Last fall, P&W co-sponsored a reading and workshop with poet Craig Santos Perezat University of California in Santa Cruz, where we have supported literary events since 2003. Perez also happens to be a past recipient of P&W’s California Writers Exchange Award, a prize that introduces promising California poets and writers to New York City’s literary community. We asked Perez how he approaches giving a reading.
Reading dos: Smile. Give thanks to the organizers, fellow performers, and the audience members. Drink water. Mark the pages you're going to read. Be prepared and organized. Be composed. Read your best work. Make eye contact with the audience. Share some background to the work. Read with passion. Reading don’ts: Don't read too quietly. Don't shuffle through papers as if you just rolled out of bed. Don't say that you're going to read from your book that you don't like anymore because you wrote it a year ago. Don't talk for too long about the background of a poem. Don't drink water in the middle of a poem. Don't read drunk or high (unless that's part of your aesthetic). Don't go over time. Don't read too fast. Don't be hostile to the audience during Q&A. Do not not smile.
How you prepare for a reading: I prepare for a reading by figuring the best set list possible based on the time I'm given to perform, the venue, the organizer(s), the audience demographic, and my mood. I try to choose a mix of published and new work. I rehearse my performance beforehand, making sure I have the timing down. For my reading at UCSC, I also brought some gifts (free books and a can of SPAM) for the audience members who asked me questions during the Q&A.
Strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member: Last March I read at a social workers conference in Guam and was asked, by a much more experienced woman (as in thirty years older), "Are you married?" I barely made it out of that room alive.
What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why it works: I have different poems that could ignite very different pleasures. For the pleasure of laughter: "Spam's Carbon Footprint." For the pleasure of emotional resonance: "from Aerial Roots" (from my second book). For the pleasure of resistance: "from Achiote" (from my first book).
But this is not always true because you can never read to the same crowd twice. Which is to say, all crowds are different and unpredictable and a writer has to be flexible, especially writers of color. Sometimes a poem that gives a certain kind of pleasure to one audience (let's say, composed of all native peoples) may not give the same pleasure (or any pleasure at all) to another audience (let's say, composed of all white peoples).
How giving a reading informs your writing and vice versa: If I read new work, I always find little edits I should make. So in that sense, it's good for revision. The more readings I've done over the years, the more connected I feel to the tradition of oral poetics and spoken word. I find myself using more oral poetry techniques in my work than ever before.
What you probably spent your R/W grant check on: I spend all the money I receive from reading gigs to buy more poetry books!
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.
How many contests have you entered? How many did you enter before winning your first award? I entered seventeen contests before I got the call that my first book, Rookery, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. My records for my second book, Our Lady of the Ruins, are less accurate. Although I submitted to a handful of contests, the first response I received was the acceptance from the Barnard Prize, so I don't have the other contests listed on my submission spreadsheet. I believe it was seven or eight contests, plus some open reading periods.
So you’ve also submitted book manuscripts to publishers, outside of a competition?
I sent out Our Lady of the Ruins to a few open reading periods. I was certainly less aware of them when I first started sending out Rookery, but now that I've started screening for a couple of different book prizes, I think first book contests offer the advantage of limiting the pool of submissions. With open reading periods, a manuscript goes up against poets with two, three or ten books under their belt. That does not necessarily mean their work is stronger than yours, but the fish in that pond are certainly bigger.
What do you look for in a contest? When I was still in my MFA program [at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York], I started paying attention to publishers. If a book took the top of my head off, I looked at the press. If I read a poem in a journal that made me clutch my pearls, I would look up that poet's bio and see if they'd published a book, and, if so, where. When I started looking at submitting my work to a contest, I'd already been paying attention to where poetry I admired was being published, and that's about all I looked for in a contest. Of course, I read many poets with brilliant work from presses that I knew wouldn't be interested in what I was doing, but on the whole, I just wanted to metaphorically sit at the table with poets who left me in awe when I read their poems.
