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WordsWest Literary Series’ cocurators include poets Katy E. Ellis and Susan Rich, and novelist Harold Taw. All three live in West Seattle and came together over their parched need for a reading series in their community. Katy E. Ellis is the author of two chapbooks Urban Animal Expeditions (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). Her poetry appears in a number of literary journals and anthologies including Literary Mama, Redheaded Stepchild, MAYDAY Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Till the Tide: Mermaid Poetry, and the Canadian journals PRISM International, Grain, and Fiddlehead. Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poems including Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press, 2014); The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press, 2010), a finalist for the Washington State Book Award; Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006); and The Cartographer’s Tongue (White Pine Press, 2000), winner of the PEN USA Award. Harold Taw’s debut novel, Adventures of the Karaoke King, was published by Lake Union Publishing in 2011. His writing has been featured on NPR, in a New York Times bestselling anthology, and in the Seattle Times. Harold is currently writing a novel about a turbulent adolescence in Southeast Asia and collaborating on a musical adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

WordsWest StaffWhat makes your organization’s series and its program unique?
West Seattle is geographically isolated from the rest of Seattle’s literary venues. WordsWest Literary Series is unique in that it fills the gap in what has been a literary series desert.

Each WordsWest event is what we call a “living anthology” or “braided reading” where our two featured readers read in short bursts, taking up to three different stands at the mike. This gives the reading a collaborative rather than competitive feeling and leads to lots of surprising connections in the work read aloud. We get to see the authors interacting on stage in a never-to-be-repeated moment.

The WordsWest Literary Series also features West Seattle's Favorite Poem Project, wherein people from local, independent businesses or organizations join each event by reciting a favorite poem and telling us why it’s a favorite.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
As a whole, WordsWest is something we are super proud of creating in our community so it’s difficult to choose a single pride invoking event, however, our “Kids’ Night” stands out as being both unique and inspiring. Our readers included Sundee Frazier, award-winning novelist of books for young people, along with MacArthur fellow and National Book Award recipient Dr. Charles Johnson and his daughter Elisheba Johnson, reading from their coauthored and illustrated tween novel. It was a packed house with people of all ages and backgrounds. Our local librarian read her favorite poem (“Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll) and promoted summer reading. Maybe it was the fun, sugary snacks, but everyone seemed energized by all the great stories and poems!

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
We’ve had ten events over the course of this past year and the three of us curators still remember a moment during the first event in September 2014, when our first reader took to the stage and we looked at each other, looked around at the crowded coffee shop, and then nodded our heads and smiled, all thinking, “Wow, we really did it!”

Our readers have all been incredible and unique, but one of the highlights of each event is our West Seattle’s Favorite Poem segment. One night we had a local business owner confess how hard it was to find a poem to read for the event. When she mentioned it to her sixteen-year-old son, she was surprised to learn he had a favorite poem at the tip of his tongue! Both mother and son shared their poems on stage that night. (Hers was "The cat's song" by Marge Piercy, and his was "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.)

How do you find and invite readers?
It’s not a mandate for our series but we do try to select one reader from West Seattle. We are surrounded by incredible writers in our own neighborhood, for example, our state’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austen and award-winning nonfiction writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Once we reach out to a reader, we encourage that reader to then invite an author they admire and with whom they’d like to read. Again, we want authors to interact on stage and weave their work together. If they are friends or if they have wanted to meet for a long time, it makes for a meaningful unfolding collaboration.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
West Seattle, along with all of the Puget Sound region, continues to grow in leaps and bounds with more commercial chain stores, expensive and dense housing, which means, of course, more people. In booming cities, literary programs can be a grounding force. By establishing a solid, homegrown literary reading series right in our neighborhood, we hope to help shape (and retain) the heart of West Seattle as it expands. Having access to thought provoking, truly inspiring written and spoken live literature not only brings a community together, but it also lingers in daily life and gives us new ideas and more understanding of the world around us.

Photo (left to right): Katy E. Ellis, Harold Taw, Susan Rich    Credit: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Seattle 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.

The term "urban legend" refers to contemporary myths often connected to popular culture that are recounted to entertain and/or explain random events. Write an essay using an urban legend as a jumping-off point for probing into what you find entertaining or unsettling. For inspiration, you might consider the stories of Bloody Mary, exploding Pop Rocks, bodily spider infestations, or alligators in the sewer.

