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For the tenth and final installment of this summer's Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Jessica Hollander, who won the 2013 Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Short Fiction for her debut story collection, In These Times the Home is a Tired Place. The annual prize includes $1,000 and publication by the University of North Texas Press. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hollander received her MFA from the University of Alabama, where she currently teaches English, composition, and creative writing.

How has winning this award impacted your career?
The most exciting part about winning has been engaging with the larger writing community. Getting reviews and interviews and being invited to participate in readings and events is invigorating and has certainly gotten my writing more exposure. I’ve also received a handful of contacts from agents and editors, and I recently signed with an agent.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
I think winning the award has reinvigorated my enthusiasm to experiment with short stories. I took risks in structure and language in this collection, and winning the award has encouraged me to continue to do so. There’s such a range of publishing opportunities for collections, so many small and university presses with varying aesthetics, so it’s not necessary to think about a mainstream market. I like taking risks from story to story and focusing on what’s exciting me about the writing.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I’ve entered tons of contests that I didn’t win. In These Times the Home is a Tired Place had been turned down by several contests and presses before winning the Katherine Anne Porter Prize. There are so many different aesthetics out there, so many different readers and judges, and there’s no way to predict who might love your work. It’s a lesson I learned when submitting to literary journals, when it would sometimes take a dozen tries before placing a piece. Not to mention I’ve disliked many books that received praise by others, and I’ve loved books that others have hated. Of course rejections still hurt enough that it can be hard to write for a day or two. I try to accept that disappointment is inevitable.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Don’t count on anything in this writing life, but throw your name in the hat as much as you can afford. I suggest first having your writing workshopped by experienced writers you trust, and it doesn’t hurt to get stories or novel excerpts published before sending full books to contests. These things can help you weather rejections better. Because the writing world is insanely competitive. My whole experience being a writer, from applying to graduate schools, getting published in magazines, winning contests, and now seeking tenure-track employment, has taught me to not be too emotionally invested in the outcome of anything. Getting published or winning a contest is the second most satisfying thing that can happen to a writer, but the most satisfying has to be writing itself.

To read more from winners, check out the previous weekly installments of our Winners on Winning series.

Photo: Jessica Hollander, credit Richard Mocarski.

Descriptions offer clarity, and the more detailed your descriptions of events, places, and people, the more fully the reader can experience the emotion and ambiance you are trying to establish. This week, make loads of detailed lists. Make them everywhere you go: the supermarket, your car, the park, your bedroom. Use all five senses to classify where you are, how you're feeling, and what those feelings make you think of. When you're writing a scene about a sticky summer morning on the bus, you'll be able to look back at your list and use the notes you made about the condensation on the windows, or the crying child in the seat behind you.

Often times we go through our days thinking about what we have to get done rather than how we are feeling. We push through feelings of discomfort or fatigue, thinking if we don't pay them any attention they'll go away. Today, try to pay more attention to the messages of your body. Pause and ask your body, "What do you want?" Listen for the response. Write a poem about the experience of tuning in to these physical messages.

Submissions are currently open for the second annual Prada Feltrinelli Prize, cosponsored by the Italian fashion house Prada and the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore. The winner or winners will each receive €5,000 (approximately $6,783) and publication in Prada Journal, a digital anthology distributed through the Prada website. The annual award is given for a short story.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of 10 to 20 pages in any language by June 24. There is no entry fee. The story should focus on the question, “What are the signs of a changing world? And what situations can we envision? Taking a good look at the details might give us the answer.” Representatives from Prada and Feltrinelli Editore, along with an international jury, will judge the contest. The winner will be announced by December 31, and the full terms and conditions can be read on the Prada website.

The inaugural winners of the prize were Mattia Conti of Molteno, Italy; Leisl Egan of Melbourne, Australia; Angel Mario Fernández of Soraluze, Spain; Sarah Harris Wallman of New Haven, Connecticut; and Peng Yang of Beijing, China. They each received €5,000, and were honored at an event at the Prada Epicenter in New York City in October 2013. At the event, excerpts of their stories were read aloud by writers and actors Jonathan Ames, Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, Jay McInerney, and Gary Shteyngart. Over 1,300 entries in over 30 languages were submitted for the 2013 prize. The 2013 Prada Journal can be downloaded from the Prada website and read in both the original language and in English. Of the five winning entries, two were written in English, one in Italian, one in Spanish, and one in Mandarin Chinese.

