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Literary organizer Randall Horton blogs about emerging voices in New York State. 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.

For three years I stayed in upstate New York, working on a PhD from State University of New York at Albany. I was pursuing a degree in poetry and poetics, and it struck me that there were very few reading series taking place in the city. And so I, along with some fellow graduate students, established the Jawbone Reading Series, which featured emerging artists from the area. I brought in Linda Susan Jackson, whose first book, What Yellow Sounds Like, is a tribute to the late great Etta James. Phil Memmer, who had recently won the Idaho Prize from Lost Horse Press for his book Lucifer: A Hagiography, which offers an alternate description of the creation of Lucifer in modern form, came and read. Georgia Popoff’s book Doom Weaver had just been published. She gave an energetic reading, followed by an equally energetic conversation. Also, I was able to bring in Christopher Stackhouse, a writer who often pushes the boundaries of aesthetic possibility. His latest book Plural is coming out from Counterpath Press in the fall.

All of these poets added to the poetic fabric of Albany, as did the diverse group of writers featured in Frequency North, the reading series Daniel Nester founded at the College of Saint Rose. Poets & Writers funded the Jawbone Reading Series, and it felt good to be able to pay poets a small honorarium in appreciation of their sharing their imagination and writing with the community. 

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.

For the past seven years, Nancy Kline has been leading P&W–supported senior writing workshops at Queens Community House in New York City. Her short stories, essays, literary criticism, and translations have appeared widely. She is the author of the novel, The Faithful, and edited and contributed to the essay collection How Writers Teach Writing. She also reviews regularly for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Kline generously shared with us reflections on her writing workshops with seniors.

What makes your workshops unique?
It’s the students who make my workshops unique—their jokes, epiphanies, reticencies, and idiosyncrasies; their chemistry with each other, with me, and with words. 

Could you share a few examples of stories written in your workshop recently?
In one workshop, we used pieces from Flash Fiction Forward as springboards into workshop participants’ own work.

Rick Moody’s “Drawer” inspired a hilarious description of the anarchic contents of one writer’s drawer and her increasing hysteria as she searched through it for some coveted item.

In response to the prompt "just like her mother," suggested by Pamela Painter's "Toasters," one workshop participant wrote about how, as a small child, she accompanied her mother to forage secretly for an apronful of grain with which to feed her starving family in decimated, post-World War II Germany.

Rob Carney's “Traveling Alone” inspired one eighty-six-year-old student's biblical monologue. When asked what she planned to write about next, having just done God, she replied: “Sex.” And so she did.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
In my experience, all writers are shy, at least on some level. We are naked in the page. For this reason, I try to establish a respectful, attentive environment in my writing workshops. Laughter helps.

I try to teach students to listen to their readers’ comments, without defensiveness or undue docility, and to comment on other people’s work with rigor and charity; to write any written comments in pencil, rather than pen; and to try to phrase their comments as questions, rather than statements. 

There’s a difference between asking a writer "Could you clarify this?" and stamping a text "Unclear." The former recognizes that the writer is in charge of her own words and has the power to change them. The latter suggests, to my ear, that the reader is in charge and the writer has failed.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
It is always that moment when a student gets it, whatever it happens to be. Sometimes a writer who has been struggling with constricted prose suddenly writes in a text so lush and genuine that the workshop falls silent in admiration. Smaller epiphanies occur: During a recent session on comma use, one of the seniors exclaimed, “Commas actually communicate information! I never knew that!” This was thrilling.

What affect has this work had on you?
It is deeply moving to be in the presence of the accumulated wisdom, imagination, and courage of the women and men with whom I’m working. Four of my students have died since I began to offer these workshops. Their deaths have marked me and their colleagues, and have underlined the collective sense that each of us has many stories to tell, and that we had better hurry up and tell them.

Photo: Nancy Kline. Credit: Adam Piore.
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.

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast has announced the winner of the third annual Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry.

Rachael Boast of Scotland won the 2012 prize for her collection, Sidereal (Picador, 2011). She will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,570) and an all-expenses-paid trip to give a reading at New York University during the first annual Thomas Quinlan Lecture in Poetry on October 18.  

