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The interplanetary travel nonprofit Mars One is holding a competition for those eager to be the first humans to live on Mars. One of the finalists has said, “If I die on Mars, that would be an accomplishment.” Would you ever volunteer for such a mission? Do you have what it takes to survive on a desolate, desert planet? Write about how you’d feel if you got the opportunity to leave Earth. What would you miss, and what would you be glad to leave behind?

Is one of your characters overwhelmed by all the tasks she needs to do on a daily basis? Have her hire a family member as a personal assistant. Maybe her retired father or grandmother needs a part-time job. Write about the kinds of things she would have the assistant do for her, and all the wacky situations that result from this new relationship.

The ancient Greeks believed that the heart is the seat of everything, not only emotion but reason as well. The Romans then developed an entire theory around the circulatory system, concluding that the heart is where emotions take place, while rational thought occurs in the brain and passions originates in the liver. Today, despite developments in medicine and technology, the heart is still used as the universal symbol for love. This week, write a poem about your theory of where love originates. If you feel it comes from the heart, write about why you think this idea has endured for so long. 

The shortlist for the 2015 Folio Prize for fiction was announced today. The eight finalists, selected from a list of eighty works, are 10:04 by Ben Lerner (Granta), All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber), Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Granta), Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta), Family Life by Akhil Sharma (Faber), How to Be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton), Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (Viking), and Outline by Rachel Cusk (Faber).

FolioNow in its second year, the annual Folio Prize is awarded for a book of fiction published in the United Kingdom in the previous year. The prize is open to writers from any country, and aims to “celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” The winner receives an award of £40,000 ($60,000). George Saunders won the inaugural 2014 Folio Prize for his short story collection Tenth of December (Random House).  

Acclaimed writers William Fiennes, Rachel Cooke, Mohsin Hamid, A. M. Homes, and Deborah Levy compose this year's judging panel. The judges are members of the Folio Prize Academy—an international group of 235 writers and critics. Fiennes, the judging panel Chair, stated in a press release that the shortlisted works “manage to be both epic and intimate—in fact, they show those dimensions to be two sides of the same coin. They’ve surprised, moved, challenged and enchanted us. They’ve made us laugh. They’ve grown and deepened when we read them again.”

The winner will be announced on March 23 in London in a ceremony following the Folio Prize Fiction Festival. The festival, which will return for its second year at the British Library, will feature panel discussions from authors and critics from the Folio Prize Academy, as well as readings from the shortlisted authors.

The prize is sponsored by the London-based Folio Society, which publishes high-quality illustrated editions of classic and contemporary works. Visit the Folio Prize website to learn more.

Photos above, left to right: Ben Lerner (credit FSG), Colm Tóibín (credit Scribner) and Ali Smith (credit David Levenson, Getty)

Winner of the 2014 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry, Harry Moore is a retired community college English professor. His poems have appeared in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, English Journal, Alabama Literary Review, POEM, the Cape Rock, the South Carolina Review, Avocet, Anglican Theological Review, Main Street Rag, the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and other journals. He is the author of two chapbooks, What He Would Call Them, published in September 2013 by Finishing Line Press, and Time’s Fool, published in January 2014 by Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press. Moore serves as an assistant editor of Poem, a literary magazine in Huntsville, Alabama. He lives with his wife, Cassandra, in Decatur, Alabama. 

When Bonnie Rose Marcus from Poets & Writers called in early April last year to say that I had won the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry, I was at first astonished—then elated—then overwhelmingly grateful. I'm in what Dylan Thomas would call my seventieth year to heaven. I had taught the masters—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickinson, Yeats, Eliot—to community college freshmen and sophomores for forty years. Seizing moments from a regimen of lectures, student conferences, committee meetings, and paper grading, I had scribbled fragments into a journal, publishing my first poem in 1991 at age forty-seven. From then until my retirement in 2009, I managed to complete and publish one or two poems a year.

Although retirement and a monthly poetry workshop increased my production—including the publication of two chapbooks—I had no idea I might win the WEX Award. Learning that my voice reached across miles and mountains, across yawning generation gaps, and across gender, social, economic, and ethnic lines affirmed for me the value of two decades of hard work and opened real possibilities for the future.

