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Choose a place from your childhood—the house your grew up in, your grandparents' home, or another place you visited often—and draw a map of it, with as much detail as possible. Let the map ignite your memory about what happened in this place and who was there. Write a scene for a story based on a fictionalized account of one of your memories, using this place as the setting and your map as source of description. 

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, is looking for works of poetry and prose from collegiate writers whose literary work advances social justice, in the spirit of Stowe's activism through storytelling. Accepting all types of previously-published writing, from poems to stories to blog posts, the inaugural Student Stowe Prize competition will award twenty-five hundred dollars to a current college or university student.

The winning work will also be republished on the Stowe Center website, and the writer will be recognized at a ceremony on June 7, 2012, alongside a secondary school student whose writing also strives to make "a tangible impact on a social justice issue critical to contemporary society." Eligible works may touch on questions of, for instance, race, class, or gender equality, and must have appeared in a notable periodical or blog.

Student writers may submit entries, which should be accompanied by three references, until February 27. For complete guidelines, visit the Stowe Center website.

A form that requires remarkable economy of narrative is tightening its belt even further in Electric Literature's holiday short short story contest. The literary magazine is asking writers to "show a little restraint," telling a story in thirty to three hundred words and using each of those words only once.

There is no fee to enter the competition, and, while there's no cash prize, either, the three top stories will be published on the Outlet, Electric Literature's blog. The top winner will also receive a print edition of Electric Literature Volume 1 (six issues) and the book Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! (Soft Skull Press, 2011) by contest judge Mike Edison, arguably an expert on the opposite of restraint.

The first runner-up wins a digital edition of Electric Literature Volume 1, and the third-place prize comes courtesy of a master of literary constrictions, the Oulipo's Raymond Queneau—the second runner-up will receive Queneau's Exercises in Style, an illustrated short short story collection and field guide to Oulipean language play.

Story entries, which should be submitted via e-mail, are due to Electric Literature on December 31. For the "nit-picky" rules concerning duplicate usage of possessives, plurals, etcetera, visit the Outlet's fine print page.

P&W-supported spoken-word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about the L.A. poetry scene.

I was at Beyond Baroque in October to witness a book release party for Wanda Coleman. Promoted as her last public reading for an indefinite amount of time, it was worth the congested drive to Venice on a Friday night to see her live. The World Falls Away is her second book published by University of Pittsburgh Press.

She is more blunt than ever, writing, "There is no poison I have not swallowed." Coleman reflects on her childhood in L.A., two marriages, and the loss of her son. Douglas Kearney says, "Wanda Coleman's hard-edged new collection interrogates death's nearsightedness. Mother outlives son. Feet wear out before the heart. And the truth teller dies before truth frees her. These poems don't go gently."

Her sharp poetics always hit with musicality, which is a great fit for the Pitt Poetry Series. The series dates back to 1967 and is dedicated to publishing progressive poetry. Wanda's forty-plus years of work places here among the greatest poets ever to come out of L.A.

Wanda Coleman is one of the major writers covered in Bill Mohr's new book Hold Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948–1992, University of Iowa Press. Mohr's book is one of the first real treatments of the history of L.A. poetry. There have been many books on slices of L.A. poetry like Charles Bukowski, the Watts Writers Workshop, and the Venice Beats, but there's never been one book as expansive as this one.

Over a fifteen year period Mohr published a literary journal and several books through his imprint Momentum Press. Mohr's anecdotes about Wanda Coleman, Leland Hickman, Ron Koertge, Gerald Locklin, and Suzanne Lummis bring the Carter and Reagan era alive. His book captures the ethos of the small press movement. Mohr describes the lively circuit of independent bookstores and small press publishers, cataloging the Southern California scene from the Venice Beats to the beginnings of the spoken-word movement.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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

Write a poem in the style and voice of a personals or classifieds ad. Read C.D. Wright’s “Personals” for inspiration.

The Montreal Poetry Prize, an international award established this year by a new nonprofit in Canada, was given last night to a poet from Australia. Mark Tredinnick of Sydney received the prize, an unprecedented fifty-thousand-dollars for a single poem, for "Walking Underwater."

"This is a bold, big-thinking poem," said judge and former U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion, "in which ancient themesespecially the theme of our human relationship with landscapeare recast and rekindled."

Tredinnick's poem was among fifty shortlisted for the prize (including one other piece written by him), all of which will appear in an anthology published by Montreal-based Véhicule Press. The longlisted poems were published in an e-book, which the prize organization is offering for free on its website.

Another of the shortlisted poets received an unanticipated award, the publication of her work as a broadside designed by U.S. artist Eric Fischl. A limited edition of "The Grasshoppers' Silence" by Canadian poet Linda Rogers will be released in 2012, and proceeds from sales of the signed broadside will go to fund future awards and efforts of the Montreal International Poetry Prize nonprofit.

In the video below, Rogers reads the title poem, itself artfully rendered as a broadside, from her book Muscle Memory (Ekstasis Editions, 2009).

