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Phren-Z, a new online literary magazine based in Santa Cruz, California, is currently accepting submissions for the first annual Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Contest.

The winner will receive $1,000, publication in the Winter 2012 issue of Phren-Z, and an invitation to read at the third annual Morton Marcus Memorial Reading at Cabrillo College on November 10. Poets may submit up to three poems, along with an eighteen-dollar entry fee, via Submittable by September 1. 

Founded this past February, Phren-Z is a quarterly publication whose mission is to celebrate the Santa Cruz literary community. The journal accepts general submissions of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by writers from Santa Cruz County year-round. The editors seek to publish “an eclectic mix of work from published and emerging writers reflecting the cultural and artistic influences and flavor of our community.” So far the magazine has published two issues; it's third, the Summer 2012 issue, will be released August 15.

The magazine is published by Santa Cruz Writes, a nonprofit organization that offers programming and support for writers from the Santa Cruz area.

The Morton Marcus Prize was established in honor of the Santa Cruz poet Morton Marcus, who passed away in 2009 and "whose life and work inspired the writing of many students, friends, and emerging poets."

To hear some of his work, take a look at a video of Morton Marcus reading at Cabrillo College in August of 2009.

Poet Randall Horton blogs about his experience at an annual P&W–funded event at the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection, Pitch Dark Anarchy, will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

Recently, I had an opportunity to do a reading at the Downtown Writer's Center, located at the YMCA in downtown Syracuse. Each time I read in this series, which is supported by Poets & Writers, I come away not only impressed with the reading series itself, but also with the organization's commitment to running community-based workshops. Often times, the poets invited to the reading series have published books that are taught by passionate teachers who are poets and prose writers themselves, such as the wonderful teachers Georgia Popoff and Jennifer Pashley. I often find the people who are taking these workshops have various life experiences. The DWC is for everybody, but it pays close attention to the communities that are often excluded because of economic and educational factors.

Founded by poet Philip Memmer in January 2001, the DWC is the only community literary arts program in the central part of the state, and serves several hundred writers and readers each year through a variety of programs. It offers more than sixty creative writing courses each year (including "DWC PRO," a creative writing certificate program modeled after more traditional MFA writing programs), and typically hosts twenty-five or more authors each year for readings and other events. The program is part of the YMCA National Writer's Voice network of literary centers, which was founded over thirty years ago by the late Jason Shinder. I asked Phil to explain the primary goals of the Downtown Writer's Center, and he replied, “Our primary goals are to help emerging and literary authors develop audiences for their work, and to assist aspiring writers achieve their own artistic goals." 

The night I read there was an energetic and attentive audience. I would like to think more than anything, we had a shared experience. During the question and answer period, because some of them had been in a class that taught my book, we were able to examine my work in a way that I found extremely helpful. There is an audience in Syracuse. The converted may come one at a time, but they do come.

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo 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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

On June 20, poet Diane Wakoski read with the Woodward Line Poetry Series at the Scarab Club in Detroit. Series coordinator Kim Hunter writes about her visit.

To get to Detroit’s Scarab Club art gallery, Diane Wakoski drove ninety miles to from East Lansing, Michigan, where she has been Michigan State University’s Poet in Residence and a professor since 1975. By the time you read this, she will have retired, capping an illustrious academic career. 

She also capped the 2011–2012 season for the Woodward Line Poetry Series, which runs from September through June. The decade-old series takes place in the century-old Scarab Club art gallery. The lower floor, where the reading took place, is an airy, brilliant white space with wooden floors. Wakoski read in front of a five-foot-long painting of a rooster and managed not to be upstaged.

The crowd of about thirty people ranged from college-aged attendees to fans who’d been following Wakoski’s work for decades. Though most seemed familiar at least with Wakoski’s longstanding reputation, if not her many publications, Wakoski’s reading style and ability to frame her work would have provided an excellent introduction to even the most poetry-phobic.

