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In Writers Recommend, author Alix Ohlin writes: “When I’m in direst need of inspiration, I do what I call ‘sentence stealing.’ I find a sentence from a writer I admire and write it down. ‘In the beginning I left messages in the street.’ Or, ‘Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’ Then I write my own version of the sentence, focusing only on its rhythms: by which I mean, replacing a noun with a noun, a verb with a verb. What’s left is a ghostly echo of the original sentence with no relationship to its actual content. And I follow that new sentence wherever it takes me, down the road to an unfolding story.” Using Ohlin’s method, write a story of your own.

Choose a word or phrase you find yourself saying often (e.g. like, totally, hate, really, kind of) and write a poem using it as much as possible, turning it over and over, repositioning it, extending it, playing with its uses and the parts of speech into which it can be shaped.

The inaugural Loraine Williams Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Georgia Review, is currently open for submissions. A prize of one thousand dollars and publication in the Georgia Review will be given annually for a poem. Poets may submit up to three previously unpublished poems written in English, totaling no more than ten pages, with a fifteen-dollar entry fee by May 15. The editors will judge. 

The winning poem will be announced on August 15, and will be published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Georgia ReviewCurrent subscribers may enter the competition free of charge; nonsubscribers may choose to begin a subscription at the time of entry—thirty-five dollars for four issues, which is five dollars less than the regular price—in lieu of the entry feeSubmissions may be sent electronically or by mail to the Georgia Review, Loraine Williams Poetry Prize, 706A Main Library, 320 South Jackson Street, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. 

Founded at the University of Georgia in 1947, the Georgia Review is a quarterly print journal of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, reviews, and visual art. “Never stuffy and never shallow,” the editors write on the magazine’s website, “the Georgia Review seeks a broad audience of intellectually open and curious readers.” Past contributors have included established writers as Rita Dove, Stephen Dunn, Louise Erdrich, Philip Levine, Barry Lopez, Joyce Carol Oates, Natasha Trethewey, David Wagoner, and Paul Zimmer, as well as many new and emerging voices. 

For more information about the Georgia Review and for complete contest guidelines, visit the website

Poet Joseph O. Legaspi cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves Asian American poets. He blogs about curating P&W–supported Kundiman & Verlaine, a New York City–based reading series that has been running for ten years. The author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and the forthcoming chapbook Subways (Thrush Press), he lives in Queens, New York, and works at Columbia University.

It started with an experiment. Before the poet Sarah Gambito and I fully conceived of Kundiman, the nonprofit we founded to serve Asian American poetry, there were the poems. At the time, in 2003, we were interested in the idea of poems as physical objects, as solid and tangible art pieces. We were also regulars imbibing lychee martinis at Verlaine, a bar on the lower east side of Manhattan where we befriended Gary Weingarten, a photographer and one of the owners of Verlaine. Presented with our idea, he provided us with the blank canvases: the walls inside Verlaine onto which we hung blown-up prints of poems. Words against a sheer white backdrop loomed large: our poems, as well as others by Prageeta Sharma and Li-Young Lee. Like a gallery, we hosted an opening with an amazing turnout.

When such a partnership presents itself, you run with it. The March 17, 2013, P&W–supported reading marked the tenth year of Kundiman & Verlaine, the only reading series that highlights Asian American poets. Over 130 readers have graced our stage, among them luminaries like Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Kimiko Hahn, Vijay Seshadri, Patrick Rosal, and Cathy Park Hong, along with emerging Asian American talents. In the spirit of community building, we have also invited poets from other literary circles like Cave Canem, LouderArts, and Acentos. Through the years, the series has exemplified the multiplicity and vitality of voices within the Asian American (and greater) literary community. At the March reading alone, for instance, were the following participants: Mandy Gor, a poet, painter, seamstress, and banker raised in Texas; Seni Seneviratne, a Sri Lankan living in England; and Kit Yan, a transgender spoken word phenomenon. The audience, from seemingly divergent backgrounds, were brought together by poetry. The Kundiman & Verlaine reading series embodies this spirit: big-hearted and celebratory. The lounge atmosphere helps, as well as the hour-long open bar before each reading.

The bottom line is that for a literary series to thrive, much generosity is needed: a place for gathering, a co-host/co-sponsor who shares your vision, an open-minded audience, and kind readers. Recently, another act of generosity: Poets & Writers, through its Readings/Workshops Program, has been able to provide honoraria to qualified readers. How lovely it’s been to compensate poets for their time and craft. Kundiman believes in paying poets, but because of our limited funds, we’ve been unable to do so—beyond the gift bags we give to readers as a token of our appreciation. Because of such patronage and generosity, the Kundiman & Verlaine reading series continues to be a welcoming, warm environment, full of heart.

