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Write a scene in which two characters who are close (friends, relatives, a couple) are secretly angry at each other about something that has happened in the past. Decide what they are angry about before writing the scene but don't write about it directly. Instead, reveal the tension between them in the dialogue and in the actions involved in accomplishing a mundane task they are doing together, such as moving a couch, setting up a tent, making dinner, or painting a house.

The winner has been announced for the fourth biennial Man Booker International Prize, which carries a purse of sixty thousand pounds. For American Philip Roth, who was honored for his lifetime contributions to fiction, that translates to roughly ninety-seven thousand dollars.

Roth's oeuvre—from Goodbye, Columbus (Houghton Mifflin, 1959) to Nemesis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)—has "stimulated, provoked and amused an enormous, and still expanding, audience," said chair of judges Rick Gekoski. "His imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally."

A three-time finalist for the international award, Roth was joined on this year's shortlist by U.K. authors John le Carré (whose request to be removed from the shortlist was unsuccessful) and Philip Pullman, Australian David Malouf, Chinese author Su Tong, and Americans Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler. Past winners of the prize include Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, Ismail Kadare of Albania, and Alice Munro of Canada.

In the video below, Roth talks about beginning a novel and the years-long process of working on one, and why he doesn't worry about the reader.

For the next few weeks Camille Rankine, program and communications coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation, will give us the rundown on the longtime P&W-supported literary organization.

Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady founded Cave Canem in 1996 with the intuition that African American poets would benefit from having a place of their own in the literary landscape. That summer, twenty-six poets gathered at Mount St. Alphonsus Conference Center in Esopus, New York. “The first night when everyone sat in a circle and started breaking down about how they had never felt safe and never studied with an African American poet, you could see something had really happened,” Toi Derricotte recalled. “People broke open,” said Cornelius Eady, describing the first workshop in an interview for the Poetry Foundation. “And then everyone hung out by the river and built a fire and really claimed the space.”

In the fifteen years since its founding, Cave Canem’s community has grown to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and high-achieving national fellowship of over three hundred, many of whom have been P&W-supported and/or listed in the Directory of Poets & Writers. From inception, the organization’s week-long writing retreat has provided sustenance and a safe space to take artistic chances.

This June, the tradition will continue at the sixteenth annual summer retreat, held at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in Pennsylvania. Here, fifty-four fellows will commune with their peers and study with world-class poets Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Terrance Hayes, Carl Phillips, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey. As Harryette Mullen, recipient of P&W's fourth annual Jackson Poetry Prize, put it, in this environment “black poets, individually and collectively, can inspire and be inspired by others, relieved of any obligation to explain or defend their blackness."

In addition to the retreat, several public readings, including a tented event at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh on June 23, will showcase the work of fellows, faculty, and visiting poet Amiri Baraka. 

Photo: Cave Canem Founders, Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. 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 New York City 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.

Compose a poem collaboratively with a friend. Write one line and send it to your friend via e-mail, or by passing a notebook back and forth, and invite your friend to write the next line, building on what you wrote. Continue composing the poem together, line by line, until you have at least twenty lines. Then each of you consider the draft and revise it independently. Compare your final versions.

P&W-sponsored poet Michael Czarnecki blogs about the New York State literary events he's participated in this past year.

A sliver of a moon shines off to my right, low in the western sky. Straight ahead, Jupiter guides me as I drive south, home on Wheeler Hill a little less than an hour away. A short while ago I left the Lima Public Library. A half dozen people attended a writing workshop that I facilitated, excited about the method presented, anxious to do some writing. Behind the wheel, I felt good about the ideas I presented, the encouragement I had given.

Lima is a small village, about 2,500 people, in upstate New York. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and newer rural suburbia. My home, Wheeler Hill, is even more rural, isolated. Dirt roads and Old Order Amish neighbors. I am a country person, but also a poet and small press publisher. For more than two decades, I’ve made my living solely through creative work. Much of that work on the road is in small communities, like Lima.