In addition, all of the evening’s selections were about films. She began the reading by noting the irony of having been born in southern California, but not having become interested in movies until she moved to New York and saw a French New Wave film by Jean-Luc Godard. It was then that she realized film could be art (another irony, since Hollywood inspired the French New Wave). Part of the publicity for the reading included a video posting of her paean to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (read by a Canadian radio host). 

During the question and answer session that followed the reading, I asked her if she saw any parallels between the structure of her very visual work and the structure of film. She replied that it was more that she liked films that were like her poems: films where the plot was merely a means to draw the audience into something deeper. Indeed, though her work referenced pop culture throughout the evening, she always moved deeper, as with “Beauty And The Beast,” to themes of desire and how we deceive ourselves with it and for it.

Photo: Diane Wakoski. Credit: Kim Hunter.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in 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.

The much anticipated longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize—the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary award, given annually for a novel—was announced yesterday. Unlike previous years, when more established novelists comprised the longlist, many of this year's twelve contenders are emerging authors. Four of the titles are debuts, and three were published by small, independent presses.

“Goodness, madness, and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year’s longlist,” said Peter Stothard, chair of the 2012 judges and editor of the Times Literary Supplement. “We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.”

The finalists include: Nicola Barker for The Yips (Fourth Estate), Ned Beauman for The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre), André Brink for Philida (Harvill Secker), Tan Twan Eng for The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books), Michael Frayn for Skios (Faber & Faber), Rachel Joyce for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday), Deborah Levy for Swimming Home (And Other Stories), Hilary Mantel for Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate), Alison Moore for The Lighthouse (Salt), Will Self for Umbrella (Bloomsbury), Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis (Faber & Faber), and Sam Thompson for Communion Town (Fourth Estate).

The shortlist, which will include six finalists culled by the judges from the original twelve, will be announced on September 11, and the winner will be announced on October 16. Each of the shortlisted writers is awarded £2,500, and the winner receives £50,000.

Along with Stothard, the 2012 judges include Dinah Birch, Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens, and Bharat Tandon. “To maintain the consistent excellence of the Man Booker Prize,” states the prize’s mission, “judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians, and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.”

Finalist Hilary Mantel won the prize in 2009 for her novel Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), the first in a trilogy of which her current long-listed title is the second installment. Julian Barnes won the 2011 prize for The Sense of an Ending (Random House).

Established as the Booker Prize in 1969, the annual award is given to residents of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, and the Republic of Ireland for a novel published in the previous year. The next Man Booker International Prize, which is given biennially to a novelist from any country—and which Philip Roth last won in 2011—will be held in 2013.

In literature of every genre, some of the most interesting reflection takes place in transit. Write about a time when you were in transit of some kind—on a train, plane, bus, or bike, in a car or even on foot. Write about where you were going and why, and focus on what you were thinking, seeing, and feeling as you moved.

Revise a story by rewriting the story in the opposite order from which it first appeared. Start with the ending, and find your way back toward the original opening. Restructure the story so this new order makes sense.



Read James Richardson’s aphorisms or “ten-second essays." Pick one that resonates with you, and use the aphorism as an epigraph or starting off point for a poem.

This past May it was announced that the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction would no longer be sponsored by its longtime partner, the telecommunications company Orange. Over the weekend, the prize’s cofounder and honorary director, novelist Kate Mosse, announced that a new sponsor for the prize would soon be selected.

Since news broke of the partnership’s end, eighteen different companies have expressed interest in taking over sponsorship of the new Prize for Fiction. “It’s been incredibly exciting,” Mosse said at a conference in England on Saturday. “We’ll be making a choice in the next week and announcing in September.”

Orange has sponsored the U.K.-based prize—which annually awards thirty thousand pounds (approximately forty-seven thousand dollars) to a woman writer for a novel written in English—since it was founded in 1996. Of the former sponsor Mosse said, “Our partnership has delivered everything—and more—than we hoped for. A celebration of international writing by women, one of the most significant arts awards in the U.K., and also a major force in education, literacy, and research.”

