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For the month of February, longtime P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor blogs about her favorite subject: poetry, among other topics. Taylor is the founder of the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which takes place in New York City, and author of the collections Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing the Body.

I was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, in the town of Arima, a small town nestled between mountains and red hills. My mother grew up in this town as well, and from her I inherited my love of poetry. When my mom was a child, part of her school curriculum was to read and memorize poetry. She was excellent at this, and at the end of every school year she would win the poetry recitation contest.

When I was a toddler, my mother was getting dressed to go to a local poetry reading. I began begging her to take me along. It was already past my bedtime, so she said, "no," but I put up such a fuss that she told me if I could dress myself, I could go. My mother says that I left the room and when I returned I was fully dressed, including socks and shoes. The only thing she had to do was zip the back of my dress. She was astonished because she didn't know I could dress myself. My mother took me to the reading that night... I like to believe that that was the beginning of my love affair with poetry.

As I grew older, I too enjoyed memorizing and reciting poems. In my grammar school years our country was under British rule and we were forced to study and memorize English poetry. We studied the works of Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Shakespeare. These were beautiful works of art, but I began to lose interest. I wanted poems that I could hold, poems that I could ask questions of and find myself in the answers. I longed to see myself in the poems that I loved. I wanted poems that had mangoes, coconut trees, and star apples, poems with brown girls with shiny cocoa skin, and thick nappy braids contained by huge red and yellow bows, not just girls with milk-white skin and ringlets of golden curls blowing in the wind.

So, when I first heard the political and social musings of Calypso, coupled with the African-Griot rhythms of steel pan and dialect, I began to feel the stirrings of different poems taking root inside me. Calypso is an uptempo rhythm with roots in West Africa. Calypso evolved as a way of spreading news around the island, its lyrics explore issues of skin color, hair texture, family life, and everyday political and personal struggle with humor and story... I was finally hearing stories of my life, and the lives of the people I lived with and loved.

At thirteen, I immigrated to New York City. Right away my dialect set me apart. My peers and teachers laughed at my accent, but something inside said: Love your dialect, it is your birthright, part of a proud heritage. Inspired by that voice, during the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which brings poets of all nationalities and languages together.

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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.

Starting yesterday, forty-year-old literary journal Ploughshares began accepting entries for a new writing contest open to unpublished poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. The Emerging Writer's Contest, an expansion of last year's inaugural competition in fiction, will award one thousand dollars and publication to a writer in each genre.

In order to be considered "emerging," writers should not have published a book or chapbook in any form (self-published works included). Ploughshares invites potential entrants with eligibility questions to inquire via e-mail.

Poets may submit between three and five poems and prose writers may submit works of up to five thousand words along with a twenty-dollar entry fee, which includes a subscription to Ploughshares, until April 2. For complete guidelines and to access the submission manager, visit the journal's website.

The winner of the first contest was thirty-six-year-old Thomas Lee, for his story "The Gospel of Blackbird," which appears in the current issue of the magazine, alongside fiction by James Franco, William Giraldi, Ann Hood, and Rachel Kadish. Sample works from the issue, guest edited by Alice Hoffman, are accessible online.

The Claremont Graduate University has announced the winners of this year's Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, two of the more lucrative honors in the genre. The one-hundred-thousand-dollar Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given to a writer in midcareer, went to New York City poet Timothy Donnelly for his second collection, The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books). Donnelly, whose first book, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of "Eine Lebenszeit," was published in 2003 by Grove Press, has also published widely in journals such as A Public Space, the Nation, and the Paris Review.

Debut poet Katherine Larson of Tucson, Arizona, received the ten-thousand-dollar Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Radial Symmetry (Yale University Press). Larson's book was published in 2011 as the winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize the previous year, selected by Louise Glück.

The finalists for the Kingsley Tufts prize were Ed Roberson for To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press) and Christian Wiman for Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Finalists for the debut award were Julie Hanson for Unbeknownst (University of Iowa Press) and Shane McCrae for Mule (Cleveland State University Poetry Center).

Serving as the final judges for the award were poets David Barber, Kate Gale, Ted Genoways, Linda Gregerson, and Carl Phillips. The preliminary judges were poets Jericho Brown, Andrew Feld, and Suji Kwock Kim.

The winners will be feted on April 19 at a ceremony in Claremont, California, presided over by poet Maxine Hong Kingston.

The video below was filmed at Donnelly's Cloud Corporation release party at the offices of A Public Space in Brooklyn, New York.

Read the headlines in today's newspaper. Choose one that you find compelling, and without reading the accompanying article, write a story based on the headline. 

