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News and social media channels are buzzing about the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. This week, write a story in which one of your characters is a doctor responsible for treating patients that have contracted a highly contagious virus. Think about how she handles the risks involved, and what emotions she’ll struggle with. Maybe there is a lack of proper medical equipment or limited space in hospitals and treatment facilities. Is there information on this virus, or is it something doctors have never seen before?

This week, think about what you need to hear and write a letter to yourself. In it, try and touch on all the things you feel have been tripping you up recently—all the things that have been bothering you or getting in your way, all the things that you need to remind yourself of more often, and all the things that you wish people told you on a regular basis. Go ahead: Give yourself some love and celebrate the goodness you bring into the world.

The Academy of American Poets defines anaphora as “a type of parallelism created when successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany,” and is regarded as one of the world’s oldest poetic techniques. This week, try to write a poem with each line beginning with the same phrase. Refer to William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 66” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for inspiration.

Heather Buchanan is the owner of the Aquarius Press, now celebrating its fifteenth year. She, along with longtime partner Randall Horton, created the press's literary division, Willow Books, which develops, publishes, and promotes writers typically underrepresented in the field. A graduate of Wayne State University (WSU) and the University of Michigan-Dearborn respectively, Buchanan was a WSU National Institute of Health Research Fellow in cognitive science. Actively involved with work in the field of narrative psychology, she has taught Composition, English, African-American Literature, and World Literature at several colleges and universities, most recently for UM-Dearborn and the College for Creative Studies. In addition to teaching, she presents on arts and literature at conferences across the country, most recently for the Ragdale Foundation. A past Poet-In-Residence for the Detroit Public Library system, she also served on the Board of Governors for UM-Dearborn's College of Arts & Sciences Affiliate and was the Chief Operating Officer of the Wayne County Council on the Arts, History & Humanities. A musician, Buchanan is currently working on a musical project honoring the Harlem Hellfighters and a World War I centennial book.

Out of the bustling mass of high schoolers being dismissed after our poetry workshop, one young man stopped in the doorway to utter these words, "that thing changed my life," with a look of wonder upon his face. His classmates had already reinserted their earbuds and pulled out their phones for the bus ride back to school. After this student had said his piece, the look faded and he went to catch up with the group. Fleeting moments like that keep me inspired.

Authors from our press had just completed day one of a two-day workshop and public reading program in Detroit, my hometown, at the Carr Center. “Life, Imagined: Michiganders in Literature” was a writers residency for authors who had published literary works about notable Michiganders. The authors gave public readings with a Q&A for the general public and held poetry readings and workshops with Detroit-area high school students. The event was co-sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council and funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc..

The program’s goal was to demonstrate how literature intersects with history to provide meaningful cultural experiences for contemporary audiences. Moderated by Randall Horton and Angela May, the fall 2013 Writers-in-Residence were Lita Hooper author of Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth and Derrick Harriell author of Ropes. The public reading was also a debut for Harriell’s collection, which contained a suite of poems on famed Detroit boxer Joe Louis. The spring 2014 program featured Karen S. Williams author of Peninsula: Poems of Michigan and Curtis L. Crisler, a Michigan native whose newly-released Wonderkind is a poetry collection on the musical genius Stevie Wonder.

The students were from areas typically underserved when it comes to arts programming, so this program was inspiring for more than one reason. The students were not only able to engage with poetry itself, but were able to engage with poetic scholars of color. In addition to making history come alive for these students, the authors shared their experiences as published writers who also teach on the college level. At the outset, only a handful out of the approximately 125 students said they read poetry. After the program ended, however, post surveys showed that 65 percent of the students were now more likely to read poetry and could even envision themselves as poets in the future.

As the students shared the poems they had created in the workshop, the air was electric. There was a sense of pride, accomplishment, and camaraderie for fellow readers. Sadly, during both workshops, more than one female student shared her own story of abuse. Any teacher in Detroit will tell you that many of our youth carry a great deal of internalized trauma and need creative outlets to process and express it. Our workshop was a safe space where everything could be said aloud, if only for a little while.

