Write a story in which the central relationship is between a human and a machine. The machine can be a common household item, such as a toaster, or something imagined and altogether more sinister.
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Write a poem that begins with a description of a photograph you have in your possession. Delve into the memories evoked by the photograph, or reveal what personal significance the photograph has for you. For inspiration, read Natasha Trethewey’s “History Lesson.”
Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has announced the recipients of the 2012 Pew Fellowships in the Arts. Thirteen artists from the Philadelphia area, including two poets, will each receive a $60,000 grant.
Poets Catie Rosemurgy and Kevin Varrone, both of Philadelphia, have been awarded the fellowships in the literature category. The “no strings attached” grants, distributed over a one- to two-year period, are given to help writers and artists advance their work. Rosemurgy is the author of two poetry collections, The Stranger Manual (2010) and My Favorite Apocalypse (2001), both published by Graywolf Press. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alabama, and has been awarded a Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Female Artists and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently teaches at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Kevin Varrone has had chapbooks published by ixnay press and Ugly Duckling Presse. He received his MA in creative writing from Temple University, where he teaches literature and writing.
“These artists have made significant contributions to Philadelphia’s creative community and beyond,” said Pew Fellowships in the Arts director Melissa Franklin. “The fellowship will provide them with invaluable resources to further their artistic goals and achievements, and to share their work with the public.”
Established in 1991 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Fellowships are awarded annually to writers and artists at any stage of their career. The program has awarded 268 fellowships to 274 individual and collaborative artists, for a total of nearly $14 million in grants. Past fellows have included CA Conrad, Major Jackson, and Teresa Leo.
Writers and artists are nominated and invited to apply for the prestigious award. Recipients are then selected by a panel of established professionals in the fields of literary, visual, and performing arts.
For more information on the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, visit www.pcah.us.
For the month of July, P&W–supported poet and director of literary events, Randall Horton, blogs about his work with various organizations and events throughout the northeast. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.
In April 2011, during National Poetry Month, Poets & Writers funded Aquarius Press/ Willow Books to sponsor a workshop in Detroit, Michigan, at the Virgil Carr Cultural Center. The workshop participants included poets Victor Billione, Nadia Ibrashi, and Felecia Studstill, and began as an organic conversation on craft. We read from a wide range of poets, from Rachel Eliza Griffiths to Stephen Jonas to Evie Shockley. We looked at parallelisms in poems (cosmic nature versus the material world), the idea of “the definition” as a form poem, and the art of the line break, which we all concluded to be critical when fine-tuning the lyric qualities in the poem, and the poem as political mouthpiece.
I wanted to tailor each poet’s experience to suite his or her aesthetic intentions. For example:
Victor’s exercise asked: In what ways do you feel oppressed? Choose an object you own that seems to embody that oppression and/or privilege, and write a poem about it.
Nadia’s exercise asked: What communities of people do you identify with and feel you belong to? Write a poem from the voice of this collective “we,” talking about your troubles, your failings, celebrating your strengths…
…and Felecia’s exercise asked: Imagine someone who lives in another part of the world under very different economic and political circumstance. Have that person talk to you about your life in America from his or her perspective. You can also do this exercise by imagining someone else in America, but of a different class, race, and so forth.
Then they wrote. Here are excerpts from the poems created and used with their permission:
Victor: “I sleep well knowing these references are/Framed in revolution/Evolving into stories time has forgotten.”
Nadia: “Finally, we see the words,/the shape of mornings,/the secret place.”
Felecia: “Your anger is fear/you know. You know./You are as worthy of my life/As I am of yours.”
The idea of the workshop was to take writing samples from the participants and tailor each participant’s experience based on writing tendencies, likes, dislikes, and aesthetic intentions. This helped to create a multi-voiced workshop that paid close attention to the writer and ultimately asked the writer to expand beyond his or her imagination.
Photo: Randall Horton. Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit 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.
Black Lawrence Press is currently offering a reduced entry fee for the St. Lawrence Book Award, a prize given annually for an unpublished collection of poems or short stories. For today and tomorrow only, the fee is fifteen dollars; after tomorrow, June 30, the standard fee of twenty-five-dollars will apply.
