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Go to a thrift store, explore an attic, or exchange with a friend three unfamiliar items: a piece of clothing, an object you can do something with—such as a coffee cup, a screw driver, or a letter opener, and a photograph or postcard. Wear the piece of clothing, use the object, and place the image in your work space where you can see it. Then write a scene about a character who is wearing the piece of clothing, while using the object, and has a memory filled with conflict conjured by the photograph or postcard.

The winners of the 2011 Flannery O'Connor Short Fiction Award have been announced. The publication prize, which has bolstered authors such as Ha Jin and Antonya Nelson early in their careers, was awarded to E. J. Levy of Washington, D.C., and Hugh Sheehy of New York City. Each will receive one thousand dollars, and the University of Georgia Press will publish their books in the fall of 2012.

Levy, whose stories and essays have appeared in the Paris Review, the New York Times, and the Nation, among other publications, won for her collection, My Life in Theory. She is also the editor of Lambda Award–winning anthology Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers (Harper Perennial, 1995).

Sheehy won for The Invisibles, which series editor Nancy Zafris described as a collection of “eerie tales extraordinarily narrated.” The title story from his winning manuscript appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2008, edited by George Pelecanos.

Along with Zafris, authors M. M. M. Hayes, Bruce Machart, Kirsten Ogden, and Lori Ostlund served as judges. The competition will accept submissions for the next O'Connor competition from April 1 to May 31, 2012.

In the video below, past winner Antonya Nelsonwho received the O'Connor Award in 1989 for what became her debut collection, The Expendables—discusses the story behind her stories.

Poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm and the memoir A Question of Freedom, blogs about Washington, D.C.-based writers who are making marks.

"Flat Langston" made quite an uproar last year during the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference. For those who are unaware, there was once a cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes at the Busboys and Poets 14th Street location. It was there before poet, photographer, go-go aficionado, and D.C. native Thomas Sayers Ellis relieved it of its duties. The uproar isn’t as important now, forgotten as most things are forgotten.

All that to say, I love listening to stories of the District's past—about spots along the U Street corridor that once housed poetry, about Toni Asante Lightfoot’s legendary reading series, and nights when Holly Bass, Kenneth Carroll, Brian Gilmore, Brandon Johnson, Ernesto Mercer, Joel Dias-Porter, and others could be found with a sheaf of poems in hand burning the night sky. I dig those stories. I dig, too, that nostalgia is the curse that ruins us. While we celebrate the folks who have made marks on the cultural scene of the District, it seems much too easy to forget about the folks who are making marks right now.

Alan King and Derrick Weston Brown, for instance, have both been putting in work as poets and workshop leaders around the city, working with the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop at Hart Middle School and Ballou High School, respectively. Fred Joiner, a jack of all trades,  along with Jon West-Bey, Executive Director of the American Poetry Museum, engineered a cultural exchange with Belfast. Add to that Kyle Dargan,  assistant professor of creative writing at American University and editor of Post No Ills. Add still Simone Jackson of Sulu DC, Silvana Straw of DC Writer’s Corp and the Marpat Foundation. More? Melanie Henderson, forth generation D.C. native and winner of the Main Street Rag prize for her lovely collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue.

Still want more? Kim Roberts holds it down. Sarah Browning does her thing. So does Melissa Tuckey. Sandra Beasley. All of whom are wonderful, wonderful writers. Maybe this isn't a renaissance, but it damn sure isn't a drought.

Photo: Reginald Dwayne Betts. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washinton, 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.

Find a map—of the Earth, the United States, or your home state or city—or visit Google Maps, pick a town at random, and write a poem about daybreak in that specific location, inventing any pertinent details.

Last month, we reported on SMITH magazine's six-word memoir contest Six Words About Work, which launched with the theme My Job (or, "Why I do what I do"). For the next eight days, the magazine is accepting entries on a new topic: bosses—and not just any bosses, but the best bosses ever.

