Aimee Phan, author of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, wrote in Writers Recommend, "I don’t intentionally scrapbook for inspiration, but that always ends up happening. I will see a graphic or image, or hear a song on the radio, and start to collect them for characters whose perspectives I am about to inhabit." Adopt Phan's practice as your own this week. Collect images, songs, magazine articles, matchbooks, etc., and begin to image how these items inform the perspective of a character you want to write about. After a week of collecting, write a character sketch.
In her essay "Total Eclipse" from Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (Harper Collins, 1982), Annie Dillard recalls traveling to the top of a mountain to witness a total solar eclipse. The darkness she discovered as the sun disappeared, in a world suddenly without light, was incomprehensible and terrifying, but also illuminating. "What I saw," she writes, "what I seemed to be standing in, was all the wrecked light that the memories of the dead could shed upon the living world." Write about a time when you disappeared into darkness—whether by your own choosing or not—and emerged again into the light, with a new understanding.
Imagine today that the universe is trying to send you a message. Try to see everything through this imagined perspective. Take note of the day's incidentals that are working to convey this message to you: the guy walking toward you on the street wearing your brother's favorite color, the petals of the same color blowing in the wind, a sign you notice with a saying that strikes you, how the quality of light conjures a past event. Write a poem using these collected images and impressions that reveals the message.
The Twittersphere heated up this afternoon after news broke that no Pulitzer Prize would be awarded for fiction published in 2011. The finalists for the award, also revealed today, were Denis Johnson for Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Karen Russell for Swamplandia! (Knopf), and the late David Foster Wallace for The Pale King (Little, Brown). No explanation has been given regarding the decision to withhold the prize, a move that last occurred in 1977, except that the choice was up to the Pulitzer board, and not this year's judges, Maureen Corrigan, Michael Cunningham, and Susan Larson.
On Twitter, Publishers Marketplace news editor Sara Weinman (@sarahw) inquired, where does the money go, if no prize is given? (Each winner receives ten thousand dollars.) Beatrice.com creator Ron Hogan (@RonHogan) bemoaned the perceived necessity of such a prize altogether, writing, "But, but, if we don't have a Pulitzer-winning novel, nobody will get the sales boost, and publishing will be DOOOOOMED! #waaah." Public relations maven Kimberly Burns (@kimberlyburnspr) offered a similar sentiment: "No #Pulitzer for fiction means go to an independent bookstore & ask a bookseller for a recommendation."
But amid the chatter over the Pulitzer in fiction, plenty of attention was sent the way of poetry prize recipient Tracy K. Smith, whose win for Life on Mars (Graywolf Press) came on, of all days, her birthday. The finalists in poetry, also published by small presses, were Forrest Gander for Core Samples From the World (New Directions) and Ron Padgett for How Long (Coffee House Press).
Stephen Greenblatt took the prize in general nonfiction for his National Book Award-winning The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Norton). The finalists were Diane Ackerman for One Hundred Names For Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing (Norton) and Mara Hvistendahl for Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (Public Affairs).
The Pulitzer Prizes are given annually for books published in the previous year by American authors.
In the video below, Smith discusses Life on Mars, including what Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey have to do with her winning collection.
I became interested in playwriting around 2005 but quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing. At a P&W–supported reading, I learned that Toni Bajado, a writer I’ve worked with before, wrote plays as well as poetry. Her play Fish won the Diversity Scholarship From Freehold. A major benefit of attending readings is the ability to share work, information, and resources with other writers. Readings also provide the chance to share and gather commentary about scenes.
Though I’ve also taken a few at Freehold Theatre, I’m currently taking a course at ACT Theatre. There are usually fewer than twelve participants, and the writing exercises include table readings and work revisions. My most recent play The FAYTS–Filipino American Young Turks incorporates balagtasan, a popular form of poetic debate in the Philippines. I learned about the form during a P&W–supported reading I attended, then created one as part of a scene for my course.