Madeline Miller won the 2012 prize for her novel The Song of Achilles (Ecco, 2011). The finalists were Esi Edugyan, Anne Enright, Georgia Harding, Cynthia Ozick, and Ann Patchett. Previous winners of the prize have included Téa Obreht for The Tiger's Wife (Random House, 2011) and Zadie Smith for On Beauty (Penguin, 2005).

In the video below, Madeline Miller discusses her winning novel.

Literary organizer Randall Horton blogs about emerging voices in New York State. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment  of the Arts Fellowship in Literature.  A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection, Pitch Dark Anarchy, will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

For three years I stayed in upstate New York, working on a PhD from State University of New York at Albany. I was pursuing a degree in poetry and poetics, and it struck me that there were very few reading series taking place in the city. And so I, along with some fellow graduate students, established the Jawbone Reading Series, which featured emerging artists from the area. I brought in Linda Susan Jackson, whose first book, What Yellow Sounds Like, is a tribute to the late great Etta James. Phil Memmer, who had recently won the Idaho Prize from Lost Horse Press for his book Lucifer: A Hagiography, which offers an alternate description of the creation of Lucifer in modern form, came and read. Georgia Popoff’s book Doom Weaver had just been published. She gave an energetic reading, followed by an equally energetic conversation. Also, I was able to bring in Christopher Stackhouse, a writer who often pushes the boundaries of aesthetic possibility. His latest book Plural is coming out from Counterpath Press in the fall.

All of these poets added to the poetic fabric of Albany, as did the diverse group of writers featured in Frequency North, the reading series Daniel Nester founded at the College of Saint Rose. Poets & Writers funded the Jawbone Reading Series, and it felt good to be able to pay poets a small honorarium in appreciation of their sharing their imagination and writing with the community. 

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo 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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

For the past seven years, Nancy Kline has been leading P&W–supported senior writing workshops at Queens Community House in New York City. Her short stories, essays, literary criticism, and translations have appeared widely. She is the author of the novel, The Faithful, and edited and contributed to the essay collection How Writers Teach Writing. She also reviews regularly for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Kline generously shared with us reflections on her writing workshops with seniors.

What makes your workshops unique?
It’s the students who make my workshops unique—their jokes, epiphanies, reticencies, and idiosyncrasies; their chemistry with each other, with me, and with words. 

Could you share a few examples of stories written in your workshop recently?
In one workshop, we used pieces from Flash Fiction Forward as springboards into workshop participants’ own work.

Rick Moody’s “Drawer” inspired a hilarious description of the anarchic contents of one writer’s drawer and her increasing hysteria as she searched through it for some coveted item.

In response to the prompt "just like her mother," suggested by Pamela Painter's "Toasters," one workshop participant wrote about how, as a small child, she accompanied her mother to forage secretly for an apronful of grain with which to feed her starving family in decimated, post-World War II Germany.

Rob Carney's “Traveling Alone” inspired one eighty-six-year-old student's biblical monologue. When asked what she planned to write about next, having just done God, she replied: “Sex.” And so she did.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
In my experience, all writers are shy, at least on some level. We are naked in the page. For this reason, I try to establish a respectful, attentive environment in my writing workshops. Laughter helps.

I try to teach students to listen to their readers’ comments, without defensiveness or undue docility, and to comment on other people’s work with rigor and charity; to write any written comments in pencil, rather than pen; and to try to phrase their comments as questions, rather than statements. 

There’s a difference between asking a writer "Could you clarify this?" and stamping a text "Unclear." The former recognizes that the writer is in charge of her own words and has the power to change them. The latter suggests, to my ear, that the reader is in charge and the writer has failed.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
It is always that moment when a student gets it, whatever it happens to be. Sometimes a writer who has been struggling with constricted prose suddenly writes in a text so lush and genuine that the workshop falls silent in admiration. Smaller epiphanies occur: During a recent session on comma use, one of the seniors exclaimed, “Commas actually communicate information! I never knew that!” This was thrilling.