My week in New York City in October planned and guided by Poets & Writers was, from start to finish, a series of wonders. I experienced the efficiency and warmth of the P&W staff, especially Bonnie Rose Marcus and Lynne Connor. I got to know and appreciate fellow Alabamian and talented fiction winner Bryn Chancellor. I saw Thurber’s drawings preserved on the wall of the New Yorker suite of offices. I gazed over Manhattan from the nineteenth-floor balcony of New Directions, publisher of William Carlos Williams. I listened to literary agent Georges Borchardt describe his odyssey from Berlin to Paris to New York sixty years earlier. My wife and I stayed in the lovely Library Hotel.

I read at McNally Jackson Bookstore, and was introduced by poetry judge and fellow Southerner Evie Shockley. I chatted over lunch with poet Alicia Ostriker; over drinks with Martha Rhodes of Four Way Books; over coffee in the Village with Davidson Garrett, the taxi driver poet; and over dinner in Soho with Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri. On the last day, I walked a mile through Central Park among falling sycamore leaves to lunch with benefactor Maureen Egen and others. And all the while I knew that a month of leisure and seclusion at Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming awaited me in 2015. The week was a joy, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the writing desk.

Although to our modern ears the bouncy optimism of Robert Browning’s "Rabbi Ben Ezra" sounds jingly and hollow—“Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be”—I like to think the creative impulse and the poetic voice can survive the shocks of advancing age. The WEX Award tells me this is so—that in age no less than in youth, in the words of Emily Dickinson, we “dwell in possibility / A fairer house than prose.”

Photos: Harry Moore (top), Harry Moore and Evie Shockley (middle).   Photo Credit: Margarita Corporan.

This award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors, and retired Deputy Chairman and Publisher of Hachette Book Group, USA.

PEN American Center has partnered with digital and television news network Fusion to establish the inaugural PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize. The $10,000 prize will be awarded annually to a “promising young writer of an unpublished work of nonfiction that addresses a global and/or multicultural issue.” Writers under the age of thirty-five who have published at least one nonfiction piece in a national periodical are eligible. The submission deadline is February 27.

Using the online submission manager, submit an original nonfiction manuscript of 8,000 to 80,000 words, along with a resume or CV that includes publication history, and a $35 entry fee. All entries will be read anonymously. Visit the PEN website for complete guidelines.

“Fusion is committed to supporting the next generation of journalists and writers,” said Fusion Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Daniel Eilemberg. “We are thrilled to partner with PEN to reward excellence in literature and journalism while promoting free expression.”

The judges for the inaugural prize are distinguished writers Roxane Gay, John Freeman, and Cristina Henríquez. Gay is the co-editor of PANK magazine, and the author of the books AyitiAn Untamed State, and Bad Feminist. Her memoir Hunger will be published next year. Freeman is the former president of the National Book Critics Circle, editor of Granta magazine, and the author of The Tyranny of EmailHow to Read a Novelist, and most recently Tales of Two Cities: The Best of Times and Worst of Times in Today’s New York. Henríquez is the author of three books, including The Book of Unknown Americans, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2014.

For over nintey years, PEN American Center has worked to protect and celebrate freedom of expression through writing. PEN runs numerous programs to support writers and confers over $150,000 in literary awards each year.

The winner of the PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize will be announced this spring, and will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony in June. Questions about the prize can be directed to awards@pen.org.

This week, write about a time when you were out of your element, immersed in a community or culture that you felt was very different from your own. Observe your own behavior as an anthropologist would. Write about how this relocation and disorientation affected the way you reacted to the people around you, and caused you to reflect on yourself.  

This week, have one of your characters become disillusioned with football (or another major sport) and inspired to invent a new sport. The possibilities are endless. Think of what the objective will be, whether or not it will be team-based, what sort of equipment or arena will be necessary, and so on. Imagine a world in which this new sport catches on and becomes more popular than any other sport in history.