Last week, the 2015 Nobel Prize recipients were announced, awarding a writer, scientific researchers, and peace advocates from around the world whose areas of work range from molecular cell DNA repair to political mediation in Tunisia. Write a short story in which your main character finds himself invited to the Nobel Prize award ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. What preconceived notions might he have about the festivities and winners? Is he star-struck, mildly impressed, or ambivalent? Does he have dubious plans beyond celebrating with the recipients and guests?

Jamaican writer Marlon James has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books). James, who was announced the winner this evening at a ceremony in London, will receive £50,000 (approximately $76,000), and becomes the first Jamaican writer to receive the prize.

James, forty-four, is the author of two previous novels: John Crow’s Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) and The Book of Night Women (Riverhead Books, 2009). A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the story of the 1976 assassination attempt on famed reggae singer Bob Marley. The novel, which follows over a dozen different narrators, portrays the cultural and political climate in Jamaica at the time.

“The book is startling in its ranges of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to the Book of Revelation,” said chair of judges Michael Wood. “It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.”

Along with Wood, the panel of judges—Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, and Frances Osborne—selected James from a shortlist of five other writers: Tom McCarthy of the United Kingdom for Satin Island (Knopf); Chigozie Obioma of Nigeria for The Fisherman (Little, Brown); Sunjeev Sahota of the United Kingdom for The Year of the Runaways (Knopf); Anne Tyler of the United States for A Spool of Blue Thread (Knopf); and Hanya Yanagihara of the United States for A Little Life (Doubleday). The shortlisted authors will each receive £2,500 (approximately $3,800).

In his acceptance speech at the London ceremony, James credited Bob Marley and reggae music as his inspiration, saying they were “the first to recognize that the voice coming out of our mouths was a legitimate voice for fiction and for poetry.” James also said, “We talk about diversity, and sometimes I think we just use that to kowtow to political correctness, but one of the things it reinforces is that there are so many ways to tell the English-language novel…this wonderfully malleable, wonderfully flexible language can be used in so many different ways.” James dedicated the prize to his late father.

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is one of the literary world’s most prestigious awards for fiction. The prize, which was previously given only to writers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, or Zimbabwe, was expanded last year to include writers of any nationality writing in English, whose books have been published in the United Kingdom during previous year. Australian writer Richard Flanagan won the 2014 prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Margarita Cuevas-Cruz is the lead project director of Open Moments NYC, an organization based on the creed "by poets, for the community,” which aims to inspire change in the world while enhancing human potential. She holds a BA in Sociology/Anthropology with a minor in History from Utica College. She uses poetry as a tool to promote activism in worldly issues, the youth, and issues of violence and inequality. Cuevas-Cruz has appeared at numerous high schools as a keynote speaker with the YWCA in the Mohawk Valley, was published in their April 2012 newsletter, and wrote an editorial piece about surviving child abuse in the Utica Observer Dispatch. She has been published in the Sunday Writing Circle's No Apologies anthology and has performed for Latinosnyc at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Word at 4F, Sneakers and Ale's the DoJo, the Poet's Settlement, and the National Black Theatre with the Full Circle Ensemble.

Open Moments NYC is a grassroots organization that provides a way of expression for all ages through writing, leadership, open mikes, and interactive workshops. Open Moments (OM) had its humble beginnings in the 1980s, created by Simon Cruz and Francisca Cuevas. The poetry readings took place at City College, where Simon Cruz attended, and at Barnard College, Francisca Cuevas's alma mater. This is important to the inception of Open Moments NYC, because as Francisca's younger sister, I was given the name of the organization as a token of trust and appreciation for my own work as a poet.

In 2008, I had the luxury of meeting other student poets, Keron Alleyne, Samuel Maldonado, Jamila Cain, and Tiffany Williams, who were starting a poetry group. They agreed that Open Moments was a perfect fit to what they believed the poetry group should be on the campus of Utica College in Utica, New York.  

Now in New York City, Open Moments is growing and taking a "nomadic" approach as we go where they need us. Along with Rashawna Wilson, Keron-Alleyne, Samuel Maldonad, Jasmine Cordew, and many others, we work tirelessly to create a safe space for the arts and social justice. We offer teen workshops, workshops with featured facilitators, and thought-provoking events like "Guess Who's Coming to Brunch?,” “Anti-Colonizer Day: Reclaiming Our History,” and “Cadence of Hair." We serve as mentors, workshop facilitators, and performers with the hope of enhancing human potential.

