Take a poem you feel is finished, and divide the poem in half. Write two new poems by filling in those two halves.
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P&W-supported poet, fiction writer, and playwright Joan Murray, author of Dancing on the Edge and Looking for the Parade, and recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, blogs about readings and workshops conducted across New York State.
Years ago in an economic downturn, my family left New York City for Buffalo—a city that has two nicknames: "City of Good Neighbors" and "City of No Illusiions." I liked Buffalo for being both. It was welcoming and self-deprecating—as well as artistically progressive. Yet, I was puzzled when people kept asking me, "Where are you?"
What they meant was: "Which college are you teaching at?" I'd been teaching college in New York City, and with my publishing credits, people assumed I must be at a college there. It still mystifies me how people can believe that teaching eighteen-year-olds at a college is prestigious and important, while teaching seventeen-year-olds or seventy-year-olds in the community isn't. At one of the first readings I did in Buffalo, I was introduced as having poems in the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's, which made someone say, "What are you doing here? "
What I'm "doing" is bringing my writing to people, getting it on its feet, and sharing my moves with others who want to discover theirs. Last year, with P&W's help, I brought my writing to people at the Merritt Book Festival in Millbrook; the Wadsworth Library in Geneseo; the Thomas Cole Site in Catskill; the Elsewhere Café in Albion—as well as to a teen writing conference, a college literary club, a senior residence, and the Hudson Opera House.
But there's one place I keep returning to because it has an admirable mission and a fabulous view—Wiawaka Holiday House, the women's retreat on Lake George. Founded in 1903, by an industrialist's enlightened daughter who wanted factory women to have a holiday, Wiawaka now welcomes women of all backgrounds, asking the more advantaged participants to help subsidize the less advantaged.
My Wiawaka schedule usually involves a Saturday morning workshop, a Saturday evening reading, and a Sunday morning "poetry service" on the dock. Some participants come specifically to work with me. Others just drop by. One who stopped by last July wrote a poem that stunned the rest of us, and left her in tears. She told us afterwards that her husband had died suddenly that winter and she'd been numb inside till the poem released her.
I can't predict who I'll be working with at Wiawaka. It might be members of a lesbian book club, along with cancer survivors and serial knitters. And I can't predict how things will go. Once when I was reading a poem about a violent incident, a knitter exclaimed, "If that's contemporary poetry, I don't want any of it!" What was my take-away from that? Obviously, the poem had done its job (who knows where the emotion took her later). But, more immeditately, another knitter gave me a terrific discount on a scarf.
But my big take-away is the active, authentic engagement with people (lots of different people), which can be stimulating to a writer, as well as challenging and fun.
Photo: Joan Murray. Credit: David Lee.
If the finalists for the latest Story Prize are any indication, 2011 was a golden year for the short fiction form. Announced this morning, the authors up for the annual twenty-thousand-dollar award, given for a short story collection published in the previous year, are three of the country's most accomplished authors: Don DeLillo, Steven Millhauser, and Edith Pearlman.
"The idea that the short story is a beginner’s form, one that novice writers cut their teeth on before turning to the more ambitious work of writing novels, is a common misconception," reads a press release issued this morning by prize director Larry Dark. "This year’s finalists for the Story Prize show that—to the contrary—top fiction writers often remain devoted to the demanding form of the short story throughout their careers."
DeLillo, author of more than a dozen novels, is shortlisted for his first story collection, The Angel Esmeralda (Scribner), and Millhauser is nominated for We Others (Knopf), which includes works from four previous collections. Pearlman, who was honored last year for her contributions to the short story tradition with a PEN/Malamud Award, is shortlisted for Binocular Vision (Lookout Books), a finalist for last year's National Book Award. (An excerpt from Pearlman's book is here.)
The winner of the Story Prize, selected by judges Sherman Alexie, translator Breon Mitchell, and Louise Steinman of the Los Angeles Public Library, will be announced on March 21 at a ceremony at the New School University in New York City. The public is invited to attend the event, which features readings by and interviews with each of the finalists. For more information, visit the Story Prize website.
In the video below, Pearlman reads from her shortlisted collection at the National Book Award finalists' reading event.
Take an episode from a piece you've already written—the more personal the better—and rewrite it as a third-person news story, faithfully following the inverted-pyramid and who-what-when-where-why structure of normative journalism.
This week's creative nonfiction prompt comes from Vijay Seshadri, director of the nonfiction program at Sarah Lawrence College and author, most recently, of The Disappearances (Harper Collins, 2007).
From: G&A: The Contest Blog
The final seven writers up for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, the shortlist for which is typically narrowed down to only five titles, were announced earlier today. The annual thirty-thousand-dollar prize, once awarded for an unpublished manuscript, is now given for a novel written in or translated into English and authored by a citizen of one of thirty-five eligible Asian countries and territories.