Go to your bookshelf and pick out one of your favorite books. It doesn't have to be a poetry collection—any book will do. Write down the first line and the last line of the book. Use the last line of the book as the first line of your poem. Then, write until the first line of the book makes sense to use as the end of your poem. Use the lines as guides for a start and finish, but give your poem a unique theme, different from the original book.

The Yale University Library announced today that Nathaniel Mackey has won the 2015 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. The biennial prize of $150,000 is awarded to an American poet for the best book of poetry published during the previous two years, or for lifetime achievement in poetry.

The judging committee, which consisted of Al Filreis, Tracy K. Smith, and Elizabeth Willis, said of Mackey’s achievements: “Mackey’s decades-long serial work—Songs of the Andoumboulou and Mu—constitutes one of the most important poetic achievements of our time. Outer Pradesh—jazz-inflicted, outward-riding, passionately smart, open, and wise—beautifully continues this ongoing project.”

Mackey is the author of numerous books of prose, critical essays, and over a dozen poetry collections, including the National Book Award­–winning Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), Nod House (New Directions, 2011), and most recently Outer Pradesh (Anomalous, 2014). In May 2014, Mackey was awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lily Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. Other awards and honors include the Whiting Writer’s Award, a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society. Mackey has also served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at Duke University.

Recent winners of the Bollingen Prize include Louise Glück, Gary Snyder, Adrienne Rich, Susan Howe, and Charles Wright. Established in 1948 by Paul Mellon, the prize is administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and has honored major American poets such as Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens.

You can read a selection from Mackey’s collection Outer Pradesh at the Beinecke Library website.

Photo: Nathaniel Mackey (credit Nina Subin/New Directions)

Tung-Hui Hu is the author of three books of poetry, including Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon Press, 2013) and a forthcoming book on digital culture, A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press, 2015). He is an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan and a 2015 NEA fellow in literature.

I have an innate gift for making almost any situation awkward, particularly around writers and other celebrities. This makes me uniquely able to appreciate and receive awkwardness. After reading my poetry, I have sometimes been given tips on how to improve my readings for the future. I have watched excitedly as an audience member approaches me, and then asks for the location of the bathroom. It has not all been bad news, though; I think I have been propositioned a few times, but again—that awkwardness thing—I am not entirely sure.

But maybe awkwardness is another name for doing things differently, being able to walk through a door into a mysterious room where everyone is playing a card game and you don’t know the rules, but it doesn’t matter: you sit down anyway and play. Writers who work with hybrid genres or forms know what I am talking about. As I discovered in a recent P&W-sponsored reading at Wayne State University, younger writers have this sensibility, too.

Let me describe the scene for you: I walk into a Gothic Revival tower in Detroit and get in the classiest elevator I’ve ever seen. It’s noon. Wayne State was traditionally a commuter campus, so their events tend to be in the middle of the day, when more students are around. At a time when the boosters and the mortgage execs are having their power lunches downtown and downstairs, I find a room crowded with aspiring writers: some work in fiction, some nonfiction, but many, I learn, are simply undecided.

The English department has taken over the offices of the former Maccabees insurance companywith all this marble from the 1920s around us, it is enough to make anyone awkward. And yet, I am introduced in the same breath as the next person in the reading series, an actor from the TV show The Wire, which immediately makes the audience brighten up. It puts me at ease, too—for an hour, there’ll be no need to draw a line between serial TV versus poetry, or even fiction versus nonfiction. This is probably why, after I read a prose piece about an abandoned lighthouse, the students don’t bother to ask, “What is it?” Instead they ask: Where is the island, what did you see there, what did you find? Looking out the window, I realize the audience and I have found ourselves another island—this one of our own making, floating ten stories above Midtown Detroit.

Perhaps, in the way that an itch is a lesser version of pain, awkwardness is a smaller and even pleasurable version of discomfort: a signal, perhaps, that reveals something deeper about fitting in just enough, but not entirely. Perhaps this is what happens when you grow up a “model minority,” or when you think too much about what other people want—and you don’t quite give it to them. After years of practice, I still don’t know what awkwardness is, but I do know that poetry readings don’t come naturally to me. We have fun anyway. To R. A. in Mesa, Arizona, whose conversation with me after the reading was so engrossing that I signed and dedicated the book you bought, “For Tung-Hui Hu,” I’m sorry! I’ll buy you another copy.