The Poets & Writers Detroit program has enabled our press to put on several great literary events over the years, but I count this project as one of the very best.

Photos: (top) Heather Buchanan, (bottom) Curtis L. Crisler, Angela May, Karen S. Williams with students.  Photo Credit: Mike McMurray.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

Are you a crafty person? Or would you like to be the type of person who gives handmade presents to loved ones for the holidays? This week, write about something someone has made for you. What makes this item so much more special than an item you could purchase in a store? Or, write about something you want to make for someone else. Maybe you are working on the item right now, or maybe you still need to acquire the skills necessary to make it. What would you have to learn? How long would it take, and what makes the effort worth it?

The 12th annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, cosponsored by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Beer and Delaware–based newspaper the Cape Gazette, is currently open for submissions. The annual award is given for a poetry collection by a poet who resides in a Mid-Atlantic state. The winner will receive $500, publication by Broadkill River Press, ten author copies, and two cases of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Beer.

Poets over the age of 21 who reside in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C., or West Virginia are eligible. Submit a manuscript of 48 to 78 pages by e-mail to Linda Blaskey, Prize Coordinator, at dogfishheadpoetryprize@earthlink.net by September 1. There is no entry fee. The winner will be required to attend the award ceremony on December 13 at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Lodging for one night in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is included; transportation expenses are not covered.

Sam Calagione, owner and CEO of Dogfish Head Brewery, established the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize in 2003. Calagione studied English in college and attended writing classes at Columbia University before leaving to apprentice at a brewery. The prize was originally given for a poetry chapbook by a poet from the Delmarva Peninsula.

Grant Clauser of Hatfield, Pennsylvania, won the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for his poetry collection Necessary Myths.

Farming as an occupation isn't nearly as common in the United States now as it was a century ago, but there are still some people who feel compelled to live a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle. This week, write about a character of yours who comes to the decision to give up her more modernized way of living and commits to living "off the grid"—growing all of her own food, raising livestock, collecting sunlight for electricity (or forgoing electricity altogether). How difficult will this be for her to pull off? Is it still feasible for people to live this way in the twenty-first century—especially city dwellers and suburbanites—or is this type of lifestyle too strenuous and time-consuming for the average person to manage?

The Academy of American Poets has announced two changes to its distinguished Walt Whitman Award, making it the most valuable first-book award for poetry in the United States. In addition to a $5,000 cash prize, the winner of the 2015 award will receive publication of his or her manuscript by Graywolf Press, and a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy.

Established in 1975, the annual prize is given to an emerging poet who has not yet published a book. The 2015 judge will be Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith.

“The partnership with the Academy affirms Graywolf Press’s forty-year commitment to publish the work of important new poets,” said Graywolf Executive Editor Jeffrey Shotts in a press release. “It seems fitting to announce this collaboration thirty years after Graywolf published Christopher Gilbert’s Walt Whitman Award–winning Across the Mutual Landscape in 1984. We simply cannot wait to see what new marvels are ahead through the award and through our work with the Academy of American Poets."

The Civitella Ranieri Center has hosted creative writers, composers, and visual artists since 1995. Residents are provided with room, board, and studio or work space in a fifteenth-century castle in rural Umbria. “This new affiliation will add to our history of outstanding poetry Fellows,” said director Dana Prescott. “We look forward to welcoming future recipients of the Walt Whitman Award to our particularly magical corner of Italy.”

Using the online submission system, poets who have not yet published a full-length book of poetry may submit a manuscript of 48 to 100 pages with a $35 entry fee between September 1 and November 1. Visit the website for complete submission guidelines.

The Academy will also purchase copies of the winning book for distribution to five thousand of its members, and will feature the poet and his or her work in its magazine, American Poets, and on its website. The winner will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to attend the Academy's awards ceremony.

The 2014 winner was Hannah Sanghee Park for her collection The Same-Different, which will be published by Louisiana State University Press next year.