In the past year I’ve given readings and/or held workshops in many small communities throughout New York State: Big Flats, Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, Watkins Glen, Henderson, Warsaw, Gouverneur, Dundee, Naples, and Mexico. These programs could not have happened were it not for the support of Poets & Writers. Many of these are repeat venues for me. The first four have active writers’ groups that were formed, in large part, because of my continual encouragement over the years.

Of special note is Watkins Glen. Seventeen years ago Charlotte Dickens called me (I didn’t know her) and asked if I could help her start a writers group in the community. She had been given my contact information from the local library, where I had facilitated a program a couple of years before. Over dinner we talked about possibilities. We left with a plan that I would facilitate the first few of the monthly meetings and then she would take over. I also suggested she have a monthly reading series, featuring published writers followed by an open reading. I felt strongly that hearing experienced writers would benefit burgeoning writers who met around the table every month. The writers group still meets twice a month and the reading series continues to flourish! This, in a village of a little over 2,000 people and a county with about 20,000! Scores of poets and prose writers have read in the series, local and regional, as well as those from distant states.

As I turn into our one third of a mile long hayfield driveway, the moon hangs even lower in the western sky, soon to be gone. I am pleased with another successful workshop in a small upstate community. Pleased that I have been invited to come back again next year. Pleased that Poets & Writers encourages such programming throughout the whole of New York State, supporting events in all sixty-two counties every year. And finally, I’m pleased to return to quiet, peaceful home on Wheeler Hill.

Photo: Michael Czarnecki.

Support for the Reading/Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Blackbird, the online literary magazine of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, has announced a new award for short fiction. Given in honor of late Richmond-born fiction writer Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto, a two-thousand-dollar prize will be given annually for a story submitted to the journal over the course of each year, specifically by an emerging writer.

The inaugural winner, selected from among writers published in Blackbird this year, will be announced in the Fall 2011 issue. In addition to the monetary prize, the winner will be invited to give a reading on the VCU campus next spring, and may also be asked to put in appearances at Richmond-area elementary and high schools.

Blackbird does not charge a fee for submissions, and prefers writers to send work using the magazine's electronic form. For details on how to submit, visit the Blackbird website.

Choose a bureaucracy: the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Post Office, the Army,etc. Imagine two people who work there, one a supervisor, the other an underling, and write their letters of resignation. Then write a scene where the two former co-workers meet for coffee three years later.

The New York Public Library held its eleventh annual Young Lions Fiction Award celebration last night, honoring five emerging fiction writers with books published in 2010. After readings of the finalists' works by actors Billy Crudup and Martha Plimpton, Chicago author Adam Levin was named winner of the ten-thousand-dollar prize for his novel The Instructions (McSweeney's Books).

Levin's fellow honorees, receiving one thousand dollars each, are John Brandon for Citrus County (McSweeney's Books), Patricia Engel for Vida (Grove Press), Suzanne Rivecca for Death Is Not an Option (Norton), and Teddy Wayne for Katptoil (Harper Perennial).

The award, cofounded by Ethan Hawke, Rick Moody, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and Hannah McFarland, is given annually for a work of fiction by a writer age thirty-five or younger.

In the video below, McSweeney's Books presents a teaser trailer for Levin's winning novel.

Poet Collin Kelley, curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, gives a shout-out to Atlanta/Decatur R/W-sponsored presenters of literary events.

At this writing, nearly fifty organizations have applied for funding in the Atlanta/Decatur area. To close out my time as the inaugural R/W blogger, I want to name those organizations. Whether you’re reading in Atlanta or one of the other cities eligible for P&W funding, you’ll see just how diverse this list of grantees is, and if you are a presenter/curator of literary events, the time to apply for funding is now.

