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On the eve of the sweet sixteenth celebration of the Orange Prize, award finalists' books were reviewed by a panel of teenage writers for a special Youth Prize. Irish Canadian novelist Emma Donoghue's Room (Picador) won with the group of three young women and three young men, all age sixteen and hailing from England.

"Tickled pink to be the Orange Prize Youth Panel winner!" Donoghue remarked. "When I wrote Room I was imagining a reader anything from eleven up, so I'm really chuffed it's finding so many young readers."

The thirty-thousand-pound main prize (roughly fifty thousand dollars), given for a novel by a woman writer of any nationality, will be awarded tomorrow in London. The other shortlisted titles are The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury), Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre), Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking), The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), and Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape).

The video below is the American book trailer for Room, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Canadian Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

For the month of June, poet Kelly Norman Ellis, author of Tougaloo Blues and longtime P&W-supported writer and presenter of literary events, will spotlight Chicago's literary landscape.

I love what I do. I get to talk to smart, talented people about words. I am the director of creative writing at Chicago State University (CSU). But the nature of directing a creative writing program at an underfunded state university tests my creative endurance and that of my colleagues each year. Our MFA program’s sister institution, the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing (GBC), has been the saving grace of our program. The GBC, named in honor of the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winner and Illinois poet laureate, serves as the home of the MFA program, a meeting place for creative writing students, both graduate and undergraduate, and provides literary readings and workshops, mostly famously the Gwendolyn Brooks Conference.

Because of financial constraints, our writing program does not have a formal writers series, but the GBC's programming and physical space have kept our creative writing program thriving. The center and its directors both past and present (Professor Haki R Madhubuti, Dr. Joyce E Joyce, the late Dr. B.J. Bolden and Professor Quraysh Ali Lansana) have provided an important literary environment for the university and Chicago’s south side communities. The center is a world within a world.

This world includes a video archive of literary readings by Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara, John Edgar Wideman, bell hooks, Edward P. Jones, Amiri Baraka, Saul Williams, and Lucille Clifton and scholars Houston Baker, Maryemma Graham, Joanne Gabbin, and Cheryl Clarke, among others. The center’s dedication to social justice through the HYPE program, which works to educate young people about AIDS/HIV, has produced two anthologies (Fingernails Across the Chalkboard and Spaces Between Us), co-edited by graduates of our writing program (ML Hunter and Randall Horton).

Centers like the GBC are a cultural and artistic lifeline for a community of black and brown people struggling against oppressive forces. In this small space, contemporary writers have shared their words and expertise with the students of CSU and the surrounding communities with workshops and readings; Martin Espada, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Honoree Fannon Jeffers, Crystal Wilkerson, Frank X Walker, Roger Bonair-Agard, Jessica Care Moore, and Achy Obejas have done this work for little or no financial reward. They serve the community because of their commitment to writing and the right of every person to own her own stories and to craft those stories with the attention they deserve.

It is possible to make a world with what you have. Even though we do not have vast financial resources, we have the commitment of writers around the country who believe in the necessity of art in the lives of every person. Every day I enter our small space and am greeted by the portraits of Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks. I walk into the space where Ms. Brooks taught poetry and where she made a world fashioned from poems... And what a world it is.

Photo: Kelly Norman Ellis. Credit: Natasha Marin.

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.

Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”

Last night in Brooklyn the Moby Awards, sponsored by indie press Melville House, celebrated the best, worst, and weirdest of last year's book trailers. A panel of critics, editors, and other lit types representing the Huffington Post, McNally Jackson Books, the Millions, GoodReads, and more selected the following to receive the honorary golden sperm whale.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Ron Charles for his Totally Hip Video Book Review Series for the Washington Post

Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Book Trailer as Stand Alone Art Object
How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley

Best Small House
Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

Best Big House
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Worst Performance by an Author
Jonathan Franzen in his Freedom trailer

Most Celebtastic Performance
James Franco in the trailer for Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story 

Worst Small / No House
Pirates: The Midnight Passage by James R. Hannibal

Worst Big House
Savages by Don Winslow

What Are We Doing To Our Children?
It’s A Book by Lane Smith

General Technical Excellence and Courageous Pursuit of Gloriousness
Electric Literature, including the below short "Can a Book Save Your Life?"

