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Take some time this week to discover the work of a well-known photographer. Whether you visit an exhibition at a museum or peruse the internet, look for photographs that capture your imagination. Examine a photograph closely and write the story you see in the frame. Rely heavily on descriptive language and offer details of the composition through your writing. What did the photographer keep in focus?

Robert Francis Flor, PhD, is a Seattle native and cochair of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts. His poetry has been selected for Seattle King County's program “Poetry on Buses,” and has appeared in Soundings Review, Four Cornered Universe, and numerous other journals. He is currently completing a poetry chapbook, Alaskero Memories, and writes plays about the Filipino community in Seattle. Flor blogs about a P&W–supported reading he helped organize which took place at the Seattle Public Library this past April.

Robert Francis Flor

While most are familiar with Greek, Roman, Scandinavian, and Judeo-Christian mythologies, we often fail to recognize that people throughout the world have stories, journeys, villains, and heroes that shape their beliefs and behaviors.

Modern societies may overwhelm and impose their values on more traditional ones while wearing a mask of cultural superiority, even though ancient civilizations often have myths that share universal qualities. The late Joseph Campbell noted in Myths to Live By (Penguin, 1993) that when "old taboos (myths) are discredited, communities immediately go to pieces, disintegrate, and become resorts of vice and disease."

Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) and La Sala, two Seattle-based arts organizations from the local Filipino and Latino communities, aimed to cast a light on this issue through poetry by presenting readings that exposed the public to different mythologies.

With the help of two Seattle University student organizations—United Filipino Club and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán—and the Seattle Public Library, we hosted three Filipino poets and three Latino poets in two readings exploring their cultural mythologies.

The poets were all from the Pacific Northwest: Roberto Ascalon, Jim Cantú, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Emily Lawson, and Sam Rodrick Roxas-Chua. The City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Culture and Poets & Writers supported the events.

The poets delved into cultural mythological influences of both indigenous and shared colonial origins. Mexico and the Philippines both had lengthy histories with Spanish and American influences. Like many colonized parts of the world, they also had native cultures with unique mythologies. The readings also demonstrated ways that civilizations adjusted to and accommodated the insertion and overlay of myths from more dominant cultures. Jim Cantú’s poem "Sacred Mother" depicted the transformation of Tonitin, the "Mother Earth" Aztec goddess, into "Nuestra Madre Dame," Our Holy Mother, when Mexico fell to the Spanish conquistadors.

Chris Higashi, Seattle Public Library’s Manager for Literary Programs, said she was "so pleased to have taken on the event. It drew a diverse audience of eighty attendees, about eighty percent of whom were of the cultures represented in the poetry and under the age of thirty—not a typical audience for the library."

My sense is that the readings opened windows for many who attended. The question and answer periods that followed were filled with inquiries about identity and cultural poetry, accompanied by a general tone of gratitude for readings that recognized the importance of culture. One young Mexican-Filipina woman remarked she was "surprised and thankful” when she looked at the library events page and found it included something about and for her. The students at Seattle University have already indicated a desire for a similar presentation next academic year. I believe the reading touched something deep within the students and the community.

Watch the video from the event.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor. Credit: Lauren Davis.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Sometimes seemingly unrelated notions have surprising similarities. This week, take some strips of paper and write down the names of objects, places, and people. Throw them in a hat and draw out two at random. Then write a poem attempting to connect the two things you've selected. Perhaps you pick out "fireworks" and "lavender," or "honeybees" and "B. B. King"—stretch your imagination to its limits when considering their potential relationship. 

Hungarian fiction writer László Krasznahorkai has won the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. Krasznahorkai was presented with the £60,000 award (approximately $90,000) Tuesday evening at a ceremony in London. Kasznahorkai’s two English translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet, will split the £15,000 translator’s prize.

The Man Booker International Prize is given biennially to honor a fiction writer who writes in English or whose work has been translated into English. This year’s judges were Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank, Wen-chin Ouyang, and Marina Warner.  The finalists for the prize were César Aira, Hoda Barakat, Maryse Condé, Mia Couto, Amitav Ghosh, Fanny Howe, Ibrahim al-Koni, Alain Mabanckou, and Marlene van Niekerk.

“Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful,” said chair of judges Warner. “The Melancholy of Resistance, Sátántangó and Seiobo There Below are magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence.”

Born in Gyula, Hungary in 1954, Krasznahorkai has written almost a dozen novels and short story collections, and his works have been translated into German, Polish, French, Spanish, and other languages. New Directions has published English translations of five of his novels. Krasznahorkai is perhaps best known for his 1993 postmodern novel The Melancholy of Resistance, which won numerous literary prizes, including the German Bestenliste Prize and the Kossuth Prize, which is the highest award given in Hungary.

Sponsored by the London-based Man Group, the Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005 and “highlights one writer’s continued creativity, development, and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.” The Man Group also administers the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Recent winners of the Man Booker International Prize include Lydia Davis (2013), Philip Roth (2011), and Alice Munro (2009).

In Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes says, “Any truth is better than infinite doubt.” This week, take a moment to reflect on what have become your personal truths, based on your own investigation and experience. Perhaps, as Christopher McCandless did in the Alaskan wilderness, you've discovered that “happiness is only real when shared.” Explore what you stand for, what you value, and how you measure your life experiences. Then express these thoughts in a personal essay.

This week, write a story in which one of your characters gets lost in an unfamiliar location with no one around to help him. How did he end up in this situation? Perhaps his car breaks down in the middle of the desert, or he's adrift in the Pacific Ocean after a shipwreck and is the lone survivor. Is he able to find his bearings? Does he manage to get to safety? Consider the perils of being stranded in an unforgiving and potentially dangerous environment.   

“They are everywhere—those sunflowers with the coal heart center,” Eve Alexandra muses in her poem “Botanica.” A symbol of loyalty and longevity, sunflowers are considered among the happiest of flowers, and provide energy in both nourishment and vibrancy. Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Gustav Klimt famously represented these flowers in works of art, and they have cropped up in poems by William Blake and Allen Ginsberg. This week, incorporate sunflowers into a poem. Consider their bright yellow coloring, their sturdy stalks, and their delicious seeds.  

Steven Church is the author of The Guinness Book of Me: A Memoir of Record (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents (University of New Orleans Press, 2009), The Day After the Day After: My Atomic Angst (Soft Skull Press, 2010), and most recently, the collection Ultrasonic: Essays (Lavender Ink, 2014). A fifth nonfiction book will be released by Dzanc in 2016. He is a founding editor and nonfiction editor for The Normal School, and teaches in the MFA program at Fresno State.

Steven ChurchHow do you prepare for a reading?
I’ve given a LOT of readings, but I still get nervous. I like to have read through out loud what I’m planning to read, at least a couple of times, just to get the timing right and catch any parts that are hard to read. And a beer or two helps take the edge off.

What’s the strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member?
Recently someone asked me if there were stories that I didn’t tell or things I wouldn’t write about—to which I responded, “Yes.” But then she looked at me as if I was then going to tell her these things. I did not. I also had someone ask me once why writers “write about depressing things,” and the only response I had was, “because it’s more interesting than happiness?”

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
If I have the time, I like to try and get a couple of laughs from the audience as a sort of “buy in” for what I’m reading and because it tends to relax me; so I’ll often start with a lighter, more humorous essay before hitting them with the more emotional material. Lately I’ve started reading other people’s work as a kind of ice breaker.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been part of?
During a reading at Fresno State once, the power went out in the building and the only light in the room was from the emergency exit signs. Fortunately my colleague had a headlamp flashlight, so I gave the entire reading in the dark, using the headlamp. That was fun.

How does giving a reading inform your writing and vice versa?
Reading my work aloud is very important, as it is the only way to really hear the essay or the book the way I want it to sound in a reader’s head. I always catch mistakes or make revisions after reading a piece out loud; it’s become part of my writing and revision process.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on:
Groceries and beer.