Open Moments NYC, has recently begun receiving grants from Poets & Writers, which has been a huge help for our organization. It helps us to get the best poets and workshop facilitators at events like “Anti-Colonizer Day: Reclaiming Our History,” which is being presented in collaboration with ELKAT Productions, and our monthly writing workshop called the Traveling Pen Series. This series was established for writers who want the time to write at a workshop, but do not have the time to commit to attending every week. Every month, we choose a facilitator and provide donation-based workshops to the community at Project Brownstone, Inc. in Harlem. As the organization continues to thrive, we want to utilize this resource provided by Poets & Writers to live up to our mission of giving back to the community as poets.

“By poets, for the community” is our slogan, because regardless of the topic, we infuse the art of spoken word and writing in order to allow our participants at workshops, and our audiences at open mikes, to leave with something to think about.

You can read more about us on our website or e-mail us at openmomentsnyc@gmail.com.

Photo: (top) Margarita Cuevas-Cruz. Photo Credit: Leticia Torres

Workshop Poster (bottom). Design Credit: Rashawna Wilson

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.

In recent years, NASA scientists have found a steadily increasing amount of evidence that liquid water once existed on Mars. These discoveries could lead to scientists’ quest to confirm that the planet has hosted life. Write a poem in which you explore the mysterious possibilities of the red planet, extraterrestrial life, the galaxies and constellations, or the notion of human colonies on other planets. Focus on examining the emotions that emerge when you contemplate the vast unknowns of outer space.

Whether or not you believe in astrology, it can be an engaging exercise to contemplate the authority of a prediction based solely on your birthdate. Look up your current horoscope in a newspaper or online, and take note of how the forecast characterizes your astrological sign. Which particular elements of the horoscope’s characterizations do you find yourself immediately agreeing with? If you find yourself mostly in disagreement, what would you predict for yourself instead? Using the second-person voice, write an essay in the form of an astrological forecast. Describe how you foresee the upcoming month in terms of love, finances, home, and spiritual matters, and cite how these predictions are justified by your personality traits. Or, if you’d prefer, write an essay against astrology, pointing out the flaws in such pseudoscientific systems of divination, and examining what it is about your personality that opposes them.

Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. The prize was announced today in Stockholm by Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who called Alexievich’s writing “a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” 

Alexievich is the author of seven books, including Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Dalkey Archive Press, 2005), for which she interviewed more than five hundred eyewitnesses of the 1986 nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine—including firefighters, doctors, physicists, politicians, and citizens—over a period of ten years. The book was awarded the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.

Her other works—such as 1988’s War’s Unwomanly Face, comprised of interviews with hundreds of women soldiers who fought in World War II—collect the memories of wartime, including the Soviet-Afghan war, the war in Afghanistan, and the fall of the Soviet Union, creating what Danius calls “a history of emotions—a history of the soul, if you wish.”

“By means of her extraordinary method—a carefully composed collage of human voices—Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” the academy noted. “For the past thirty or forty years, she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. But it’s not really about a history of events…. What she’s offering us is really an emotional world.”

Alexievich was born in Stanislav, Ukraine, in 1948, and grew up in Belarus. She worked as a reporter for several local newspapers, a Belarusian carp fishing magazine, and a Minsk-based literary magazine before dedicating her work to oral histories. Persecuted by Lukashenko regime for the nature of her writing, Alexievich left Belarus in 2000 and lived under sanctuary for a decade in Paris, Gothenburg, and Berlin, before returning to Minsk in 2011.

She becomes the fourteenth woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature since it was first awarded in 1901. The last woman to win, Canada’s Alice Munro, received the award in 2013. French novelist Patrick Modiano won the 2014 prize. Alexievich will receive eight million Swedish kronor, or approximately $1.1 million.