Like inaugural contest winner Mindy Getch, whose My Job memoir, "Who doesn't love the payroll lady," rose above more than four thousand entries, the winner of the boss-themed contest will receive as a prize her choice of an iPad2 or a BlackBerry PlayBook. The prizes are cosponsored by the consulting firm Mercer.

Today's featured memoir comes from Elisa Shevitz: "The CEO knew every intern's name." Other entries, which appear on the SMITH website, include, "Peter Pan complex, together we regress," "Said, 'If he goes, I go,'" and "Verbal pugilist, he's still my dad."

On August 13 the contest will refresh with a new theme. Until then, boss-related entries can be published (with no fee) directly to the contest page.

From May 19 to June 9, 2011, P&W-supported poet D. E. Connelly, author of the manuscript "A Twisted Balance: One-Line Haiku & a Few Senryu," taught a haiku workshop at the Armory Park Senior Center in Tucson, Arizona. We asked her to say a few words about the experience.

D.E. ConnellyThe poet-sage Matsuo Bashō, born 1644, wrote in memoriam of a friend, “never think of yourself / as someone who did not count— / festival of the souls.” Ueda translated this Japanese haiku into English. The poet-artist Marlene Mountain, born 1939, wrote “white sugar white flour white male”—no translation necessary: It was originally written in U.S. English. Mountain’s haiku reflects the three word-cluster device of classic one-line Japanese haiku as well as its device of image juxtaposition: The first and second word clusters are specific images; the third word cluster, “white male,” is metaphoric, resembling one (including males of color and all females) who, offering no nourishment, choose instead to promote oppressive practices that strip people and things of their inherent value. As Bashō’s tone was of his time and place, Mountain’s is of ours—and each poet agitates the soul: Will I be remembered?  How will I remembered? 

Poets & Writers remembered those of us in the Arizona desert at a time when recognition of each individual’s contribution was being white-washed. With its support and encouragement, the Armory Park Senior Center in Tucson was able to host In The Spirit of Haiku: Three Workshops & A Public Reading. Like water in the desert, sponsorship of a poetry workshop at the Center is wonderful, but rare. 

Workshop One, focusing on the haiku of Bashō (as translated by Sato), reviewed the classic poetic devices compressed within this seemingly simple one-line poem (e.g., two unequal phrases; a strong cutting word between; each phrase with its own specific imagery, which might portray the “what,” “when,” and “where” of the poet’s experience; a seasonal reference—all combined to best convey emotion in a syntax natural to the poet). 

workshop participantsWorkshop Two, focusing on the haiku of Marlene Mountain, explored how the initial haiku in U.S. English (introduced, arguably, in the 1950s) evolved into what is currently promoted in English as a form of ten-to-fourteen syllables. Throughout, but mostly in Workshop Three, attendees shared original work: One participant incorporated calligraphy; another haibun; another read haiku in German, demonstrating how sound patterns, even without sense, can convey emotion.

The public reading gave participants a chance to interact with an audience, which included a few people in their twenties from Tucson Youth Development. One youth was deeply moved by an elder’s seasonal allusion of being in her life’s “December,” with feet on fire from pain as well from an urgency to experience fully and profoundly what remains of her life.

A deep bow to Poets & Writers, the workshop participants, the audience, as well as the Armory Park Senior Center who published the participants’ haiku in its July newsletter.
   
Photos: (Top) D. E. Connelly. Credit: Tom Wuelpern; (bottom) workshop participants. Credit: D. E. Connelly.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Earlier this summer, the Guardian asked book lovers to weigh in on what title was excluded from publishers' entries for the Guardian First Book Award. While the one hundred thirty six formally submitted titles are still being read and considered, readers' recommendations have helped the prize committee select its first book for the longlist. After "lively debate" and "a fair amount of logrolling," Mexican-born author Juan Pablo Villalobos's novel, Down the Rabbit Hole, translated by Rosalind Harvey, was chosen for the first of ten semifinalist spots.