Photo: Steven Church   Credit: Jocelyn Mettler

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

The New York City–based Center for Fiction has announced its 2015 Emerging Writer Fellows. The annual fellowships are given to emerging fiction writers of any age living in New York City “whose work shows promise of excellence.”

This year’s nine fellows are Naomi Feigelson Chase, Lisa Chen, Nicola DeRobertis-Theye, t’ai freedom ford, Anu Jindal, Stephen Langlois, Melissa Rivero, Samantha Storey, and Ruchika Tomar. The fellows were chosen from over five hundred applicants. Rene Denfeld, Patricia Park, and Ted Thompson judged. Visit the Center for Fiction website for bios of each of this year’s fellows.

As part of the fellowship, each writer receives a grant of $4,000; the option of mentorship with an editor; the opportunity to meet with agents who represent new writers; a Center for Fiction membership; free admission to all Center events for one year, including its Craftwork lecture series on writing; and a 30 percent discount on tuition for select writing workshops at the Center. The fellows will also each give two public readings as part of the Center’s annual program of events.

Emerging writers living in one of the five boroughs of New York City are eligible for the fellowship. The Center for Fiction defines “emerging writer” as one of any age who has not yet published a novel or short story collection with a major or independent publisher, and who is also not currently under contract to a publisher for a work of fiction. Eligible applicants may have had works of fiction published in magazines, literary journals, or online, though previous publication is not required. Writers in degree-granting programs are ineligible.  

Applications for the 2016 Emerging Writers Fellowship will open in the fall. Visit the Center for Fiction website for more information about the fellowship program.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde remarks, "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his." As we grow older, it is inevitable that we start noticing patterns of behavior or little quirks that remind us of our parents or guardians. Is there anything that you do that reminds you, or others, of the person who raised you? Perhaps you've perfected her bubbly giggle, or her signature side-eye glance. Maybe you've inherited her talent for crossword puzzles, or the way she bursts into song at any moment? Write a personal essay about those reminiscent traits that impact who you are today.

This morning, PEN American Center announced the winners of the 2015 PEN Literary Awards. The annual awards, which total more than $150,000, honor emerging and established writers in seventeen categories including poetry, debut fiction, science writing, translation, biography, and drama. On June 8, the winners will be honored in a ceremony at the New School in New York City. The shortlists and complete list of winners can be found on PEN’s website. Below are the winners for a select few prizes:

Saeed Jones won the $5,000 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry for his collection Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House). Marie Howe, Mary Szybist, and Craig Morgan Teicher judged. The biennial award recognizes the work of an emerging American poet who shows promise of further literary achievement.

Joshua Horwitz won the $10,000 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for his book War of the Whales: A True Story (Simon & Schuster). Sue Halpern, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, and Carl Zimmer judged. The annual prize is given for a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences published in the previous year.

Sheri Fink won the $10,000 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction for her book Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown). Andrew Blechman, Paul Elie, Azadeh Moaveni, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and Paul Reyes judged. The biennial award is given to an author of a book of general nonfiction published in the previous two years that possesses notable literary merit and critical perspective.

Denise Newman won the $3,000 PEN Translation Prize for her translation from the Danish of Naja Heather Cleary’s book Baboon (Two Lines). Lucas Klein, Tess Lewis, and Allison Markin Powell judged. The annual award is given for a translation of book-length prose from any language into English published in the previous year.

PEN will announce the winners of the $25,000 Prize for Debut Fiction, the $10,000 Art of the Essay Award, and the $5,000 Open Book Award at the Literary Awards Ceremony on June 8. Visit the PEN website for the shortlists. The winner of the $10,000 PEN/Fusion Emerging Writers Prize and recipients of the $2,000-$4,000 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants will be announced later this month.

PEN American Center has administered its literary awards for nearly fifty years. Established in 1922, PEN works globally to defend freedom of expression and to promote international literature and culture.

