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Sally DeJesus is a poet, mixed media artist, and optimist. Since 2005 she has been facilitating poetry and art programs at the Concourse House, a homeless shelter in the Bronx, for women and their children. She also teaches art at Jacob's Place in the Bronx, creating and facilitating youth art programs, and founded the Social Action for Kids Camp. DeJesus's poetry has been published in Manhattan Linear, and her mixed media sculptures were selected for the installation “South Bronx Contemporary: Longwood Arts Project’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary.” She was the winner of the 1998 Yonkers Public Library Slam and her first chapbook of poetry is currently being considered in numerous competitions. DeJesus is often found at Union Square Slam in New York City.

I have been facilitating art programs with the children at Concourse House, Home for Women and Their Children since 2005. Concourse House works to eliminate homelessness by providing homeless families with safe, stable transitional housing. They also work with families to break the cycle of poverty through a variety of social services and programs that promote personal growth and independence.

The programs that allowed children to write and perform their own poems were always the most successful of my programs, and I often wished I could share my love of poetry with the children’s mothers, as well. I am so grateful that Poets & Writers, through their Readings & Workshops program, gave me that opportunity this year.

Once a week we met in the community room at the shelter. These women have faced, and continue to face, enormous challenges. Although I was there to facilitate their learning to write poems, and explore and share work by established poets, my interest was honestly more about sharing with them something that has been extremely healing for me. In my own life, in poetry writing and within performance venues, I have found support and encouragement to put my feelings and observations about my experiences—the good and the not so good—into poetry. I wanted to offer the mothers at Concourse House that kind of support.

Our time together at Concourse House was filled with moments that inspired me. Their faces lit up when I first returned their handwritten poems after having typed them on the page, and then again when all the poems were formatted into a chapbook. One mother told me she had stopped writing poetry when she was a teenager, but after our first workshop, she wanted to start again. She asked for extra pencils and paper so she could go to the park and keep writing. During the workshops, a teenager volunteered to provide child care. For one mother, having someone look after her baby during the workshops gave her the opportunity to write, an opportunity she might have missed.

At the final reading, the mothers’ children were there to hear them. One woman asked if her young son could read her poem aloud at the mic. She whispered to me that he had never heard the names of the medicinal teas that had been a part of her life growing up in Jamaica; he struggled to pronounce the words. By way of the poem, a mother and son later found their way into a conversation about her childhood.

On the last day, as I was turning in my pass at the security desk, a mother came running up to me with her baby in the stroller. She asked if she could show me something. As I sat with her in the hallway, she pulled out the blank journal I’d given her a few weeks earlier to take to the park. Opening it up, she revealed pages and pages of poems and asked me, “Can I read one to you now?”

Photos: (top) Sally DeJesus, (bottom) Mother & Son.  Photo Credit: Sally DeJesus, Homesh Permashwar.


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.

Postcards sent to friends and family from far-off places often have a "Wish you were here!" sentiment. This week, think of someone who's located far away from you, and write a postcard to him or her with the opposite outlook of "Wish I was there!" Explore what exactly it is about "there" that seems so appealing. What are the most striking differences between where you are and where you wish to be? Depict a vivid scenario in just a few, succinct sentences by focusing on sensory descriptions of that distant locale.

This week, think back to the most memorable books you read as a child, and pick one of your favorite children's book characters, such as Harriet the Spy or Curious George. Write a story that places the character into adulthood. What are the character’s distinctive traits that remain consistent? Would this well-known character be able to solve his or her grown-up problems in the same way?

If you found yourself stranded on a desert island, what would you most want to have with you? Make a list of ten things—anything from books, music, and photos, to people, pets, or food—and then write a poem with the items in your order of importance. Include the reasons why you can’t live without each item. Are there specific memories attached to certain items that persuaded you to choose them?

Allison Geller is a poet and writer, and the associate editor of A Women's Thing magazine. Her chapbook, Write Home, was published in January 2015 by Finishing Line Press. Geller is also a competitive ballroom dancer.

As poets and artists, we have all contributed our time, work, and creative energies for things that we believe in, whether for a nascent (or not-so-nascent) publication, an event, or a cause. But it’s really great to get paid.

That’s why my Roots Poetry Series cocurator Melissa Ahart and I are tremendously appreciative of the grant funding that Poets & Writers has given us. It lets us honor our poets’ time and work while allowing us to keep our monthly reading series free to the public. As one our recent readers commented, “Great atmosphere, great crowd, great readers and a check at the end—does it get any better?”