Photo: (Top) Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: Emmy Cateral. (Bottom, from left to right) Vikas Menon, Kit Yan, Seni Seneviratne, Mandy Gor, and Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: JP Sevillano

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 New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

In the classic essay "Notes of a Native Son," James Baldwin writes about his relationship with his father, against the backdrop of a time of racial violence in America. Write an essay about your relationship with a parent and try to relate it to a larger aspect of the society and culture in which you were raised.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation has announced that George Saunders will receive the 2013 PEN/Malamud Award. Given annually for a “body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction,” the award comes with a five-thousand-dollar purse.

Considered a master of the short story, George Saunders’s most recent collection, Tenth of December, was published in January by Random House. A professor of creative writing at Syracuse University, his previous works include the story collections and novellas CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1997), Pastoralia (2001), The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2005), The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), and In Persuasion Nation (2007), and an essay collection, The Braindead Megaphone (2007). He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, and the New York Times Magazine. Saunders has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and four National Magazine Awards.

“Saunders is one of the most gifted and seriously comic short story writers working in America today,” said Alan Cheuse, a member of the Malamud Award selection committee, which is comprised of a panel of PEN/Faulkner directors. “And his comedy, like most great comedy, is dark….He's a Vonnegutian in his soul and, paradoxically, a writer like no one but himself.”

In addition to the prize money, PEN/Malamud Award winners are also invited to give a reading as part of the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. This year’s reading will take place in December. 

Established in 1988, the PEN/Malamud Award honors the late writer Bernard Malamud. Past winners have included, among others, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Eudora Welty, Grace Paley, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro, Junot Diaz, Lorrie Moore, Tobias Wolff, Amy Hempel, Nam Le, Edith Pearlman, and James Salter. 

Listen below as George Saunders discusses Tenth of December for the WNYC talk show Soundcheck.  

Think about a person from history—Anne Boleyn, Martin Luther King Jr., Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln—whose story you find compelling. Write a summary of this person's life, charting the ups and downs that made it remarkable. Using this summary as a plot, write a story that is set in the present and features a main character from your imagination.

Choose a poem—a classic work or something you've newly discovered—and memorize it. As you do so, note the rhythms, sounds, and structure that help you remember it. To test your memory, and in honor of National Poetry Month, consider reciting it to a friend in person, leaving a recording of it on a friend's voicemail, or sending an audio file of it to one or more friends via e-mail. 

The judges for the 2013 National Book Awards were announced today. For the first time since the 1970s, the judges in each category will include not only writers, but also literary professionals such as editors, professors, and booksellers, in an attempt to broaden the reach of one of the country's most prestigious literary prizes. 

The judges in poetry include Nikky Finney, whose collection Head Off & Split won the 2011 National Book Award; Ada Limón, whose debut collection, Lucky Wreck, won the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize; D. A. Powell, who won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for his collection Useless Landscape: A Guide for BoysJahan Ramazani, a professor at the University of Virginia whose book Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Craig Morgan Teicher, the poetry reviews editor for Publishes Weekly whose collection Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems won the 2007 Colorado Prize for Poetry. 

The judges in fiction include Charles Baxter, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000 for The Feast of LoveGish Jen, the author of four novels and a collection of stories, and an American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow; Charles McGrath, the former editor of the New York Times Book Review and former deputy editor at the New YorkerRick Simonson, who has been a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington, for over thirty-five years; and René Steinke, a 2005 National Book Award finalist for her novel Holy Skirts, and director of the MFA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The judges in nonfiction include Jabari Asim, the author of The N Word and What Obama Means, a former book reviewer for the Washington Post, and an associate professor at Emerson College; André Bernard, vice president and secretary of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; M. G. Lord, author of The Accidental FeministForever Barbie, and Astro Turf, for which she received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant; Lauren Redniss, a finalist for National Book Award in 2011 for Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout; and Eric Sundquist, author and chair of the English Department at Johns Hopkins University.

“The expansion of the judging pool has given us an extraordinary diversity of voices on our panels,” said Harold Augenbraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, which sponsors the annual awards. “We expect spirited discussions throughout the process.” 