The contest is open to any writer who has not yet published a full-length collection of poetry or short stories. The winner will receive $1,000, publication of her collection by Black Lawrence Press, and ten copies of her book.
Black Lawrence Press, an imprint of Dzanc Books, is an independent publisher of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Based in New York City, the press hosts five contests each year—including the Big Moose Prize for the novel, the Black River Chapbook Competition, and the Hudson Prize for poetry and fiction—and accepts regular submissions year-round.
To enter the St. Lawrence Book Award contest, submit a poetry collection of 45 to 90 pages or a short story collection of 120 to 280 pages using the online submission system. The deadline for the prize is August 31.
Contest finalists will be announced by October 15, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter.
For more information about Black Lawrence Press, or to submit to the St. Lawrence Book Award, visit the website.
Poet and fiction writer Tim Z. Hernandez blogs about two workshops he led on May 2 at libraries in Stockton, California, as part of a Rural Library Tour partnership between Poets & Writers and the California Center for the Book.
The Maya Angelou Library on Stockton’s southeast side sits near a tired slab of old homes and pothole-ridden streets, but this is where my next workshop is, and I’m excited for it. By now I’ve learned that behind each workshop door are people whose stories and voices will stay with me for days, sometimes months after. Suzy Daveluy, librarian and my host, conveys her worry about the number of people in attendance. Before I can reply we are approached by two teenage girls, their younger brother, and their mother. The girls introduce themselves as Emilia and Yvette. Their brother is Jesus, and their mother is Gloria.*
They are here for the workshop, but their faces look grim. Right off, the girls let me know that they have no interest in pursuing writing as a career. In short, their mother makes them attend such workshops because she wants them to grow up articulate, well spoken. Jesus says nothing. Gloria tells me, in Spanish, that she is from Mexico but has been in the U.S. for over twenty-two years. She says the only reason she maintains a strong accent is because she’s always been reluctant to learn English. And this is it. This is my workshop.
We sit down and jump into a hearty discussion about memory. The girls giddily recall moments from their time growing up together, and there’s lots of laughing, and even a few tears, shed mostly by Gloria. I have them write those memories down, at the very least, I say, to capture them forever. “If we don’t tell our own stories,” I say, “who will?” When it’s time to share their writing, the girls go first, and then their mother, and now I’m staring at fifteen-year-old Jesus.
Finally he lifts his paper in front of him and glances over the words, then sits up straight and begins to read the memory he wrote about his father:
...the seatbelt, with its zigzag patterns
in blue, the shiny buckle, with its shiny button,
ahh, that little worn out button,
the sun, against the worn out button,
ahh, the sun and the worn out blue
of a button...
If I didn’t see him write those words out in front of me, I might have never believed he wrote it. His delivery is like a smooth Lenny Bruce, witty and sharp, confident. Suzy and I look at one another, and I know we’re thinking the same thing: We’ve found the future poet laureate of Stockton! Of California! Hell, of the United States!
“You’re a natural poet,” I tell him.
He lowers his eyes.
His mother feels the need to explain. “Jesus was picked on when he was in elementary school,” she says. Jesus rolls his eyes. “He had a bad teacher who put his English down in front of the other students, so he thought he was dumb. He used to come home saying he was dumb."
Jesus says, “Read and red.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Read and red,” he replies. “It was read and red. I didn’t understand the difference, so I always got those two words mixed up, and I always spelled them wrong.”
I tell him spelling doesn’t matter. I think of what the poet Maria Melendez says from the moment she enters a clasroom of children: YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR OWN POETRY! And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen adults steal away this possibility from children.
I tell them about California’s newest poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera—the son of migrant farmworkers, selected by Governor Jerry Brown himself. And then I recite a line from one of Herrera’s poems: I didn’t start out as a poet, because I was silenced. I started out with something I wanted to say. Jesus smiles now, and so does his mother.
“You see,” she tells him in Spanish, “One day you could be a famous poet too!”
He grins and looks over at his sisters. “That would be cool,” he says, folding his poem and sticking it into his back pocket.
*Family members’ names have been changed.
Top photo: Tim Z. Hernandez. Credit: David Herrera. Bottom photo: Jesus (left) and librarian Suzy Daveluy. Credit: Tim Z. Hernandez.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.
