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Write a short story in which a museum is the setting for the central conflict. Consider the following questions: What kind of museum is it? Why are the characters there? Do any of the museum's objects trigger a turn in the story? Visit a local museum or peruse one's holdings online to find inspiration.


During the next week, take note of the various flora and fauna you encounter. Look through classification books or search online for the precise names for the animals, birds, and plants you’ve observed. Choose the most sonorous names and include two in your next poem.

The Women’s National Book Association has announced that novelist Ann Patchett has been selected to receive the 2012-2013 Women’s National Book Award. According to the Association’s website, the biennial award is given to “a living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.”

Ann Patchett, whose most recent novel is State of Wonder (HarperCollins, 2011), is the bestselling author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Bel Canto, which won both the PEN/Faulkner and Orange Prize in 2002. Patchett’s work has also garnered such accolades as the New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and the BookSense Book of the Year Award; and has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Vogue.

In 2011, Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes opened Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, after the last remaining bookstores in the city had closed their doors. Patchett has since become a nationally recognized advocate for independent bookselling, and this year was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Formerly known as the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award (named for the prolific playwright, critic, editor, and author) the Women’s National Book Award has been given since 1940. International journalist and author Masha Hamilton received the award in 2010; previous recipients have included Pearl S. Buck, Barbara Bush, Blanche W. Knopf, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the video below, Ann Patchett discusses State of Wonder for the first installment of Forbes Magazine's ForbesWoman Book Club series.

Fiction writer and literary organizer Rochelle Spencer blogs about P&Wfunded events at unexpected venues. She teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, and is the author of the e-book Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina.

A poetry reading in a hair salon? Why not?

Poetry happens everywhere, and sometimes experiencing those flashes of imagination can be just what we need to make it through the day.

When my best friend Stacia ShStacia Shabazzabazz revealed to me her dream of using the arts to do something positive for the Atlanta community, I told her about the Poets & Writers Readings/Workshops program. Stacia is the owner of 32nbelow.com, an online clothing store with the mission of “raising self awareness in low-income communities.” 32nbelow.com also sponsors literary events with the help of P&W funding. Some of Shabazz's most memorable readings have taken place in a nightclub (Compound), a clothing store (Select Menswear Boutique), a conference center (Atlanta Association of Black Cardiologists Conference Center), and a hair salon (Roots International Hair Salon).

Stacia’s events don’t have the muted atmosphere you sometimes find at an academic reading; at 32nbelow readings, you hear cheers when a favorite poet “blesses the mic,” and you see audience members nod their heads to a poet’s voice like they’re listening to a favorite song. Stacia attributes her successful readings to finding poets who speak to the audience’s needs: “Most of the spoken-word artists speak about love or politics—two things that usually hold people’s attention.”

I lived in Atlanta, where Stacia’s readings are held, for five years, but I was born in Detroit, and many Detroiters know about a popular reading series that occurs in an unusual place: a church. Writer L. Bush, the host/producer of Spirit Spit, says that the "gothic atmosphere" of the church creates an "almost mystical" feeling for both the audience and the performers. And, after readings, audience members have come up to Writer “and told [him] how the reading had brought them to tears—or inspired them to write something on the spot or sign-up for open mic, which they had never expected to do."

Life is crazy, chaotic. As a graduate student, college instructor, and fiction writer, I sometimes feel guilty for even going to the bathroom. But poetry in unexpected places is one of life’s little pleasures. It reminds us of why we’re here.

Photo: Stacia Shabazz. Credit: Issan Otto.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta and Detroit 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.

Bertha Rogers's  poetry collections include Sleeper, You Wake: and Heart Turned Back. Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000.  Bertha is the founding Executive Director of Bright Hill Press & Literary Center, and has been organizing readings in the Catkills since 1991. She is also the Poet Laureate of Delaware County, New York. Bertha blogs about the Poets & Writers-supported The Art and Soul of the Catskills Festival.

