook Southampton, the Southampton Review publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

This week, think back to the most memorable meal you've ever had. What made it so unforgettable? Perhaps it was the food, the company, the setting, the occasion, or an awkward moment. Write a personal essay about this meal and the symbolism surrounding it. 

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