Atlanta/Decatur grantees: Academy Theatre, AJC-Decatur Book Festival, Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, Atlanta Vet Center, Below the Radar, Black on Black Rhyme, BreakinIce, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, The Chattahoochee Review, Charis Books and More, Chris Kids, Inc., Clark Atlanta University, Composition Gallery, Duck & Herring Co., E- Period, Epiphany Services, FFX Free Forum Xchange, Finding Eve Café, Five Points, galerieMC, Georgia Poetry Society, Georgia Writers Association, Georgia State University Creative Writing Program, Hammonds House Art Galleries, Holiday Theatre Festival, Indie, Java Monkey Coffee House, Just Queen Productions, LaGender, Inc., Lasnyte Entertainment, Louise Runyon Performance Company, Mercer University, MJ of Poetry Entertainment, Natural Reignz, Inc., Oglethorpe University, One Mic Entertainment, Organized Rhyme, Poetry at Tech, Poetry Atlanta, Inc., Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta, Spelman College, The Ace of Spades, Inc., Three on Third, Verbal Slick, Working Title Playwrights, Inc., and Yesterday's Girl.

P&W’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. In some cases, the available funds for your city might have already been tapped out, but July will be here before you know it. Apply now if you have an event coming up in 2011/2012. The application takes ten minutes to complete and can be faxed or e-mailed to P&W – it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

In honor of Mother's Day, we asked Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, to talk about how she works with her literary agent Mary Evans

You've written an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction: mystery novels, literary novels, personal essays, as well as a new foray into television. Does your agent, Mary Evans, play a role in deciding what to write next? Does she offer long-term career advice, encourage or discourage you in taking on the next project?
She's wonderfully encouraging, my biggest cheerleader next to my husband. She's always eager for me to try new things, to stretch my wings in different directions. She's never once said anything like, "Oh the mysteries are working, don't try to write more 'literary' fiction" or "The nonfiction mommy stuff sells well, do more of that." I think she genuinely views her role as facilitating my growth as a writer, even when, on occasion, that means making a less commercial choice.

Agents are notoriously over extended and distracted as they deal with their many clients, or courting editors, answering numerous queries, etc. Do you wait for Mary Evans to contact you, for instance, if she's had a manuscript for a long while with no word? Or do you not hesitate to call or write to check in?
I feel truly blessed. Mary always calls me back right away, and on the very rare occasion where she can't return my call within a couple of hours, she's hugely apologetic. She turns my manuscripts around immediately, usually that same weekend, and certainly within a week or two. I feel comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) checking in about the work she's looking at, about my career in general, about how much I hate the Republican majority in the House.

Daughter's Keeper, published in 2003, your first literary novel, was rejected thirty-one times before finding a publisher. Tell us about Mary Evans's role in seeing that novel to fruition. Did she edit, or suggest rewrites between submissions?
Absolutely. In fact, it's my fault it was rejected so many times, not hers. She very gently suggested from the beginning that I do more work on it before I sent it out, but I was about to give birth and I desperately wanted the novel out the door. Had I done what she said, I probably would have sold the novel a lot earlier. And in the end, of course I had to do the work anyway.

And last, a related question: Does Mary Evans edit your work, either a full manuscript or a nonfiction proposal, before it's sent out to editors? Or does she send it out as is?
I wouldn't feel comfortable sending something out without her practiced eye. She reads everything, comments on everything, and yet doesn't push. She'll read multiple drafts of a novel, even when we're at the stage of things where I'm submitting directly to my editor. I like having her input, and I think she enjoys this part of the job.

Choose a sentence from a newspaper whose meaning gets larger and stranger when taken out of context. Use it as the first line of a poem. If you get stuck partway into the poem, try repeating just part of the line and vary how you complete the rest of the sentence, changing the meaning and music of the line each time. When you have a draft you like, try moving the full sentence to the end of the poem, or somewhere to the middle, or maybe take it out entirely. Stir, and see what happens.
This week's poetry prompt comes from Idra Novey whose debut collection The Next Country received the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books and was included in Virginia Quarterly Review's list of Best Poetry Books of 2008. She teaches in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.

We asked SPLAB project director Paul Nelson to update us on Poets & Writers-sponsored author Nathaniel Mackey who recently gave a reading and hosted a workshop in Seattle.

The SPLAB Visiting Poet Series welcomed Nathaniel Mackey to Seattle March 11 and 12, 2011. This event set a new high water mark for SPLAB.