For the past several years, I've organized poetry and prose readings sponsored by Poets & Writers for The Art and Soul of the Catskills Festival held in Delhi, New York. The readers are regional authors, most of whom have published collections of poetry or novels; and the readings  are held in a tent on the village square in Delhi, the seat of Delaware County. The square was immortalized on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1951.

Poets Barry Seiler (Frozen Falls) and John Paul O'Connor (Poems for the First Hundred Days); novelists Mermer Blakeslee (In Dark Water), Charlotte Zoe Walker (Condor and Hummingbird), Marjorie B. Kellogg (Lear's Daughters) and many more have read in the tent on the green. Young writers have been introduced at the Festival, too; winners of Bright Hill's Share the Words Poetry Competition and the Empire State Poetry Competition. Reading for the Festival is a unique and picturesque experience; festival-goers meander around the square, stopping in artists' booths and food concessions until, finding thier way to the authors' tent, they sit and enjoy the words in the air.  After the readings, there are lively Q&A periods and time to sign books.  These Art and Soul Readings are snapshots of rural America enjoying both emerging and established writers.

Photo:  Bertha Rogers.   Photo Credit:  Bertha Rogers.  

Support for Readings/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.

The letter is one of the earliest and most widely practiced forms of the personal essay: It tells a story about the author's life; it poses questions; and, perhaps most important, it's a way of connecting to a reader. Write a letter to someone you know, keeping the basic tenants of the personal essay in mind. The letter should be about you, but should also somehow address a larger question or idea. For inspiration, check out Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road (Grossman, 1970), a collection of letters that documents her years-long correspondence and relationship with the owners of Marks & Co., a bookstore in London.

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) is currently accepting applications for the 2013 Wachtmeister Award. The biennial prize, which is offered in alternating genres, will be given this year to a poet.

The award includes a fully funded residency of up to thirty days at VCCA, a retreat for writers, visual artists, and composers located on a 450-acre estate at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately sixty miles south of Charlottesville. The winner will also receive a $1,000 honorarium and travel reimbursement of up to $750. The total value of the award, which includes a private bedroom, private workspace, and three meals a day, is $7,150. 

Applicants for the Wachtmeister Award must have worked professionally for the previous fifteen years, and must have published at least two full-length poetry collections. Applicants should submit three copies of up to five poems (totaling no more than ten pages), the application form, and curriculum vitae, along with a brief biography and statement of purpose, by September 30. Poets who have not previously attended VCCA are eligible.

Originally called the VCCA Award for Excellence, the Wachtmeister Award is endowed by VCCA board member Linda Wachtmeister and is administered by the VCCA Fellows Council. The award is given to support writers, visual artists, and composers whose achievements in the arts are widely recognized.

Poet and fiction writer Ha Jin, whose most recent book is the short story collection A Good Fall (Pantheon, 2009), last received the Wachtmeister Award in writing in 2004. The author of six novels, four short story collections, and four books of poetry, Jin has received the National Book Award, a PEN/Faulkner Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Open year-round, the VCCA offers residencies of two weeks to two months and accommodates twenty-five artists at a time. Residents may also use the facilities of nearby Sweet Briar College. Since its founding in 1971 by writers Elizabeth Coles Langhorne and Nancy Hale, over 4,000 writers, artists, and composers have attended residencies at VCCA.

For an application form and complete guidelines, or for more information about residencies at VCCA, visit the website. 

The Canadian social reading website Wattpad has named its new poetry awards for author and literary icon Margaret Atwood. The first annual Attys, which include a grand prize of $1,000, will be given for a group of ten poems. Other prizes will include feedback sessions with Atwood and the chance to be a character in the Man Booker Prize-winning author’s next novel.

“I'm very honoured to have [the prize] named after me,” Atwood wrote in a message to entrants on the contest website. “Poetry is at the core of each language, and language itself is at the core of our humanity.”

Wattpad is a Toronto-based digital platform for writers and readers to share new creative work. According to its mission, Wattpad offers a “creative, welcoming, and completely free community to connect with readers from around the world. Writers can build an engaged fan base, share their work with a huge audience, and receive instant feedback on their stories.”