How did you know your manuscripts were ready to go out? Part of it is knowing when you're ready to break up with the work. With Rookery, I felt ready to move on, but I kept coming back to the manuscript to tweak poems or reorder. So I broke up with the manuscript a section at a time. I looked at the poems in each section and then wrote breakup poems where I tried to have it out with my obsessions so I could be done with them once and for all. Of course obsessions follow you wherever your work goes, but I did feel like I put my obsessions' belongings on the lawn and told them to get lost. Each breakup poem became the final poem in each section of the book.
With Our Lady of the Ruins, I felt like that manuscript broke up with me. As much as I wanted—and still want—to keep writing those poems, the magic is gone. And who knows why. I was living in my car when I wrote most of them, and maybe the change in my life and my energy affected the way I was writing. Maybe I'd said all I needed to say. It was interesting to discover that the second manuscript functioned very differently than the first. Compiling and ordering one book didn't seem to teach me what I needed to know for the second. I hope I can be lucky enough to have my own work surprise and move me a third time.
How do you select individual pieces to submit to a competition—if this is ever something you do?
I've never had much luck with individual poem contests. I don't often submit to those because the contest fees are usually about fifteen dollars, and if I have a manuscript ready or one that's about to be ready, I'd rather spend twenty-five dollars sending that out. If I didn't have to budget in order to afford contest fees, I would probably submit to a lot more places, but fifteen dollars is four small lattes or a new book, and I'd rather have coffee and poetry than a small chance at winning a contest.
What is the most rewarding aspect of receiving an award?
The most satisfying thing lately has been the validation after a lot of discouraging feedback. I had a teacher tell me to throw away the poems in the second book and start over. I've had editors respond with a strong negative reaction to poems from the second book. One even said I didn't have any talent. Of course I wrote the poems anyway. I love those poems. I loved writing them. I look forward to reading them thirty more times in galleys and then beyond that. But it's hard to hear that poems I believed in were received poorly, and it was amazing to get the email from Saskia Hamilton at Barnard that said Carolyn Forché selected the book for the prize.
Have you ever had a negative experience as a result of winning a prize?
It's definitely surprised me that not everyone is happy for other people's good news. My good news has changed some friendships and even ruined one. Sometimes the good news doesn't feel worth it, because my greatest joy in poetry after writing a good poem is the community. Being a poet means that I share something in common with thousands of amazing strangers around the country, and whenever I travel for a reading or conference, I meet people who are passionate about the same things I am. A few years ago, I was told to think my competition is Shakespeare, Keats, and Dickinson, not anyone publishing in literary journals. If that's my competition, I don't ever have to worry about winning anything, I can run the race for the goddamned pleasure of it. And isn't the pleasure of it why people start writing in the first place?
What piece of advice do you have for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?
I really do think it's a great way to try and find a home for your work. Since judges change most years, you can always try again, whereas if an editor at a press says no, that's probably a fairly firm no. Many contests are judged blindly, often without acknowledgments pages, which means they're truly looking at just your poems. I also enjoy submitting in general, whether it's a manuscript or individual poems. I like the sense of possibility it gives me. The more you send out, the more times you will probably hear no, but then one day, you'll get that letter or that call that finally and joyfully says yes.
Quiddity, a literary journal out of Benedictine University in Springfield, Illinois, has launched its inaugural contest for a prose book trailer. The biennial competition is open to short films based on both unpublished manuscripts and published books of fiction or creative nonfiction, offering a five-hundred-dollar prize in each category.
Aside from the cash prize, Quiddity will also arrange to promote the winning trailers in the journal and on National Public Radio member station WUIS Springfield, as well as on the Web sites of both. The journal's prose editor David Logan and emerging novelist A. D. Carson will judge.
Authors should submit films of no longer than three minutes in the
manuscript category, and publishers or presses should submit entries for
published books; entry is free. Complete guidelines and entry forms are available on the Quiddity website.
