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PEN American Center announced this morning the shortlist for its annual literary awards. PEN will award over $150,000 in prize money to emerging and established writers and translators. The winners will be announced on May 13 and honored in a ceremony at the New School in New York City on June 8.

The 2015 awards will be given in seventeen categories, including poetry, poetry in translation, debut fiction, biography, creative nonfiction, children’s literature, and sports writing; the shortlist and longlist of each award is available on PEN’s website. Below are the finalists for a select few prizes:

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): To an author whose debut work—a first novel or collection of short stories published in 2014—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise. The judges are Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, and Victor La Valle.

Molly Antopol for The UnAmericans (Norton)
Cynthia Bond for Ruby (Hogarth)
Phil Klay for Redeployment (Penguin Press)
Jack Livings for The Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Merritt Tierce for Love Me Back (Doubleday).

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): For an essay collection published in 2014 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem the essay form imparts to literature. The judges are Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, and Mark Slouka.

David Bromwich for Moral Imagination (Princeton University Press)
Ian Buruma for Theater of Cruelty (New York Review of Books)
Charles D’Ambrosio for Loitering (Tin House Books)
Leslie Jamison for The Empathy Exams (Graywolf Press
Angela Pelster for Limber (Sarabande Books)

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000): To an author of a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in 2013 or 2014. The judges are Andrew Blechman, Paul Elie, Azadeh Moaveni, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and Paul Reyes.

Danielle Allen for Our Declaration (Liveright)
Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru for League of Denial (Crown Archetype)
Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial (Crown)
Jonathan M. Katz for The Big Truck That Went By (Palgrave Macmillan)
Naomi Klein for This Changes Everything (Simon & Schuster)

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2014. The judges are R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks, and Chinelo Okparanta.

Rabih Alameddine for An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press)
Teju Cole for Every Day Is for the Thief (Random House)
Roxane Gay for An Untamed State (Black Cat)
Claudia Rankine for Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)
Samrat Upadhyay for The City Son (Soho Press)

PEN America Center has administered its literary prizes for nearly fifty years. Established in 1922, PEN works globally to defend free expression, support persecuted writers, and promote literary culture.

This week, think about the things you find beautiful. Make a list of the items, structures, scents, and scenes that you find particularly appealing. Are there any entries on that list that might be considered unusual? For example, some people find the smell of gasoline pleasant or a high-voltage neon shade of pink alluring, while others are attracted to industrial architecture. Pick one of these entries and write about why you find it so beautiful.  

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Health Affairs Narrative Matters Poetry Contest. Three prizes of $500 each and publication in Health Affairs will be given for “well-crafted poems that touch on topics related to health and health policy.” The final judges are poet Hakim Bellamy, physician and poet Serena Fox, and poet and teacher Natalie Lyalin. The winners will be announced at the end of April.

Submit up to three previously unpublished poems, each no longer than a single-spaced page, and a cover letter that includes your name, address, and a brief biography via e-mail to narrativematters@healthaffairs.org by April 22. There is no entry fee. Visit the website for complete guidelines, as well as to read poems previously published by the journal.

Established in 1981, Health Affairs is a leading peer-reviewed journal of health policy issues and research. The Narrative Matters section of Health Affairs features poetry and creative nonfiction pieces that “explore problems and concerns with health care delivery, roles of providers or patients, need for research, system redesign, and changes in public policy."

Do you have a buddy that also enjoys writing? This week, write something in the voice of your friend. Ask her for a particular topic to focus on, or just let your imagination run wild. It may be fun to have your friend do the same for you and swap stories once you’re both finished.  

This week, try creating your own erasure poem. First, select a page of text. This could be from a book, newspaper, computer printout, advertisement—anything that's handy. Then, take a pencil and circle the words in the text that will comprise your poem and draw a line through all the words you want to exclude. Take a thick black marker and color over the words you had drawn a line through, leaving the circled words untouched. For inspiration, read from Austin Kleon's book Newspaper Blackout (Harper Perennial, 2010). 

