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Write a poem whose title is “Preface to________.” Fill in the blank. Is the poem a preface to a love note? A preface to a confession? Write the poem as if it were an introduction to another written work.

Rochelle Spencer teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York and is the author of  the ebook, Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina. Rochelle blogs about the P&W sponsored reading with Jina Ortiz at LaGuardia Community College.

When I was interviewing the poet Sharan Strange for an article "Dark Room Redux," published in the July /August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Strange described her work as a founding member of the Dark Room Collective (DRC), a reading series that brought several established writers (Derek Walcott, Alice Walker, and many others) to the Boston area. Strange's statements about the host's responsibility to visiting writers really stuck out: "The DRC readings were serious and professional, but we didn't have a budget or formal funding. Everything we did, we paid for out of our pockets. Still, they came off well, and we made sure our guests would be comfortable.

The amazing work of the DRC--those young, energetic college students who held early readings in their own home, which included a photographer's dark room--starts, I think, with one idea: when you're giving an event, how do you make the writers feel comfortable?

Perhaps it starts with anticipating the authors' needs.  When I brought Jina Ortiz, an Afro-Latino poet based in Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens, this past March for our Women's Heritage Month celebration, Poets & Writers provided the first step in making Jina feel comfortable: the honorarium they supplemented let Jina know that both her time and talent were appreciated. 

Christopher Alexander and Kristen Gallagher, two of my colleagues at LaGuardia Community College, also added to Jina's comfort level by making sure that Jina's poems had been well-circulated and read by the members of the Creative Writing Club. I had emailed students  and aspiring writers in the community prior to the event to make sure that they knew a published writer would be visiting our campus. 

Public speaking is never easy. Plus, the amount of time authors spend preparing for these events (Jina, for instance, said she had spent a great deal of time preparing for the reading by reading aloud at home and carefully selecting poems to read that would "build a cohesive narrative" or "build upon one image or idea") means that we as hosts have a responsibility to make the readings as pleasant and memorable for the writer as we possibly can. 

Obviously, we can't recreate the groundbreaking work of th DRC, but I believe we can still, in our own communities, enable the kinds of conversations with writers that make our lives richer and all the more meaningful.

Photo:  Jina Ortiz.   Photo Credit: Anjali Bhargava

Support for Readings/Workshops in NewYork City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.


In July, P&W-sponsored poets Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney read with the Dollhouse Reading Series in Chicago. Series director Dolly Lemke reports.

Sally DelehantEvery month Stephen Danos and I host a salon-style poetry reading at my apartment: my carpeted, two-bedroom, un-air conditioned, third-floor walk-up in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. On this humid July night, after a small rain storm that didn’t even try to push any kind of cold front through, we orchestrated a great evening with readers Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney.

Frankly, sometimes I don’t want to have a house full of eager poetry lovers. I worked all day, I drove in rush hour traffic, I’m hungry, I’m tired, there are people coming over again. Christ! But then I remember I’m not the only one involved. There are people coming over who plan their night around this series. There are featured readers who have traveled from the coasts. People count on us to entertain and make them feel welcome. People love coming to series (so I hear) for the wicked talent, for the environment, for the new and familiar audience members, for whatever reasons they keep coming back—although it’s definitely not for the heat. This month we warned guests to “dress for the weather,” and we meant it. Whatever the temperature was outside, it was twenty degrees hotter inside.

Mark LeidnerEvery month I remember why we host the series when I see forty-odd people of all kinds sitting on the floor sweating in an almost unbearably hot apartment, all eyes on the reader. I’m reminded that we do it to make other people happy, to bring them together, and to make it a memorable night.

This July reading, like each reading, had a life cycle of its own. We began with Sally, who was nervous and timid, but whose poems were exposed and sad and a little magical. Next, we had Mark, who was reserved and funny. He knew this about himself, you could tell, but he was never self-indulgent. His poems were exactly the same way. Finally, Douglas made you wide-eyed and uneasy but hungry for the edge and the explosion. At the end, Douglas invited Sally and Mark to come up and take a bow with him, as though they made it through the thick heat and travels together. This kind of camaraderie is hard to find and easy to overlook.

Douglas KearneyIt’s also easy to overlook the “Dollhouse virgins.” Stephen and I have been doing this for so long that it’s nice to be reminded of the newness for some guests. A regular, Ryan Spooner, overheard a couple talking about this being their first time. There might have been a giddy giggle in there somewhere, too.     

At the end of the night, I reminded the audience that Stephen Danos has made the series what it is today. I then added that the audience makes the series, that the readers make the series, that supporters make the series. Everyone involved makes the series, and that is what motivates us to keep going, and we love it.

Photos, from top: Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, Douglas Kearney. Credit: Eric Plattner.