Though in many ways the act of writing can be considered an exercise in control—over everything from plot arc to characters to the weather in your setting—what happens when you take a more passive position and relinquish control, allowing a story to emerge from your unconscious mind? Many scientists, spiritualists, and artists have reported on “automatic writing,” in which a person steers clear of putting any conscious intention behind the words that are put down. Try your hand by first writing about what comes to mind immediately: perhaps the changing colors and textures of autumn leaves outside, or everyday details about upcoming holidays and visiting family. Try not to pause or edit yourself. Gradually let your mind progress into an associative stream of consciousness. Take a look at what you’ve written and, using your favorite elements, write a short short story with a seasonal theme, allowing it to be nonsensical, absurd, or surreal.

This blog features a conversation between Gerry LaFemina and Lynn McGee, cocurators of the Lunar Walk Poetry Series, hosted at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn, New York. McGee won the Bright Hill Press chapbook contest for her manuscript Heirloom Bulldog, published in 2015. Her full-length manuscript, Sober Cooking, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2016. Her previous chapbook, Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997), won the Hudson Valley Writers Center/Slapering Hol Press manuscript contest. McGee is a lead staff writer for the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York, and has worked in literacy and taught freshman writing at many private and public colleges including George Washington University, Brooklyn College/CUNY and Columbia University, where she earned an MFA in Poetry. LaFemina is Director of the Frostburg Center for Literary Arts at Frostburg State University, where he is an Associate Professor of English. His poetry collections include Vanishing Horizon (Anhinga Press, 2011), which is soon to be rereleased, Little Heretic (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2014), Notes for the Novice Ventriloquest (Mayapple Press, 2013), Steampunk (Small Books, 2012), and The Parakeets of Brooklyn (Bordighera Press, 2005), which won the 2003 Bordighera Prize. Recently LaFemina published a collection of essays, Palpable Magic: Essays and Readings on Poets and Prosody (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2015) as well as a novel, Clamor (Codorus Press, 2013), and edited the anthology Token Entry: New York City Subway Poems (Smalls Books/Red Lashes Productions, 2012).

LaFemina: Lynn and I have known each other for some eight years, and we've been talking about poetry for the entirety of that time. We have both been to countless readings—many of them good and many of them less good. After the Token Entry anthology came out, and we both attended readings for that book, we started to discuss running a reading series together, one that would be a little different from some of the other series in New York. Part of it would be an attempt to limit the open mike parts of the reading; the other would be to work with our writer friends to pair local New York poets with poets from out of town.

At the time I was splitting my living time between Maryland and New York. Now that I live in Maryland full time, I come in to Brooklyn to cocurate the series with Lynn but, because of my mileage hopping, she has to do much of the legwork. When the original home for the series, the Two Moon Café, closed, it was Lynn who found our new home at the Branded Saloon.

McGee: Gerry is being generous; he does plenty of legwork himself! I think things got a lot easier for both of us when Poets & Writers started the online funding application, which is a snap to fill out. Many of the writers we’ve featured have gotten a $50 honorarium, and it feels great to be able to support them and their work in that way. We also put aside our 10% of the door take, so we can provide a cash honorarium on the months we’re not funded.

I think the best part for me of being involved in the series (besides having a mojito with Gerry before the reading!) is hearing poets whose work is new to me and who cause some creaky door in my own writing to open. Like Gerry said, we feature writers from around the country, with poets we know in the area. Many of our featured readers come back and read one poem in the open mike, and there’s a lot of book trading and talking before and after the events.

To throw in a few facts: The Lunar Walk Poetry Series opened in September 2012, and so far, we’ve featured over fifty writers.

Gerry and I have read once ourselves in the series, and it’s been an honor to introduce to our audience (as of October 2015): Amy Holman, Dean Kostos, Hilary Sideris, Richard Levine, Robin Messing, Cornelius Eady, (who later appeared with guitarist Charlie Wauh and poet Robin Messing on vocals), Jean Monahan, Bertha Rogers, Dennis Nurkse, Jan Beatty, Del Marbrook, Mervyn Taylor, Susana Case, Joel Allegretti, Moira Egan, Nance Van Winckel, April Lindner, Ravi Shankar, Phil Terman, Christine Timm, Patricia Spears Jones, Bill Mohr, George Guida, Ann Lauinger, Michael Salcman, Maria Terrone, Elaine Sexton, Michael Klein, Ned Balbo, Jane Satterfield, BJ Ward, Catie Rosemurgy, Jeffery McDaniel, Laura McCullough, Doug Goetsch, Judith Baumel, Willie Perdomo, Austin Alexis, Michele Somerville, Aaron Smith, Natalie Diaz, Ilyse Kusnetz, Brian Turner, Timothy Liu, Nick Samaras, Claudia Serea, Andrey Gritsman, Elizabeth Haukaas, Alice Friman, Stephen Massimilla, Elizabeth Cohen, Margo Taft Stever, Michael T. Young, Gil Fagiani, Maria Lisella, Pamela Davis, Joseph Fasano, Michael Broek, and Suzanne Parker.