Most Monkey Sex
Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

Worst Soundtrack
Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley

Most Angelic Angel Falling to Earth
Teen tome Torment by Lauren Kate

Most Conflicted (we published the book but the trailer is sooo good!)
The Beaufort Diaries by T Cooper


 

On a recent Tuesday night, a group of budding poets squeezed around a plate of chocolate chip and circus animal cookies in the soon-to-be-remodeled West Hollywood Library in California. They were there for The Poetics of Your Life, an autobiographical poetry workshop led by P&W-sponsored writer Steven Reigns and founded on the premise that a safe writing space is the best place to excavate memories.

Steven Reigns“I’ve used my own writing to make sense out of things that have happened in the past,” he explained. He laid down his class rules, which included “No criticism of anyone’s writings…even your own” and “What happens in class, stays in class” or “the Vegas Rule.”

After reading and reflecting on poems by Dorianne Laux and Deborah Paredez, and warming up with a group erasure poem, he issued the first prompt: Write about a fire in your life. The responses were both literal and metaphorical, ranging from a car fire to a self-inflicted iron burn to a dancer’s internal fire.

Following his reading a poem called “Wedding Dress,” in which poet Michael Waters warmly recalls wearing his wife’s bridal gown for Halloween, Reigns asked the group to write about a time they’d cross-dressed or worn an item of clothing belonging to the opposite gender. Whether it was about slapping on a fake mustache for a costume party or falling in love with previously off-limits designer ball gowns, everyone produced poems of self-discovery.

With just a few minutes left of the two-hour workshop, Reigns encouraged anyone who wanted to share but had been too shy to step forward. A small handful did, and their poems clearly moved the group. Reigns then issued a last, last call, and it happened again. 

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

Photo: Steven Reigns with workshop participants. Credit: Cheryl Klein.

Canada's Griffin Poetry Prize, which awards an international and a Canadian poet sixty-five thousand dollars Canadian (roughly sixty-six thousand American dollars) each, was announced last night in Toronto. The city's poet laureate, Dionne Brand, took the national prize for her long poem Ossuaries (McClelland & Stewart), and Tacoma native Gjertrud Schnackenberg won the international award for Heavenly Questions (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The judges, Tim Lilburn of Canada, Colm Toíbín of Ireland, and Chase Twichell of the United States, selected the winners from four hundred fifty collections representing thirty-seven countries. Twenty translations were among the entries, which are required to be written in English.

"Reading this book is like reading the ocean," said the judges of Schnackenberg's winning collection, comprised of six long poems, "its swells and furrows, its secrets fleetingly revealed and then blown away in gusts of foam and spray or folded back into nothing but water. Heavenly Questions demands that we come face to face with matters of mortal importance."

Of Brand's sprawling text, the judges said, "The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has not sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line. The story vaults us ahead with its emerging and receding characters, its passions and dramas, which include a violent bank robbery and tense escape, while each line holds us and demands we admire its complex beauties."

The finalists for this year's prize, each of whom received ten thousand dollars Canadian, are Canadian poets Suzanne Buffam for The Irrationalist (House of Anansi Press) and John Steffler for Lookout (McClelland & Stewart); Seamus Heaney for Human Chain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Khaled Mattawa for his translation from the Arabic of Adonis's Selected Poems (Yale University Press), and Philip Mosley for his translation from the French of François Jacqmin's The Book of Snow (Arc Publications).

In the video below, two students interpret international winner Schnackenberg's poem "Darwin in 1881," from Supernatural Love (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). Listen to a reading of the poem here.

Take a character from a story you've written or choose a character that you'd like to write about. Create an object that you imagine the character owns--a purse, for example, filling it with a wallet, lipstick, a notepad, a flashlight, keys, etc.; or a desk drawer or a check register. Write about each of the items contained within the object. What color is the lipstick? Is it the character's favorite color? Why? What's in the wallet? If there are receipts, where are they from? Explore your character through the object you've created.