Four of the five inaugural winners, from left to right: Sarah Harris Wallman, Peng Yang, Mattia Conti, Leisl Egan.

Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images North America

Golda Solomon is a spoken word performer, professor, and the poet-in-residence at Blue Door Gallery. Her poems have been published in the Mom Egg, Heal: Between the Pages of These Folks We Seek a Panacea, the 35th Anniversary of Blind Beggar Press’ Collector’s Edition Anthology, Out of Africa, Fiber Plus, Sacred Visions, and Narratives x4. She is the author of Flatbush Cowgirl (CM Graphic Design, 1999) and Medicine Woman of Jazz (World Audience, 2012). She produced the poetry and jazz compilation albums First Set, Word Riffs, and Takin’ It To the Hollow. Solomon created From Page to Performance workshops and ArtSpeak: Poetic Responses to the Walls, writing workshops (partially funded by Poets & Writers), at Blue Door Gallery.

In 2008, I moved to Yonkers, New York, and came across Blue Door Gallery, a quaint gallery on a main street next to a boarded-up building. Giving back to community and nurturing diversity is essential to who I am. I began as a volunteer, facilitating writing workshops, and with the help of Poets & Writers, I became Blue Door Gallery's poet-in-residence, and ArtSpeak was born.

The ArtSpeak workshops give participants an opportunity to use exhibitions as writing prompts and inspiration. A packet is distributed that contains an agenda with the current exhibition program, ArtSpeak Walk (which includes questions, poems, and readings related to the artwork), an explanation of ekphrastic writing, and an evaluation form.

I facilitate eight workshops each calendar year, as well as two in the community outreach summer program. Each workshop is two and a half hours and allows leisurely viewing of the art with ample time for first draft free-writing and sharing in a welcoming atmosphere. Recent workshops have included an additional From Page to Performance workshop hour. Friends, family, and community members are invited to witness our “raw” work. On occasion, the artists attend, answer questions, and are invited to write—a rewarding experience for all.

It’s been said that I am playfully stubborn in my determination to bring out the best in all who are there. My background in communications has taught me how to help those with public speaking jitters and I personally understand what it’s like to have anxiety. As a child, I stopped playing the piano because of my fears and I try my best not to let that happen to anyone in my care. As one participant remarked, “For me, this was the best workshop/writing experience I’ve ever had. The group of writers was as varied as our ages and it gave the event incredible energy. I also felt free of my fears. In this workshop, I allowed myself to read my poem without quivering.”

It is gratifying and a privilege to work with these writers and receive positive feedback. One member noted, “This need to accept my creative side is the invaluable part of the ArtSpeak experience for me. The other part is working with visual art and having this art as prompts to stir my words."

Blue Door Gallery has included ArtSpeak poems in publications and honored the artists with three ArtSpeak chapbooks. The gallery will soon inaugurate Blue Door Quarterly with writings from each ArtSpeak workshop. These publications have offered an opportunity for established writers and emerging poets to be published together. Support from the Readings & Workshops program of Poets & Writers has helped establish Blue Door Gallery as a cultural center in downtown Yonkers. On these streets of grit and energy, I am proud to be known as the ArtSpeak lady. I am always teacher and learner.

Photos: (top) Golda Solomon, (middle) Golda Solomon and ArtSpeak Class.  Photo Credit: Maureen Hatch.

Photo: (bottom) Golda Solomon. Photo Credit: Zak Sherzad.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

In his poem "Lament," Thom Gunn writes, "I think back to the scented summer night / We talked between our sleeping bags, below / A molten field of stars five years ago: / I was so tickled by your mind's light touch / I couldn't sleep, you made me laugh too much, / Though I was tired and begged you to leave off." This week, try and remember one of those nights when you and a loved one stayed up all night, too busy telling stories and enjoying each other's company to sleep. Write a scene that encapsulates the feeling of the quote above, whether it's set during a summer camping trip with a best friend, catching up with a cousin during a family reunion, or just an average weeknight spent staying up past your bedtime with your siblings or parents.

