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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In translation, several awards are offered, including grants of between two and ten thousand dollars each for unpublished translations.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.

Lisa Bowden is the publisher and co-founder of the P&W-supported Kore Press in Tucson, where P&W has been supporting literary events since 2008. A poet who works with dancers and musicians, she is also an award-winning book designer and currently serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Bowden has made her home in Tucson for nearly three decades.

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Kore is one of six presses left in the country dedicated to publishing the intellectual and creative work of women writers. The press is also entering its nineteenth year, which is a bit of a coup for a small, nonprofit house.

In addition to publishing, we have educational and literary activism projects that take writing off the page to engage the public in innovative ways. For example, we just completed a Big Read using Emily Dickinson as our focus of inquiry to help heal our city after the 2011 shootings. We collaborated with forty organizations, businesses, and individuals to reinterpret Dickinson's work and find new ways of reading and writing (using dancers, musicians, actors, students, libraries, pastry chefs, the bus system, translators, a videographer, visual artists, etc.). P&W helped fund a writing workshop by visiting poet/art critic Eva Heisler.

What recent projects have you been especially proud of and why?
We adapted the book Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq to the stage. We used the production, “Coming in Hot,” as a tool for civil discourse by touring it in high schools and non-theater venues to get people talking about difficult issues women face in war times.

Kore also runs an after-school writing-as-activism program for teen girls and transgendered youth to help them get their story into public circulation. Most recently, the girls created a short film based on peer interviews exploring issues of sex and identity, which screened in our local independent movie house.

What’s the most moving thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
After watching our play, female veterans who had never been able to talk about their experiences overseas felt a catharsis and liberty to speak. One female veteran, who ended up following us as we toured the play to high schools to answer students's questions, said that seeing the play and working with us saved her life.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I am honored whenever I'm listed as a reader or speaker at someone else's literary program, as I know how hard the work is! After doing so much of the same work myself, it's always nice to be on the other side. It's also heartening, as a writer, to participate and learn from fellow presenters and writers. It's such a rich writing community we have in the United States.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs in your community?
Tucsonans are fortunate to have both the University of Arizona and the Poetry Center in our city, as well as many non-university/institutional literary organizations that do a variety of programming. We are steeped in literature of all kinds. We relate with and through a love of words, understanding, and staying in positive conversation with our crossroads culture and western borderlands.

Photo: Lisa Bowden. Credit: Sam Ace.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Write a scene for a story, using third-person narration, that opens with your main character having just done something despicable. Despite what he or she has done, find a way in writing the rest of the scene to make your character sympathetic without letting him or her off the hook.

Earlier this week the U.K. Poetry Book Society (PBS) announced the winner of the prize two notable poets found too controversial to covet. The T. S. Eliot Prize, a fifteen-thousand-pound award (approximately $23,110) given for a book of poetry published in the previous year, went to John Burnside for his eleventh collection, Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape).

A little over a month ago, finalists John Kinsella (Armour, Picador) and Alice Oswald (Memorial, Faber and Faber) withdrew their respective collections from the prize running in protest of the recently-announced cosponsorship of the award by Aurum, an investment banking firm. Aurum's funding replaces that denied the PBS this year by Arts Council England, though Valerie Eliot, the late poet's widow, is reported to be the Eliot Prize's major sponsor.

The remaining finalists were Carol Ann Duffy for The Bees (Picador), Leontia Flynn for Profit and Loss (Jonathan Cape), David Harsent for Night (Faber and Faber), Esther Morgan for Grace (Bloodaxe Books), Daljit Nagra for Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (Faber and Faber), Sean O'Brien for November (Picador), and Bernard O'Donoghue for Farmer's Cross (Faber and Faber). Each finalist received one thousand pounds (approximately $1,540).

In the video below, Burnside discusses the title of his winning book and the subjects he's gone on to research, including the Weather Underground activists of the 1970s.

Choose an incident from your past—it could be an ordinary occurrence, such as a family dinner—or a significant event, such as an achievement or a mishap. Write about it from your perspective, then write about it from the perspective of someone else who experienced it with you—a friend, sibling, or parent.

San Diego-based P&W-supported poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry blogs about San Diego literary journals.

Among the literary presses and journals in San Diego is Sandra and Ben Doller’s 1913 press and  1913: a journal of forms. Founded almost ten years ago, the press and journal publishes some of the most innovative writing around—Eleanor Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armantrout, Cole Swensen, John Yau, Claudia Rankine, John Keene, and Sawako Nakayasu, among others. Sandra and Ben Doller, important contemporary poets in their own right, are very generous to donate their time and resources to make this literary feast happen in San Diego.

Another exciting literary journal published in San Diego is the P&W-supported California Journal of Poetics. This beautiful online journal that includes interviews, reviews, literary panels and conversations is presented with a profound desire to expand the literary discussion in new ways. Recent issues include interviews with longtime P&W-supported poet Robert Pinsky and a profile of Tomas Transtromer.

Certainly the oldest literary journal in San Diego, Fiction International, was conceived almost twenty years ago, and is considered one of the country’s leading literary publications. Having published such greats as Clarice Lispector, Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, J.M. Coetzee, and many others, Fiction International promotes honest, musical, literary prose.

One is pleased to see that there are new journals and presses being launched in San Diego, even at this time of deep economic uncertainty. Just last week, I heard about the new national journal for undergraduates with a particular emphasis on literature in translation, Alchemy: Journal of Translation @ UCSD (University of California San Diego). The journal was founded by Amelia Glaser, a talented translator and first-rate scholar of Slavic and Yiddish literature!

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.

Take a poem you feel is finished, and divide the poem in half. Write two new poems by filling in those two halves.

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.

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.

Choose a story that you've finished or a story by another author and use the last line of it to begin a new story, using the same characters and/or introducing new ones. 

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