If you want to be on our mailing list, drop us a line at lunarwalkpoetryseries@gmail.com.

Photos: (top) Gerry LaFemina, (middle) Lynn Mcgee. (bottom) Audience at Cornelius Eady and Jean Monahan Lunar Walk Reading.  Photo Credit: Lynn McGee and Gerry LaFemina

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.

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself,” said author Mohsin Hamid in a 2012 interview. Think about a stranger with whom you recently crossed paths. It could be the person who bagged your groceries, stood in front of you in line at the post office, or simply walked by you on the street. What type of situation can you imagine this stranger experiencing? Which emotions or feelings would you project onto this stranger? Write a poem about this imagined event from the stranger's perspective. Concentrate on digging deeply into your own private observations and personal history to capture what sensations might be echoed in another person’s experience.

Kirkus Reviews has announced the finalists for its second annual Kirkus Prize, given for books of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature published in the previous year. The winners, who will be announced on October 15, will each receive $50,000.

The six finalists in fiction are: Susan Barker for her novel The Incarnations (Simon & Schuster, 2015); the late Lucia Berlin for her short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); Lauren Groff for her novel Fates and Furies (Riverhead, 2015); Valeria Luiselli for her novel The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press, 2015) translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney; Jim Shepard for his novel The Book of Akron  (Knopf, 2015); and Hanya Yanagihara for her novel A Little Life (Doubleday, 2015). This year’s fiction judges are Megan Labrise, Nicole Magistro, and Colson Whitehead.

The six finalists in nonfiction are: Ta-Nehisi Coates for Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America (Spiegel & Grau, 2015); John Ferling for Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (Bloomsbury, 2015); Helen Macdonald for H Is for Hawk (Grove Books, 2015); Adam Tooze for The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931 (Viking, 2014); Simon Winchester for Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers (HarperCollins, 2015); and Andrea Wulf for The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Knopf, 2015). The nonfiction judges are Meghan Daum, Marie du Vaure, and Clayton Moore.

Books published in the previous year that received a Kirkus Star review were eligible. The editors of Kirkus Reviews estimate their reviewers cover eight to ten thousand books every year and give 10 percent of those books a Kirkus Star. Established last year to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of Kirkus Reviews, the inaugural Kirkus Prize was given to Lily King for her novel Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) and Roz Chast for her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury).

October begins today. Pick a memory, moment, image, object, or idea that holds the essence of the month in your mind. Explore this entity from multiple angles: the visual, literal, historical, and metaphorical. Perhaps it is rooted in nature or childhood, in a color or flavor. Examine your associations with the month and how your perceptions have changed over the years.

The National Book Foundation announced its annual 5 Under 35 honorees this morning. Now in its tenth year, the program honors five young fiction writers, who were selected this year by previous 5 Under 35 honorees.

This year’s 5 Under 35 are:

Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins (Black Cat), selected by Paul Yoon

Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), selected by ZZ Packer

Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home (Hawthorne Books), selected by Phil Klay

Tracy O’Neill, author of The Hopeful (Ig Publishing), selected by Fiona Maazel

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, author of Fra Keeler (Dorothy), selected by Dinaw Mengestu

Since 2006, the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program has honored writers in the early stages of their careers, including Téa Obreht, Karen Russell, and Justin Torres. The honorees each receive a cash prize of $1,000, and will be celebrated at a ceremony in New York City on November 16, hosted by LaVar Burton.

Autumn leaves are a pleasurable part of the season, until it’s time to rake them up. Write a story about a character who rakes her neighbors’ lawns for extra cash. Have her deliver a short narrative about each home she visits. Delve into how these narratives relate to one another and whether they are intertwined. Do they reveal a greater story about the neighborhood that has been hidden until now? Does your narrator uncover secrets about her neighbors or her home?

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