The judges for this year’s awards will be the first group in the history of the prizes to select a long list of ten titles in each of the four categories, to be announced on September 12. Twenty finalists from the long list will be announced on October 16, and the winners in each category will be announced at the sixty-fourth annual National Book Awards ceremony in New York City on November 20.  

Louise Erdrich took the 2012 award in fiction; David Ferry won in poetry, and Katherine Boo won in nonfiction.

The National Book Awards have been given annually since 1950 for books published in the current award year. Submissions for the 2013 prizes open today. Using the new online submission system, publishers may submit books published between December 1, 2012, and November 30, 2013, until June 3. Visit the website for complete submission guidelines

P&W-funded Regie Cabico blogs about his latest readings and workshops. He is the coeditor, with poet and novelist Brittany Fonte, of the recently published anthology of queer poetry and spoken word, Flicker and Spark (Lowbrow Press). His own work has appeared in over thirty anthologies, including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Spoken Word Revolution, and Chorus & The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He received the 2006 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers for his work teaching at-risk youth at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He is a former Artist in Residence at NYU's Asian Pacific American Studies Program and has served as faculty at Banff's Spoken Word Program. He resides in Washington, D.C.

March had me climbing from The University of Northern Alabama conducting poetry and performance workshops with Andy Thigpen and Chelsea Root, the codirectors of Boxcar Voices: a Poetry and Storytelling Series in Florence, Alabama. I would know nothing of the south if it weren't for JT Bullock, a slam poet and registered nurse who grew up performing poetry and organizing poetry readings with heralded slam poets. The workshops I conducted drew twenty students and the performance drew a hundred or so enthusiastic audience members. JT and I are a two-person poetry group called Dirty Rice. The name reflects my Asian and JT's Southern Roots. The “dirty” stands for our lascivious poems and stories of political gay identity.

Florence is magical: the people, the shrimp and grits and muffins. I left wanting to curate a queer arts festival this year. Why? Because I'm insane. But also because the community is so friendly and warm and I know that the impact of a queer spoken word gathering would forever affect the 40,000-person population of Florence. Thigpen is a born and bred resident of Florence; he loves words, is an incredible writer, and his running of series in a small town creates an incredible impact. Chelsea Root is an up-and-coming writer with an intense delivery and shares Thigpen's enthusiasm for the word.

The open mic is its own church and community. The Sparkle Series (which occurs on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Busboys and Poets at 5th & K) is my way of combating homophobia and misogyny in the Washington, D.C. open mic scene. In its five-year history, Danielle Evennou and I have brought emerging and established queer poets to D.C. to share their work. Denise Jolly, recently ranked number five in the 2013 Women of the World Slam, graced us with her newer work. Jolly was joined by Spencer Retelle, a new voice in D.C. Along with Busboys and Poets, Sparkle and Split This Rock will apply for Poets & Writers funding through the Readings/Workshops Program for my performance in mid-June.

Finally, I am writing my last blog in Montreal, the gayest city in North America. I am with JT Bullock again and participating in The Mile End Poetry Festival. I conducted a workshop sponsored by the Montreal Slam Team and performed with Jane Gabriels, a poet and theater artist from New York City and Montreal, and other avant garde artists. My work is only made possible by those who have visions of bringing voices together. Ian Ferrier, who curated The Mile End Poetry Festival, is a literary activist galvanizing the best literary talents. Sheri-D Wilson of Calgary, David Bateman from Toronto, and Moe Clark and Kaie Kellough of Montreal inspire me. On the second night of the festival, I participated in the first ever Word Race contest—a competition where people read words as fast as they can, battling each other through speed and acuracy. I came in second place and won a Norwegian Arts Guide Book. C Command, the individual representative for the Canadian Indie Competition, won. He received an American Slang Dictionary. Oh, shucks. I wouldn't have been able to carry it in my bag anyway.

Photo: Regie Cabico. Credit: Carlos Rodriguez.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., 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.

In March, P&W-supported poet Terrance Hayes read with Red Hen Press at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, California. P&W staff member Cheryl Klein writes about the evening.

Red Hen Press GroupGiven that many reading series struggle to draw audiences, it’s somewhat astonishing to consider that Red Hen Press maintains five series—one in New York and four in the Los Angeles area, where the eighteen-year-old press is based. And judging by a mid-March reading by poet Terrance Hayes and several Red Hen authors, sagging attendance is not an issue.