The award, which is funded by the Glucksman Ireland House and Center for Irish and Irish-American Studies at NYU, is given annually to a writer for a first collection of poetry published in the United Kingdom or Ireland in the previous year. The prize was established in celebration of the work of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, and in honor of its founding poet. The Seamus Heaney Centre "is a focal point for creativity in Ireland and is recognized as an international centre of creative and research excellence in the field of literature," the mission on the website states. "Central to the Centre’s ethos is the encouragement of emerging talent."

Frank Ormsby, poet and co-editor of the The Yellow Nib, the Seamus Heaney Centre's literary journal, served as chairman of the judges for the 2012 prize. Of the winning collection Ormsby says: "The resonant, robust lyrics and sequences in this beguiling collection are subtly weighted and consistently engaging. The world they create is affecting in its intensity and vibrant in its forms and images, drawing the reader in time after time. This is poetry that sets up 'so bright a mirror/the room moves towards it.”’

In a 2011 interview with the Exeter Poetry Festival in Exeter, England, Boast discusses her collection. “Overall,” she says, “it’s a book about time, cycles of time; structures which are vaster than we are and how we fit into them.”

Last week, the Hurston/Wright Foundation announced the nominees for the eleventh annual Legacy Awards, given to writers of African descent for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in the previous year.

The 2012 nominees in poetry are Aracelis Girmay for Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions), Evie Shockley for The New Black (Wesleyan University Press), and Tracy K. Smith for Life on Mars (Graywolf).

The nominees in fiction are Nuruddin Farah for Crossbones (Riverhead), Tayari Jones for Silver Sparrow (Algonquin Books), Helen Oyeyemi for Mr. Fox (Riverhead), Danzy Senna for You Are Free (Riverhead), Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury), and Colson Whitehead for Zone One (Doubleday).

The nominees in nonfiction are Tomiko Brown-Nagin for Courage to Dissent (Oxford University Press), Melissa V. Harris-Perry for Sister Citizen (Yale University Press), Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts for Harlem is Nowhere (Little, Brown), Binyavanga Wainaina for One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf), and Mark Whitaker for My Long Trip Home (Simon & Schuster).

The winners will be announced later this fall and honored at the annual Legacy Award ceremony on December 1 in Washington, D.C.

The Bowie, Maryland-based Hurston/Wright Foundation—named for writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright—is a national resource center for writers, readers, and supporters of African American literature. Founded in 1990, the Foundation’s mission is to “discover, develop, and honor Black writers” at every stage of their writing career. In addition to the Legacy Award, the foundation offers a variety of literary programming, including awards, workshops, and residencies for African American high school and college students, and awards for businesses, educators, and community leaders that have demonstrated a commitment to African American literature.

The foundation’s board of directors and advisory board are comprised of writers and other members of the literary community, including Chinua Achebe, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, and E. Ethelbert Miller.

In June 2012, Matthew and Michael Dickman released Fifty American Plays (Poems) (Copper Canyon Press), a book of poem-plays about the fifty American states. Choose a state (or region or country outside of the United States) that you feel a deep connection to and write a poem about it. Give the reader a sense of the landscape and mood you associate with the place. As an additional challenge, try to convey a sense of the location without ever naming it in the poem.

As Tolstoy's axiom goes, "All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." Freewrite for ten minutes about each of these premises, then turn one—or both—into an essay.

Write a piece of flash fiction in the style and form of a recipe. In composing the preparation steps, reveal bits of the fictional recipe-writer’s life. Try to give the reader a sense of the person behind the recipe by giving an emotional dimension to the instructions. For inspiration, read Steve Himmer’s “How to Make Potato Salad.”

P&W–sponsored poet Randall Horton writes about forming relationships with venues. 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.

Before the publication of my first poetry collection,The Definition of Place, the idea of performing my writing never crossed my mind. I'd been active in several poetry communities, but it wasn't until the book arrived and I held it in my hands that I realized the promotion of it would be a task to which I was not accustomed. It was the early grant support Poets & Writers gave me to go out and read my work that enabled me to introduce myself to a larger and varied audience—and to nurture relationships—especially on the East Coast, which is where I am based. I think it is important that beginning poets understand that the Readings/Workshops Program at Poets & Writers can help provide these opportunities to writers.

With the help of many friends and poets, including the late Adarro Minton, Lita Hooper, and Fred Joiner, I was given a platform to reach an audience at a range of poetry venues including the Social Justice Center in Albany, the YMCA Downtown Writer's Center in Syracuse, headed by the poet Phil Memmer, The Revolving Door Series in Chicago, hosted by Jennifer Steele, the Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta, as well as the American Poetry Museum in Washington, D.C. 