Photo: Civitella Ranieri Center

Is there a window in your home or workplace you often catch yourself gazing out of? This week, write down what you see. Is it a pleasant, calming view? Or does the window look out on a busy street? Watch the passersby and imagine who they are, and where they are going. Think about how it feels to have that pane of glass between you and the outside world, and what a difference it makes to be able to shelter yourself from the elements and take refuge in a place of comfort and security.

In 2012 and 2013, educator Sheila Wilensky led a series of P&W supported workshops at Our Place Clubhouse, a psych-social rehabilitation center in Tucson, Arizona, for adults recovering from serious mental illness. A high school social studies teacher for fifteen years in Vermont and Maine, Wilensky also taught children's literature at College of the Atlantic. From 1982 to 1997, she owned the Oz Children’s Bookstore in Southwest Harbor, Maine. In 2002, she got tired of the ice and snow, drove cross country, and has been living in Tucson ever since. She is currently associate editor of the Arizona Jewish Post. Wilensky blogs about her experience teaching the workshops and produced a chapbook of essays from participants titled, A Certain Slant of Light, which was released earlier this year.

Wilensky and Thursday Writing Group

I’ve lived through the civil rights, feminist, and LGBT movements for equality. Now it’s time to reduce the stigma of mental illness in our society. Our Place Clubhouse is a recovery community that encourages self-esteem, and offers job training programs and a safe haven for individuals living with serious mental illness. Around five years ago, I began editing the prolific writing of Rachel and Ira, both of whom struggled with schizophrenia. A week after the January 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson, which killed six people and wounded thirteen, including former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, I was meeting with Rachel.

“Why do people think that if you have a mental illness, you may pull out a gun and start shooting at any time?” asked Rachel, throwing her hands up in frustration.

A year later, I had this epiphany: We must change this damaging misconception. Studies indicate that individuals with severe mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

The Our Place Clubhouse Thursday Writing Group started on September 17, 2012. We sat around a seminar table in the clubhouse boardroom. We talked about our lives. I knew it was important to establish trust.

“We’re going to create a chapbook to help educate the community about living with mental illness,” I told my fourteen prospective coauthors. I’m not sure they believed me.

Writing prompts emerged from our conversations. The first was “any morning:” how to explain to others what a normal day was like for “crazy” people or that group members started their days like anyone else. They fed their pets, brushed their teeth, and some went to work—as pharmacist, baker, artist, peer counselor.

Every week we read our writing aloud with no feedback, judgment, or criticism—listening to individual voices striving for recovery, applauding after each person read. At the end of each session, Doreen, a former middle school language arts teacher, collected the pieces and put them in a folder for me to take home. Our process developed organically, as did my hugging each writer at the conclusion of a session.

I wanted everyone to feel ownership along the road to publication. We brainstormed titles. We peer edited our writing. The section, “What This Chapbook Means to Me,” is a record of the project’s success:

“Participating in this project has been a source of joy and freedom; the freedom to self-express the many faces of mental illness.” —Lani

“Writing this book is an exploration for me. Hearing others’ stories and writing about my own mental illness is invigorating.” —Doreen

“Any one of us can have behavioral disturbances or diseases of the brain. We stigmatize what we don’t understand. Life can be traumatic. I hope that this chapbook has given the reader pause. Let’s stop being afraid of ourselves.” —Pam

“This chapbook is a conversation which expresses our perspectives on lives affected by mental illness.... Most people who live with mental illness and brain disorders are productive in society and contribute a lot to the advancement of the American dream." —Tyrone

Our book launch took place in January 2014. More than two hundred people attended, including the mayor of Tucson.

Thank you to Poets & Writers for giving this project the legitimacy and support my coauthors deserve.

Photo: Sheila Wilensky (wearing green) and Our Place Clubhouse Thursday Writing Group members and staff; credit: Erica von Koerber.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Friends and family members often aren't photographers. This sometimes results in great memories captured on film in a not-so-picturesque way. This week, think of a photograph depicting a fond memory that, in your opinion, doesn't cast you or your loved ones in the most visually pleasing light. Do you still display or look at the picture often? Or do you keep it hidden in the shoebox under the bed? Write about the story surrounding the photograph, and how it makes you feel when you look at it.