Did one of your characters have a major turning point in her past? Is this event or decision crucial for this character's development? This week, take a scene you're stuck on and rewrite it as if that turning point had never occurred, and an alternate option was chosen. If your character moved to London because she was transferred by her company instead of moving back to her parents' house in Florida, how would this outcome deepen the evolution of this character? Think about what this character needs to face—what shortcomings, fears, and hindrances she needs to overcome—and force her to come to terms with these obstacles.

Cervantes's short story The Glass Graduate recounts the tale of a man who was poisoned by a quince, intended to be an aphrodisiac, that brought about the delusion that his body was made of glass. This week, write a poem from the perspective of someone who believes his limbs could shatter with the slightest touch, and will not let others near him. Think about what would cause someone to think this way, and the limitations attached to this mindset.

Melba Joyce Boyd is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and the author of thirteen books, including nine collections of poetry. She is the recipient of two Library of Michigan Notable Books awards, an Independent Publishers Award for Poetry, a Michigan Individual Artist Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 NAACP Image Award in Literature.

Before the powers that be decided there should be yet another Detroit Renaissance, the arts community was active, vital, and invigorating the city’s center. On Saturday, September 20, 2014, from noon till sundown, Detroit was the site of the third annual Midtown Literary Walk. The weather was congenial and the settings sunlit, like the mood of the audience, sauntering from an historic location to a new-age café, wandering through an art gallery, and sipping wine with poetry in the garden of a nineteenth-century mansion.

The Midtown Literary Walk is the brainchild of Carole Harris, Detroit artist and designer known nationally for her quilt art, who partnered with M. L. Liebler, Wayne State University professor, award-winning poet, and cultural organizer extraordinaire, to plan and execute the project.

It was a mellow and memorable day, imbibing literature with aromatic, herbal teas at SocraTea, listening to writers framed by sculptures and paintings at N’amdi’s Gallery, and engaging the melding of secular voices into sacred space at the Hannan House. At five events in four locations, hundreds gathered to listen to a stellar lineup of writers, featuring award-winning writers, spoken word artists, and musicians.

Charles Baxter, acclaimed novelist, poet, editor and essayist; Laure-Anne Bosselaar, winner of an American Library Association Notable Books award for Poetry; and Melba Joyce Boyd, recipient of an Independent Publishers Award and two Library of Michigan Notable Books awards, read their works.

The program showcased Ann Holdreith, a Pushcart Prize nominee; Walter “The Soul” Lacy, a poet and hip-hop artist; and Lisa Lenzo, who received a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award and won first prize from the Georgetown Review in 2013 for her story "Strays." They graced the stage with M. L. Liebler & the Good Shepherd Poetry Blues Band.

Detroit Poet Laureate Naomi Long Madgett, winner of the 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, was the veteran writer and guest of honor, while Adrian Matejka, whose book The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013) was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, came from Indiana University to read.

Others featured included fiction writer and poet Peter Markus, a Kresge Arts Fellow in Literary Arts in 2012; Christine Rhein, who is the recipient of the 2008 Walt McDonald Poetry Prize; and Judith Roche, who has received two American Book Awards and two nominations for the Pushcart Prize.

In addition to sites that hosted the event, cosponsors for the Lit Walk included: the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Wayne State University Press, the Wayne Writers Forum, Wayne State University’s Department of English, and the Knight Foundation. The Lit Walk, which is free and open to the public, has become an annual tradition in Detroit, nurturing literary culture in the heart of the cultural center of the city.

Photo: Lit Walk Writers (top) Naomi Long Madgett (bottom) Photo Credit: L. Bush

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.


From: The Time Is Now

In Medieval Gaelic and British culture, bards were poets and musicians who were employed to commemorate the stories of their patrons. Imagine you are a bard, and you have been hired by a friend or family member to recant a particular tale of bravery, loyalty, or heroism. Perhaps your best friend just trained to run a marathon, or your brother got all A's on his finals. Then write your piece and regale your “patron” with it the next time you see him or her. Make your language dramatic and lyrical, and incorporate some meter or rhyme if you like. For examples, revisit Shakespeare's work, or read the lyrics of some of Bob Dylan's popular songs, like "Tangled Up In Blue." 

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