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The California Writers Exchange contest introduces emerging writers from California to the New York literary community and provides them a network for professional advancement. Every third year, writers in California are invited to submit manuscripts. On May 25, 2013, winners of the 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013 contests gave a celebratory reading at the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Cheryl Klein, director of P&W’s California office, blogs about the event.

Allison Benis WhiteIt was poet Allison Benis White who coined the catchphrase of the day: Her trip to New York in 2004, she said, was “like Disneyland for writers.” She described a week of meals at fabulous restaurants with the literary equivalents of Mickey and Donald. She remembered being nervous and joyous. And she remembered Richard Howard, then poetry editor of the Paris Review, bringing her back down to earth again.

“I was feeling anxious because I’d heard he was very critical. But then he said to [fiction winner] Dylan Landis and me, ‘I loved your work.’ That put my mind at ease. But then he turned to Dylan and said, ‘And I especially loved yours.’” White laughed. “So I couldn’t get too carried away.”

White’s second collection, Small Porcelain Head, recently won the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry. Her first, which included the poems in her California Writers Exchange manuscript, was published as Self-Portrait With Crayon by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2009.

Although only one of the eight contest winners (Craig Santos Perez, 2010) had a book out when he won the contest, now the first six have a book published or forthcoming, cementing the contest’s reputation as a career stepping stone—or at least a forecaster of success—for emerging writers.

The Last Bookstore, an old bank remodeled as a cavernous literary wonderland, was an appropriate site for writers to talk about their Disneyland experiences. Sculptures made out of old books swooped from the walls and mezzanine. Browsers weaved in and out of book-bricked archways on the second floor in search of $1 bargains. And on a stage amid the stacks on the ground floor, four additional contest winners echoed White’s testimony and read from their latest work.

Contest winners and P&W staff.Larry Colker, poetry winner from 2007, showed off the Matrix-like cover of his book Amnesia and Wings (Tebot Bach). 2010 winner Sean Bernard read an offbeat zombie story, in which the creatures don’t groan “braaaains” so much as matter-of-factly state it: “brains.” Laura Joyce Davis, the 2013 fiction winner, read from her novel about sex trafficking in the Philippines. Her co-winner, poet Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, read from a series of poems set on the Arizona-Mexico border, including one—from the point of view of a border agent—that she confessed she’d been afraid to read aloud until now.

But none of the writers who took the stage that day got there by being timid. Bermejo’s poem was gripping, sobering, and threaded with moments of unlikely connection. After the reading, writers and audience members mingled over wine, cheese, and strawberries. Not surprising, several audience members who had novels and poetry collections in the works wanted to know when the contest would be offered again.

Photos: Top: Allison Benis White. Bottom: back row, from left: P&W staff members Cheryl Klein, Andrew Wessels, and Jamie FitzGerald; front row: Larry Colker, Laura Joyce Davis, Allison Benis White, Sean Bernard, Xochtil-Julisa Bermejo. Credit: Alberto Vega.
The California Writers Exchange contest is made possible by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

Last night in London, American author A. M. Homes won the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) for her most recent novel, May We Be Forgiven. She will receive £30,000 (approximately $46,000). 

Founded in 1996, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is given annually for a novel written in English by a woman and published in the previous year. Homes beat out finalist Hilary Mantel, two-time Man Booker Prize recipient, whose Bring Up the Bodies—the second in her much-lauded Cromwell trilogy—was projected to win. The other finalists were Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, who won the Women’s Prize in 2010 for The Lacuna; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; NW by Zadie Smith, who won the Women’s Prize in 2006 for On Beauty; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.

Homes

“Our 2013 shortlist was exceptionally strong and our judges’ meeting was long and passionately argued,” said chair of judges Miranda Richardson, “but in the end we agreed that May We Be Forgiven is a dazzling, original, viscerally funny black comedy—a subversion of the American dream. This is a book we want to read again and give to our friends.”

“This award is super special to me,” Homes said at the ceremony. “It's the first actual book award I've won. I've always been in awe of this prize and I've always dreamed I would win it.” May We Be Forgiven, the author’s tenth book and seventh novel, was published by Viking last October. 

After last year’s announcement that the prestigious prize would end its three-year partnership with telecommunications company Orange, Women’s Prize cofounder and director Kate Mosse announced on Tuesday that, beginning next year, Bailey’s liqueur will serve as the new sponsor for the prize. 

