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Choose one of your stories that needs revision. Create a timeline that includes each year of the main character's life, fleshing out details that support who he or she is. After you've finished, return to the story and revise it in terms of this more fully developed understanding you have of your main character.

The San Francisco-based City Lights Booksellers and Publishers announced last week that its founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who had been selected as the recipient of the inaugural Pannonius Prize, would decline the award.

The prize, which was announced in September, is funded by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian chapter of PEN International, and offers an award of 50,000 euros.

In a press release, City Lights stated: “While honored to be chosen and recognized, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been a resolute supporter of freedom of expression his entire life. Given that the Hungarian government is widely accused of officially and unofficially stifling free speech and civil liberties, Ferlinghetti has decided to decline the award.”

On the same day that City Lights released their statement, the MFA program in writing at the University of San Francisco announced the inaugural Lawrence Ferlinghetti Poetry Fellowship. Established in honor of the poet, activist, and City Lights founder, the biennial fellowship—which provides full tuition funding to the MFA program—will be given to a poet “whose work embodies a concern for social justice and freedom of expression, interpreted in the broadest possible way.”

Ferlinghetti, whose most recent book is Americus, Book 1 (New Directions, 2005), is a longtime proponent of the “wide-open poetry” movement; he published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems in 1956, and was subsequently arrested, tried, and eventually acquitted on obscenity charges in what became a historic first amendment case. Poet D. A. Powell, a professor of poetry at the University of San Francisco, said in a university press release, “The Howl trial changed the culture of American poetry overnight and paved the way for a more open, expansive poetics—for poetry that confronted American hypocrisies and political institutions, willing to put its proverbial heart on the line.” 

To learn more about the life and work of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, visit the City Lights website. For more information and complete application guidelines for the Lawrence Ferlinghetti Poetry Fellowship, visit the University of San Francisco MFA program website. 

Take one of your poems that you're not satisfied with and use scissors to cut it up into its lines. Rearrange the lines, omitting ones that no longer fit. With this fresh arrangement as a working draft, compose an entirely new poem. 

October writer-in-residence Sehba Sarwar blogs about Voices of the Displaced, a workshop led by P&W-supported Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB). A writer and multidisciplinary artist, Sarwar uses her poetry, prose, and video/art installations to explore displacement and women’s issues on a domestic and global level. Her first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004, and she is currently working on a second manuscript tentatively entitled "Island."

In the spring of 2003, I began co-facilitating a Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB) writing workshop with another Pakistani poet Shaista Parveen. At that time, VBB was still young—we were in our third year and I had recently quit working at a high school, where I had been teaching creative writing and journalism. I didn’t have much salary in those days and my only income was through workshops that VBB writers and I taught at local schools.

Though I had fun with teenagers, I wanted to work more with adults. So Shaista and I began planning a workshop that spoke to the rootless-ness we both felt, whether we were in Karachi, Houston, or somewhere else. Shaista and I dedicated much thought to our workshop title—just as VBB co-founders and I had spent time honing in on the right title for “our” organization three years earlier. We finally agreed on “Voices of the Displaced,” a title that rang true for us. It also attracted a pool of Houston-based writers who were born in other countries or elsewhere in the United States, who had come from communities of color, or identified themselves as GLBT/queer. Project Row Houses offered us a meeting space and co-sponsored the series. We sent out emails inviting people to join—VBB didn’t even have a website at that time. Our first group was intimate with only six participants, but over time, the group expanded. We always brought food and drinks and our gatherings offered formal writing but also a sense of community.

VBB’s Voices of the Displaced series lasted about two years, ending a few months before my daughter was born. But once the formal workshops ended, a group of us filled the void by forming a writing/performance group, Displaced Corps. For another year, we met weekly to write, critique each other’s work, and perform together.

Since that initial spurt of adult workshops and then subsequent break, VBB has gone back to offering writing workshops for educators and students. We also continue working on the issues we explored through Voices of the Displaced by producing theme-specific multidisciplinary shows such as Politiqueer, Artists/Mothers and What’s Color Got to Do With It?