Entries aren't due until December 10, but a look at Carson's sample trailer below might leave some writers wanting to carve out substantial time to get production just right, or assemble a crew—friends and colleagues are permitted to assist in the trailer's creation. Videos simply featuring authors reading do not qualify for this competition.
In 2004, she finished a historical novel, Stations West. A version of the first chapter had appeared in One Story in 2002. And she landed a big-time agent, who shopped the book to over thirty publishing houses, at first big, and then small. Many editors liked it; some came tantalizingly close to saying yes, but ultimately none offered to publish it. Amend’s agent suggested she put her hard-wrought novel, as they say, in the drawer. Subsequently, she and the agent parted ways. But Amend persisted on her own, finally finding a publisher for her book, despite having no representation. The novel was published in 2010, to critical acclaim, and nominated for the $100,000 Sami Rohr prize. She's now represented by Terra Chalberg at the Susan Golomb Literary Agency. (Terra Chalberg answers reader-submitted questions in The Poets & Writers Guide to Literary Agents.)
Of all authors, Amend knows the pros and cons of working with an agent. In this video, she shares her experience.
Write a scene in which two characters who are close (friends, relatives, a couple) are secretly angry at each other about something that has happened in the past. Decide what they are angry about before writing the scene but don't write about it directly. Instead, reveal the tension between them in the dialogue and in the actions involved in accomplishing a mundane task they are doing together, such as moving a couch, setting up a tent, making dinner, or painting a house.
The winner has been announced for the fourth biennial Man Booker International Prize, which carries a purse of sixty thousand pounds. For American Philip Roth, who was honored for his lifetime contributions to fiction, that translates to roughly ninety-seven thousand dollars.
Roth's oeuvre—from Goodbye, Columbus (Houghton Mifflin, 1959) to Nemesis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)—has "stimulated, provoked and amused an enormous, and still expanding, audience," said chair of judges Rick Gekoski. "His imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally."
A three-time finalist for the international award, Roth was joined on this year's shortlist by U.K. authors John le Carré (whose request to be removed from the shortlist was unsuccessful) and Philip Pullman, Australian David Malouf, Chinese author Su Tong, and Americans Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler. Past winners of the prize include Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, Ismail Kadare of Albania, and Alice Munro of Canada.
In the video below, Roth talks about beginning a novel and the years-long process of working on one, and why he doesn't worry about the reader.
For the next few weeks Camille Rankine, program and communications coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation, will give us the rundown on the longtime P&W-supported literary organization.
Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady founded Cave Canem in 1996 with the intuition that African American poets would benefit from having a place of their own in the literary landscape. That summer, twenty-six poets gathered at Mount St. Alphonsus Conference Center in Esopus, New York. “The first night when everyone sat in a circle and started breaking down about how they had never felt safe and never studied with an African American poet, you could see something had really happened,” Toi Derricotte recalled. “People broke open,” said Cornelius Eady, describing the first workshop in an interview for the Poetry Foundation. “And then everyone hung out by the river and built a fire and really claimed the space.”
In the fifteen years since its founding, Cave Canem’s community has grown to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty and high-achieving national fellowship of over three hundred, many of whom have been P&W-supported and/or listed in the Directory of Poets & Writers. From inception, the organization’s week-long writing retreat has provided sustenance and a safe space to take artistic chances.
This June, the tradition will continue at the sixteenth annual summer retreat, held at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in Pennsylvania. Here, fifty-four fellows will commune with their peers and study with world-class poets Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Terrance Hayes, Carl Phillips, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey. As Harryette Mullen, recipient of P&W's fourth annual Jackson Poetry Prize, put it, in this environment “black poets, individually and collectively, can inspire and be inspired by others, relieved of any obligation to explain or defend their blackness."
In addition to the retreat, several public readings, including a tented event at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh on June 23, will showcase the work of fellows, faculty, and visiting poet Amiri Baraka.