While the award has received criticism for both its all-female focus and for the choice of partnership, Homes says the prize remains important. “Despite a lot of change and growth, we still live in a world where the work of male writers dominates,” she said in an interview with the Telegraph. “But more importantly, it’s important to read the hundreds of books that are submitted for this kind of prize and to look at the range of work of women writers, and produce a shortlist that shows that women are writing substantial, powerful, big ideas—historical work, that goes beyond gender and resonates throughout the culture.”

In A Chance Meeting: The Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, nonfiction author Rachel Cohen investigates the relationships and interactions between various writers—Henry James and William Dean Howells; Carl Van Vechten and Gertrude Stein; Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore—and while the book relays actual encounters, many of the unknown details (what clothes were worn, what the subjects were thinking) are imagined. Write a letter to one of your favorite writers, living or dead, telling him or her about your work, your life, and how their writing has influenced you. Then write an imagined response, from the writer to you.

In her book An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, Janna Malamud Smith writes about a photography exhibit she saw in the late 1970s that consisted of Abe Frajndlich's pictures of photographer Minor White, who died in 1976. "In the photographs, Frajndlich shows White dressed up in different costumes representing other lives he might have lived," she writes. "What, the exhibition asked on White's behalf, would it have been like to have had more than one turn? Who else might I have become? What other work could I have done?" Choose a minor character from one of your stories (one that is giving you trouble, perhaps) and give him or her the Abe Frajndlich treatment: Write a series of paragraphs in which you imagine different lives for that character.

The North Adams, Massachusetts–based Tupelo Press has announced the launch of a new online literary magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, and with it an inaugural poetry contest. The winner will receive one thousand dollars and publication in the first issue of Tupelo Quarterly

The prize is currently open for submissions. Using the online submission manager, poets residing in the United States and abroad may submit up to five previously unpublished poems in English with a twenty-dollar entry fee by August 15. Simultaneous submissions are welcome; translations are not eligible. 

Ilya Kaminsky will judge. The winner and three runners-up will be announced with the release of the first issue on October 15.  

Founded in 2001, Tupelo Press is an independent, non-profit literary press “devoted to discovering and publishing works of poetry and literary fiction by emerging and established writers.” In this new digital expansionTupelo Quarterly follows that mission and extends beyond it, publishing both unsolicited work by new writers and solicited work by established writers and visual artists. “In addition to a stunning poem or story on the page, we want to include work that takes full advantage of the medium,” the editors write in their mission statement. “We want to honor the art as received, and to extend the scope of what a literary journal can do. Tupelo Quarterly cultivates generous artistic community, celebrates intellectual and creative curiosity, and presumes abundance. We hold the gate open, not closed.”

The editors of Tupelo Quarterly, with poet and prose writer Jessamyn Johnston Smyth at the helm, will begin reading general submissions for Issue Two, due out in January 2014, in October. Detailed guidelines for open submissions will be announced on the website.

In their introduction to My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), Kevin Killian and Peter Gizzi write about Spicer's idea of the serial poem, "a book-length progression of short poems that function together as a single movement." Robin Blaser described the form as "a dark house, where you throw a light on in a room, then turn it off, and enter the next room, where you turn on a light, and so on." As Spicer's poetry "moves from dark room to dark room," Killian and Gizzi write, "each flash of illumination leaves an afterimage on the imagination, and the lines of the poem become artifacts of an ongoing engagement with larger forces." Read some of Jack Spicer's long poems, including The Holy Grail and Billy the Kid. Consider throwing a light on some rooms of your own.

P&W–supported Larry Colker blogs about successful poetry readings. He has co-hosted the weekly Redondo Poets reading series for about fifteen years. In 2006 he won the California Writers Exchange poetry contest, sponsored by Poets & Writers, Inc. His first book-length collection, Amnesia and Wings, was published by Tebot Bach in May 2013. By day Larry develops and delivers systems training for Kaiser Permanente. He lives in Burbank, California.

I am happy to have this opportunity, as the June Readings/Workshops Writer in Residence, to give something back to Poets & Writers. I have been the beneficiary of much largesse from P&W, in the form of remuneration for being the featured poet at readings and as poetry winner of the 2007 California Writers Exchange Award.

By way of introduction, I would like to share a few thoughts in no particular order. In subsequent blog posts I will be more essayistic. But to start off, maybe you are curious about what I think about poetry.

As cohost of a long-running open mic reading with featured poets (Redondo Poets at Coffee Cartel), I am biased in favor of poetry that reads well aloud, to a broad audience. That means that usually there is followable movement and memorable language, with at least some performance presence or awareness on the poet's part. That is not to say that some of my favorite poems do not come across well aloud. And that is also not to say that all styles of spoken word poetry appeal to me.