I would like to think all artists pursue their art only to express their passion and creativity, but the reality is it helps to be financially compensated for the work we do. Receiving grants from Poets & Writers makes poets feel worthy, if only in small way, which in turns helps to feed our art. These opportunities also help us reach a larger audience. My advice to beginning poets is to continue to cultivate relationships with venues where you read, and make them aware that funding through Poets & Writers is available, because we all want to feel appreciated, if only for a moment.

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.

Describe one of your earliest recollections of fear. What caused you to be afraid? What sensations—physical, mental, emotional—do you recall? How did you react? Next, describe a similar experience you've had as an adult. In what ways have your responses to fear changed since you were young? In what ways have they remained the same?

The 2012 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose sponsored by Gulf Coast magazine, is currently accepting submissions. Ander Monson, editor of the literary journal DIAGRAM and New Michigan Press, whose most recent books include Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (Graywolf, 2010) and The Available World (Sarabande Books, 2010) will judge.

Writers may submit up to three pieces of prose poetry, flash fiction, or micro-nonfiction of 500 words or fewer, along with a $17 entry fee, via the online submission system or by mail. The deadline for submissions is September 1.

Established in 2008, the annual prize offers $1,000 and publication in Gulf Coast. Two honorable mentions will also receive publication. All entries are considered for paid publication on the website, and entrants receive a one-year subscription to Gulf Coast.

Last year's winner, selected by Sarah Manguso, was Erica Olsen for "Grand Canyon II," which can be read on the Gulf Coast website.

Gulf Coast, a journal of literary and fine arts, is housed within the University of Houston’s English department. Founded by Donald Barthelme and Phillip Lopate 1983, the student-run journal publishes original work in both its print publication—which comes out in April and October each year—and on the website.

This past April the Pulitzer Prize board rocked the literary world when it failed to select a winner for the annual fiction prize. Yesterday, novelist Michael Cunningham—a member of the 2012 fiction jury, which was responsible for selecting this year's finalists—wrote a letter on behalf of the jury for the New Yorker website, detailing his experiences as part of the jury and the repercussions of the board’s decision.

A two-part series, with the second installment appearing today, Cunningham’s letter was not so much an attempt to explain what happened (he couldn’t, really: The final decision was not up to the jury, nor did the board explain their decision) but rather an ode to the finalists, and the many other books that he and his fellow jurors spent a year reading, reviewing, and—at times painfully—eliminating.

Along with Cunningham, the two other jurors this year were Maureen Corrigan, a book critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and professor of English at Georgetown University, and Susan Larson, the host of “The Reading Life” on NPR. The jury, Cunningham writes, which changes every year, is charged with selecting the three finalists out of three hundred books. The finalists are then sent for vote to the Pulitzer board—which is comprised of eighteen members, primarily journalists and academics, who each serve a three-year term.

“The jury does not designate a winner, or even indicate a favorite,” Cunningham writes. “The jury provides the board with three equally ranked options. The members of the board can, if they’re unsatisfied with the three nominees, ask the jury for a fourth possibility. No such call was made.”

In part one of the series, Cunningham focuses on the often difficult and sometimes heartbreaking process that he and his fellow jurors undertook to select the finalists. In part two, subtitled “How to Define Greatness?” he delves a little deeper, pondering what it means to search for, discover, and dismiss great new fiction.

In the end, the finalists included three novels: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Karen Russell’s debut, Swamplandia! (Knopf), and the late David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (Little, Brown). Tracy K. Smith took the prize in poetry for her collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf), and Stephen Greenblatt won the nonfiction prize for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Norton).

The Pulitzer board has denied a prize in fiction nine times, most recently in 1977, and in 1974, when Gravity’s Rainbow was a finalist.

Write a story in which only five minutes pass between the beginning of the story and the end. Experiment with the ways in which you can draw out these five minutes, through interior monologue, flashbacks, switching between different points of view, and other storytelling techniques.

In her essay “The Art of Finding” originally published in American Poet in 2006, Linda Gregg advises poets to be more attuned to the physical world and to find concrete images that possess a special vibrancy. Gregg writes about how she asks her students to keep “a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things.” Try this exercise for one week, and at the end of the week, use two images from your journal in a poem.