The New York City–based PEN American Center has announced the winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards. The annual awards honor emerging and established writers in a range of genres, including poetry, fiction, biography, children’s literature, sports writing, science writing, translation, and drama. This year PEN will award nearly $150,000 in prize money.

“Celebrating the written word is an essential part of defending it,” said PEN President Peter Goodwin, “and it is through PEN’s literary awards that we continue to honor some of the most exceptional books and bodies of work that free expression makes possible.” PEN has awarded its literary awards for over 50 years.

James Wolcott won the $10,000 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for his essay collection Critical Mass (Doubleday). Geoff Dyer, Stanley Fish, Ariel Levy, and Cheryl Strayed judged. The annual award is given for an essay collection published in the previous year that exemplifies the dignity and esteem the essay form imparts to literature.

Dr. Carl Hart won the $10,000 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for High Price (Harper). Akiko Busch, Rivka Galchen, and Eileen Pollack judged. The annual award is given for a book of literary nonfiction published in the previous year on the subject of the physical or biological sciences.

Ruth Ellen Kocher and Nina McConigley both won the $5,000 PEN Open Book Award, given for an exceptional book published in the previous year and written by an author of color. Kocher won for her poetry collection domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press); McConigley won for her short story collection Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books). Catherine Chung, Randa Jarrar, and Monica Youn judged.

Frank Bidart won the $5,000 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, which is given biennially to a poet whose distinguished and growing body of work to date represents a notable and accomplished presence in American literature. Peg Boyers, Toi Derricotte, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips judged.

Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley won the $3,000 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for Diaries of Exile (Archipelago Books), a poetry collection by the Greek poet, Yannis Ritsos. Kimiko Hahn judged. The annual award is given for a book-length translation of poetry into English published in the previous year.

Joanne Turnbull and Nikolai Formozov won the $3,000 PEN Translation Prize for their translation from the Russian of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s short story collection Autobiography of a Corpse (New York Review of Books). Ann Goldstein, Becka McKay, and Katherine Silver judged. The annual award is given for a book-length translation of prose into English published in the previous year.

The winners will be honored at PEN’s annual literary awards ceremony, held this year on September 29 at the New School in New York City. At the ceremony, PEN will announce the winners of the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and the $25,000 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Ron Childress, who won the $25,000 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for his unpublished novel And West is West, will also be honored at the ceremony.

The shortlist and the longlist, issued for the first time this year, for each prize can be found on PEN’s website.

There are few things more pleasant than finding a beautiful spot on a sunny afternoon to have a picnic lunch. That's if everything goes according to plan. This week, write a story about one of your characters planning an important picnic lunch. The occasion could be a family gathering, a first date, or a holiday celebration. How does this character handle the task? Do things end up going smoothly, or does everything fall apart? Maybe another character needs to step in and offer assistance, or maybe something beyond anyone's expectations occurs and the plans change completely.

Occasionally we have those dreams we wake up from and can't seem to shake from our sleepy heads. Some people insist that if you remember your dream vividly, it's a sign that there's a message contained within that you're supposed to remember, or something you're supposed to learn from. This week, write a poem using a recent dream as inspiration. Draw from the fantastical, nonsensical images your brain conjured up, and the logic that seems to make sense only inside your dreaming mind.

Deep within us, we have desires or goals we might be nervous about bringing out into the open for whatever reason. Maybe we feel embarrassed or that we can't compete with those who have already mastered the skill we seek to learn. You might have felt this way when showing your writing to someone for the first time—or maybe you still haven't shown your writing to anyone yet. This week, think about whether there are any factors that make it difficult for you to share your work. If you've taken the leap and put yourself out there, write about what that felt like. If you have yet to do so, write about what's holding you back.

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