Irene Sherlock's poems, essays, and short stories have been published in a variety of literary magazines and her poetry chapbook Equinox was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. Since 2008, she has been writer-in-residence at the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat. Sherlock is an addictions counselor in Danbury, Connecticut.

In the summer of 2008, I was asked to be the writer-in-residence at the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat, organized by Perky Granger who directs an organization called Fiction Among Friends. Perky has been a recipient of grants from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers for many years, and I was delighted to be paid to teach at this retreat. Never having done this kind of thing, I wondered if I’d be up to the task. I’d published work and had been an adjunct college writing instructor for years. Writing and being in the classroom were both a joy for me, but this would be something quite new: I’d be the sole developer of several workshops, leading a mix of both beginning and seasoned writers that I would weekend with, as well. Sounded fun. Sounded a little daunting.

The weekend Writers' Retreat experience, which sometimes lasts four days, is one of complete immersion. We discuss craft, writers, meals we’ve prepared, our love lives—even our kids’ lives. But mostly it’s about the thing that brought us together: what we’re writing now. The experience is both invigorating and somewhat exhausting and my guess is participants feel the same relief by retreat’s end. It’s like being at a wonderful but intense party that lasts for days, something I haven’t done since my early twenties.

I’m a therapist by trade and my day job demands that I listen well. These weekends require the yin and yang of when to listen and when to respond. Response is the trickier of the skills. When I lead a therapy group, I ask myself: Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?

Amazingly the process of leading a writing group and the process of doing therapy are quite similar. I wait and hope someone from the group will talk about where the piece comes to life, what needs to be cut. Who, I wonder, will address the writer’s aversion to letting us know how his or her character is feeling?

Both therapy and writing require courage, honesty, and a willingness to receive honest feedback. Both are connected to the process of self-expression, the work of creating art out of experience real or imagined, which oftentimes involves pain, confession, and sometimes transcendence.

Writing, like therapy, is a way to connect with the larger world. In an age of social networking and digitalized “sharing,” this weekend creates one of the most impactful ways to connect with others. It’s been my pleasure to act as writer-in-residence for eight years now, with support from the Readings & Workshops Program.  Much to my surprise, many of the same gifted participants come back each year. I really cannot take credit for that. Call it alchemy or just a stroke of luck on my part; whichever it is, I’ll keep returning, too, for as long as I’m asked.

Photo (Top): Irene Sherlock.  Photo (below):  Irene and Writer's Group. 

Photo Credit: Perky Granger

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Submissions are currently open for the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize. A prize of $1,000 will be given for a single poem written by a poet residing in the western United States that “best exhibit[s] the qualities of originality, novelty, complex meaning, linguistic skill, and wit.” Jack Mueller will judge. The winner will be honored in a ceremony during the Telluride Literary Arts Festival in Telluride, Colorado, on May 16.

Submit a poem of any length with the required entry form and a $6 entry fee by April 15. E-mail submissions are preferred, but writers may submit via postal mail to Telluride Institute PO Box 1770, Telluride, CO 81435. Multiple submissions are accepted. Poems of any length, form, and content will be considered. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Now in its eighteenth year, the Mark Fischer Poetry Prize is cosponsored by San Miguel County Commissioner Elaine Fischer and San Miguel County Poet Laureate Peter Waldor. The prize pays tribute to the late Mark Fischer, a “much-loved poet, lawyer, skier, and raconteur.” The prize is hosted through a partnership with the Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds poetry program, the Wilkinson Library, the Telluride Arts District, Ah Haa School for the Arts, and Arroyo’s Telluride. Art Goodtimes, director of Talking Gourds, said in a press release: “We’re pleased to be able to honor Mark’s memory with a contest that benefits Western poets.” For more information about the prize, e-mail Art Goodtimes.