Villalobos's debut, a look at Latin America's narcotics culture from the perspective of a drug baron's son, was published in England by a new small press, And Other Stories. The indie outfit derives much of its funding from subscribers, who helped launch the press with two translations, Down the Rabbit Hole and Clemens Meyer's All the Lights (translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire), both scheduled for publication next month.

A suggestion by Guardian website commenter Teregarciadiaz was the first to alert the prize committee to Villalobos's book, which appeared last year in Spanish as Fiesta en la madriguera (Anagrama) and has since been translated into seven languages. "Reading this novel in the bloody climate that rains and thunders every day in Mexico is like walking a tightrope," Teregarciadiaz wrote. "Villalobos reminds us that we are vulnerable on the tightrope, but that the strength, imagination, and humor it's spun from hold us up over the abyss of reality and, in spite of atrocity, prevent us from falling."

The Guardian will announce the remaining debut titles longlisted for the ten-thousand-pound prize (worth roughly sixteen thousand dollars) later this month, and the winner will be revealed in the fall.

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize committee announced today that its first Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award will be given to novelist and nonfiction writer Barbara Kingsolver. The ten-thousand-dollar prize, formerly known as the Lifetime Achievement Award but renamed to honor the late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, celebrates an author for a body of work that promotes peace and understanding.

Kingsolver is the author of, most recently, The Lacuna (Harper, 2009), a novel examining the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Among her other works are the memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (HarperCollins, 2007), coauthored with her husband and daughter, and the novels The Poisonwood Bible (HarperFlamingo, 1998) and The Bean Trees (Harper and Row, 1988).

The author will receive her award on November 13 at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, the site of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. The finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, given annually for a book of fiction and a book of nonfiction, will be revealed later this month, and the winners will be honored alongside Kingsolver.

In the video below, Kingsolver discusses nationhood, news and gossip, and schadenfreude in The Lacuna, which won the 2010 Orange Prize.

For the month of August, Washington, D.C.–based poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm and the memoir A Question of Freedom blogs about poetry in D.C. schools, Busboys and Poets, as well as his memory of being P&W-supported.

The Pen/Faulkner Foundation does great things across the district. Not only does the organization bring writers into the classroom, it also purchases a class set of the writer's book for students to read before the writer's visit. I am amazed at the many ways in which teachers and school leaders are able to tap resources and use them to provide students with a literary outlet such as this one.

Another program of note is the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. For more than a dozen years, and under the guidance of Nancy Schwalb (the organization's founder and current executive/artistic director), the workshop has placed writers-in-residence in classrooms at Hart Middle School, Ballou Senior High School, and Simon Elementary School. The program's drama club also rewrites classic dramas, then presents their adaptations as motion pictures at the end of each school year. It’s not surprising that the workshop is excellent, what is surprising is that it has become a strong component in the academic life of so many students and is a component that lasts beyond the students' elementary, middle, or even high school years. Former students come back each year to volunteer or say hello.

Finally, there is the Folger Shakespeare Library's Poetry in the Schools program. Teri Cross Davis coordinates the program and does a fabulous job of bringing writers into classrooms across the city for four to six week sessions. All of these programs are amazing, but I’ll add this about the Folger program... I was once sent to Dunbar High under their auspices and, ironically, had the pleasure of working with an English teacher whose first year teaching was the same year my mother graduated high school. A program that is able to reach out to young teachers as well as older, more established teachers is one that should definitely be praised.

Photo: Reginald Dwayne Betts. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washinton, 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.

Melville House Publishing, pioneer of book-trailer appreciation, is offering its entire novella library to the literary filmmaker who can come up with "the most awesome book trailer of all time." The challenge? Create a video that embodies five novellas by major international authors, all titled The Duel.

The independent press has just released the suite of novella reprints, by Giacomo Casanova, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, Heinrich von Kleist, and Alexander Kuprin, as part of its forty-two volume Art of the Novella series (the official publication date for the five is in August, but books are available now from the press). The winner of the trailer competition will receive the entire collection celebrating the "renegade art form" that doesn't often make its way into a stand-alone book, including titles by classic authors such as Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Herman Melville.