Photo: Tung-Hui Hu. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Bruch

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Detroit, Michigan 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 recent announcement that the shell of Cadbury’s crème egg will no longer be made with their signature dairy milk chocolate has been met with great dismay by those who count the confection among their favorite treats. Has one of your favorite treats undergone a similar alteration? Maybe your local pizza place changed up their classic marinara sauce, or the coffee shop where you get your daily latte now uses a sweeter brand of soy milk. Write about why this alteration had an effect on your life and what you did to overcome the change.

"Glitter bombing" is an act of protest in which activists throw glitter on specific targets at public events. You can also "glitter bomb" people through the mail. Many websites offer to ship your enemies spring-loaded letters filled with the invasive craft supply, for a nominal fee. This week, write a scene in which one of your characters gets glitter bombed. Consider the location, the method used, the perpetrator, and how this character would respond to being covered in glitter. Was this act just a harmless prank, or something more serious? 

This week, the Northeast was pummeled by a sizable winter storm that accumulated many ominous names. This week, write a poem about an imaginary, absurdly catastrophic blizzard. You can call it whatever you like, but here are some suggestions to help guide you: "snowmageddon," "snowzilla," and the bone-chilling "snownado." What is special about this storm, giving it the potential to be the storm of the century?

Houston native and University of Texas Longhorn Gwendolyn Zepeda began her writing career on the web in 1997 as the first Latina blogger. Since that time, Zepeda has published three critically-acclaimed novels through Hachette and four award-winning children’s books, a short story collection, and two volumes of poetry through Arte Publico Press. She is Houston’s first poet laureate. Zepeda blogs about her P&W–supported University of Houston reading this past fall for Arte Publico Press.

Gwendolyn Zepeda

A year and a half into my term as Houston’s first poet laureate, I’d been invited to give plenty of presentations about “being Houston’s first poet laureate.” For a recent reading at the University of Houston’s Honors College, however, the marketing department of Arte Publico Press asked me to put a new spin on it. They suggested I talk about growing up in the Sixth Ward (which was an impoverished area not known for producing novelists or poets), and then explain how I became a writer.

You know how, when figuring out how to explain your life to a stranger, you see your life from new angles? That was what happened to me as I prepared for this reading, several hours before it began. I typed an outline about my relatives who didn’t go to college but constantly read and told stories, the epistolary notes I passed in class, and the coveted bail bond office typewriter on which I typed my first poems. It occurred to me that art was the most exalted thing in my family, whether or not we all realized it.

You know how you worry, before each reading, whether anyone will actually attend? I always think of the Onion headline: "Author Promoting Book Gives It Her All Whether It's Just 3 People Or A Crowd Of 9 People." Happily, this reading was almost full in a room that seated fifty. There was a mix of people: students, professors, elderly alumni, a few of my friends. I was introduced to a dean and a women’s club.

You know how, with some audiences, you have immediate good chemistry? They’re in the mood to listen and there are good acoustics in the room, and you find yourself making eye contact with various faces, and it encourages you to be bold and witty and maybe read the piece you hadn’t planned on? That happened to me at this reading. There was a smiling, nodding young man who seemed to have grown up in a family similar to mine. There was a woman with shining eyes who seemed to be a writer herself. There were twentysomethings in the back who were obviously there for class credit, but who seemed pleasantly surprised. There was the dean, whose eyebrows rose at certain words and egged me on.

Afterwards, I signed books for readers, two of whom said they’d been following my work since I was only a blogger. I posed for photos with people who asked, holding my book so they’d later remember who I was. After that, I walked alongside my Arte Publico Press comrades as they rolled their equipment to the parking lot.

And after that, in my car, I reflected on the reading, my writing career so far, and my life in general. They were good thoughts. I was happy.

Photo: Gwendolyn Zepeda. Credit: Aleksander Micovic.

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

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