The shortlist for the 2012 IMPAC Dublin literary prize was revealed today, highlighting ten authors with notable novels released in English in 2010. Among the finalists for the international honor, which annually awards one hundred thousand euros, are three Americans, Jennifer Egan, Karl Marlantes, and Willy Vlautin.
Egan is named a finalist for A Visit From the Goon Squad, which took both the National Book Critics Circle and the Pulitzer Prize last year. Marlantes makes the shortlist with his much-lauded debut, Matterhorn (Atlantic Monthly Press/El León Literary Arts) which won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize in 2010. Vlautin joins the ranks with his third novel, Lean on Pete (Harper Perennial).
Among the international novels up for the award are Rocks in the Belly, the debut of British author Jon Bauer; The Matter With Morris by Canadian David Bergen; The Memory of Love by British and Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna; Even the Dogs by British author Jon McGregor; and Landed by British author Tim Pears. Two translations also made the list, Limassol by Yishai Sarid, translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshav, and The Eternal Son by Cristovão Tezza, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin.
The finalists were culled from a longlist of 147 titles nominated by libraries in twelve countries. The winner of this year's prize will be announced on June 13.
In the video below, Vlautin discusses the obsession behind his shortlisted novel—and sings a song about it.
In partnership with the family of a Vietnam veteran known for his antiwar writing and activism, Iowa Review has launched a multigenre writing contest open to U.S. military veterans and active duty personnel. The Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award competition, which offers one thousand dollars and publication in Iowa Review, is accepting entries of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on any subject.
Pulitzer Prize winner and Vietnam veteran Robert Olen Butler will select the winning work from a pool chosen by the journal's editors (all finalists will be considered for publication). Butler, much of whose work is informed by his experiences in the U.S. military, served in Vietnam as an intelligence agent and a translator. He is the author of twelve novels, most recently A Small Hotel (Grove Press, 2011), six short story collections, and a nonfiction book on craft, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction (Grove Press, 2005).
Writers may submit their work with a fifteen-dollar entry fee via Submittable or postal mail (an extra ten dollars gets entrants a yearlong subscription to the magazine). The deadline is June 15. Visit the Iowa Review website for complete guidelines.
In the video below, Butler discusses how his time in the military led the former playwright to fiction, and how his experiences in Vietnam have shaped his work.
Presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor, who is also the co-founder and director of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts, writes about his forthcoming P&W–supported event.
A while ago I met with Reni Roxas, the editor and publisher of Hanggang sa Muli–Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, and Seattle University’s United Filipino Club/Filipino Alumni Association to curate a P&W–supported April reading, something we’ve been doing since 2008. This year contributing writers include several local poets and memoir writers, but the event's success is largely due to the work of our college student cohosts. Responsibilities were parsed out so students had an opportunity to organize and manage the event. They scheduled the conference room, planned and implemented the marketing, arranged for book sales, and even set up and secured refreshments.
The April 18 poetry, memoir, and short story program included a welcome from UFC cohosts Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison, remarks by Silliman University Filipino Alumni Association member Mary Galvez, remarks from Reni Roxas, an introduction to selected readings by Maria Batayola and readings by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose), Greg Castilla, Toni Bajado, Jeff Rice, Dorothy Cordova, and myself.
The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm, and innovation to everything they do. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers, and it’s a pleasure for me to help make their aspirations reality. Few things are better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers.
Writer and energy-work practitioner Deborah Mayaan recently co-taught a workshop for people with cancer and their loved ones in Tucson, Arizona, with Rabbi Stephanie Aaron. The workshop was co-sponsored by Congregation Chaverim and the Readings/Workshops program.
In a recent workshop on embodying our values, a woman wrote about her frustration with her mother, who had agreed to take care of a collection of large household items that had great meaning to her mother. We had been working on extracting the positive values from happy memories, and finding the life lessons in challenging experiences. When searching for what she might learn from this, the woman in the workshop first thought about the benefit of simplifying and not collecting things, because they can be a burden on future generations. But she was open to other perspectives, and several people suggested that the collection could be seen as a gift to be enjoyed rather than curated, and could even be dispersed throughout the family.