Write for twenty minutes, without stopping, a piece of pure description about something you see (a person, a scene, or an object in the room). No dialogue, no metaphor, no emotion; just pure description, as detailed as possible. Then write, nonstop, for another twenty minutes about the same subject, but this time use only speculation—imagine the subject's thoughts, perceptions, emotions, inner, or outward dialogue, etc.—and/or your own thoughts and observations about the subject. Combine the two pieces, and see what kind of story comes to life.

Pick up a dictionary and randomly choose ten words. Write a poem in five stanzas, with five lines in each stanza, using two of the ten words in each. Make the number of stressed syllables in each line consistent among the stanzas. (The first line of each stanza should have the same number of stressed syllables, etc.)

We sat down with Elissa Schappell recently at a favorite New York City watering hole, Clandestino, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and over drinks and olives discussed the crucial role her long-time agent Joy Harris played in the writing of Schappell's recently published story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls, published by Simon & Schuster in September. The book received considerable attention, making several “best of 2011” lists. It was also notable for appearing ten years after her debut, Use Me, a collection of linked short stories published by Morrow in 2000.

As is often the case when a first-time author sells a book of short fiction to a major publisher, the contract with Morrow was a two-book deal. The second book—at the time unwritten—was slated to be a novel, which traditionally perform better in the marketplace. Just as Schappell had done when she was writing Use Me, after she completed a substantial portion of the draft, which took a few years, she showed the manuscript to Joy Harris. Watch the video to hear what happened next.

The Detroit-based Kresge Foundation has awarded its 2012 Eminent Artist Award to Naomi Long Madgett, poet laureate of the city and author of ten poetry collections. Also a teacher and the founder of forty-year-old Lotus Press, Madgett received the fifty-thousand-dollar prize in honor of her contributions to poetry as well as her work promoting African American literature.

Foundation president Rip Rapson called Madgett "the embodiment of what it means to be an eminent artist," praising the poet for pursuing "a life of creativity while supporting other writers and poets, reaching across generations to spark in young people a love of words and writing, and maintaining a deep and abiding to commitment to the Detroit community."

"I've worked all my life trying to help people, poets and students," Madgett says. "I think we are here to serve. There’s a hymn'If I Can Help Somebody'that goes, 'If I can help somebody, as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.' It makes me very happy to leave a legacy of words that other people can relate to."

Previous winners of the Eminent Artist Award include poet and playwright Bill Harris, jazz trumpet player Marcus Belgrave, and visual artist Charles McGee, all of Detroit. The winners are nominated by an advisory council and selected by an independent panel, which this year included musicians Larry Gabriel and James E. Hart; Rebecca Mazzei, deputy director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Robin Terry, chairman and executive director of the Motown Historical Museum; and Marilyn Wheaton, director of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.

Below is a video poem of Madgett's "Alabama Centennial," originally collected in the book Star by Star, published by Detroit's Harlo Press in 1965.

The closing date is less than a week away for New York City-based PEN American Center's literary competitions for poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and translators.

The five-thousand-dollar Open Book Award is given for a book of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction by an author of color. Award alumni include poets Harryette Mullen and Willie Perdomo, fiction writer Victor LaValle, and creative nonfiction writer Joy Harjo.

In fiction, the PEN/Robert Bingham Prize offers twenty-five thousand dollars for a first novel or story collection published in 2011. Danielle Evans, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Monique Truong are among past winners.

Essayists may enter the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, which awards five thousand dollars for a collection published in 2011. Last year's winner was Mark Slouka for Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations (Graywolf Press, 2010).

In translation, several awards are offered, including grants of between two and ten thousand dollars each for unpublished translations. One three-thousand dollar prize competition is open specifically to published translations of poetry, another to works in any genre.

PEN also gives prizes in biography, children's and young adult literature, sports writing, science writing, and drama. For more information and guidelines, visit the organization's website.

Deconstruct a short story that you find particularly powerful. First, identify the point-of-view and the characters. Then outline the plot. Finally, make a chart with two columns: In the first column, describe what happens in each paragraph of the story; in the second column, analyze why it happens, how it serves the larger story. Apply what you learn as you revise a story-in-the-works or begin a new one.

  • Write for twenty minutes about one of the following subjects. Combine two or three subjects to create something larger.
    An experience with an insect.
    An experience with a child.
    An experience with an animal.
    An experience with a stranger. 
    An experience in an automobile.
    An experience in a school. 
    An experience in a place of worship.
    An experience in a stranger's house.
    This week's creative nonfiction prompt comes from Jo Ann Beard, who is on the nonfiction faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. Her most recent book is the novel In Zanesville (Little, Brown, 2011).

Compose a poem in the form and style of a postcard note. Keep the length brief, and give the recipient a sense of the place you’re visiting or the space you’re occupying. The location from which you write can be imagined or real. Alternatively, buy a postcard, and try to write a poem based on the image or photograph on the front of the postcard.