Fiction International, a California-based journal emphasizing both literary innovation and progressive politics, has pushed its June 1 contest deadline to August 31. Through the remainder of the summer, the magazine is accepting submissions of short stories on the theme of "Blackness" for a one-thousand-dollar prize, and all entries will be considered for publication.

According to contest coordinator Joel Cox, the theme is "deliberately elastic," encompassing, for instance, "skin; sleep; death; meditation; apocalypse; birds falling from the sky, blanketing the sun; love unloved; the obverse of white."

"Contestants can take 'Blackness' wherever they choose," Cox says. The editors, including final judge Harold Jaffe, "will cede to them."

In the video below, Jaffe presents one of his latest texts, Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010) at Google's San Francisco office.

Camille Rankine, program and communications coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation, gives us the rundown on the organization's partnership with Willow Books, imprint of P&W-supported Aquarius Press in Detroit.

Each year since its founding, Cave Canem has published commemorative anthologies of poems produced by fellows and faculty attending the organization’s annual retreat. In 2006, this endeavor culminated in Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, published by University of Michigan Press. This year marks the start of a new take on this tradition: Cave Canem will partner with Willow Books to produce the Cave Canem Anthology series, which will be published biennially, revitalizing a tradition of showcasing exciting new directions in American poetry.

Willow Books, the literary imprint of P&W-supported Aquarius Press in Detroit, Michigan, develops, publishes, and promotes typically underrepresented writers. “We’re looking forward to adding the many voices of Cave Canem poets to our growing list of excellent literature by African American writers,” says Aquarius Press publisher Heather Buchanan. “This new venture is at the heart of our mission to expand opportunities for African Americans in the literary marketplace.”

Alison Meyers, executive director of Cave Canem, is excited about the prospect of bringing these collections to a wider audience. “This partnership with Willow Books adds a significant, public dimension to the body of work produced every year at our retreat. Over time, we believe the Cave Canem Anthology will become essential reading for educators, students and poetry lovers, and a standard title on the shelves of well-stocked bookstores and libraries across the country.”

The series will be inaugurated with the publication of Cave Canem XII: Poems 2008–2009, slated for release in fall 2011 or spring 2012.

Photo: (Left to right) First annual Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner Natasha Trethewey and Cave Canem Fellow Donika Ross. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

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 A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Write a villanelle, a poem of five stanzas made up of three lines each, with a concluding quatrain (a four-line stanza). Lines one and three of the first stanza are refrains throughout the poem. The first line of the first stanza is the third line of the second and fourth stanzas; similarly, the third line of the first stanza is the third line of the third and fifth stanzas. Also, the first and third lines of the first stanza are the last two lines of the concluding quatrain. Every line should be the same metrical length. For examples, read Dylan Thomas’s "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art." 

The twenty-third annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced last night in New York City. Coinciding with this year's Book Expo America, the awards event brought out over four hundred attendees in celebration of LGBT literature.

Adam Haslett was honored for his novel, Union Atlantic (Nan A. Talese), the follow-up to his story collection, You Are Not a Stranger Here (Doubleday, 2002), a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Eileen Myles, author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, won the award in lesbian fiction for Inferno (A Poet's Novel) (OR Books).

Anna Swanson and Brian Teare took the prizes in poetry, Swanson for her debut collection, The Nights Also (Tightrope Books), and Teare for Pleasure (Ahsahta Press). Two novelists won in debut fiction, Amber Dawn for Sub Rosa (Arsenal Pulp Press) and David Pratt for Bob the Book (Chelsea Station Editions). The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet (Harper Perennial) by Myrlin Hermes won in bisexual fiction, and Holding Still For as Long as Possible (House of Anansi Press) by Zoe Whittall received the transgender fiction prize.

Barbara Hammer and Julie Marie Wade were also recognized for their memoirs, Hammer! Making Movies Out of Sex and Life (Feminist Press) and Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press), respectively. A complete list of winners, including honorees in drama, anthology, and young adult literature, is posted on the Lambda Literary website.