With the sun setting pinkly, poetry fans filed into the Boston Court Performing Arts Center, a large brick theater with a digital marquee, tucked in a leafy residential street in Pasadena, California. A Boston Court representative cheerily informed the audience that, behind the thick black curtain, sets were being built for the center’s next production, about America’s first serial killers. On that note, he turned the mic over to Red Hen Managing Editor Kate Gale.

Gale introduced each of the night’s four poets by reading a few of her favorite lines from their work. Katharine Coles read first, from The Earth is Not Flat, a Red Hen collection comprised of poems she wrote while traveling in Antarctica. The poems reflected her longtime fascination with the intersection of science and literature.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the travel poems of Alaska’s Peggy Shumaker, who read from her book Toucan Nest later that evening, reveal an obsession with warmer territory. Specifically, she recounted in lyrical form a trip she’d taken to Costa Rica with fellow Red Hen author and new L.A. poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy, whose partner leads eco-tours to tropical environments. Shumaker’s poem about baby howler monkeys reveled in the kind of parent-child push-and-pull that can be found in all climates.

Dan Vera, inaugural winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, read striking and funny poems about growing up Cuban in Arizona. In Cuban Spanish, he told the audience, “menudo” is slang for change, the kind you receive from a cashier. In Mexican Spanish, it refers to tripe soup. You can imagine how things unfolded when his father demanded that the owner of a Mexican restaurant put five dollars worth of menudo in his cupped hand.

The evening’s featured reader was Terrance Hayes, who appeared on stage in a gray sweater and a watch on each wrist—apparently he wasn’t going to be one of those features to prattle on. And in fact, he only read two poems—though they were both somewhat epic in nature, folding in flashes of American history, riffing about race, and punning slyly.

The first, “Self Portrait as the Mind of a Camera,” was based on the photographs of Charles Harris, who documented life in the African-American neighborhoods of his native Pittsburgh. Hayes contemplated the various meanings of “black and white” as they pertain to photography and race: “To be black and white is to behold the existential and believe that the colors are conspiring against you.”

His second poem, “Wigphrastic,” was a critique of Norman Mailer’s essay “The White Negro,” which played with the idea of the “wigger” (a word Hayes said he dislikes, though he’s up for combining “white” and “black” to get “wack”) by naming the many uses for wigs. Protection, façade—“Isis wigs, Cleopatra wigs, Big Booty Judy wigs.” The idea of playing with artifice was clearly as fascinating to Hayes as any icy or tropical landscape.

From left: Terrance Hayes, Monica Copeland, Kate Gale, and Eloise Klein Healy. Credit: Gabriela Morales.


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

Open City, an online magazine published by the New York City–based Asian American Writers’ Workshop, sponsors five annual fellowships of five thousand dollars each to Asian American creative nonfiction writers in New York City. Fellows will write short-form and long-form pieces focused on the immigrant communities of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, which will be published in Open City. Applications are due April 8.

In addition to the grant money, the Open City Creative Nonfiction Fellows program provides membership and full access, including workspace, to the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan, as well as career guidance, editorial feedback, and meetings with publishing professionals. The program seeks emerging writers interested in journalism, Asian American communities, and social issues such as race, culture, immigration, and gentrification. Fellows are expected to write at least one piece each month, including features, profiles, Q&As, and personal essays, to be published in Open City. The yearlong fellowship begins on April 30.

Established in 1991, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop is a national nonprofit arts organization “devoted to the creating, publishing, developing, and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans” through various event series and the online magazines Open City and The Margins. Open City “takes the real-time pulse of metropolitan Asian America as it’s being lived on the streets of New York right now. We tell the stories of the Asian and immigrant neighborhoods that comprise one million New Yorkers and 13 percent of the city, but that rarely find their way to mainstream media.” For complete guidelines and application form, and to learn more about the Asian American Writers' Workshop, visit the website.

In the video below, current Open City Creative Nonfiction Fellows Rishi Nath, Sukjong Hong, and Humera Afridi discuss their experiences in the fellowship program. 

Browse through online newspapers for stories that took place on the same day at least ten years apart. Write an imaginative essay, based on these two stories, that moves back and forth between them and ultimately ties them together.

Take a draft of one of your stories and cut it up into sections no longer than three to four paragraphs each. Reorder these sections and revise the story accordingly, writing transitions and discovering connections that lead to a new cohesive structure.

Make a collage inspired by a working draft of one of your poems, using images from books, photographs, magazines, newspapers, and drawings. You may incorporate words as well. Let the transformation of your poem into another medium inform a revision of the poem on the page.

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