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Write a scene from a story set at the Thanksgiving day table. During dinner have one of your character's reveal a secret or news that doesn't go over well among his or her family or dinner hosts. Consider why he or she decides to reveal the news on this day among this company. What happens next?

Beginning next fall the childhood home of author and humorist James Thurber will open its doors annually to one writer for a monthlong retreat. The John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence of Thurber House, located in Columbus, Ohio, will receive a stipend of four thousand dollars and a private, two-room apartment in which to develop a work-in-progress.

The inaugural residency will be offered to a nonfiction writer, in honor of the prize's namesake, the late author John E. Nance, whose work in the genre includes books on the Tasaday people of the Philippines, where he was an Associated Press bureau chief, and the biography of a master potter. In subsequent years, the award will be given in other genres.

Eligible writers for the 2012 award must have published one book of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) within the past three years or have a book under contract. The most recent book or manuscript, as well as a brief application, must be submitted to Thurber House by March 15. Complete guidelines are available on the Thurber House website.

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, community outreach chair for the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, blogs about her love for New Orleans.

Before moving to New Orleans for love in 2008, I was a writer who required complete silence to write. Often I'd find a corner of a library, pull my hoody over my head, and dig in. Sometimes I'd plug my ears with headphones without any music. I know, I know, weird, but I needed to tell myself (and show everyone around me) I was occupied.

New Orleans is not a quiet place. It occupies you. Since moving from the Midwest (Cleveland, Ohio) to the South, I've had to adjust how I write. Some family members have wondered how I could be a candidate for marriage because I seemed eerily comfortable as a loner. My husband is always amazed at how often I leave my phone at home on purpose. There's a reason... I'm easily distracted. With so many stimuli, I wonder how poets find useful silence.

By now you're asking, "Kelly, where is there a quiet place in New Orleans?" I don't know, but, strangely, I have found the daily commotion in New Orleans to be useful.

New Orleans Streetcars: Maybe it's the nostalgic wooden seats and clicks of the metal wheels against the metal tracks that inspire me as a writer. Riding a streetcar allows me the opportunity to sightsee, and overhear some of the most interesting conversations.

Rue De La Course on Oak Street: The café is an old, two-story bank with high ceilings. The way voices bounce off the walls create the feel of an old movie where two lovers reunite.

The Moonwalk: This paved sidewalk beside the Mississippi River has nothing to do with Michael Jackson. It's called the Moonwalk in honor of former mayor Maurice "Moon" Landrieu. From here you see the Crescent City Connection Bridge connect the east and west banks of the city. Café Du Monde is steps away.

The combination of music, history, and culture makes this a place where a poem waits to happen.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Marching band. Credit: L. Kasimu Harris.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Use Google translator (translate.google.com) to experiment with the text of an existing poem (yours or someone else's). Translate the text from English into another language, such as Finnish, Urdu, or Korean, and then translate the foreign-language text back to English again. Observe the metamorphosis of syntax and diction as the poem travels through the filter of another language. Then look for a particularly striking phrase, an odd construction or image, and use it to begin a new poem.

Midwestern indie press Milkweed Editions has recently launched a new prize for poetry, open exclusively to poets currently residing in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The annual Lindquist & Vennum Prize will award ten thousand dollars and publication of a book-length manuscript.

This year's contest will be judged by poet Peter Campion, author of The Lions (2009) and Other People (2005), both published by University of Chicago Press. Campion is a regional resident himself, living in Minneapolis and teaching in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota.

The competition opened for submissions earlier this week and will continue to accept entries until January 31, 2012. A winner will be announced next April, just in time for National Poetry Month.

For complete guidelines and information about eligibility, visit the Milkweed Press website.

Sandra Beasley is the author of the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life and the poetry collections I Was the Jukebox and Theories of Falling. She received the 2008 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry and lives in Washington, D.C., where she's also been a P&W-supported writer. We asked her a few questions about her experience giving readings.