Author of the novel Motown Burning, and the poetry collection Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, Detroit native John Jeffire teaches English at Chippewa Valley High School where he’s organized P&W-supported after-school performances. Jeffire shared with us how these events have enriched the students’ lives.

What is your most successful literary program?
Our most successful program is our open mic performance night, which includes Rock the Mic events and the annual Motown Word Fest. We bring over 150 high school kids into our cafeteria on a school night to read, sing, play music, rap, and tell jokes. It's magic. It truly is amazing how diverse and talented the performers are.

What makes your programs unique?
We invite local metropolitan Detroit poets and musicians to perform, and then mix the kids and their acts in with them. Some, such as poet M. L. Liebler, actually bring kids up onto the stage with them to perform. It's a blast.

What are the benefits of your programs for your students?
The performers we've brought in have been very generous with the kids, encouraging them to write and express themselves and keep the faith. It's tough to be a teen today—they are expected to know and be so much more than the kids of my generation. I don't know how they keep up. And here in the Detroit area, times are tough. So many of the kids have lost their homes or their parents have lost their jobs. The world they live in is not always kind to them. It's nice to provide them some hours of sanctuary where textbooks, smart phones, laptops, problems, and pressures are put away, and language is their muse.

What's the craziest thing that's happened at an event you've hosted?
I'm proud to say that in several years of putting on these events we've only had one kid suspended for using inappropriate language. The kids are enthusiastic and eager to express themselves, but they've also been respectful. Most of them are not star athletes or members of student council—this is their one opportunity to shine in front of their peers and open up. They really are brave.

How do you find and invite writers?
I invite people I've heard before at the various literary venues around Detroit. John Lamb, Jabiya Dragonsun, as well as P&W-supported writers La Shaun phoenix Moore, Olga Klekner, jessica care moore, Aricka Foreman, M. L. Liebler, and others are all performers I've seen live and respect a great deal. Most of all, they are people who understand that their participation is going to help expose kids to the magic and power of language.

Has literary presenting informed your own writing life?
I've become more attentive to how emotionally significant and potentially powerful those first experiences reading in front of an audience can be. For some kids, this is the greatest act of courage they've ever taken. I relive that sense of fear and also triumph in sharing words for the very first time.

What is the value of literary programs for your community?
The community celebrates dunks and touchdowns—why not poems, stories, melodies, and words? We give a segment of our student population a chance to be heard and make an impact. This is their big moment and it's celebrated. Even the kids who don't perform benefit—they see poetry in a different light after they experience someone like jessica care moore. Attending just one event, they become turned on to literary art. Mission accomplished.

Photo: John Jeffire. Credit: Lea Jeffire.

Support for Readings/Workshops events 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.

The Poetry Foundation in Chicago, supporter of emerging young poets through its Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, has announced that it will once again administer the Emily Dickinson First Book Award, an occasional prize for unpublished poets of at least forty years of age. The competition, which awards ten thousand dollars and book publication, is open to American poets who have not published a full-length collection of verse.

Graywolf Press will publish the winning manuscript, which must be forty-eight to eighty pages long and never before submitted for this particular prize. The Minneapolis-based indie also published the two previous winners' collections, Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 by the late Landis Everson and The King's Question by Brian Culhane.

The Poetry Foundation will begin accepting entries on January 16, and the competition will close on February 17. The winning poet will be notified before the close of National Poetry Month on April 30.

For complete guidelines, visit the contest web page.

Write a story that opens with your main character doing something that is completely antithetical to his or her personality. Let the story be about how this character came to do what he or she did.

Once again in 2012 Amazon will partner with Penguin Group to hold a contest for early-career novelists. The two media giants announced last week that the fifth annual Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which offers an advance of fifteen thousand dollars and a publication contract with Penguin, will open on January 23 and close to entries on February 5—or once five thousand entries have been submitted in the general fiction category (a young adult competition is being offered as well).

The assessment process for the contest is five-tiered. First, Amazon editors will select one thousand manuscripts from the total pool, and, with the assistance of seasoned Amazon reviewers, will whittle that group down to two hundred fifty. Those that make the cut will be reviewed and rated by Publishers Weekly reviewers, and the most favored fifty will be handed off to editors at Penguin, who will select three finalists.

The shortlisted writers will have their manuscripts reviewed by a panel that includes editor Anne Sowards, literary agent Donald Maass, and thriller author Linda Fairstein, and Amazon users will then be able to vote for a winner based on the reviews and manuscript excerpts. Amazon will reveal the winner on June 16.

For contest guidelines and the fine print, visit the Amazon website.

Look back through the poems you've written this year and make a list of images or words you've repeated. This list will guide you toward identifying your poetic obsessions. Choose one of your poetic obsessions and write a poem that fully explores it.

P&W-supported spoken word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about The Last Bookstore.

I first became familiar with Rothenberg, poet/publisher of Big Bridge and author of more than twenty books, after picking up his book The Paris Journals. The book's format intrigued me immediately, a hybrid poetic/prose travel journey novella about his time in Paris. Rothenberg has edited collections of Phillip Whalen and David Meltzer as well as written several songs for film and television. Rothenberg read this past Sunday at The Last Bookstore.