The New York Times called Roots Cafe, a South Slope, Brooklyn neighborhood hub for coffee, community, art, and music, “a cozy living room with a barista.” As of last November, it’s a living room with poetry readings. Melissa and I started the series because Roots, beloved by both of us, seemed like a perfectly convivial place for poets to gather and read for the public. And to our delight, each reading has drawn a crowd of Roots regulars, friends of the poets reading, locals, students, artists, and the odd Australian tourist.

In choosing our lineups, we focus on pairing emerging with established poets to create a diverse roster of readers while giving newer poets a platform. One of the best parts about the readings is the end, when the readers get to meet each other and express admiration and encouragement for each other’s work. Readers have included Bianca Stone, Adam Fitzgerald, Hafizah Geter, Morgan Parker, Danniel Schoonebeek, Emily Skillings, Matthew Rohrer, and many more.

Roots Poetry Series is always free, with beer and wine served in exchange for cash donations. (After all, where there are poets, there has to be wine.) Our next event will take place on Friday, August 18 at 8:00 PM, when we will welcome Kyle Dargan, Sara Jane Stoner, Mary Austin Speaker and Justin Petropoulos. And stay tuned for news about our November one year anniversary reading, for which we’re inviting back all of our Roots Poetry alumni for a roundup reading.

Finally, we are immensely grateful to Amanda and Christian Neill of Roots Cafe for providing a warm, vibrant home for poetry in South Slope, and to Poets & Writers for giving our readers something to put in their pockets on the way out. This is how art can keep getting made.

Read more about Roots and follow us on Facebook to find out about upcoming readings.

Photos: (top) Allison Geller, cocurator of the Roots Poetry Series. (bottom) Charif Shanahan reading his poems. Photo Credit: Mary Catherine Kinniburgh, Allison Geller.

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

Submissions are currently open for several prizes in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, including the New Millennium Writings Awards, the Stone Canoe Literary Prizes, and the Room of Her Own Foundation Orlando Prizes. Their deadline is July 31. To view more contests with upcoming deadlines, visit the Writing Contests, Grants & Awards database.   

The New Millennium Writings Awards are given twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay. The winners in each category receive $1,000 and publication in the print journal and on the website. National Book Award finalist Maureen N. McLane will serve as guest poetry judge.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three poems totaling no more than five pages, a short story or essay of up to 6,000 words, or a short short story of up to 1,000 words along with a $20 entry fee by July 31. Multiple and simultaneous submissions are accepted. All entries are considered for publication. All participants receive a complimentary copy of the journal. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established in 1996 by journalist Don Williams, New Millennium Writings is an annual publication that promotes the work of new and emerging writers.


The Stone Canoe Literary Awards are given annually to a poet, a fiction writer, and a creative nonfiction writer who have a connection to upstate New York, and who have not published a book with a nationally distributed press. Winners in each category receive $500. An additional prize of $500 is also given annually to a U.S. military veteran. The editors of Stone Canoe will judge. Winners will be announced October 31.

Using the online submission system, submit three to five poems or a short story or essay of up to 10,000 words by July 31. Though entrants must have a New York State connection, the submissions themselves may be on any subject. There is no entry fee. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Stone Canoe is an annual publication of the Upstate New York YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center, which showcases the work of writers with an upstate New York connection. The publication aims to “promote a greater awareness of the cultural and intellectual richness that characterizes life in the region.”


Sponsored by the A Room of her Own Foundation, the Orlando Prizes are given twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by a woman writer. The winners will each receive $1,000 and publication in the Los Angeles Review.

Using the online submission manager, submit a poem of up to 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, or a short story or essay of up to 1,500 words, along with a $15 entry fee by July 31. Multiple and simultaneous submissions are accepted. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

A Room of Her Own was founded in 2000 by Darlene Chandler Bassett and Mary Johnson. The nonprofit foundation's mission is "to inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women."

The concept of the American road trip has compelled many writers—Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe, Cheryl Strayed, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few—to pen memoirs or novels exploring themes of exploration, adventure, and discovery. Take inspiration from this map of American literary road trips from Atlas Obscura, and write a short travel essay of your own. Recount your experience whether it’s making the journey from your front door to a neighbor's house, or to a city you’re never explored. Find the balance that feels right for you between observations of physical or geographical details, and the interior landscape of emotions and memories.