What are your reading dos?
Do make eye contact. Do pause between poems, both for your sake and that of the audience. Do crack a joke or two; this is poetry, not brain surgery. (And actually, I would want the brain surgeon who can crack a joke or two).

...and your reading don'ts?
All poets go through a phase of journeying—to New York, D.C., Los Angeles—to take part in line-ups where they are one of many. Don't try to shoehorn that extra poem in to make it "worth" your trip. You want to be remembered as the poet who left us wanting more, not the one who had us checking our watches.

How do you prepare for a reading?
I make my set list, which is usually about ten poems ordered for thematic flow (i.e., a trio of persona poems) and strategic timing (i.e., not assaulting anyone with two sestinas back to back). I clear my throat. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet. It's a lot like being a musician, minus the groupies and the free beer.

What's the strangest comment you've received from an audience member?
"[My boyfriend] doesn't speak much English, but your facial expressions and hand gestures were so intense that he could follow along." Apparently I am a vivid performer, as evidenced by all the incredibly goofy snapshots taken of me mid-reading.

What's your crowd-pleaser?
There's one poem I love to read, so much so that I practically have it memorized, and that is "Vocation" from I Was the Jukebox. As poems go, it is short, has some humor, and is dedicated to anyone who (like me) has struggled to pay rent while doing the thing(s) we love to do. "Vocation" was also my first experiment in making video-poems for YouTube.

What did you spend your R/W grant check on?
For my P&W-supported reading, I shared the stage at the Arts Club of Washington with Sarah Browning. It was a quintessentially D.C. night, and I was so proud to read with Sarah, the director of Split This Rock and the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, which I had helped edit when she published with The Word Works in 2007. Though my honorarium wasn't huge, it was an important reminder that our work is valued in this world. What did I spend it on? The usual: dinner with writer friends, a good martini, and more books.

Photo: Sandra Beasley. Credit: Matthew Worden.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., 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.

It was a big evening for poetry last night on Wall Street. At the National Book Awards, John Ashbery was honored for his lifetime achievement in the art, Nikky Finney won the award in poetry for her collection Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly Books), and in nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt took the prize for The Swerve (Norton), an exploration of Lucretius's poem "On the Nature of Things." As poet Ann Lauterbach put it in her introduction to Ashbery, "I thought I should point out, since nobody else has, that we are occuping Wall Street."

Poetswho Ashbery asserted in his acceptance speech, are very much distinct from writersweren't the only voices that rose to recognition last night. In fiction, Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward won for her second book, Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury). Ward remarked in her acceptance speech that she is only at the beginning of her life's work, to write about "the poor, and the black, and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, as fraught, as lovely, and important as theirs."

In the young adult category, Thanhha Lai won for her Vietnam War–era coming-of-age novel, Inside Out & Back Again (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers).

Each of the winners received ten thousand dollars, and the finalists were awarded one thousand dollars.

In the video below, Finney reads her poem "Penguin Mullet Bread."

Conjure someone from your past with whom you've lost touch, perhaps someone who you never even knew that well or who you don't remember that well. Write a story in which you imagine that they make a sudden appearance in your life. What are the circumstances of their arrival? What do they need to tell you? And how does it relate to your shared past?

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, founder of The Literary Lab, a small business that promotes local writers, and member of Melanted Writers NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana), a year-old workshop for writers of color, blogs about the post-Katrina literary happenings in New Orleans.

Talk to many New Orleans writers about the storm and they will raise a hand to show you how high the water rose in their neighborhood and lament about all the books that were washed away. The devastation of 2005 was extensive, but in the years since the literary scene in New Orleans has been thriving!

The New Orleans Chapter of Women's National Book Association formed this year. The group includes local women writers, bookstore owners, publishing professionals, and readers. 

In 2010 Loyola University established the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing. The Center fosters literary talent and achievement and advances the art of writing as essential to a good education. The literary arts is flourishing in the Big Easy... The Pass It On open mic series began in 2008 as an attempt to restore the pre-Katrina open mic scene. Its host Gian Smith was a featured poet in the HBO hit series Treme.