Writing fiction in the first-person plural is notoriously tricky. Challenge yourself to write a short story—or a section of a short story—from the first-person plural. Read Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” for insight on how a collective narrator can enhance a story and/or produce unexpected effects.
In a 2008 Paris Review interview with Kay Ryan, she explains her neologism “recombinant rhyme”—a craft technique of stashing “rhymes at the wrong ends of lines and in the middle.” According to Ryan, “snipping up pieces of sound and redistributing them throughout a poem” allows her to “get the poem to go a little bit luminescent.” Take a poem of yours that could use more musicality, and revise it to include recombinant rhyme.
The erasure is a poetic form created by obscuring words and phrases from an existing text and using those that remain to construct a poem. Apply the erasure to an essay. Make a copy of three or four pages of your favorite essay. Then, using a black marker or Wite-out, compose a short lyric essay by selecting certain words on the pages and erasing the rest.
The American Library Association awarded its inaugural Andrew Carnegie Awards for Excellence in Literature at a ceremony last night in Anaheim, California. The organization that has for decades awarded the Caldecott and Newbery medals for children's and young adult literature is honoring for the first time books of fiction and nonfiction for adult readers.
Irish author and Man Booker alumna Anne Enright took the Carnegie Award in fiction for her fifth novel, The Forgotten Waltz, published in the United States by Norton. Also shortlisted were Russell Banks for his twelfth novel, Lost Memory of Skin (Ecco), and Pulitzer finalist Karen Russell for her first, Swamplandia! (Knopf).
In nonfiction, Robert K. Massie's biography Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) won the Carnegie Award. The late Manning Marable's much-lauded biography Malcolm X (Viking) and James Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Pantheon) were also finalists.
Each winner, selected by a committee chaired by librarian Nancy Pearl, received five thousand dollars, and each finalist received fifteen hundred dollars. As with the Caldecott and Newbery medals, copies of the honored books will also be decorated with a seal announcing the award.
Australia's prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award went this year to debut novelist Anna Funder for her best-seller All That I Am (Harper). Funder, whose novel of the Nazi resistance in Europe also won her country's Independent Bookseller’s Award for debut fiction and was named Indie Book of the Year, received $50,000 Australian (approximately $50,355).
Funder is also the author of the Samuel Johnson Prize–winning nonfiction book Stasiland: True Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall, published by Granta Books in 2003, which the author wrote after making a shift from previous careers in international law and television production in Germany. Her award-winning debut novel also carries threads of the real, particularly stories of pre-World War II activists who opposed Hitler's rise to power, some culled from the author's personal relationship with a German refugee living in Australia.
The other contenders for this year's Miles Franklin Award are Blood by Tony Birch, Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears, Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse, and Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. The award is given annually for a novel that "presents Australian life in any of its phases."
In the video below, Funder describes the challenges of shaping her novel, including the importance, while crafting fiction from historical events, of getting the story "morally right."
New York City's Center for Fiction, which annually honors writers with its Flaherty Dunnan First Novel Prize and the Clifton Fadiman Medal, is accepting entries for a new short story contest. One story will be selected to be published in the Literarian, the center's journal, and the winning author will receive one thousand dollars.
The current issue of the Literarian features a story-as-slideshow by Roberta Allen, an essay by memoirist and fiction writer Esmeralda Santiago, a fiction translation from the Spanish of Raúl Ortega Alfonso excerpted from the Barcelona Review, and recommended reading from author Dan Chaon alongside stories by emerging writers. The magazine is accessible for free on the Center for Fiction website.
In the video below, featured in the latest issue of the Literarian, Joyce Carol Oates discusses the dream that gave life to her novel Mudwoman, published this past March by Ecco.
Write a nonfiction piece of no more than 500 words. It could be anything from a single scene to a complete micro essay—either way, try to utilize the same techniques and structure that you would for a full-length piece. For inspiration, check out Brevity, an online journal dedicated to the art of flash nonfiction.
Choose one of your poems that needs revision. Give it to five friends and ask each of them to create an audio version of it by reading it into your telephone answering machine or recording themselves reading it and sending you the audio file. Listen to the five audio versions for places where the rhythm or musical qualities of the poem fall away or sound flat. Use these readings to revise the poem.