The contest, sponsored in part by the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, aims to further that mission by celebrating digital-first poetry, which may be read, shared, and even submitted from anywhere. “We anticipate that some entries will be written on mobile devices,” said Allen Lau, Wattpad’s cofounder. “We want to create an opportunity for poets to share their work and for audiences to discover the genre, [and we] are excited to see how the world connects over poetry.”

Atwood, who joined Wattpad's community of nine million writers and readers in June, has three new poems posted on the website. “May you enjoy composing your own poems, and enjoy reading the poems of others,” she wrote. “These are very ancient pleasures; by sharing in them, you are sharing in our own deep history.”

Poets should submit ten poems, each which demonstrates a different poetic form. Submissions will be accepted through the Wattpad website until October 31.

In the video below, Atwood discusses her creative process with the folks of Big Think.

Write a story in which one of the following objects triggers a flashback: a child’s keyboard, a bag of Werther’s Original Caramels, a taxidermied animal, a bar of lavender soap, or an old travel brochure.

In his poem “Refrigerator, 1957” (originally published in the New Yorker, July 28, 1997), Thomas Lux writes about a jar of “lit-from-within red” maraschino cherries that, as a boy, he never ate from. Write a poem about something that you longed for when you were younger, but was always off-limits.

Write a poem whose title is “Preface to________.” Fill in the blank. Is the poem a preface to a love note? A preface to a confession? Write the poem as if it were an introduction to another written work.

Rochelle Spencer teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York and is the author of  the ebook, Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina. Rochelle blogs about the P&W sponsored reading with Jina Ortiz at LaGuardia Community College.

When I was interviewing the poet Sharan Strange for an article "Dark Room Redux," published in the July /August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Strange described her work as a founding member of the Dark Room Collective (DRC), a reading series that brought several established writers (Derek Walcott, Alice Walker, and many others) to the Boston area. Strange's statements about the host's responsibility to visiting writers really stuck out: "The DRC readings were serious and professional, but we didn't have a budget or formal funding. Everything we did, we paid for out of our pockets. Still, they came off well, and we made sure our guests would be comfortable.

The amazing work of the DRC--those young, energetic college students who held early readings in their own home, which included a photographer's dark room--starts, I think, with one idea: when you're giving an event, how do you make the writers feel comfortable?

Perhaps it starts with anticipating the authors' needs.  When I brought Jina Ortiz, an Afro-Latino poet based in Massachusetts, to LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens, this past March for our Women's Heritage Month celebration, Poets & Writers provided the first step in making Jina feel comfortable: the honorarium they supplemented let Jina know that both her time and talent were appreciated. 

Christopher Alexander and Kristen Gallagher, two of my colleagues at LaGuardia Community College, also added to Jina's comfort level by making sure that Jina's poems had been well-circulated and read by the members of the Creative Writing Club. I had emailed students  and aspiring writers in the community prior to the event to make sure that they knew a published writer would be visiting our campus. 

Public speaking is never easy. Plus, the amount of time authors spend preparing for these events (Jina, for instance, said she had spent a great deal of time preparing for the reading by reading aloud at home and carefully selecting poems to read that would "build a cohesive narrative" or "build upon one image or idea") means that we as hosts have a responsibility to make the readings as pleasant and memorable for the writer as we possibly can. 

Obviously, we can't recreate the groundbreaking work of th DRC, but I believe we can still, in our own communities, enable the kinds of conversations with writers that make our lives richer and all the more meaningful.

Photo:  Jina Ortiz.   Photo Credit: Anjali Bhargava

Support for Readings/Workshops in NewYork 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 the Friends of Poets & Writers.


In July, P&W-sponsored poets Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney read with the Dollhouse Reading Series in Chicago. Series director Dolly Lemke reports.

Sally DelehantEvery month Stephen Danos and I host a salon-style poetry reading at my apartment: my carpeted, two-bedroom, un-air conditioned, third-floor walk-up in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. On this humid July night, after a small rain storm that didn’t even try to push any kind of cold front through, we orchestrated a great evening with readers Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney.