Over the weekend the National Book Critics Circle revealed the contenders for its 2012 book awards, the only literary awards judged solely by book critics.

The finalists in poetry are:
Forrest Gander for Core Samples from the World (New Directions)
Aracelis Girmay for Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)
Laura Kasischke for Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)
Yusef Komunyakaa for The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Bruce Smith for Devotions (University of Chicago Press), which was a finalist for last year's National Book Award

In fiction, the finalists are:
Teju Cole for his novel, Open City (Random House)
Jeffrey Eugenides for his novel The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Alan Hollinghurst for his novel The Stranger’s Child (Knopf)
Edith Pearlman for her story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books), a finalist for the National Book Award
Dana Spiotta for her novel Stone Arabia (Scribner)

In memoir, the finalists are:
Diane Ackerman for One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing (Norton)
Mira Bartók for The Memory Palace (Free Press)
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts for Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown)
Luis J. Rodríguez for It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone)
Deb Olin Unferth for Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt)

Among the finalists in nonfiction are John Jeremiah Sullivan, the Paris Review's southern editor and a contributing editor of Harper's, nominated for his essay collection, Pulphead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In the criticism category, novelist Jonathan Lethem got a nod for The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday).

The winners will be announced on March 8 at a ceremony at the New School University in New York City.

San Diego-based poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters's Metcalf Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Fellowship, blogs about the wealth of P&W-supported events in San Diego.

Contemporary literature is alive and well in San Diego! This city is home to some of the nation’s best authors and translators, including Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armontraut, Sandra Alcosser, David and Eleanor Antin, Marilyn Chin, Steve Kowit, Jericho Brown, Steven Paul Martin, Harold Jaffe, David Matlin, Deniz Perin, Joseph Thomas, Lorraine Graham, Mark Wallace, Halina Duraj, Michael Davidson, Christina Rivera Garza, and others—most of whom are P&W-supported poets.

San Diego has the San Diego Writers, Ink, founded by the inimitable Judy Reeves, and at least four major literary arts festivals, all of which are P&W-supported!—City College International Book Festival, Grossmont College Literary Arts Festival, San Diego County Library Book Festival, and Border Voices, a beloved festival that brings together major authors and high school students.

The P&W-supported &Now Festival was held at University of California San Diego (UCSD) in 2011 and showcased some of the most innovative writers. Local colleges and universities also have reading series, such as Living Writers Series at San Diego State University. At the UCSD, acclaimed poet Ben Doller heads the New Writing Series. Award winning writers Jericho Brown and Halina Duraj host the University of San Diego's Cropper Writers Series, which brings Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners to town. At California State University San Marcos, Mark Wallace heads the Community and World Literary Series.

This year, I was able to visit several diverse and exciting community-based reading series, including the Agitprop Reading Series, run by the talented Lorraine Graham at San Diego Museum of Art as well as the warm, community-oriented and P&W-supported Upstart Crow Reading Series run by a veteran of the San Diego literary community, Seretta Martin. There is the Poetry & Art Slam at the Museum of Living Artist, Collective Purpose spoken word performances, Write Out Loud, open readings at Blue Stockings Books, and others.

Writers Ink (also known as Ink Spot) has served the San Diego community for many years, offering a number of workshops and literary happenings. There is the San Diego Poetry Annual anthology and the San Diego Book Awards. If you are in La Jolla, there is a lively reading series at the Jewish Community Center. La Jolla Day School also has an established literary series that brings such P&W-supported poets as Carolyn Forche and Philip Levine. Hosted by the talented poet and teacher Bruce Boston, this series is one of La Jolla’s best kept secrets!

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

Major support for Readings/Workshops events in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Two competitions that appeared in our January/February 2012 issue's Deadlines section are offering writers a bit of wiggle room to make contest submissions.

Third Coast magazine, which had originally set the deadline for its poetry and fiction contests at January 15, will now accept entries until January 31. The awards, given for a poem and a short story, include one thousand dollars and publication, and are judged by Major Jackson and Jaimy Gordon, respectively.

Literary nonprofit the Word Works, whose Washington Prize deadline has always fallen at the beginning of March, will accept poetry manuscript submissions until March 15, in an effort to offer some extra time for writers involved in this year's Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. "The deadline was pushed in order to give folks attending AWP, which lands on and around March 1, our usual deadline, more time," says Word Works president Nancy White. "Getting ready for and recovering from a conference takes a lot of energy, so we were afraid submissions might get lost in the flurry for some people. Also, we love the chance to answer questions about the contest at our booth."

For more information about these awards and other upcoming deadlines, visit our searchable, sortable Grants & Awards database.

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