We agreed that stories can be the best legacies: They take up very little space in paper form and virtually none electronically. No one needs to dust them or move them from house to house. And when more than one person wants this legacy, there is no fighting over it; it can be shared infinitely among people.
When written down, a story has an enduring quality, so that the original writer’s thoughts and feelings are conveyed intact. And yet, it is still alive. Even when the story is received by someone with no memory of the event, or even of the writer, the reader’s perspective continues to evolve over time. This last point was especially important to one participant who had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, who was considering the legacy he would leave his children.
At all three venues where Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and I taught this winter—the Arizona Cancer Center, Casa de la Luz Hospice, and Congregation Chaverim—people felt the power of stories to help us clarify our values and strengthen us so that we can make the most of each moment, and share our legacies with those around us.
Photo: Deborah Mayaan (standing) tells a story about values learned from her mother. Credit: Rabbi Stephanie Aaron.
In collaboration with Miami Dade College, the thirty-four-year-old National Poetry Series has established a new book award to accompany its five annual prizes, for a collection of Spanish-language verse. The winner of the inaugural Paz Prize for Poetry will receive five hundred dollars, and Akashic Books will publish the winning book in a bilingual edition.
The competition, open to American poets writing in Spanish, will begin accepting manuscript entries on May 1 and will close on June 15. Finalists will be announced in July, and a winner, selected by Puerto Rican American poet Victor Hernández Cruz, will be named in September.
"In our increasingly diverse nation, poetry in translation is not just desired, but necessary," says Alina Interian, executive director of Miami Dade College's literary hub, the Center, in a press release. "It allows for shared experience across cultures and greater understanding, and for even more beauty in our world."
In addition to publication and the monetary prize, the press will also offer winners a role behind the scenes at Trio House. The press has adopted a cooperative structure, so winners will become part of publishing operations for a twenty-four month period (similar to the model employed by, for example, Alice James Books and Calypso Editions) and be involved, each joining one of four committees, in the publication of subsequent books. (Trio House plans to release three titles a year.)
This year's judge in emerging poetry, Gay is the author of two collections, Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and Against Which (CavanKerry Press, 2006). He is a Cave Canem fellow and a professor at Indiana University and Drew University's low-residency MFA program.
General prize judge Waters, also a teacher in Drew University's program (as well as a professor at Monmouth University in his home state of New Jersey), is author of ten collections, most recently Gospel Night (BOA Editions, 2011). He is also coeditor of the most recent edition of Contemporary American Poetry, published in 2006 by Houghton Mifflin.
For both of Trio House's competitions, poets residing in the United States may submit manuscripts of forty-eight to seventy pages with an entry fee of twenty-five dollars by April 30. Entries are accepted via Submittable (formerly Submishmash).
In the video below, Gay recites a poem at the Page Meets Stage reading series in New York City.
Look through your poem drafts, notes, and writing fragments. Choose one line that you like and refine it until it feels as complete and polished as one line out of context can be. Use that line as a refrain in a new poem. When you've completed a decent draft, try writing an additional draft of the poem without the line, using it instead as the title.
Think about big and small regrets you have in your life—things you wish you had done, people you wish you had treated better, directions you wish you'd gone. Draw a chart that represents a hierarchy of your regrets. It can be simple or decorative, straightforward or complex. Then write an essay that explores what you see when you look at it.
Take a walk that you know well—through your neighborhood, around the block where you work, or your route to the train or bus. Study this familiar landscape carefully, and try to find a detail that you hadn’t noticed before—a piece of graffiti, a certain row of trees, the pattern in which the sidewalk is cracked. Write about this new observation, small as it may be, starting with physical description and then allowing your thoughts to wander.