This year brought us the first WriteNola!: Spoken Word & Poetry Festival. WriteNOLA! gathered New Orleans's pre and post Katrina poets together to give readings and conduct workshops. The City of New Orleans supported the event and offered the regal Gallier Hall as the venue. Proceeds from the festival benefited the NOLA Youth Slam Team.

The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, many of whom are students and alumni from the University of New Orleans MFA program, started a reading series called, Yeah, You Write. As always, 17 Poets, a Thursday night reading at the French Quarter's Goldmine Saloon, continues to anchor the New Orleans poetry community. It was the first poetry reading series held in New Orleans after Katrina on October 13, 2005. 

Even the youth have a place in the literary action. This October marks the 2nd Annual New Orleans Children's Book Festival. Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, whose lonely walk into William Frantz Elementary School inspired a famous Norman Rockwell painting, and Cheryl Landrieu, wife of the city's mayor, established the free festival to promote local children's book authors, literacy, and provide food and entertainment.

The Scholastic Writing Awards of Southeast Louisiana, an affiliate of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Writing Project, supports seventh-twelfth grade writers. In 2011, its inaugural year, two students were sent to the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and one received a $2,500 college scholarship!

Can't keep up with this literary buffet? No worries. Listen to The Reading Life, a show dedicated to all things bookish in New Orleans online. The radio show is hosted by former The Times-Picayune book editor, Susan Larson.

And finally, Louisiana celebrated the opening of the Ernest J. Gaines Center in October 2010 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, just a mere two-hour drive from New Orleans.

It seems new events and writers are emerging every day. Next time you're in town, attend a reading, buy a book. Help the city continue to rebuild its literary community.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Melanted Writers Workshop. Credit: Jennifer Williams.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Pick a poetry book off of your shelf and open it to any page. Read the poem you've opened to, then write one of your own, using the same number of lines and stanzas. Choose a fragment from the poem you've read to title your own.

Twenty-nine-year-old Mexico City fiction writer Majo Ramírez has been awarded the second biennial Aura Estrada Prize, an honor that affords a young Spanish-language writer money, publication, and up to eight months of time at writers colonies in Italy, Mexico, and the United States. Named for the late Mexican writer Aura Estrada, who was a student at both Columbia University and Hunter College in New York City when she died at the age of thirty, the prize is given specifically to a woman prose writer, of either U.S. or Mexican citizenship, under thirty-five.

Ramírez receives ten thousand dollars and publication of her work in Spanish Granta, as well as invitations to four residency programs. She is offered retreats of up to two months each at Ledig House in Omi, New York; Santa Maddalena in Tuscany, Italy; Ucross in Wyoming; and Villa Guadalupe in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This year's prize jury included authors Daniel Alarcón, Jorge Luis Boone, Carmen Boullosa, and Cristina Rivera Garza. The founder of the award is Estrada's husband, the author Francisco Goldman, whose most recent novel, Say Her Name (Grove Press, 2011), centers on their marriage and the aftermath of Estrada's death.

For information on the requirements for entry into the competition, visit the Aura Estrada Prize website.

P&W-supported poet Ann Lynn, author of the chapbook In the Butterfly House, published by Finishing Line Press, blogs about facilitating writing workshops with women veterans in Atlanta, GA.

In October 2005, I began a series of writing workshops with women veterans in Atlanta. The women in the group had served in war zones during the Vietnam and the Gulf Wars. One woman drove a truck and was trained to work with hazardous materials. Another worked with the wounded. Some experienced scud missile attacks. All witnessed firsthand the atrocities of war and suffered personal traumas themselves. For the participants, the workshops weren't just an exercise in learning to write better... the workshops served as a lifeline. I was blown away by what these women were writing and sharing, and realized how hungry they were for the healing power of writing.