Frankly, sometimes I don’t want to have a house full of eager poetry lovers. I worked all day, I drove in rush hour traffic, I’m hungry, I’m tired, there are people coming over again. Christ! But then I remember I’m not the only one involved. There are people coming over who plan their night around this series. There are featured readers who have traveled from the coasts. People count on us to entertain and make them feel welcome. People love coming to series (so I hear) for the wicked talent, for the environment, for the new and familiar audience members, for whatever reasons they keep coming back—although it’s definitely not for the heat. This month we warned guests to “dress for the weather,” and we meant it. Whatever the temperature was outside, it was twenty degrees hotter inside.

Mark LeidnerEvery month I remember why we host the series when I see forty-odd people of all kinds sitting on the floor sweating in an almost unbearably hot apartment, all eyes on the reader. I’m reminded that we do it to make other people happy, to bring them together, and to make it a memorable night.

This July reading, like each reading, had a life cycle of its own. We began with Sally, who was nervous and timid, but whose poems were exposed and sad and a little magical. Next, we had Mark, who was reserved and funny. He knew this about himself, you could tell, but he was never self-indulgent. His poems were exactly the same way. Finally, Douglas made you wide-eyed and uneasy but hungry for the edge and the explosion. At the end, Douglas invited Sally and Mark to come up and take a bow with him, as though they made it through the thick heat and travels together. This kind of camaraderie is hard to find and easy to overlook.

Douglas KearneyIt’s also easy to overlook the “Dollhouse virgins.” Stephen and I have been doing this for so long that it’s nice to be reminded of the newness for some guests. A regular, Ryan Spooner, overheard a couple talking about this being their first time. There might have been a giddy giggle in there somewhere, too.     

At the end of the night, I reminded the audience that Stephen Danos has made the series what it is today. I then added that the audience makes the series, that the readers make the series, that supporters make the series. Everyone involved makes the series, and that is what motivates us to keep going, and we love it.

Photos, from top: Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, Douglas Kearney. Credit: Eric Plattner.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago 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.

The summers of youth—and the unparalleled magic carried with them—have inspired many great works of literature. In "Once More to the Lake," E. B. White's classic coming-of-age essay about the August when he was twelve, the author writes: "Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end." Write an essay about being a child in the summertime. It may be about one particular moment or one particular summer, or about the season as a whole. For inspiration, read White's essay or Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel about summer and youth, Dandelion Wine

The Chicago Tribune announced today that author Elie Wiesel has been awarded the 2012 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, is most widely known for his book Night, an autobiographical account of his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner during World War II, which was first published in France in 1958 and has since has been translated into more than thirty languages. He is the author over fifty books of fiction and nonfiction, and has received the United States Congressional Medal of Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Nobel Peace Prize. 

"We are deeply honored to bestow the Chicago Tribune Literary Award upon Elie Wiesel, a man revered around the world as a living symbol of human rights," said Gerould Kern, editor of the Tribune. "Drawing upon his personal experiences as a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Wiesel's words have passionately and powerfully fought injustice and intolerance. He is a champion of the human spirit's capacity to overcome evil."

The Tribune also announced the 2012 recipients of the Heartland Prizes, which are given annually for works of fiction and nonfiction that "reinforce and perpetuate the values of Heartland America."

Novelist and short story writer Richard Ford won the prize in fiction for his novel Canada (Ecco, 2012), part of a series of novels that has garnered Ford both a Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Paul Hendrickson was awarded the prize in nonfiction for Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 (Knopf, 2011).

"The Chicago Tribune Literary Prize and the Heartland Awards for fiction and nonfiction reflect the Tribune's dedication to literature and the spread of ideas and enlightenment," Kern said. "We truly are honored to recognize the work of writers who have made such enormous contributions to our culture."

The Heartland Prizes were established in 1988. The Literary Prize was first awarded in 2002, and has included such recipients as Margaret Atwood, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Sam Shepard, and Tom Wolfe. 

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