For the ninth installment of our Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Jacob Newberry, who won the Ploughshares Emerging Writer's Contest in nonfiction for his essay What You Will Do. The prize, given annually in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, includes $1,000 and publication in Ploughshares. Newberry is originally from the Mississippi coast, and is a PhD student in creative writing, with an emphasis in poetry, at Florida State University.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
The awards I've won, and this one in particular, have given me a very tangible validation for my writing. I think we can all understand how nice this might feel when it's never happened, but it's more than a nice feeling: It's an important form of motivation. There were many times when I was just starting to write when I'd convince myself that I wasn't any good at it at all. In the first workshop I ever took, which was when I was working on an MA (not in creative writing), most of the people in the class were workshop pros and were actually quite hostile toward me. They took a lot of opportunities not just to tear down the work (which needed tearing down) but to really tear down my ambition altogether. At the time, I was new enough to writing that it was pretty damaging. The effect was that I stopped believing in my skills as a writer for a while, though I never stopped writing.

Once I started winning awards and seeing things in print, though, I stopped doubting and fearing my ambition. And if that self-doubt ever creeps up on me again, I can remember that I had the same feeling of worry and panic and confusion when I was writing the pieces that won these awards, and so I should spend the energy on the writing and not on unfounded panic. 

The bottom line is that winning hasn't changed the way I write. If it had, I suspect it would be only for the worse. As I said, it's really been a way of mitigating the self-doubt that all writers experience when we're not writing. So when I step away from the page, that's when the self-sabotage might begin. The difference now is that I just don't let it begin at all. 

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I've entered plenty of contests that I didn't win. Not winning those contests actually gave me a better sense of perspective once I did start winning. All awards are about quality writing to a large extent, of course, but there's also a really unknowable percentage of it that's just chance. Who are the first readers of your submission, and what if their taste is simply different from yours (or the final judge's)? What effect does submitting late or early or right in the middle have on the time and attention given to your piece? What if the editor tells you she absolutely loves your poem about Jerusalem, but she just published some Jerusalem poems last issue, and now it's too soon to revisit that topic? (The last one happened to me.) 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Save your very best work and submit it only to contests that you'd be proud to win or place in. If winning that contest would be an important enough achievement for you and the contest requires a fee, then pay it. Otherwise, never pay for a contest that doesn't give you a subscription in return. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back next Wednesday for a new installment.

This week the oldest man on earth, Alexander Imich, passed away at the age of 111. Although he was certified as the world's oldest man, there are sixty-six women who are older than he was. This week, create a character who is one of the oldest people on earth. You could choose to write about the passing of the torch to the new oldest man in the world, or you could focus on one of the sixty-six oldest women. Consider how this person feels about being over a century old, how many historical events this character has lived through, and how this character has managed to live so long.

Each month a full moon rises in the sky, and each of these moons has a special name. In June the full moon is known as the Full Strawberry Moon, a name given to it by the Algonquin tribes, to whom it signaled the time to gather the ripening fruit. In Europe, where the strawberry is not a native fruit, this moon is known as the Full Rose Moon. This week, try writing a short poem of rhyming couplets about this month's full moon. For inspiration, read Percy Bysshe Shelley's "The Waning Moon."

Poets Anne Carson and Brenda Hillman have won the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prizes, given annually since 2000 for books of poetry published in, or translated into, English in the previous year and submitted from anywhere in the world. They each received $65,000 Canadian (approximately $60,000).

Carson, a poet, essayist, and translator who was born in Canada and currently teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, won the Canadian prize for her most recent collection, Red Doc> (Knopf). Hillman, who serves as a professor and poet-in-residence at St. Mary’s College in Morago, California, and is the author of eight previous collections, won the International Prize for her collection Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press).

The announcement was made late last week at an annual awards ceremony in Toronto. Scott Griffin, the founder of the prize, and trustees Carolyn Forché, Robert Hass, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, Colm Tóibín, and David Young hosted the event.

The judges, who are selected each year by the prize trustees, were for 2014 Robert Bringhurst, Jo Shapcott, and C. D. Wright. They each read 542 books of poetry, submitted from forty different countries, including twenty-four translations.

The 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist featured collections by four international and three Canadian poets. The finalists were Rachael Boast’s Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Carl Phillips’s Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Mira Rosenthal’s translation from the Polish of Colonies by Tomasz Rózycki (Zephyr Press), Sue Goyette’s Ocean (Gaspereau Press), and Anne Michaels’s Correspondences (McClelland & Stewart). Each finalist received a $10,000 honorarium.