Often I think about the title of our group and recognize that the feeling of “displacement” is true of communities not just in Houston but also in urban spaces around the world. To live in the same city as our grandparents, attend the same schools and colleges as our parents, or stay in the neighborhoods in which we were born is becoming rare. Human migration and movement makes the recording of memories and family stories precious and so much of VBB’s work continues to be focused on revisiting histories through different lenses, capturing neighborhood stories, and teaching workshops that create connections between the past, present, and the future.

Photo: Sehba Sarwar (right) with another workshop participant.

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.

P&W-sponsored poet Gowri Koneswaran is also a singer and lawyer whose parents immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka. Her advocacy has addressed animal welfare, the environment, and the rights of prisoners and the criminally accused. A Lannan Fellow of the Folger Shakespeare Library and member of the 2010 DC Southern Fried Slam team, she has performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (NYC), the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Gowri’s poetry has appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Bourgeon, and Lantern Review. She leads poetry and communications workshops and hosts open mics at Busboys and Poets and BloomBars, where she also serves as poetry coordinator. She tweets on-the-spot haiku at twitter.com/gowricurry.

One of the things I most enjoy about sharing poetry—through workshops, publication and performance—is the quiet power it has to open us up to diverse experiences and backgrounds. With the assistance of the Readings/Workshops program administered by Poets & Writers, I’ve twice been given the opportunity to perform my poetry in collaboration with Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company.

In Sanskrit, “dakshina” means “offering.” Beyond performing both bharata natyam and modern dance, Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company offers the community events that celebrate important figures in South Asian history through other art forms.

As part of its 7th Annual Fall Festival of Indian Arts that took place in October 2010 in Washington, D.C., the company organized a joint performance to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. I was invited to perform original poetry prior to a musical performance by accomplished sitarist Alif Laila. While we were both familiar with the dance company and founder Daniel Phoenix Singh, we forged a connection as artists through the event and particularly appreciated the ways the other’s work complemented our own.

We were both invited to reconvene for a joint performance in May 2011 in celebration of Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. Tagore is not only a revered Bengali poet but was also the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

After each of these performances, I met a number of attendees who were incredibly moved by experiencing poetry in this way for the first time. Some had even jotted down phrases and lines that touched them most deeply.

As an artist who views my poetry as one avenue to educate, inspire thought, advocate change, and celebrate diversity, I am especially grateful to P&W's Readings/Workshops program for facilitating my participation in these events.

As Tagore wrote, "The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence." By reaching out to audiences who may not typically be exposed to the poet's craft, writers can explore the power of poetry to unite readers and listeners across varied backgrounds and experiences.

Photo: Gowri Koneswaran. Photo Credit: Les Talusan.

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

Mo Yan, the Chinese author best known for his 1987 novel Red Sorghum, has received the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature.

After months of speculation, the announcement was made at a press conference in Stockholm early today by Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who described Mo Yan’s work as “hallucinatory realism,” and lauded the author for his stylistically unique and culturally important contributions to the international literary community. 

Mo Yan was born in 1955 to a farming family and raised in the rural Shandong Province of China, which serves as the setting for many of his novels and short stories. He grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and began writing while serving in the People’s Liberation Army. His first short story was published in 1981. Including Red Sorghum, which was published in English in 2003 by Viking and adapted for film by Zhang Yimou, Mo Yan is the author of ten novels, among them The Garlic Ballads (1988, published in English in 1995), The Republic of Wine (1992, published in English in 2000), Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996, published in English in 2004), Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (2006, published in English in 2008), and Sandalwood Death (2004, to be published in English in 2013), and more than eighty short stories. His most recent book, Wa, was published in Chinese in 2009.

Widely recognized for his pointed criticism of contemporary Chinese society, the author—whose given name is Guan Moye—adopted the pen name Mo Yan, which means “don’t speak,” to reflect the time in which he grew up, when citizens were unable to safely criticize those in power. “There is a very strong moral core in [his writing],” Englund said in an interview following the prize announcement. “It’s about ordinary people struggling—struggling to survive, struggling for their dignity—sometimes winning, but most of the time losing.”

One of China's most prolific and well-known writers, Mo Yan is celebrated not just for his engagement with Chinese history and politics, but also for his unique craft. “Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition,” the Swedish Academy said in a statement.