My two top criteria for a successful poem are: (1) you want to re-read/re-hear it right away, and (2) you want to tell someone about it.

When I am asked, “How do you know when a poem is done?” I answer that in the best cases it is when the hair on my neck stands up when I read it. In most cases, it is when the poem says what I wanted to say and it is as concise as I can make it (no unnecessary words). In most cases, what I end up saying in a poem has only a thin connection to what I started out to say, to what I thought I wanted to say. I write to put into words what haunts me emotionally, like trying to render in words the frustratingly ineffable emotions you may wake up with when a dream ends. But I also have a taste for wit.

Having heard eighteen thousand or so poems read over the last fifteen years, I realize that one's poetry is a reflection of one's identity, and by identity, I mean our personal mythology about what makes us who we are. And one doesn't always get at it at the outset. Of course we imitate others at the outset. But one of the greatest pleasures I have as host of a regular reading series is witnessing a poet coming into his or her own unique voice over time.

Photo: Larry Colker. Credit: Fred Turko.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Poet and artist Amanda Deutch blogs about her P&W–supported poetry and arts festival, Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival. She is the author of four chapbooks: Gena Rowlands, Box of Sky: Skeleton Poems, Motel Drift, and The Subway Series. She is also the recipient of a 2007 Footpaths to Creativity Fellowship to write in the Azores Archipelago.

“Long ago when I was a young man, Coney Island was a favorite spot. At that time, Coney Island had not the reputation it has now.”—Walt Whitman

I had an idea to have a free community-based poetry and arts festival in Coney Island, a neighborhood on the edge of a city. The festival would incorporate site-specific poetry, free workshops, and readings in a spectacular location. I wanted to create a space where people who had written about Coney Island could come and read and share their words about the place. Coney Island is a neighborhood with a vivid art and literary history, and for me it holds significant family history. My mother’s family lived in Coney Island, on 29th between Mermaid and Surf, for almost twenty years, from the 1920s to the 1950s. Ever since hearing my grandmother Betty first say the words, “Half Moon Hotel,” "Abe Reles," and "meshugana," Coney Island held a poetic resonance for me. I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the place where this Half Moon Hotel once towered with views of the Atlantic and a 150-foot ferris wheel could be landmarked.

Years ago, when I told a good friend my idea to have a festival, he said, “Go for it.” That’s how a lot of things get started in my life, simply with an inspiration and a good friend saying, “Go for it.” I suppose I am lucky to have such good friends and perhaps a little bit of raw nerve. My idea has grown into a nonprofit, Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival. I have been able to invite some of the most innovative, incredible, and groundbreaking New York City poets and writers to come and read in Coney Island’s New York Aquarium in front of sea nettle jellyfish—not your typical space for a poetry reading—for an audience that is not your typical poetry audience. Our festival’s audience consists of “regular folks.” We invite mostly native New Yorker writers who are pushing boundaries in the field of poetry. I have had the opportunity, through Poets & Writers’ Readings/Workshops Program, to offer writers a small fee to read and to give a writing workshop during the festival. Brooklyn-based poet Patricia Spears Jones read at the debut festival and lead a free writing workshop for adults at the Mermaid Avenue Library. She enjoyed the experience so much that she came back again and would like to continue leading workshops for us. This symbiotic relationship between artists and the community is just what I was after. Award-winning poet Cara Benson recently said, “How could I ever forget reading there?” I have often thought, "Why can’t poetry readings be in incredible aesthetic environments? Why not have site- specific poetry?" So here you have site-specific poetry!

Many writers reading for the festival have already written prose or poetry about Coney Island. If they haven’t, I encourage writers to create a new Coney Island work especially for Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival. Edwin Torres (mentioned in a previous post) came and surprised everyone by reading a rare autobiographical poem, “Coney Island 1969,” that was more narrative than most of his experimental poetry. The poem spoke of his father coming from the Bronx to work as a manager at Nathan’s in Coney Island when he was a little boy growing up in New York City!

This past year we incorporated an audio installation of a poem by the world renowned Bronx born, architect, artist and poet Vito Acconci into the festival. With the help of the Aquarium staff, I placed it outdoors for two evenings in the New York Aquarium’s plaza, beside the penguins. One of the truly spectacular spatial relationships is that Vito’s firm Acconci Studios designed the sculptural art, “Wave-A-Wall,” on the West 8th subway station right across the street! So you could hear his poem “Antarctica” in a small nook beside the penguins while watching the sky change colors right across the street from one of his art commissions.