The prose reading on Friday night at the Northwest African American Museum was Mackey’s first Seattle reading in seventeen years. He read from his novel From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Letters from N to a mysterious figure known as the Angel of Dust relate the experiences of a jazz band in Los Angeles in the late seventies/early eighties. Jeanne Heuving of the University of Washington, Bothell interviewed Mackey, and a Q & A followed, fully engaging the audience.

Nathanial_Mackey

Mackey also led a workshop at SPLAB on Saturday, during which he suggested we consider “incident versus narrative” and said he was interested in the “vivification of incident,” as well as consideration of the “sound/sense ratio” of poems. His grace and warm presence allowed for intensity, and his insights, often delivered at the end of each poet’s feedback, were very incisive.

Saturday night's reading included work from Splay Anthem, Nod House, and new work from an as-yet-untitled collection. The two threads of his ongoing serial poem, Mu and Song of the Andoumboulou, continued into these last two as-yet-unpublished works. The Andoumboulou, as Mackey points out in Splay Anthem, are “rough draft human beings” from the Dogon culture of West Africa. Lines such as “each the other’s increment” and “star wobble gave us away” give one a sense of Mackey’s reach, from the indigenous and intimate to the galactic.

The visit leveraged contributions from local and regional arts funding agencies, new partnerships, as well as community contributions of lodging and meals. The first grant, from Poets & Writers, acted as catalyst for the rest of the contributions.


Photo: Nathaniel Mackey. Credit: Meredith Nelson

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.


Three Percent, the University of Rochester's international literature program, announced late last week the winners of the five-thousand-dollar Best Translated Book Awards in poetry and fiction. Brian Henry's translation of Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger's collection The Book of Things (BOA Editions) won in poetry and Thomas Teal was honored in fiction for his translation from the Swedish of late Finnish author Tove Jansson's novel The True Deceiver (New York Review Books).

Thirty-seven-year-old Šteger is the author of three other volumes of poetry, but The Book of Things is his first to be translated into English. Poetry judge Kevin Prufer said of Šteger, "His objects reflect our own strange complexities—our eagerness to consume, our rationalizations and kindness. Our many cruelties and our grandiosities." Prufer was joined on the jury by Brandon Holmquest, Jennifer Kronovet, Erica Mena, and Idra Novey.

Jansson, perhaps best known for her Moomins, a cast of fantastical characters she created over a half-century through comic strips and children's books, began writing for adults in later life. Among her novels translated into English are The Summer Book and Fair Play, published by New York Review Books. Jansson died in 2001.

The fiction panel, comprised of Monica Carter, Scott Esposito, Susan Harris, Annie Janusch, Matthew Jakubowski, Brandon Kennedy, Bill Marx, Michael Orthofer, and Jeff Waxman said of Jansson's winning book, "Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation."

The awards were announced at New York City's Bowery Poetry Club in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, which closed last Sunday.

To get a sense of Jansson's sources of inspiration, check out the video below, which offers a tour of the author's longtime summer home on an idyllic shoreline near Helsinki.

Take a story you know extremely well, such as how my parents met, my first kiss, or the night I was born and fictionalize it by writing it from a distinct or unlikely point of view. For example, using the story how my parents met, write it from your father's perspective or from the perspective of the bartender at the bar where they met.
This week's fiction prompt comes from Joanna Hershon, author of three novels, including The German Bride (Ballantine, 2008).

The American Fiction Prize sponsored by New Rivers Press has pushed its deadline to June 1. Fiction writers have an additional month to submit a story of up to 7,500 words to be considered for the one-thousand-dollar prize and inclusion in an anthology, American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, to be released in 2012 by the press.

This year's judge is Croatian-born fiction writer and essayist Josip Novakovich, whose most recent book is the story-essay hybrid Three Deaths, published last year by Montreal press Snare Books. His story collections include Yolk and Salvation and Other Disasters, both published in the United States by Graywolf Press.

For complete American Fiction Prize guidelines, visit the New Rivers Press Web site.

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