Mo Yan is only the second Chinese writer to receive the Nobel Prize, following novelist Gao Xingjian in 2000. Other recent recipients have included Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Britain's Doris Lessing, France's Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio, Germany's Herta Muller, and Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa. Last year, the prize went to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.

Speaking to the China News Service, Mo Yan said he was overjoyed to have won. “But I do not think that my winning can be seen as representing anything,” he said. “I think that China has many outstanding authors, and their great works should also be recognized by the world.”

Administered annually since 1901 by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden, the Nobel Prize is awarded internationally for outstanding achievements in literature, physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and peace. Candidates for the prize in literature are invited to submit by the Nobel Committee, and recipients are selected by the eighteen-member Swedish Academy. Mo Yan will receive the prize, which includes a cash award and medal, on December 10 in Stockholm.

 

Revision is often the hardest part of writing—and, some writers say, a craft all its own. As an exercise in this craft, revisit an essay you've written and try to both significantly cut down the length and restructure the piece, while maintaining the story. We tend to tell stories as they occurred in life, but a narrative can often become mired in chronology. As you restructure, move things around, play with the order, and don't be afraid to get experimental. As for trimming the length, take Faulkner's timeless editorial advice: "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

Buy yourself five postcards. Write one question on each postcard and send them to yourself every other day. When you receive the postcard, write for twenty minutes, responding to the question. Use these responses as the ingredients for a story.

The National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the sixty-third annual National Book Awards today. Among the most prestigious literary honors in the United States, the awards are given for books published in the previous year.

The finalists in fiction are Junot Dí­az for This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books), Dave Eggers for A Hologram for the King (McSweeney’s Books), Louise Erdrich for The Round House (Harper), Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), and Kevin Powers for The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown).

The finalists in poetry are David Ferry for Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press), Cynthia Huntington for Heavenly Bodies (Southern Illinois University Press), Tim Seibles for Fast Animal (Etruscan Press), Alan Shapiro for Night of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Susan Wheeler for Meme (University of Iowa Press).

The finalists in nonfiction are Anne Applebaum for Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 (Doubleday), Katherine Boo for Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House), Robert A. Caro for The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 (Knopf), Domingo Martinez for The Boy Kings of Texas (Lyons Press), and the late Anthony Shadid for House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The finalists were announced this morning by the chairman of the National Book Awards, David Steinberger, on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe.” The year’s selections include writers both emerging and established, with two of the finalists representing debut works. “We are particularly pleased that the finalists include some of the most well-known literary names in America and new names and faces to the National Book Awards,” Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a statement.

The winners—one each in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and young people’s literature—will be announced at the National Book Awards benefit dinner and ceremony in New York City on November 14. They will each receive $10,000, and all finalists will receive $1,000. Elmore Leonard, whose most recent novel is Raylan (William Morrow, 2012), will be awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. will receive the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community.

Publishers submitted 1,285 books for the 2012 awards, including 311 in fiction, 479 in nonfiction, and 181 in poetry. The finalists are selected by four panels of judges, comprised of distinguished individuals in the literary community. Established in 1950, the New York City-based National Book Foundation gave the first annual National Book Award to poet William Carlos Williams; William Faulkner received the award in fiction the following year. Recent winners have included fiction writer Jesmyn Ward, poet Nikky Finney, and nonfiction writer Stephen Greenblatt. The Foundation also recently released the recipients of the 2012 5 under 35 awards, which honor emerging writers under the age of thirty-five.

Choose one of your poem in which you've used the first person. Rewrite it without using "I" at all. (If you don't have a poem to revise, try writing one without using the first person.)

October writer-in-residence Sehba Sarwar blogs about P&W-supported Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), a Houston-based alternative arts organization. A writer and multidisciplinary artist, Sarwar uses her poetry, prose, and video/art installations to explore displacement and women’s issues on a domestic and global level. Her first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004, and she is currently working on a second manuscript tentatively entitled "Island."

Sehba SarwarIn Pakistan, September 21, 2012, was marked as a day of remembrance for Prophet Mohammad in response to a film that went viral and sparked violence in parts of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Knowing that the time difference between Houston and Pakistan was ten hours, I began checking online Pakistani newspapers as soon as I awoke. By the end of twenty-four hours, more than twenty people had been killed and six cinema houses had been burned. Meanwhile, progressive and secular communities that formed Pakistan’s majority were posting comments asking why extremists weren’t using their energies to offer help to the southern part of the country, where floods once again disrupted lives.