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

The summers of youth—and the unparalleled magic carried with them—have inspired many great works of literature. In "Once More to the Lake," E. B. White's classic coming-of-age essay about the August when he was twelve, the author writes: "Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end." Write an essay about being a child in the summertime. It may be about one particular moment or one particular summer, or about the season as a whole. For inspiration, read White's essay or Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel about summer and youth, Dandelion Wine

The Chicago Tribune announced today that author Elie Wiesel has been awarded the 2012 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, is most widely known for his book Night, an autobiographical account of his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner during World War II, which was first published in France in 1958 and has since has been translated into more than thirty languages. He is the author over fifty books of fiction and nonfiction, and has received the United States Congressional Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Nobel Peace Prize. 

"We are deeply honored to bestow the Chicago Tribune Literary Award upon Elie Wiesel, a man revered around the world as a living symbol of human rights," said Gerould Kern, editor of the Tribune. "Drawing upon his personal experiences as a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Wiesel's words have passionately and powerfully fought injustice and intolerance. He is a champion of the human spirit's capacity to overcome evil."

The Tribune also announced the 2012 recipients of the Heartland Prizes, which are given annually for works of fiction and nonfiction that "reinforce and perpetuate the values of Heartland America."

Novelist and short story writer Richard Ford won the prize in fiction for his novel Canada (Ecco, 2012), part of a series of novels that has garnered Ford both a Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Paul Hendrickson was awarded the prize in nonfiction for Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 (Knopf, 2011).

"The Chicago Tribune Literary Prize and the Heartland Awards for fiction and nonfiction reflect the Tribune's dedication to literature and the spread of ideas and enlightenment," Kern said. "We truly are honored to recognize the work of writers who have made such enormous contributions to our culture."

The Heartland Prizes were established in 1988. The Literary Prize was first awarded in 2002, and has included such recipients as Margaret Atwood, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Sam Shepard, and Tom Wolfe. 

Write a story in which you present no detailed descriptions of the characters, major or minor. The information the reader gleans about the characters in the story—their motivations, their gender, their personalities, even their looks—must be conveyed entirely through what they say. Observe how this reliance on dialogue changes the way you go about structuring the story.

Phren-Z, a new online literary magazine based in Santa Cruz, California, is currently accepting submissions for the first annual Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Contest.

The winner will receive $1,000, publication in the Winter 2012 issue of Phren-Z, and an invitation to read at the third annual Morton Marcus Memorial Reading at Cabrillo College on November 10. Poets may submit up to three poems, along with an eighteen-dollar entry fee, via Submittable by September 1. 

Founded this past February, Phren-Z is a quarterly publication whose mission is to celebrate the Santa Cruz literary community. The journal accepts general submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by writers from Santa Cruz County year-round. The editors seek to publish “an eclectic mix of work from published and emerging writers reflecting the cultural and artistic influences and flavor of our community.” So far the magazine has published two issues; it's third, the Summer 2012 issue, will be released August 15.

The magazine is published by Santa Cruz Writes, a nonprofit organization that offers programming and support for writers from the Santa Cruz area.

The Morton Marcus Prize was established in honor of the Santa Cruz poet Morton Marcus, who passed away in 2009 and "whose life and work inspired the writing of many students, friends, and emerging poets."

To hear some of his work, take a look at a video of Morton Marcus reading at Cabrillo College in August of 2009.

Poet Randall Horton blogs about his experience at an annual P&W–funded event at the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection, Pitch Dark Anarchy, will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

Recently, I had an opportunity to do a reading at the Downtown Writer's Center, located at the YMCA in downtown Syracuse. Each time I read in this series, which is supported by Poets & Writers, I come away not only impressed with the reading series itself, but also with the organization's commitment to running community-based workshops. Often times, the poets invited to the reading series have published books that are taught by passionate teachers who are poets and prose writers themselves, such as the wonderful teachers Georgia Popoff and Jennifer Pashley. I often find the people who are taking these workshops have various life experiences. The DWC is for everybody, but it pays close attention to the communities that are often excluded because of economic and educational factors.

Founded by poet Philip Memmer in January 2001, the DWC is the only community literary arts program in the central part of the state, and serves several hundred writers and readers each year through a variety of programs. It offers more than sixty creative writing courses each year (including "DWC PRO," a creative writing certificate program modeled after more traditional MFA writing programs), and typically hosts twenty-five or more authors each year for readings and other events. The program is part of the YMCA National Writer's Voice network of literary centers, which was founded over thirty years ago by the late Jason Shinder. I asked Phil to explain the primary goals of the Downtown Writer's Center, and he replied, “Our primary goals are to help emerging and literary authors develop audiences for their work, and to assist aspiring writers achieve their own artistic goals." 

The night I read there was an energetic and attentive audience. I would like to think more than anything, we had a shared experience. During the question and answer period, because some of them had been in a class that taught my book, we were able to examine my work in a way that I found extremely helpful. There is an audience in Syracuse. The converted may come one at a time, but they do come.

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

On June 20, poet Diane Wakoski read with the Woodward Line Poetry Series at the Scarab Club in Detroit. Series coordinator Kim Hunter writes about her visit.

To get to Detroit’s Scarab Club art gallery, Diane Wakoski drove ninety miles to from East Lansing, Michigan, where she has been Michigan State University’s Poet in Residence and a professor since 1975. By the time you read this, she will have retired, capping an illustrious academic career. 