The longlist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced this morning. The annual prize of £50,000 (approximately $78,142) honors the best book of fiction written in English and published in United Kingdom during the previous year. This year, the list of thirteen semifinalists includes five writers from the United States: Bill Clegg, Laila Lalami, Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler, and Hanya Yanagihara. Writers from Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, India, Nigeria, and Jamaica complete the list.

The longlisted titles are Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape) by Bill Clegg; The Green Road (Jonathan Cape) by Anne Enright, who won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Gathering; A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications) by Marlon James; The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing) by Laila Lalami; Satin Island (Jonathan Cape) by Tom McCarthy; The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press) by Chigozie Obioma; The Illuminations (Faber & Faber) by Andrew O’Hagan; Lila (Virago) by Marilynne Robinson; Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus) by Anuradha Roy; The Year of the Runaways (Picador) by Sunjeev Sahota; The Chimes (Sceptre) by Anna Smaill; A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus) by Anne Tyler; and A Little Life (Picador) by Hanya Yanagihara.

The judges—Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, Frances Osborne, and Michael Wood—selected the thirteen titles from a list of 156 books. “The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing,” said Wood, chair of the judging panel. “All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.” Three of the semifinalists—Bill Clegg, Chigozie Obioma, and Anna Smaill—are debut novelists. The shortlist will be announced on September 15, and the winner will be named at a ceremony in London on October 13.

First awarded in 1969, the prize was originally restricted to writers from the British Commonwealth nations and Ireland. This is the second year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality writing in English. Previous winners include Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, and Richard Flanagan, who received the 2014 prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. To date, Flanagan’s book has sold almost eight hundred thousand copies worldwide.

The Man Booker Foundation also administers the Man Booker International Prize; the foundation announced earlier this month that beginning in 2016, the Man Booker International Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize will merge to form one annual award for a single work of fiction translated into English. The winning author and translator of the reconfigured Man Booker International Prize will equally split a purse of £52,000.

Photos: Top row from left: Hanya Yanagihara, Marilynne Robinson, Bill Clegg. Bottom row from left: Laila Lalami, Anne Tyler.

Penelope Lively says, "History is in fact not so much memory as it is an examination of conflicting evidences. And this is the same for a fictional purpose: in any scene there can be as many accounts of a scene as there were people present." This week, write two separate accounts of a scene in which a crime is unfolding, witnessed by two people who are standing side by side looking out the same window. How might two individuals be compelled to notice different details? What might this reveal about their personalities and emotional states?

The "dog days" of summer typically refer to the hottest days around July and August. The term originates with the ancient Romans who associated this time of year with the brightest star Sirius—also known as the Dog Star—rising and setting in sync with the sun, supposedly making the days hotter. Explore other natural occurrences that coincide with summer—fire rainbows, foxfire, midnight sun—and write a poem in tribute to the hottest days of the year.

Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature (APRIL) is a Seattle-based literary nonprofit working to connect readers with independent literature, authors, and publishers. APRIL hosts a regular book club, bookstore bike tours, and an annual festival during one week in March. Frances Chiem, deputy director of APRIL, blogs about two events from this year’s festival which were supported in part by Poets & Writers. Chiem works in environmental advocacy, and her writing has appeared in Fanzine, Two Serious Ladies, and Washington Trails, among other places. She tweets at @f_e_chiem.

Wendy XuAPRIL has built more than one hundred events in four years with the idea that not all readings should consist of an author standing behind a podium. Sometimes you need a gimmick to draw in new audiences.

During March each year, APRIL celebrates authors and their works that are published outside of the Big Five for a week of goofy, fun, and intimate events meant to honor the vitality of great literature and the attention spans of audience members. APRIL has hosted storytelling competitions pitting poets, playwrights, novelists, and drag queens against each other; collaborations pairing theatre troupes with writers of short fiction; a literary séance for Gertrude Stein’s lover, Alice B. Toklas; readings with cheap food pairings, and more.

cast iron potatoes

The 2015 festival marked the third year APRIL has collaborated with Vignettes, a Seattle visual art series debuting new work in homes turned galleries for a night, to invite a dozen artists to respond to a poetry collection. This year, P&W-supported poet Wendy Xu’s You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013) spawned works like cast iron potatoes, a temporal sculpture of shattered china and sod, soft watercolors, and more.

