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Indian American oncologist and author Siddhartha Mukherjee is honored for his "anthropomorphism of a disease" in The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate), which has won the Guardian First Book Award. According judge Lisa Allardice, Mukherjee, who began the part-memoir, part-biography in an effort to contextualize cancer for one of his patients, "has managed to balance such a vast amount of information with lively narratives, combining complicated science with moving human stories. Far from being intimidating, it's a compelling, accessible book."

The only nonfiction title on the shortlist for the award, The Emperor of All Maladies, which also took the Pulitzer Prize this year, beat out four novels for the ten-thousand-pound prize (roughly $15,700). Also competing for Guardian First Book Award were American Amy Waldman's post-9/11 novel, The Submission (William Heinemann); Down the Rabbit Hole (And Other Stories Publishing) by Juan Pablo Villalobos of Mexico and translated by Rosalind Harvey; The Collaborator (Viking) by Mirza Waheed of Kashmir; and Pigeon English by British novelist Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury), whose debut was also shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize.

"You never write books to win awardsthey are immensely gratifying but unexpected," Mukherjee said. "In recognizing The Emperor of All Maladies, the judges have also recognized the extraordinary courage and resilience of the men and women who struggle with illness, and the men and women who struggle to treat illnesses."

In the video below, the author discusses the origins of the book, and how it evolved into a biography of a disease.

Browse the greeting card section of a local store, looking for an occasion card or one with an image that attracts you. Based on the image or the occasion of the card, write a letter from one imagined character to another. Send the card to its intended recipient, c/o your address. When you receive it in the mail, use it as the entry point to a story. 

Ruth Stone, a poet who received several major awards late in her decades-long career, has passed away. The poet, whose first collection, An Iridescent Time, was published in 1959, won the 2002 National Book Award for her collection In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), and the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for Ordinary Words (Paris Press, 1999). Her most recent volume, What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

When she received the NBA nine years ago, Stone began her acceptance speech, "All of the poets on the panel are fabulous. I think you probably gave it to me because I'm old." She added, "I guess I should say I've been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn't stop, I never could stop. I don't know why I did it. It was like a stream that went along beside me. And I really didn't know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can't even take much credit for it."

Stone, whose other honors include the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, has also inspired a prize to be created in her name. Hunger Mountain, published in Stone's longtime home state of Vermont, is holding its annual Ruth Stone Prize competition, open to groups of poems, until December 10.

In the video below, author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the genius of Stone's process, describing the poet's attempt to capture a poem thundering toward her across the landscape of her Vermont farm.

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, founder of GAP: Girls. Achieving. Possibilities., an empowerment program for African American girls, blogs about Pinkie Gordon Lane's legacy.

I know New Orleans has been the focus of this month-long blog, but I want to speak the name of an important poet who lived about 90 miles from the Big Easy.

Pinkie Gordon Lane. I'm told she was a gentle woman, a painter, a nature and dog lover, a writer, and a demanding instructor. Her poems walk a lyrical tightrope, never falling into sentimentality.

Her legacy includes being the state's first African American poet laureate. Lane travelled the state vigorously–reading, visiting classrooms, and promoting poetry. Some locals say her work as laureate has been unmatched. In 1967 Pinkie Gordon Lane became the first African American woman to earn a PHD from Louisiana State University, where her papers would be housed.

I never got the opportunity to meet Pinkie Gordon Lane, but lately I've been studying her poetic craftsmanship and quiet lifestyle. As a young poet, I often feel anxiety about not having a collection published as yet. It feels like a rat race sometimes, it's either publish or perish. Pinkie Gordon Lane came to poetry late in her life and I believe it afforded her patience in her work.

Her poem, "Lyric: I am Looking at Music," was featured in the 1997 motion picture, Love Jones. In a 1997 phone conversation with Dr. Jerry Ward, English Professor at Dillard University, she said actress Nia Long got the poem right in the film, "even the sniffles."

This year, the Pinkie Gordon Lane First Annual Poetry Contest Awards Program was held in April on the campus of Southern University and A&M College where she served as Chair of the English Department. The contest awarded local student writers with small prizes... her legacy continues to inspire and impact a new generation.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Pinkie Gordon Lane. Credit: The Archives and Manuscripts/John B. Cade Library/Sounthern university and A&M College/Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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.

Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.

The Story Prize, the annual twenty-thousand-dollar award for a short story collection, closed its 2011 competition entry pool earlier this month—and now its blog is offering a close look at the writers whose books were nominated. Authors such as Danzy Senna, William Lychack, Joseph McElroy, Ana Menendez, and Shann Ray, all of whom had collections published this year, discuss their writing processes, sources of inspiration, and the books that made them want to write.

In today's post, Menendez, nominated for her collection Adios, Happy Homeland! (Black Cat), emphasizes practice and training over "witchcraft or pure chance" as key to the creation of our masterpieces, with James Joyce and Vincent Van Gogh to back her up. Lychack, nominated for his second book, The Architect of Flowers (Mariner Books), discusses the importance of another art—judo—to achieving an understanding of balance and dedication in the writing process. And Alan Heathcock, nominated for Volt (Graywolf Press) breaks down his approach to writing into six steps. Thirty-five nominee discussions are currently posted as part of the running series.

The judges are having a word on the blog, as well. Breon Mitchell, a professor of comparative literature who is joined on the panel by Sherman Alexie and Louise Steinman, reveals what the jury is looking for in a Story Prize submission: "Samuel Beckett once said that most people could only enjoy a text if it reminded them of something else they had read. We enjoy hearing echoes of earlier texts in a new one, like musical motifs borrowed from compositions of another age. Yet we also set a high value on originality—we want to be surprised, not just by a turn of events, but by some element we may never have encountered before."

A shortlist of three collections entering the final running will be announced in January, and the winner of the Story Prize will be named on March 21 at a ceremony in New York City.

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.

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