Photo: Cave Canem Founders, Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Compose a poem collaboratively with a friend. Write one line and send it to your friend via e-mail, or by passing a notebook back and forth, and invite your friend to write the next line, building on what you wrote. Continue composing the poem together, line by line, until you have at least twenty lines. Then each of you consider the draft and revise it independently. Compare your final versions.
P&W-sponsored poet Michael Czarnecki blogs about the New York State literary events he's participated in this past year.
A sliver of a moon shines off to my right, low in the western sky. Straight ahead, Jupiter guides me as I drive south, home on Wheeler Hill a little less than an hour away. A short while ago I left the Lima Public Library. A half dozen people attended a writing workshop that I facilitated, excited about the method presented, anxious to do some writing. Behind the wheel, I felt good about the ideas I presented, the encouragement I had given.
Lima is a small village, about 2,500 people, in upstate New York. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and newer rural suburbia. My home, Wheeler Hill, is even more rural, isolated. Dirt roads and Old Order Amish neighbors. I am a country person, but also a poet and small press publisher. For more than two decades, I’ve made my living solely through creative work. Much of that work on the road is in small communities, like Lima.
In the past year I’ve given readings and/or held workshops in many small communities throughout New York State: Big Flats, Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, Watkins Glen, Henderson, Warsaw, Gouverneur, Dundee, Naples, and Mexico. These programs could not have happened were it not for the support of Poets & Writers. Many of these are repeat venues for me. The first four have active writers’ groups that were formed, in large part, because of my continual encouragement over the years.
Of special note is Watkins Glen. Seventeen years ago Charlotte Dickens called me (I didn’t know her) and asked if I could help her start a writers group in the community. She had been given my contact information from the local library, where I had facilitated a program a couple of years before. Over dinner we talked about possibilities. We left with a plan that I would facilitate the first few of the monthly meetings and then she would take over. I also suggested she have a monthly reading series, featuring published writers followed by an open reading. I felt strongly that hearing experienced writers would benefit burgeoning writers who met around the table every month. The writers group still meets twice a month and the reading series continues to flourish! This, in a village of a little over 2,000 people and a county with about 20,000! Scores of poets and prose writers have read in the series, local and regional, as well as those from distant states.
As I turn into our one third of a mile long hayfield driveway, the moon hangs even lower in the western sky, soon to be gone. I am pleased with another successful workshop in a small upstate community. Pleased that I have been invited to come back again next year. Pleased that Poets & Writers encourages such programming throughout the whole of New York State, supporting events in all sixty-two counties every year. And finally, I’m pleased to return to quiet, peaceful home on Wheeler Hill.
Photo: Michael Czarnecki.
Support for the Reading/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.
Blackbird, the online literary magazine of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, has announced a new award for short fiction. Given in honor of late Richmond-born fiction writer Rebecca Mitchell Tarumoto, a two-thousand-dollar prize will be given annually for a story submitted to the journal over the course of each year, specifically by an emerging writer.
The inaugural winner, selected from among writers published in Blackbird this year, will be announced in the Fall 2011 issue. In addition to the monetary prize, the winner will be invited to give a reading on the VCU campus next spring, and may also be asked to put in appearances at Richmond-area elementary and high schools.
Blackbird does not charge a fee for submissions, and prefers writers to send work using the magazine's electronic form. For details on how to submit, visit theBlackbird website.
Choose a bureaucracy: the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Post Office, the Army,etc. Imagine two people who work there, one a supervisor, the other an underling, and write their letters of resignation. Then write a scene where the two former co-workers meet for coffee three years later.
The New York Public Library held its eleventh annual Young Lions Fiction Award celebration last night, honoring five emerging fiction writers with books published in 2010. After readings of the finalists' works by actors Billy Crudup and Martha Plimpton, Chicago author Adam Levin was named winner of the ten-thousand-dollar prize for his novel The Instructions (McSweeney's Books).