This year also saw more visiting authors than ever before. Xu, along with other P&W-supported writers Shya Scanlon, author of Forecast (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2012) and The Guild of Saint Cooper (Dzanc Books, 2015), and Mary Miller, author of Big World (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2009) and The Last Days of California (Liveright, 2014), were brought to Seattle to join more than twenty authors from the Pacific Northwest for the week of performances.

shattered china and sod

The themed reading is, at its essence, a nerdy party hosted at the Hugo House—a Seattle literary establishment—with a full bar, a snack pairing, and decorations to evoke the mood of the occasion. So how to do that when there’s more than one visiting author? After the high point of the art show for Xu’s work, it was a tall order to deliver, but the apocalyptic scenes in both Scanlon and Miller’s novels provided a comically ominous inspiration for the reading. Fecund with rhododendrons to create a sort of funeral-like pulpit with backing music from band Youryoungbody covering David Lynch’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, the group sought to honor the metafictional science fiction of Scanlon’s newest novel and Miller’s evangelical tragicomedy.

"We want people to see readings as something more than hushed sit-down events for the literati. They can be fun and unintimidating ways to find new and relevant work you might not have connected with otherwise," says APRIL cofounder and managing director Tara Atkinson.

More than one hundred people served as witnesses to the speculations about the end of the world, dozens of them buying the small press books by the featured authors.

Photo 1: Wendy Xu; Photo 2: Cast iron potatoes inspired by Wendy Xu's poetry collection; Photo 3: Shattered china sculpture inspired by Wendy Xu's poetry collection. Credit: Tara Atkinson.

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.

This week, pick one thing you personally associate with summer: maybe it's eating a particular flavor of ice cream on a sweltering night, the whirring sound of a ceiling fan as you fall asleep, or the smell of sunscreen. Write an essay inspired by your recollections—think back to your earliest memory of the activity and the people or places connected to it. Reflect on how your relationship to this one summer specific sensation might have evolved over the years, and why it remains so vivid.

What happens when you've created and written a character who is so thoroughly realized that he or she is always, well, in character? This week, write a scene in which your character is caught doing or saying something shockingly out of character. What event or realization has caused this atypical behavior, and what is your character's response to being confronted about it? Will the consequences be immediate and dramatic, or gradual and subtly psychological?

Poet and translator George Szirtes says: "Nobody reads a poem to find out what happens in the last line. They read the poem for the experience of travelling through it." This week, choose a short poem—it can be one of your own or someone else’s—and cross out the last line. Read it again now without its last line, and imagine how the poem might take a different turn at this juncture. Write a continuation of the poem, allowing it to travel to an entirely new conclusion.

Marina Tristán is the assistant director of Arte Público Press at the University of Houston, where she oversees day-to-day operations with a particular emphasis in marketing and promotions for their books, authors, and programs. A native of Texas, she has worked for Arte Público Press for almost thirty years.


It has been gratifying to finally begin to see a shift in attitudes about the value of writings by Latinos (which is not to say that there aren’t any problems in the publication and distribution of books by diverse writers). We now have a U.S. Poet Laureate who is Mexican American! And in Houston—where Arte Público is based—the city’s first Poet Laureate was a Latina. Gwendolyn Zepeda held a two-year term from 2013-2015. Not surprisingly, we published her first collection of short prose almost ten years before, back in 2004.

Like all contemporary authors seeking to build an audience for their work, Gwen has read from and talked about her books at a slew of places around the country and in Houston, her hometown. We have been fortunate to collaborate with local community groups like the Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA), as we did in April to launch Gwen’s second poetry collection, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts (Arte Público Press, 2015).  

This reading was particularly poignant because Gwen grew up at MECA, singing and dancing in theatrical performances, designing sets, and working summer jobs. Her reading was a homecoming of sorts, and friends—old and new—laughed and cried with her. Clever and very funny, Gwen’s poetry reading was deeply personal and included musings on family, childhood remembrances, and societal expectations. One can only wonder what the future holds for Gwen: U.S. Poet Laureate? Pulitzer Prize winner? National Book Award finalist? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, Arte Público will continue to do what it has done for the past thirty-three years: publish and promote Latino authors so that American culture includes, values, and reflects Hispanic contributions.

Photo: Marina Tristán    Credit: Carmen Peña Abrego

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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