She also capped the 2011–2012 season for the Woodward Line Poetry Series, which runs from September through June. The decade-old series takes place in the century-old Scarab Club art gallery. The lower floor, where the reading took place, is an airy, brilliant white space with wooden floors. Wakoski read in front of a five-foot-long painting of a rooster and managed not to be upstaged.

The crowd of about thirty people ranged from college-aged attendees to fans who’d been following Wakoski’s work for decades. Though most seemed familiar at least with Wakoski’s longstanding reputation, if not her many publications, Wakoski’s reading style and ability to frame her work would have provided an excellent introduction to even the most poetry-phobic.

In addition, all of the evening’s selections were about films. She began the reading by noting the irony of having been born in southern California, but not having become interested in movies until she moved to New York and saw a French New Wave film by Jean-Luc Godard. It was then that she realized film could be art (another irony, since Hollywood inspired the French New Wave). Part of the publicity for the reading included a video posting of her paean to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (read by a Canadian radio host). 

During the question and answer session that followed the reading, I asked her if she saw any parallels between the structure of her very visual work and the structure of film. She replied that it was more that she liked films that were like her poems: films where the plot was merely a means to draw the audience into something deeper. Indeed, though her work referenced pop culture throughout the evening, she always moved deeper, as with “Beauty And The Beast,” to themes of desire and how we deceive ourselves with it and for it.

Photo: Diane Wakoski. Credit: Kim Hunter.
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.

The much anticipated longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize—the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary award, given annually for a novel—was announced yesterday. Unlike previous years, when more established novelists comprised the longlist, many of this year's twelve contenders are emerging authors. Four of the titles are debuts, and three were published by small, independent presses.

“Goodness, madness, and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year’s longlist,” said Peter Stothard, chair of the 2012 judges and editor of the Times Literary Supplement. “We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.”

The finalists include: Nicola Barker for The Yips (Fourth Estate), Ned Beauman for The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre), André Brink for Philida (Harvill Secker), Tan Twan Eng for The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books), Michael Frayn for Skios (Faber & Faber), Rachel Joyce for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday), Deborah Levy for Swimming Home (And Other Stories), Hilary Mantel for Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate), Alison Moore for The Lighthouse (Salt), Will Self for Umbrella (Bloomsbury), Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis (Faber & Faber), and Sam Thompson for Communion Town (Fourth Estate).

The shortlist, which will include six finalists culled by the judges from the original twelve, will be announced on September 11, and the winner will be announced on October 16. Each of the shortlisted writers is awarded £2,500, and the winner receives £50,000.

Along with Stothard, the 2012 judges include Dinah Birch, Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens, and Bharat Tandon. “To maintain the consistent excellence of the Man Booker Prize,” states the prize’s mission, “judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians, and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.”

Finalist Hilary Mantel won the prize in 2009 for her novel Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), the first in a trilogy of which her current long-listed title is the second installment. Julian Barnes won the 2011 prize for The Sense of an Ending (Random House).

Established as the Booker Prize in 1969, the annual award is given to residents of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland for a novel published in the previous year. The next Man Booker International Prize, which is given biennially to a novelist from any country—and which Philip Roth last won in 2011—will be held in 2013.

In literature of every genre, some of the most interesting reflection takes place in transit. Write about a time when you were in transit of some kind—on a train, plane, bus, or bike, in a car or even on foot. Write about where you were going and why, and focus on what you were thinking, seeing, and feeling as you moved.

Revise a story by rewriting the story in the opposite order from which it first appeared. Start with the ending, and find your way back toward the original opening. Restructure the story so this new order makes sense.



Read James Richardson’s aphorisms or “ten-second essays." Pick one that resonates with you, and use the aphorism as an epigraph or starting off point for a poem.

This past May it was announced that the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction would no longer be sponsored by its longtime partner, the telecommunications company Orange. Over the weekend, the prize’s cofounder and honorary director, novelist Kate Mosse, announced that a new sponsor for the prize would soon be selected.

Since news broke of the partnership’s end, eighteen different companies have expressed interest in taking over sponsorship of the new Prize for Fiction. “It’s been incredibly exciting,” Mosse said at a conference in England on Saturday. “We’ll be making a choice in the next week and announcing in September.”

Orange has sponsored the U.K.-based prize—which annually awards thirty thousand pounds (approximately forty-seven thousand dollars) to a woman writer for a novel written in English—since it was founded in 1996. Of the former sponsor Mosse said, “Our partnership has delivered everything—and more—than we hoped for. A celebration of international writing by women, one of the most significant arts awards in the U.K., and also a major force in education, literacy, and research.”

Madeline Miller won the 2012 prize for her novel The Song of Achilles (Ecco, 2011). The finalists were Esi Edugyan, Anne Enright, Georgia Harding, Cynthia Ozick, and Ann Patchett. Previous winners of the prize have included Téa Obreht for The Tiger's Wife (Random House, 2011) and Zadie Smith for On Beauty (Penguin, 2005).

In the video below, Madeline Miller discusses her winning novel.

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