Of the shortlisted titles below, selected by judges Razia Iqbal, Chag-rae Lee, and Vikas Swarup, four were written in English. The novels by authors from China, South Korea, and Japan are translations.
The Wandering Falcon (Penguin India) by Jamil Ahmad of Pakistan
Rebirth (Penguin India) by Jahnavi Barua of India
The Sly Company of People Who Care (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Rahul Bhattacharya of India
River of Smoke (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Amitav Ghosh of India, who recently won the Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix
Please Look After Mom (Knopf) by Kyung-sook Shin of South Korea
Dream of Ding Village (Grove Atlantic) by Yan Lianke of China
The Lake (Melville House) by Banana Yoshimoto of Japan
“The judges were greatly impressed by the imaginative power of the stories now being written about rapidly changing life in worlds as diverse as the arid borderlands of Pakistan, the crowded cityscape of modern Seoul, and the opium factories of nineteenth century Canton," said Iqbal in a press release. "This power and diversity made it imperative for us to expand the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist beyond the usual five books.”
The winner, who will join the ranks of writers such as Bi Feiyu (Three Sisters) and Miguel Syjuco (Ilustrado), will be announced on March 15.
In the video below, Kyung-sook Shin reads from her shortlisted novel, along with a translator, at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City.
San Diego-based P&W-supported poet Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, blogs about Southern California's Red Hen Press.
It is impossible to begin a conversation about literary presses and happenings in Southern California without instantly mentioning P&W-supported Red Hen Press, which is a great deal more than just a literary press. Red Hen’s Kate Gale and Mark Cull, both talented authors in their own right, have created something very special with Red Hen—it is a press, a community force, an organization behind several reading series in Southern California, an outreach program for writing in schools, and many other things.
One Red Hen book I read recently moved me, the new novel by P&W-supported writer David Matlin, “A HalfMan Dreaming”—a second installment in his epic trilogy about the beauty and violence of the American landscape. Lupe, a protagonist is taken from the world of rose farms and egg ranchers in post-World War Two America, from a town haunted by the Enola gay and the nuclear Bomb, to prison in Detroit. The book is as terrifying as it is gorgeous, with beautiful, sensuous prose.
Another book of contemporary prose that I have read in recent months that just won’t let me be is Garth Greenwell’s “Mitko”—winner of Miami University Press’s 2011 Novella Contest (one of the very few such novella prizes in the country), this is a book about betrayal, forbidden desire, where sentence structures are as engaging as the plot lines and prose is musical, meditative and evocative; this is the story of an American who finds himself in Sophia, Bulgaria. A new take on Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” Greenwell’s novella is able to ask hard questions about loss, sexual desire, and loneliness. In Southern California, where I have heard many a writer complain of loneliness and absence of literary community, this work, somehow, particularly resonates. Garth Greenwell will read from his new workon April 16 at San Diego State University.
Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.
The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association has announced the winners of its 2012 book awards, honoring authors from Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington. Among the winning titles are a semiautobiographical novel by a Bosnian expat, a memoir by an Olympic hopeful swimmer, and a contender for last year's Booker and Giller prizes.
Patrick deWitt, born in Canada and now living in Oregon, won for his second novel, The Sisters Brothers (Ecco), which was shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Ismet Prcic, who fled war-torn former Yugoslavia in the nineties and now lives in Portland, Oregon, won for his semiautobiographical debut novel, Shards (Black Cat). Prcic's novel was also shortlisted for a major award last year, the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award.
Washington author Jonathan Evison, whose first novel, All About Lulu (Soft Skull Press, 2008), received the Washington State Book Award, won for his second novel, West of Here (Algonquin Books). Portland-based graphic novelist Craig Thompson, author of Blankets (Top Shelf, 2003) and Goodbye, Chunky Rice (Top Shelf, 1999), won for Habibi (Pantheon Books).
In nonfiction, memoirist and lifelong swimmer Lidia Yuknavitch of Portland was honored for The Chronology of Water, published by Portland indie press Hawthorne Books. Washington State biologist Thor Hanson won for Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle (Basic Books).
The book awards have been given annually since 1984 and judged by representatives from regional booksellers. For the 2012 award, the nine-person jury considered more than two hundred ninety nominated titles.
The video below is a book trailer for Yuknavitch's winning memoir.
On November 30, 2011, Urban Possibilities held a culminating reading for Dorothy Randall Gray’s nine-week, P&W-supported poetry workshop, which served men and women living at the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row.
Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit organization that brings inspiration and a variety of services to homeless men and women, held a reading for their Published Writers Program, taught by Dorothy Randall Gray. The event began with a warm reception and an introduction by Eyvette Jones Johnson, founder and executive director of Urban Possibilities.
There is a “sea of untapped potential in the inner-city,” Johnson said. “No matter where you are or what you’ve been through, [you] have gifts and talents to share.”