During the awards ceremony, Brazilian poet and writer Adélia Prado was honored with the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry's 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: A Selection of the 2014 Shortlist, edited by Robert Bringhurst and published by House of Anansi Press, is now available at retail bookstores and online. Royalties generated from the anthologies, published annually, are donated to UNESCO's World Poetry Day.

Carson (above left), and Hillman (above right, Brett Hall Jones)

Last night at the Southbank Centre in London, Irish author Eimear McBride won the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. She received £30,000 (approximately $50,385). 

Established in 1996, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize, is given annually for a novel written in English by a woman and published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The shortlisted finalists included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah (Knopf); Hannah Kent for Burial Rites (Little, Brown); Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Knopf); Audrey Magee for The Undertaking (Atlantic Books); and Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown).

The judges for this year’s prize were Mary Beard, Denise Mina, Caitlin Moran, Sophie Raworth, and chair of judges Helen Fraser, who called McBride’s winning book “an amazing and ambitious novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice—this novel will move and astonish the reader.”

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which tells the story of a young woman struggling with sexual abuse and her brother’s brain tumor, is written in an experimental stream-of-consciousness style. McBride wrote the book in six months, and spent almost nine years trying to get the book published. It was finally picked up by the small UK-based Galley Beggar Press, which published it as their second book. The book has gone on to win the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award and the Goldsmiths prize.

At last night’s award ceremony, McBride said of her win, “I hope it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and think again. We are all writers but we are all readers first. There is a contract between publishers and readers which must be honored, readers must not be underestimated.”

 Photo: Reuters

It's easy to slip into a bad attitude, and even easier once you're there to stew in all that negativity. For most it's a passing phase, but for some it can color their whole outlook on life. Would you describe yourself as a cynic? If not, do you know someone who fits the bill? Today, write down what happens to you using a cynical perspective. If you keep a journal, compare today's entry with those of previous—perhaps more positive—days and note the similarities and differences in style, tone, and word usage.

For the eighth installment of our Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Chris Hosea, the winner of the 2013 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his debut collection, Put Your Hands In. The prize, given annually to a poet who has not yet published a book, includes $5,000, publication, and a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Hosea's winning manuscript, selected by John Ashbery, was published by Louisiana State University Press in March. Hosea received his MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and is a senior copywriter at H4B Chelsea. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What kind of impact has winning the Whitman Award had on your career?
I'm pretty sure the Whitman Award helped me recently to land a new job, with better pay and more impressive-sounding title, in advertising. Creative distinctions, and particularly established institutional honors, are valued in such industries. 

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
I'm certain that contest judge John Ashbery's comparison between my poems and Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descebding a Staircase, and even more Ashbery's remarks about derision and eroticism in Put Your Hands In, will affect my writing for the rest of my life.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I have entered hundreds of contests and spent thousands of dollars on fees. If you don't play, you can't win. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Sequencing is important. Give yourself at least a month to order and reorder the poems in your book. Also, contest screeners are often (though by no means always) young students who haven't read a lot of poetry before: so include some lyrical candy up front. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back next Wednesday for a new installment.

Hosea: Myles Paige

Most of us associate the phrase "Wheel of Fortune" with the popular television game show. There is, however, another wheel of fortune—the tenth card in the tarot deck. This wheel isn't as glamorous as its television counterpart, but it can be equally exciting; the card represents a pivotal point in your life when new options become possible and which signals that luck is on your side. This week write a short story about a character spinning the wheel of fortune. She could be on the game show, in a casino spinning a roulette wheel, or at a summer carnival. Include some element of dramatic change once the wheel is spun, whether it's winning the grand prize, or taking the first step on a new and unfamiliar path.

Dr. Maya Angelou's joyous poem "Phenomenal Woman" trumpets: "I'm a woman / phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / that's me." After her passing last Wednesday, many who have been touched by her words and wisdom have been reflecting on Angelou's rich life. Today, take a moment to reflect on a phenomenal woman in your life and write a poem in her honor. Think about what makes her unique, and attempt to translate the essence of her spirit into the written word.

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