One of the first assignments I gave was to write about a place where they felt safe and comfortable, an exercise that could be appropriate for anyone, but especially so for people who have experienced trauma. I will never forget what one woman wrote:

My truck is a safe place. In it there is no sound, no music, no talking, just listening to the wind as it hits my windows. My mind can be free there, and I can drive away all the tears, fears, as long as I got gas.

Another time I asked them to pick an object from a bunch I set out on the floor and describe that object with concrete and sensory details. I then  told them to write about one of their parents in terms of that object. One woman wrote:

Mother is like a rock,not a mother,
except in its true instinctual self of how it became,
beginning as loose powder then pressed together,
hardened and roughed-up (tossed, turned, hurt).

I was stunned by the beauty and power of this poem. And, for the writer, it seemed as though the metaphorical language with which she'd chosen to describe her mother had somehow turned on a light in her head, as she began to talk about her life in a deeper way.

For these women, writing, sharing, and the group itself formed a safe space. The group met for three and a half years, and for me it was a life-changing experience. I wrote when they wrote, read when they read, and sometimes cried when they cried. I am so grateful that Poets & Writers believes that art is important for all people, and is willing and eager to fund programs that can make such a difference in people's lives.

Photo: Ann Lynn. Photo Credit: Roby Lynn.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.


Up against competition that included debut novels by Benjamin Hale, who recently won the Bard Fiction Prize, and Orange Prize winner Téa Obreht, Irish author Lucy Caldwell won this year's Dylan Thomas Prize for her second novel, The Meeting Point (Faber and Faber, 2011). The author, born in 1981, whose first book, Where They Were Missed (Viking, 2006), was shortlisted for the award in 2006, received a prize of thirty thousand pounds (approximately $47,700).

"The Meeting Point is a lyrical modern day parable set in Bahrain depicting the crises in the faith and marriage of an Irish woman, and her relationship with a troubled Muslim teenager," judge and prize founder Peter Stead said of Caldwell's novel, the Guardian reported. "It is a beautifully written and mature reflection on identity, loyalty, and belief in a complex world. We have no doubt that this is yet another significant step in what will undoubtedly be a striking career."

Also shortlisted for the 2011 award, given annually for a work of poetry or fiction by a writer age thirty or younger, were poet Jacob McArthur Mooney and debut novelist Annabel Pitcher. Stead was joined on the judging panel by Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival, poets Kurt Heinzelman and Mererid Hopwood, fiction writer and inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize winner Rachel Trezise, and cultural broadcasters Kim Howells and Allison Pearson.

In the video below, Caldwell reads from her winning book at San Francisco's Litquake festival last month.

Choose a specific place and a time in the past: the North Shore of Staten Island before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built; the Back Bay area of Boston in the 1850s; Phoenix before air conditioning was invented; Seattle in the 1970s. Research this location, gathering as much information as you can about how it once was and how it has changed. Review public records, read newspaper articles, and peruse archival images. Local chamber of commerce sites and the Library of Congress's website are good places to start. Write a story set in the past in your chosen location, using the details you've uncovered to make it as authentic to that time as possible.

Twenty-eight-year old novelist Benjamin Hale adds the Bard Fiction Prize to his list of honors. Author of The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, the story of a self-aware and morally-engaged chimpanzee published last January by Twelve, Hale will receive thirty thousand dollars and a semester-long appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Hale was awarded a provost's fellowship from the University of Iowa to complete his first novel. The manuscript was awarded a Michener-Copernicus Award, and, after publication, was selected for a number of "best of" lists including Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers roundup.

Among the past winners of the Bard Fiction Prize, given annually to a fiction writer under forty, are Samantha Hunt, Fiona Maazel, Salvador Plascencia, and Peter Orner. Last year's recipient was thirty-year-old Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! (Knopf, 2011) and St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Knopf, 2006).

Applications for the 2013 award will be accepted until July 15, 2012. Visit the Bard website for more details.

In the video below, Hale discusses his ideal writing spaces, his unintentional pet word, and the importance of confidence for a (capital w) writer.

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