To write about their struggles, Johnson said, the participants had to have their “hearts wide open.” She asked that audience members reciprocate.
Gray was so proud of her students and the writing they produced that she said, “I feel like I almost gave birth.” She dedicated the piece she read, “You and Me, Me and You,” to her students. She described being “stranded at the corner of walk and don’t walk” and “invisible to those who will not see.” The poem repeated the phrase “they fly.”
All of the workshop participants came to the mission after living on the streets. Many have dealt with substance abuse, gambling, addiction, prison, and abusive relationships. “I felt like I was failing life,” participant Anthony Tate said. Another student said of the workshop: “It just sort of woke up my dream…I had put it on a shelf.”
To close the reading, the students stood together on stage and had the audience participate in an exercise. Each student said one word or phrase, and the audience said it back. After reciting the phrase “carpe diem” back, the whole auditorium burst into laughter when the voice of one young child echoed the phrase back a few moments afterward, provoking a whole new meaning and a sense of hope.
At the reception, participant Michael T. Williams reflected, “I was sleeping in graveyards, ‘cause I thought that was the safest place to be. Now I feel like Pinky and the Brain, and I’m ready to take over the world.”
Photo: Dorothy Randall Gray (center) with workshop participants. Credit: Craig Johnson Photography.
Publishers Lunch reports today that literary agents Amy Hughes and Ethan Bassoff have moved to new agencies. Hughes moves from McCormick & Williams to Dunow, Carlson and Lerner where she will specialize in representing nonfiction writers, including memoirists; Bassoff moves to Lippincott Massie McQuilkin from InkWell Management and will continue to focus on literary and commercial fiction, as well as narrative nonfiction.
London-born poet Jo Shapcott has been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, an occasional honor given since 1933 for either a single poem by a U.K. writer or a poet's entire oeuvre. Shapcott received the prize for her body of work, the most recent addition to which is Of Mutability (Faber & Faber, 2010), the poet's award-winning chronicle of her battle with cancer.
"The award of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry is the true crowning of Jo's career," said U.K. poet laureate Carol Anne Duffy, who headed up the judging panel. "The calm but sparkling Englishness of her poetry manages to combine accessibility with a deeply cerebral engagement with all the facets of being human—alert to art and science, life and death."
Shapcott, who teaches at the University of London, is also the author of Her Book: Poems 1988–1998 (Faber & Faber, 2000); My Life Asleep (Oxford University Press, 1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize; and Electroplating the Baby (Bloodaxe Books, 1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
In the video below, Shapcott reads from her most recent collection.
For the month of January (Happy New Year!), San Diego-based P&W-supported poet Ilya Kaminsky, will blog about the literary life in San Diego and Southern California. Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa, was awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters' s Metcalf Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Fellowship, among others. Kaminsky begins the series with new books by San Diego authors or authors who will soon visit San Diego.
Next month will mark the first year of the establishment of the new literary press based in San Diego, Calypso Editions, which has, in just twelve months, published such authors as Tolstoy, the great Polish poet Anna Swir, the lively anthology of New Romanian poetry edited by Martin Woodside, and collections of talented debut prose and poetry from Beth Myhr and Anthony Bonds.
The work the press has done in barely one year is really astounding. The Anna Swir book, Building the Barricade, is a brilliant translation by Piotr Florczyk, who is fast becoming one of the best Polish translators. This book is filled with eros and witness.
Of Gentle Wolves: An Anthology of Romanian Poetry edited by Martin Woodside is a wild book—probably the most wild book I have read this year—filled with tenderness and empathy and beautiful wordplay. Woodside is able in this small anthology to bring across the whole tradition of modern Romanian poetry, which is a huge undertaking.
Elizabeth Myhr’s debut collection the vanishing & other poems is special. Her language is filled with urgency of our moment, a dwelling in which the silence speaks.
In Anthony Bonds’s novella, The Moonflower King, the hero is forced to make a journey from New York City to his ranch home in East Texas, to find the meaning of death, in a beautifully written story. Bonds is able to pull off a wise, tender book that is both a literary novella and a page-turner. A wonderful debut.
On March 19, Myhr, Bonds, and Woodside will give a talk at the P&W-supported Living Writers Series at San Diego State University to discuss the challenges and joys of starting the co-op press and will also read from their new work. On the same day, Chris Baron, a brilliant poet associated for many years with City Works Press—known for its P&W-supported major event, the San Diego City College International Book Fair—will also read. City Works has done a great deal for literary life in San Diego, publishing both local and nationally-known authors.
Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.
Make your New Year’s resolution the title of a poem. Write a poem exploring the dimensions of the resolution, perhaps considering what would happen if you kept to it strictly for an entire year or if you broke it right away. Read Mark Halliday’s “Refusal to Notice Beautiful Women” for inspiration.