Entries, which should first be posted on YouTube, can be created using any media, from crayons to computer-generated imagery, and must be under three minutes. For all the details on how to submit a video (there is no entry fee), as well as descriptions of each version of The Duel, visit the Melville House site.

In the video below, Melville House throws the gauntlet.

Go for a walk, paying careful attention to your surroundings, until you find something that doesn't belong. It could be a piece of garbage on the street, a coin, an animal, a car battery in the woods, anything out of place. Tell the story of how it got there.

The late English poet Philip Larkin was born eighty-nine years ago this month. Begin a poem using the first lines of Larkin's oft-studied poem "Church Going," from The Less Deceived (Marvell Press, 1955): "Once I am sure there's nothing going on / I step inside, letting the door thud shut."

The Man Booker Prize panel has announced its 2011 "Booker dozen," the semifinalists for the fifty-thousand-pound novel award (approximately eighty-two thousand dollars). Among the thirteen are four first-time novelists: Yvvette Edwards, whose A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld) was more than twenty years in the making; Stephen Kelman for Pigeon English (Bloomsbury), which emerged from an agency slush pile and made its way into a bidding war; Patrick McGuinness, who has previously published two books of poetry, for The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books); and journalist and memoirist A. D. Miller for Snowdrops (Atlantic Books).

The other longlisted titles are The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape) by thrice-shortlisted author Julian Barnes; On Canaan's Side (Faber and Faber) by Sebastian Barry; Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate Books); The Sisters Brothers (Granta Books) by Patrick deWitt; Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail); The Stranger's Child (Picador) by Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Booker in 2004; Far to Go (Headline Review) by Alison Pick; The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press) by Jane Rogers; and Derby Day (Chatto & Windus) by D. J. Taylor.

Members of U.K. publishing's Independent Alliance made a strong showing, with Canongate Books of Edinburgh and London-based Atlantic Books, Faber and Faber, Granta Books, and Serpent's Tail all represented on the longlist. Also flying the indie flag are Sandstone Press in the Scottish Highlands and Seren Books, the first Welsh publisher to have one of its titles considered for the Booker.

The judging panel, chaired by Stella Rimington, former director of British intelligence agency MI5, consists of novelist Susan Hill, journalists Matthew d'Ancona and Gaby Wood, and politician Chris Mullin. It took roughly two hours of "impassioned debate, but without any acrimony and with a great deal of humor," according to Rimington, for panelists to select this year's titles from one hundred thirty-eight under consideration.

The Booker shortlist will be announced on September 6, and the winner will be named on October 18. The annual award, considered one of the most prestigious for literature in English, is given to a citizen of the British Commonwealth, Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

The video below is a trailer for Kelman's Pigeon English. For further visual access to the semifinalists' works, the Guardian has the longlist in pictures.

In a radio interview this week on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, fiction writer Donald Ray Pollock, whose most recent novel, The Devil All the Time, was published this month, talked about how he learned to write by typing out a story by an established author once a week. Use Pollock’s strategy this week, typing a story by an author whose writing you admire. After typing it out, print out a copy and carry it with you, reading and rereading it, making notes along the way. Let the process reveal the story’s gifts to you. Then begin a story of your own.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest announced, for the twenty-ninth year running, the worst sentence submitted to its annual race for the most wretched first line of an imaginary novel. The writer of this year's worst opener is professor and admitted punster Sue Fondrie, who teaches in the curriculum and instruction program at University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. She will receive as her prize "a pittance."

Fondrie took top honors for the line—the shortest to win in contest history—"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."

The sentence joins a cast of other misfits, run-ons, and purple prose creations in genres such as crime, historical fiction, and romance, as well as a collection of "vile puns," selected for this year's auxiliary honors. The notable lines are posted on the Bulwer-Lytton website.

The contest, established 1982 by English professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, is named for Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the familiar opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." Entries are accepted via e-mail throughout the year.

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