We also had the ticket-takers who work in the Eldorado Bumper Cars ticket booth on Surf Avenue Trudy and Louis read Coney Island poetry on the mic. Just yesterday Louis stopped me on the street and said, "Hey, when are we doing that again? I got some poetry I want to read and found some poets who would like to get on the mic, too."

Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival brings site-specific poetry, installations, symbiosis, and local New York City writers waxing poetic about Nathan’s—all for less than the price of a hot dog. It's free!

Photo: Cara Benson, Amanda Deutch, and Edwin Torres.

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

Spend a few moments looking around your kitchen, office, or bedroom, and gather any found objects (not including books, magazines, or journals) that contain text: post-it notes, receipts, a piece of mail, the packaging of food or household products. Freewrite for fifteen minutes, recording as many words and phrases from the objects as you can, and taking note of any connections, associations, or themes that may arise. Then write an essay about what you find.

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) has announced the creation of the John Leonard Award, a new prize honoring a first book of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, biography, criticism, or autobiography. The recipient of the award—who will be selected by the NBCC’s member critics and editors—will be announced at the annual NBCC awards ceremony in early 2014.

The new award is named in honor of John Leonard, a literary critic and former editor of the New York Times Book Review. A founding member of the NBCC, Leonard (1939–2008) was known not only for his criticism of books, film, and television, but also for his encouragement of young critics and the attention he paid to debut writers. “One of the first American critics to write on Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leonard shared his enthusiasms with a wide reading audience,” the NBCC reported in a press release. “In creating the John Leonard Award, the NBCC recognizes his commitment to nurturing new authors.”

Founded in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are given annually "to honor outstanding writing and to foster a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature." The awards are open to any book in English, including translations, published in the United States in the previous year. Poet D.A. Powell and fiction writer Ben Fountain received the 2012 awards. The John Leonard Award will be the first award selected directly by the NBCC’s membership—which is comprised of nearly five hundred book critics, editors, and authors nationwide—rather than by its board of directors.

"As a reader, I have a favorite canon of ranters that runs from Dostoevsky to Thomas Bernard to the Philip Roth of Sabbath's Theater," says novelist Claire Messud in a profile by Michael Washburn in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. "I love a ranter." Read some of the work of the authors Messud mentions and write a rant of your own.

In honor of the centennial anniversary of the birth of May Swenson, on May 28, read some poems by this award-winning poet (consult the Academy of American Poets website for a bibliography), then write a poem with her work in mind. Remember, this is a poet who, four months before her death on December 28, 1989, wrote, "The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem."

American author Lydia Davis has won the fifth Man Booker International Prize. The award, worth £60,000 (approximately $90,000), was presented to Davis yesterday at an awards ceremony in London. 

Davis, whose recent prose chapbook, The Cows, was published by Sarabande Books in 2011, and whose collaborative work, Two American Scenes, is just out as part of the New Directions poetry pamphlet series, is best known for her short stories, which are often noted for their brevity. Christopher Ricks, chairman of the Man Booker International Prize panel of judges, said Davis’s “writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorize them? They have been called stories but could equally be miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apophthegms, prayers, or simply observations.”

Davis is the author of nine story collections and one novel, The End of the Story (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994). She is also a translator of French literature, most notably Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. 

The Man Booker International Prize is given biennially to a fiction writer from any country for a body of work. Living authors who have published fiction originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language are eligible. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel, which this year included Ricks, Elif Batuman, Aminatta Forna, Yiyun Li, and Tim Parks. 

The finalists were U. R. Ananthamurthy, Aharon Appelfeld, Intizar Husain, Yan Lianke, Marie NDiaye, Josip Novakovich, Marilynne Robinson, Vladimir Sorokin, and Peter Stamm. The previous prize winners have included Chinua Achebe, Ismail Kadaré, Alice Munro, and Philip Roth.

Often found in the work of Elizabethan and Romantic poets, anaphora—a Greek word meaning “the act of carrying back”—is the repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive lines, sentences, fragments, or verses. Write a short anaphoric essay beginning each sentence with the same word or phrase.

Imagine you are your main character (or just write from your own perspective). What do you really, really want? Now, start talking about that object of desire. Don’t keep saying, “I want X, I want X, I want X.” Rather, just talk about the thing you want, in all its desirable specificity. Let yourself get caught up in all that wanting.
This week's writing prompt comes from Eileen Pollack, whose most recent novel, Breaking and Entering, was published in January 2012 by Four Way Books. She wrote about desire and writing for Fiction Writers Review.

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