The Last Bookstore has emerged as a mecca for literary events in Los Angeles and has featured David Meltzer, Sesshu Foster, Pam Ward, the L.A. Noir Poetry Festival, Writers Row, and the site-specific play titled A Record of Light. Located on Spring and Fifth in Downtown L.A.'s Old Bank District, the space has 10,000 square feet, comfortable seats, thousands of titles, and low prices. (They also have several crates of vinyl records.) The ambiance is undeniable in the store and the block itself.

Spring Street is often referred to as the Wall Street of the West; it's a goldmine for architectural historians with the largest collection of pre-World War II architecture in America. The large old banks were all built in classical architectural styles like Beaux-Arts, Art Deco, and Italian Renaissance Revival—elegantly poured concrete gems about a dozen floors each. The Last Bookstore is on the ground floor of a Beaux-Arts building designed by John Parkinson, the architect of Los Angeles's City Hall, the Memorial Coliseum, Bullocks Wilshire, and most of the banks on Spring Street. A plaque in his honor is located on the west sidewalk of Spring near the bookstore.

Literary legends, high school poets, and college students alike speak at the bookstore's events. Their philosophy: three generations on the same stage, all the ancestors on the same page.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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

Suzanne Lummis, poet and director of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, blogs about the P&W-supported Lummis Day Festival in Los Angeles.

Now and then at a reading, you nab the whole audience. When the show is over they rush up to you, wild with joy. But other times, it's that reading where just eleven people show up, only one book is bought, and you drive home grumpy. Then much later, someone comes up to you at an event, kind of shy, and tells you how years back she'd been in a sparse audience at some now defunct café, and how that reading persuaded her to give up her career in advertising, which she despised, and become a writer instead. Now she's happy. And, you think, "Ah, so that's whom that evening was for."

On especially felicitous occasions, you get both, the audience and the person who walks away changed. Take last year's Lummis Day for example. The kick-off poetry reading for the annual gala, also know as the Festival of Northeast Los Angeles, has never failed to please a crowd. And, it does draw a crowd—as many as can fit comfortably into the spacious garden in front of El Alisal, the name Charles Lummis gave to the idiosyncratic house he built with river rock around the turn of the nineteenth century. Eliot Sekular, a champion of Northeast Los Angeles, founded Lummis Day, naming it after my grandfather, who Southwest history buffs remember for his advocacy on behalf of Native American and Spanish California culture. So every first Sunday of June, folks drive across the city, or walk over from around the corner, always in high spirits. It is after all, not only a lively reading with a social gathering afterwards, but the beginning of a daylong party, with bands, folkloric dances, and other entertainments.

Last year, in my opening comments, I mentioned that I felt lucky that my parents had been poetry readers, and therefore I'd never in my life lived in a house that did not have poetry on the bookshelves. Steve Kowit then delighted fiesta-goers with his humor and embracing energy, followed by Mariano Zara, who read a moving personal piece, and poetry-loving actor Dale Raoul (Maxine Fortenberry in True Blood), who presented selections from Poems of the American West. While the assembled gathered in the reception area for a "noise" (Lummis disdained the term "salon" and was bored by "party"), a fellow approached me with a title he'd just purchased from the book table, Poems of the American West.  He was beaming. "Could I please write 'For Alfredo?'"  I asked him to tell me a little about himself so I could personalize the dedication. "Oh, it's for him," he said, and pointed to a stroller holding a boy of about two. Then his wife appeared by his side. And I was, well... I don't want to get sentimental. The English have a word for it—I was chuffed. This little boy would grow up in a house with poetry... it's not everything, but it seems to have the makings of a promising start. 

Photo: Suzanne Lummis. Credit: Penelope Torribio.

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


The Center for Fiction in New York City has announced the winner of the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, formerly the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. The ten-thousand-dollar award went to Colorado author Bonnie Nadzam for Lamb (Other Press).

The story of a middle-aged man who develops a friendship with, in the words of the author, a "poor and rather dull eleven-year-old girl" and embarks on a road trip with her, Nadzam's novel has drawn comparisons to Nabokov's classic, and controversial, story of intergenerational relations. But, "while kneejerk comparisons to Lolita are inevitable," says Drew Toal of the Daily Beast, which counted Lamb among its "Great Weekend Reads" earlier this fall, "David Lamb is playing a different game than Humbert Humbert.”

Nadzam's novel won out over debuts by finalists David Bezmozgis for The Free World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Sarah Braunstein for The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (Norton), Carolyn Cooke for Daughters of the Revolution (Knopf), Ida Hattemer-Higgins for The History of History (Knopf), Shards by Ismet Prcic (Black Cat), and Touch by Alexi Zentner (Norton). Each of the authors shortlisted received an award of one thousand dollars.

At the award ceremony on Tuesday, the Center for Fiction also awarded Scribner editor in chief Nan Graham the Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction.

Write a story structured around a series of vignettes based on the descriptions of imagined photographs. For an example, read Heidi Julavits's "Marry the One Who Gets There First: Outtakes From the Sheidegger-Krupnik Wedding Album," included in The Best American Short Stories, 1999 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

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