Levin's fellow honorees, receiving one thousand dollars each, are John Brandon for Citrus County (McSweeney's Books), Patricia Engel for Vida (Grove Press), Suzanne Rivecca for Death Is Not an Option (Norton), and Teddy Wayne for Katptoil (Harper Perennial).
The award, cofounded by Ethan Hawke, Rick Moody, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and Hannah McFarland, is given annually for a work of fiction by a writer age thirty-five or younger.
In the video below, McSweeney's Books presents a teaser trailer for Levin's winning novel.
Poet Collin Kelley, curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, gives a shout-out to Atlanta/Decatur R/W-sponsored presenters of literary events.
At this writing, nearly fifty organizations have applied for funding in the Atlanta/Decatur area. To close out my time as the inaugural R/W blogger, I want to name those organizations. Whether you’re reading in Atlanta or one of the other cities eligible for P&W funding, you’ll see just how diverse this list of grantees is, and if you are a presenter/curator of literary events, the time to apply for funding is
P&W’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. In some cases, the available funds for your city might have already been tapped out, but July will be here before you know it. Apply now if you have an event coming up in 2011/2012. The application takes ten minutes to complete and can be faxed or e-mailed to P&W – it doesn’t get any simpler than that.
In honor of Mother's Day, we asked Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, to talk about how she works with her literary agent Mary Evans.
You've written an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction: mystery novels, literary novels, personal essays, as well as a new foray into television. Does your agent, Mary Evans, play a role in deciding what to write next? Does she offer long-term career advice, encourage or discourage you in taking on the next project?
She's wonderfully encouraging, my biggest cheerleader next to my husband. She's always eager for me to try new things, to stretch my wings in different directions. She's never once said anything like, "Oh the mysteries are working, don't try to write more 'literary' fiction" or "The nonfiction mommy stuff sells well, do more of that." I think she genuinely views her role as facilitating my growth as a writer, even when, on occasion, that means making a less commercial choice.
Agents are notoriously over extended and distracted as they deal with their many clients, or courting editors, answering numerous queries, etc. Do you wait for Mary Evans to contact you, for instance, if she's had a manuscript for a long while with no word? Or do you not hesitate to call or write to check in?
I feel truly blessed. Mary always calls me back right away, and on the very rare occasion where she can't return my call within a couple of hours, she's hugely apologetic. She turns my manuscripts around immediately, usually that same weekend, and certainly within a week or two. I feel comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) checking in about the work she's looking at, about my career in general, about how much I hate the Republican majority in the House.
Daughter's Keeper, published in 2003, your first literary novel, was rejected thirty-one times before finding a publisher. Tell us about Mary Evans's role in seeing that novel to fruition. Did she edit, or suggest rewrites between submissions?
Absolutely. In fact, it's my fault it was rejected so many times, not hers. She very gently suggested from the beginning that I do more work on it before I sent it out, but I was about to give birth and I desperately wanted the novel out the door. Had I done what she said, I probably would have sold the novel a lot earlier. And in the end, of course I had to do the work anyway.
And last, a related question: Does Mary Evans edit your work, either a full manuscript or a nonfiction proposal, before it's sent out to editors? Or does she send it out as is?
I wouldn't feel comfortable sending something out without her practiced eye. She reads everything, comments on everything, and yet doesn't push. She'll read multiple drafts of a novel, even when we're at the stage of things where I'm submitting directly to my editor. I like having her input, and I think she enjoys this part of the job.
Choose a sentence from a newspaper whose meaning gets larger and stranger when taken out of context. Use it as the first line of a poem. If you get stuck partway into the poem, try repeating just part of the line and vary how you complete the rest of the sentence, changing the meaning and music of the line each time. When you have a draft you like, try moving the full sentence to the end of the poem, or somewhere to the middle, or maybe take it out entirely. Stir, and see what happens. This week's poetry prompt comes from Idra Novey whose debut collection The Next Country received the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books and was included in Virginia Quarterly Review's list of Best Poetry Books of 2008. She teaches in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.