Photo: Mark and Elaine Fischer

Sometimes you need to finish writing your piece before you can give it a proper title. This week, pick the title first and write your personal essay around it. If something doesn't immediately come to mind, try and model your title after one of your favorite stories, books, albums, or movies. Then, free write for twenty minutes on anything and everything that your title brings to mind. At the end, organize your notes and use them as a framework for your personal essay.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced yesterday that Atticus Lish has won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel, Preparation for the Next Life (Tyrant Books, 2014). The $15,000 annual award is given for a book of fiction by an American author published in the previous year.

Judges Alexander Chee, Marc Fitten, and Dierdre McNamer chose Lish’s novel from 360 entries. “With ferocious precision, Atticus Lish scours and illuminates the vast, traumatized America that lives, works, and loves outside the castle gates," said McNamer. “The result is an incantation, a song of ourselves, a shout.”

Preparation for the Next Life, which tells the love story of a Chinese Muslim immigrant and an Iraq War veteran living in New York City, is Lish’s debut novel. The son of the renowned editor Gordon Lish, who famously edited the work of Raymond Carver, Atticus Lish spent five years quietly writing his novel before selling it to small press Tyrant Books for a modest advance of two thousand dollars.

The 2015 finalists for the prize are Jeffery Renard Allen for his novel Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press); Jennifer Clement for her novel Prayers for the Stolen (Hogarth); Emily St. John Mandel for her novel Station Eleven (Knopf); and Jenny Offill for her novel Dept. of Speculation (Knopf). Each finalist will receive $5,000.

Lish and the four finalists will be honored at the 35th annual PEN/Faulkner Awards ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. on May 2. The event is open to the public; tickets are available online.

C. S. Lewis used a wardrobe, J. M. Barrie used the second star to the right, and Lewis Carroll used a rabbit hole—each a gateway to another world. This week, pick an object that is important to you and transform it into a portal to an alternate world. Write a story about someone discovering the portal and adjusting to life where everything is foreign. Take into consideration where this secret passage is located and what it feels like to pass through it.  

Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in one night while looking out the window by his desk. This week, allow yourself a moment to gaze out the window. Write a poem reflecting on what you see by creating a narrative around it. From the mailman dropping off a package across the street to the stray cat lounging on your sunlit porch, pick a character to observe and meditate on his or her perspective.

Best known for How I Became Hettie Jones (Grove Press, 1990), her memoir of the “beat scene” of the 1950s and 1960s, Hettie Jones is the author of twenty-three books for children and adults, including the award-winning Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music (Viking, 1974) and Drive (Hanging Loose Press, 1998) which won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber Award. Since 1979, Jones has taught creative writing at various universities, and is now on the faculties of the New School’s Graduate Writing Program and the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center. She was a member of the Literature Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts and subsequently served on the Board of Directors of Cave Canem. Jones was a NYFA Fellow in Nonfiction Literature in 2009, and a 2013-14 recipient of a Civic Engagement Grant from the New School as well as a grant from Poets & Writers for her work with New York City’s Lower East Side Girls Club. Love H, a selection from her forty-year correspondence with the sculptor Helene Dorn, is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Duke University Press. Full Tilt, a collection of new and selected poems, and In Care of Worth Auto Parts, a collection of linked short fiction, are also forthcoming.

There’s a danger, we’ve been warned, in knowing only “the single story.” Given any chance to change—or at least improve—this situation, I’ve jumped at it. But I’m certain I couldn’t have made those leaps without the help—and just as important, the validation—of Poets & Writers.

My first P&W-funded workshop took place in the late eighties at Sing Sing prison. A year later there were others, at the Bedford Hills women’s prison and elsewhere. By then I’d also taught writing in colleges for a decade and knew that a lot of voices were still to be heard. So over the years I’ve traveled, sometimes long distances, not only to prisons but community centers and senior centers and libraries and any other place set aside for a writing workshop. I’ve met all kinds of people and brought out their words.