P&W–sponsored poets Mary Fitzpatrick and Judith Pacht were among the writers who performed June 3 at Lummis Day, an annual festival celebrating journalist and activist Charles Fletcher Lummis and Northeast Los Angeles. P&W intern David Chun reports.

Held on the lawn of the historic Lummis Home, El Alisal, the Sunday morning poetry reading at the Seventh Annual Lummis Day drew a friendly audience of families, students, and seniors from diverse backgrounds. A jazz duo set a peaceful counterpoint to the stream of traffic on the 110 freeway rushing by behind the property’s sycamores.  

Chumash storyteller Ted Garcia opened the reading with a traditional blessing, thanking the Creator for our safe travels, our elders, our children, and all that we have. The poetry program included Suzanne Lummis (Charles Fletcher Lummis’s granddaughter), Mary Fitzpatrick, Judith Pacht, Jeremy Radin, and Hector Tobar. All are Angelenos whose work confronts human responsibility in the environment, an issue close to Charles Lummis’s heart. But the diversity in the writers’ styles was a true celebration of Los Angeles literary culture.

Any audience members expecting banal praises of California sunshine had their eyes opened when Suzanne Lummis kicked off the reading with “Gone Baby,” a poem which she described as a fairy tale for the children of the economic collapse. The poem worked as both a eulogy for the golden age of economic prosperity in America, and a prayer of hope for recovery.

Mary Fitzpatrick elegantly flipped from ironic meditations on the innocence of young love to a scathing review of the social masks so normal to Angeleno life. Her poem “Pompeii” concluded with a question: Is our culture evolving, or are we as trapped in artifice as the civilization of Pompeii after the historic volcano eruption encased it in stone?

Judith Pacht’s reading whisked the audience away on a dizzying tour of desert life, then zoomed in on an asphalt parking lot built among the ancient sands “like a buckled mirror [that] twists and distorts.”
A highlight of the morning was a surprise reading from poet Jeremy Radin (filling in for Ilya Kaminsky). His poems “Off Switch” and “Slowdance With Sasquatch” navigated the subjects of parenting and beauty with humor and dark tinges. The audience laughed, contemplated, and applauded. He closed with “The Last Invitation, September 5, 1895,” a piece adapted from historical correspondence between President Teddy Roosevelt and a pig farmer whose stock was so often killed off by bears that he arranged annual bear hunts with the president to get revenge. The farmer pleaded: “bears don’t die like other animals. When the knife bites / into their pulse, you can see them understand.” By the conclusion of the poem, the speaker is wary of the country’s mad rush for private property and subsequent disregard for nature.

Hector Tobar’s excerpt from his novel The Barbarian Nurseries delighted the audience with its meditation on the funny and often painful differences between Mexican and American views on everything from party etiquette to the homeless. 

Suzanne Lummis closed the reading with a heartfelt reminder of the importance of good books in the home. Then the audience made their way across the arroyo, where they enjoyed the live local music and fresh food.  

Photo: Mary Fitzpatrick reads at El Alisal. Credit: Eliot Sekuler.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

New Millennium Writings has extended its Summer Contest deadline to July 31. A prize of $1,000 and publication both in print and online will be given for a poem, a short story, a short-short story, and an essay.

To enter, submit up to three poems (not to exceed five pages), a short story or essay of up to 6,000 words, or a short-short story of up to 1,000 words, along with a $17 entry fee by August 31. Winners will be published in the 2013 issue of New Millennium Writings and on the NMW website. Twenty poetry finalists will also receive publication. David Madden, William Pitt Root, and Don Williams will judge.

The New Millennium Awards are offered twice yearly. The most recent winners, whose work will also be included in the 2013 issue, include Charles Fishman of East Patchogue, New York, who won the Poetry Prize for “Lament for Federico García Lorca;” J. L. Schneider of Ellenville, New York, who won the Short-Short Fiction Prize for “Salvation;” and Elizabeth Heineman of Iowa City, who won the Nonfiction Prize for “Still Life with Baby.”

A selection of work from previous winners is available here.

The journal’s mission is to "promote vibrant imagery, word-craft, and pure story-telling talent” by emerging writers. The magazine, which accepts general submissions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction year-round, also features interviews and profiles of established writers such as Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Khaled Hosseini, Cormac McCarthy, and Pamela Uschuk.

For more information on the New Millennium Awards, visit www.newmillenniumwritings.com.

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