Two days after the protests, I received an e-blast from an Islamabad-based arts organization, Kuch Khaas, announcing screenings of selected best films from FilmSaar International Children’s Film Festival, and of course, in Karachi, T2F had resumed its regular programming. Life was returning to normal—something that must happen since flare-ups are part of daily living all around Pakistan.

More than ever, I appreciate that even though I’m based in Houston, I’ve woven my work so that I remain connected to alternative art and communities in Pakistan. The reality that I know is not reported in mainstream media. Sensationalist news always makes headlines, but I believe it’s also important to write about an independent arts organization screening children’s movies—despite the burning of cinema halls. Many organizations and independent artists in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Iraq continue to do the same, and their realities exist parallel to the deaths and protests that are reported to outside communities.

Through my work with Voices Breaking Boundaries, we create productions that juxtapose art and images from Pakistan and Houston so that our audience can find parallels between the two places. The purpose of these productions and workshops is to open space for innovative art from Karachi and Houston while also breaking down stereotypes about the issues we research. Further down the road, VBB is looking to expand research into other countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Mexico, so that our audiences can experience art from unexpected communities about issues that are largely unknown. Using digital space and live performances to create alternative productions is even more critical in these times, when divisions in the world are more fractured. As Patti Smith said, in her 2010 visit to Houston: “We create art to illuminate.” As artists and writers, it’s important for us to dig deeper beyond the surface news—all around the world.

Photo: Sehba Sarwar. Credit: Emaan Reza.

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.

On September 23, P&W-supported poet and creative nonfiction writer Luis Rodriguez gave a reading and talk at the Fullerton Public Library in Fullerton, California. P&W’s Andrew Wessels reports.

As Sunday afternoon temperatures climbed toward triple digits, a large crowd gathered in the comfortable confines of the Fullerton Public Library’s new Community Room. Families, teachers, and high school and college students waited for the arrival of Luis Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and director of Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural, in Sylmar, California.

Greeted by applause following Gustavo Arellano’s introduction, Rodriguez began his reading neither with an excerpt from one of his books nor an anecdote about his life in particular. Rather, Rodriguez began by connecting his life and the lives of everyone in the audience to Homer’s Odyssey. The connection made, though, was to Odysseus’s son Telemachus rather than the famous hero. Rodriguez wanted to talk about the process of maturation and growth, the process of finding one’s way in life.

Rodriguez read from two segments of his newest book, It Calls You Back, about the incarceration of his oldest son and his own attempts to confront his failings as a father. The first excerpt told the story of his wife’s youth, in which she chose to break free of a patriarchal family situation and become disowned in order to move away for college. The second excerpt was from a letter his son wrote shortly after being released from prison, when he was looking to redeem himself in the same way Rodriguez did from his youthful failings.

The focus on youth and maturation was the major theme of the reading. Instead of giving a straightforward reading, Rodriguez focused his energy on delivering a message: one of help and healing rather than incarceration and punishment. As a reformed gang member whose subsequent life has been dedicated to fighting gang violence and developing opportunities for inner city at-risk youth, Rodriguez’s stories carried the weight of experience and triumph.

Throughout the event, Rodriguez peppered his anecdotes—of gang life, becoming a father, finding his writing voice, and being redeemed through the guidance of dedicated mentors—with two phrases: “You know what I’m getting at” and “You know what I’m saying.” The intonation of these phrases was simultaneously a question and a statement. This duality seemed to be at the heart of Rodriguez’s message, to be simultaneously open and forceful, accepting and strong. At the end of the question and answer session, Rodriguez challenged the entire audience to provide positive opportunities so that all youths can “pick their trouble” through reading and knowledge rather than streets, gangs, and violence.

As Rodriguez left the podium and made his way to the table to sign books, nearly the entire audience gathered in a line that almost encircled the Community Room. As Rodriguez signed books and spoke to each of his readers, it was clear that his words and his works had, like he asked from all of us, created “a space to fail, to heal, and to redeem.”