But I’ve also been lucky enough to come home to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And now—double luck!—I’ve been able to teach here, in my very own neighborhood, to both make a difference and keep it in view at the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community.

And what a sight I was treated to when I arrived! A brand new building with a planetarium—moon and stars and space! A bakery and a sewing machine room for hands-on skills! A recording studio! A performance space! I had signed on to teach for a semester, but knew I was hooked. And when I discovered that I’d be teaching not girls but their mothers, I was thrilled. A mothers writing group, my first!

We began with poetry because most inexperienced people come to a writing workshop to write there—just as they’d go to woodworking with similar expectations—and it’s best to start short and provide a few relevant examples. But prose works, too (memoirs, personal essays). Such personal writing, as has been mentioned and I agree, should really not be called nonfiction but instead, non-poetry.

This past fall the Mothers Writing Group was into non-poetry. We wrote every Wednesday from 6:00-8:00 PM, in a large, high-ceilinged room on the second floor, with comfortable tables and chairs as well as a big couch where one of us might curl up and be alone with her pen and paper. Writing done, we read our work aloud, offered suggestions, and often were moved, sometimes to tears and always to applause.

Did I mention that, like any good mother, the Girls Club fed us snacks that were worthy of being called dinner?

Our chapbook of last fall’s work is still in preparation, but Poets & Writers will have their copy when it’s hot off the press. By the way, in our group photo below, the Airstream trailer we’re standing in front of is a recording studio where we recorded our first podcast. A trailer on the second floor? It was hoisted in before the roof was on. The Girls Club Center for Community is high-minded!

Photo Top: Hettie Jones. Photo Credit: Colleen McKay

Photo Bottom: Hettie Jones, WGRL station managers Kiya Vega-Hutchens and Odetta Hartman, and the Mothers Writing Group. Photo Credit: Amelia Holowaty Krales

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Submissions are currently open for University of Utah Press’s Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. The annual prize, which includes $1,500 and publication by University of Utah Press, is given for a poetry collection. The winner will also receive travel and lodging expenses and an additional $500 to give a reading at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Linda Bierds will judge.

Submit a manuscript of 48 to 100 pages with a $25 entry fee by April 15. Submissions can be made through Submittable, or via postal mail to University of Utah Press, c/o The Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry, J. Willard Marriott Library, 295 South 1500 East, Suite 5400, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.

Established in 2003, the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize honors the poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001). Ali taught at the University of Utah and published several poetry collections including Rooms Are Never Finished (Norton, 2001) and Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals (Norton, 2003). Recent winners of the prize include Sara Wallace for The Rival, Kara Candito for Spectator, and Mark Jay Brewin Jr. for Scrap Iron.

Judge Linda Bierds has published nine poetry collections, most recently Roget’s Illusion (Putnam, 2014). In Bierds’s 2009 interview with the Atlantic, Sarah Cohen describes the poet’s work as “distinguished by a precise and musical voice, a passionate eye for detail, and a distinctive, decades-long exploration of the lives and voices of well-known artists, scientists, and historical figures.” Bierds has judged several contests in the past; she selected Jonathan Thirkield as the winner of the 2008 Walt Whitman Poetry Award, and Anna Marie Craighead-Kintis as the winner of the 2012 Bellingham Review 49th Parallel Poetry Award.

British writer Will Self advises, “Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.” This week, try carrying a notebook around with you. If you take notes on an electronic device, like your computer or mobile phone, try using old-fashioned pen and paper. At the end of the week, compile your notes into an essay about your day-to-day reflections.

Gold is one of the most valuable metals on this planet. People have been unearthing it, stashing it, and fighting over it for centuries. This week, write a story about a character who creates a large amount of imitation gold so convincing it passes for real gold. What circumstances compelled him to produce this form of counterfeit currency? What will he do with his “fool's gold?”  

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