What affect has this work had on you?
It is deeply moving to be in the presence of the accumulated wisdom, imagination, and courage of the women and men with whom I’m working. Four of my students have died since I began to offer these workshops. Their deaths have marked me and their colleagues, and have underlined the collective sense that each of us has many stories to tell, and that we had better hurry up and tell them.

Photo: Nancy Kline. Credit: Adam Piore.
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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast has announced the winner of the third annual Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry.

Rachael Boast of Scotland won the 2012 prize for her collection, Sidereal (Picador, 2011). She will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,570) and an all-expenses-paid trip to give a reading at New York University during the first annual Thomas Quinlan Lecture in Poetry on October 18.  

The award, which is funded by the Glucksman Ireland House and Center for Irish and Irish-American Studies at NYU, is given annually to a writer for a first collection of poetry published in the United Kingdom or Ireland in the previous year. The prize was established in celebration of the work of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, and in honor of its founding poet. The Seamus Heaney Centre "is a focal point for creativity in Ireland and is recognized as an international centre of creative and research excellence in the field of literature," the mission on the website states. "Central to the Centre’s ethos is the encouragement of emerging talent."

Frank Ormsby, poet and co-editor of the The Yellow Nib, the Seamus Heaney Centre's literary journal, served as chairman of the judges for the 2012 prize. Of the winning collection Ormsby says: "The resonant, robust lyrics and sequences in this beguiling collection are subtly weighted and consistently engaging. The world they create is affecting in its intensity and vibrant in its forms and images, drawing the reader in time after time. This is poetry that sets up 'so bright a mirror/the room moves towards it.”’

In a 2011 interview with the Exeter Poetry Festival in Exeter, England, Boast discusses her collection. “Overall,” she says, “it’s a book about time, cycles of time; structures which are vaster than we are and how we fit into them.”

Last week, the Hurston/Wright Foundation announced the nominees for the eleventh annual Legacy Awards, given to writers of African descent for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in the previous year.

The 2012 nominees in poetry are Aracelis Girmay for Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions), Evie Shockley for The New Black (Wesleyan University Press), and Tracy K. Smith for Life on Mars (Graywolf).

The nominees in fiction are Nuruddin Farah for Crossbones (Riverhead), Tayari Jones for Silver Sparrow (Algonquin Books), Helen Oyeyemi for Mr. Fox (Riverhead), Danzy Senna for You Are Free (Riverhead), Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury), and Colson Whitehead for Zone One (Doubleday).

The nominees in nonfiction are Tomiko Brown-Nagin for Courage to Dissent (Oxford University Press), Melissa V. Harris-Perry for Sister Citizen (Yale University Press), Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts for Harlem is Nowhere (Little, Brown), Binyavanga Wainaina for One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf), and Mark Whitaker for My Long Trip Home (Simon & Schuster).

The winners will be announced later this fall and honored at the annual Legacy Award ceremony on December 1 in Washington, D.C.

The Bowie, Maryland-based Hurston/Wright Foundation—named for writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright—is a national resource center for writers, readers, and supporters of African American literature. Founded in 1990, the Foundation’s mission is to “discover, develop, and honor Black writers” at every stage of their writing career. In addition to the Legacy Award, the foundation offers a variety of literary programming, including awards, workshops, and residencies for African American high school and college students, and awards for businesses, educators, and community leaders that have demonstrated a commitment to African American literature.

The foundation’s board of directors and advisory board are comprised of writers and other members of the literary community, including Chinua Achebe, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, and E. Ethelbert Miller.

In June 2012, Matthew and Michael Dickman released Fifty American Plays (Poems) (Copper Canyon Press), a book of poem-plays about the fifty American states. Choose a state (or region or country outside of the United States) that you feel a deep connection to and write a poem about it. Give the reader a sense of the landscape and mood you associate with the place. As an additional challenge, try to convey a sense of the location without ever naming it in the poem.

As Tolstoy's axiom goes, "All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." Freewrite for ten minutes about each of these premises, then turn one—or both—into an essay.

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