In the video below, fiction winner Haslett presents a dramatic reading of passages from Union Atlantic.

Think about the times in your life when you've been the most frightened. Choose one of these times, and write a scene or story about what happened using third-person narration.

From February 17 to March 31, 2011, P&W-sponsored writers Rachelle Cruz, Angel Noe Garcia, and Kamala Puligandla held an after-school creative writing workshop for high school students at John W. North High School in Riverside, California.

For six weeks this past winter Rachelle Cruz, Angel Noe Garcia, and Kamala Puligandla led John W. North High School students through creative writing and performance exercises to develop their understanding of character, persona, voice, sensory detail, and revision. Their interactive workshops were lively with theater games, and during some sessions, well over fifty students showed up to class.

Rachelle Cruz and Kamala PuligandlaThe workshop was inspired, in part, by UC Riverside professor and novelist Susan Straight, who emphasized to her students the need for community participation through the arts. When her graduate students approached her with an interest in teaching in the Riverside community, she recommended her alma mater, North High.

“As newcomers to Riverside, it was a great way to connect with the neighboring high school and other local community establishments, like Back to the Grind, an incredibly supportive coffee shop in the downtown area where we held our students’ final reading,” said Cruz.

Angel Noe Garcia said, “As a writer, I was particularly excited about working with students again. It took me out of the ‘bubble’.”

“The support from Poets & Writers not only encouraged me to put my best teaching forward, but it was a nice message for the students as well, that writers who want to work with them are supported by a national writers’ organization,” added Puligandla.

“Riverside in general doesn’t get a lot of love from outside communities,” Cruz said. “I recently heard someone say, ‘Suicide, Homicide, Riverside.’ I come from Hayward in the Bay Area, another community shrouded in stereotypes of crime and shadiness, and these can be true sometimes, but not always. Underneath these stereotypes are local institutions, like Back to the Grind, Inlandia Institute, and the Gluck Arts Program, that are working hard to provide arts programming to the community. After working with students from North High School with the support of Poets & Writers, we realized how hungry they are for art and expression. I see the workshop as that first orienting step into, hopefully, more arts programming for youth and families.”

Photo: (Left to right) Rachelle Cruz and Kamala Puligandla. Credit: Cathy Linh Che.

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


New York City author Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story has won the twelfth annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize honoring fiction written in the humorous spirit of the prize's namesake, British author P. G. Wodehouse. Judge Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival—at which the prize was announced—called the novel "great literature" and "wild comedy."

"Shteyngart's writing is thrilling," Florence told the Guardian. "He's a staggeringly clever satirist who manages to create worlds and people of perfect coherence and outrageous misfortune."

Shteyngart's prize is a double magnum of Bollinger champagne, a set of Wodehouse books, and a pig named after his book (the Gloucestershire Old Spot will join a herd that includes fellow swine with names such as Solar, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye).

The shortlisted titles this year were Serious Men (John Murray) by Manu Joseph, Comfort and Joy (Penguin) by India Knight, The Coincidence Engine (Bloomsbury) by Sam Leith, and The News Where You Are (Penguin) by Catherine O'Flynn.

Last summer's trailer for Super Sad is below, featuring Jeffrey Eugenides, Mary Gaitskill, Edmund White, Jay McInerney, and Shteyngart's student, James Franco.

Amazon has revealed the three finalists for its novel publication prize, and now the company is asking the public to weigh in. Until June 1, readers can read excerpts of manuscripts by Gregory Hill of Denver, Lucian Morgan of Phoenix, and Phyllis Smith of New York City, as well as reviews by a panel of industry professionals, and vote for their favorite title on the contest website.

Hill is shortlisted for East of Denver, the story of an elderly father and his son who plan a bank robbery to avoid losing their family farm. Morgan's Dog Christ centers on a wheelchair-bound man and the international cast of characters who come through his home, and Smith's I Am Livia bases its cunning protagonist on a figure from history, the wife of Julius Caesar's adopted heir.

The Breakthrough Novel winner receives an advance of fifteen thousand dollars as part of a publishing contract from Penguin. Amazon will announce the winner in Seattle on June 13.

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