Photo: Luis Rodriguez (right) signs books for fans. Credit: Andrew Wessels.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The Natan Fund, a New York City-based foundation that supports Jewish nonprofit organizations and creative projects, has introduced a new award for nonfiction writers. The Natan Book Award will annually give a Jewish writer a prize of $50,000 for a work-in-progress.

The prize money will be given in two stages: an initial award of $15,000 will be given to an individual writer to support the writing process; the remaining amount will finance the book’s marketing and publicity. Nonfiction books on Jewish themes, written in English, which have an existing publishing contract with a recognized commercial or academic publisher, are eligible.

The Natan Book Awards are currently open for submissions. Authors or publishers may nominate books by December 3. Author and Atlantic Monthly staff writer Jeffrey Goldberg and New Republic journalist and editor Franklin Foer will co-chair the award committee, which will announce the winner in April 2013. 

At a recent celebration for the Natan Fund’s ten-year anniversary, New York Times columnist David Brooks announced the launch of the new award. “The Natan Book Award provides Natan a vehicle for bringing its support for creative and meaningful new initiatives into the intellectual arena,” Brooks said. “In ten years of grantmaking, Natan has helped to galvanize innovation across the Jewish and Israeli social sectors. The Book Award will leverage that experience on behalf of a gifted author with groundbreaking ideas.”

The Natan Fund seeks books that focus on issues of Jewish life, history, community, and identity for the twenty-first century, and which reflect “the changing notions of individual and collective Jewish identity” throughout the world.

According to the Natan website, the publisher of the selected book must agree to work with Natan on marketing and publicity strategies—however, the guidelines state, “the award is intended to complement, not replace, the publisher’s marketing efforts.” 

Since it was founded in 2002, the Natan Fund has awarded over 7.7 million dollars to 128 social entrepreneurs and emerging nonprofit organizations. Visit the website for complete submission guidelines and more information on the inaugural Natan Book Awards.

In the profile “Emma Straub’s Life in Letters” (Poets & Writers Magazine, September/October 2012), author Emma Straub reveals that the genesis for her novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures was an obituary she read about a woman named Jennifer Jones. After reading the obituary, she wrote a fictionalized account of her life. Follow Straub’s example: Read the obituary section of a newspaper, and write a story with a main character loosely based on what you find.

The Rona Jaffe Foundation has announced the winners of its 2012 Writers’ Awards. The annual awards honor six emerging women writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Each winner receives $30,000.

This year’s recipients include poet Lauren Goodwin Slaughter of Birmingham, Alabama; fiction writers Julia Elliott of Cayce, South Carolina, Christina Nichol of Sebastopol, California, and Rachel Swearingen of Kalamazoo, Michigan; and creative nonfiction writers Kim Tingley of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Inara Verzemnieks of Iowa City.

The late novelist Rona Jaffe established the awards program in 1995, in order to support women writers in the early stages of their careers. Since then, the program has given more than one million dollars in prize money to over a hundred women.

“This is an extraordinary and ambitious group of women writers,” Beth McCabe, the director of the awards program, said in a press release of the 2012 winners. “They are original, inventive, provocative, and daring. They are taking risks, challenging conventions, and tackling their material with a sense of humor, brio, and confidence beyond their years.” 

Recipients of the awards are nominated by writers, editors, teachers, critics, and other literary professionals. A selection committee is appointed by the foundation annually, and all nominators and committee members remain anonymous. 

“All of our winners are working to complete their first books and for many this will be the first opportunity in their careers to free themselves temporarily from financial worries to focus on their writing,” McCabe added. “This is what Rona had always hoped to achieve with her program and it’s wonderful to see the impact it has had on these writers’ lives.” 

Rona Jaffe was the author of sixteen books. Her most recent novel is The Room-Mating Season (Dutton, 2003). Her first novel, The Best of Everything, originally published by Simon and Schuster in 1958, was reissued by Penguin in 2005, the year that Jaffe passed away.

Past winners of the awards have included writers such as Eula Biss, Rivka Galchen, ZZ Packer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Tracy K. Smith. The 2012 winners will give a reading at New York University in New York City on September 21. For more information about the winners, and about the Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards, visit the website

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