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In “[The Lost Pines Inn would be a good name for a motel]” Lyn Hejinian generates a list of “good names” for motels, music groups, and streets. This week, create your own list of imaginative names for something and build a poem around your particular catalogue.

This week write about your experience commuting to work. Whether it's the hour-long drive, daily bus route, or your morning walk, try to think about routines you have developed over the years to make your commute productive or enjoyable. If you work from home, you can write about what it's like not having to commute, and how you turn your home environment into a work environment.

Last night in New York City, George Saunders took home the 2014 Story Prize for his collection Tenth of December. The coveted $20,000 award, now in its tenth year, honors short story collections published in the previous year.

Saunders beat out Andrea Barrett for Archangel (Norton) and Rebecca Lee for Bobcat and Other Stories (Algonquin), who each received $5,000. All three finalists read from and discussed their work with Story Prize director Larry Dark as part of the evening's event.

George Saunders discusses his work at the Story Prize ceremony.

Saunders, who lives in Oneonta, New York, is the author of six previous books, including the story collections CivilWarLand in Bad DeclinePastoralia, and In Persuasion Nation, which was a finalist for the Story Prize in 2007. Tenth of December (Random House), spent ten consecutive weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching as high as the number two spot. Among numerous other accolades, Saunders received the 2013 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story and was included in Time's 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In his on-stage interview, Saunders discussed his process, the role of sound in his work, and how putting himself inside his characters and “turning to the truth” helps him find what he’s looking for in a character or story. Saunders, who once penned a 700-page novel before scrapping it to turn to stories, praised the short form in his acceptance speech, adding that often the smallest details of the human experience are what ultimately matter most. “We don’t have anything but those small motions of the heart and mind,” he said. “Short stories remind us of that.”

Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from among ninety-six books entered in 2013, from sixty-four different publishers. Three final judges—Stephen Ennis, director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin; award-winning author Antonya Nelson; and Rob Spillman, founding editor of Tin House—chose the winner.

“George Saunders offers a vision and version of our world that takes into account the serious menace all around us without denying the absurd pleasures that punctuate life,” the judges said in a statement. “This book is very funny and very sad.”

Claire Vaye Watkins won the 2013 prize. The award is the largest first-prize amount of any annual U.S. book award for fiction.

Seemingly random occurrences can often drive plot forward. Of course, the author curates these random acts—the accidental encounter, the winning lottery ticket. This week, try introducing an element of chance into a story whose plot you've struggled with. It can be as small as a coin toss, or an unexpected event that changes your protagonist’s plans. Be open to wherever it takes you.

Ansel Elkins of Greensboro, North Carolina, has been named the winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Her collection, Blue Yodel, will be published by Yale University Press in April 2014. She will also receive one of five writing fellowships at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut.

Courtesy Yale University Press

Carl Phillips praised the manuscript, his fourth selection as final judge of the series. “Through her arresting use of persona, in particular, Ansel Elkins reminds us of the pivotal role of compassion in understanding others and—more deeply and often more disturbingly—our various inner selves,” he said. “Razor-edged in their intelligence, southern gothic in their sensibility, these poems enter the strangenesses of others and return us to a world at once charged, changed, brutal, and luminous.”

Elkins is also the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Poetry Prize, and the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Born and raised in Alabama, Elkins writes, “Much of my work explores the South as a complex place of racial violence and isolation, but also familial love.”

Elkins’s book will be the 109th volume in the Younger Poets Series. Given annually since 1919 to a poet under the age of forty for their first collection, the prize is the oldest literary award in the United States. Eryn Green’s Eruv, also chosen by Phillips, received the 2013 prize, and will be published in April. Past winners include John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, and Jean Valentine.

Most of us have ancestors born in countries we may have never visited. This week, trace your family’s origins to a foreign city or town. Try to imagine the landscape of this place: the terrain, nature, and customs that characterize it. Find a way to connect it to your current landscape, creating a poem that joins these two places.

The finalists for the thirty-fourth annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which are awarded in ten categories, were announced last week.

The finalists in poetry are Joshua Beckman for The Inside of an Apple (Wave Books), Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge for Hello, the Roses (New Directions), Ron Padgett for Collected Poems (Coffee House Press), Elizabeth Robinson for On Ghosts (Solid Objects), and Lynn Xu for Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn).

The finalists in fiction are Percival Everett for Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf Press), Claire Messud for The Woman Upstairs (Knopf), Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being (Viking), Susan Steinberg for Spectacle: Stories (Graywolf Press), and Daniel Woodrell for The Maid’s Version: A Novel (Little, Brown).

The finalists for the Art Seidanbaum Award for First Fiction are NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur Books), Jeff Jackson for Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio), Fiona McFarlane for The Night Guest (Faber & Faber), Jamie Quatro for I Want to Show You More (Grove Press), and Ethan Rutherford for The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories (Ecco).

Fiction writer Susan Straight will receive the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. Straight is the author of eight novels, most recently Between Heaven and Here (McSweeney’s, 2012). Straight writes about Rio Seco, a fictional town inspired by Riverside, California, where she currently resides.

The winners will be announced during an award ceremony on April 11 at the University of Southern California. The event is open to the public, and tickets will go on sale for $10 on March 17. For more information on the event, and a list of finalists in the additional categories of biography, current interest, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, science and technology, and young adult literature, visit the L.A. Times Book Prizes website.

In the video below from TEDx Redondo Beach, Susan Straight talks about why she became a writer.

Recipes can help bridge generations, reveal unexpected characteristics of a culture, or simply fill an afternoon. Write about a time you had to follow a recipe, whether it was familiar or foreign to you. What was the context? Did you patiently follow the steps or rush through the instructions? Did you improvise? How did the meal turn out?

"Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade,” wrote Charles Dickens. As we prepare for a long-awaited spring, it’s interesting to reflect on the role that spring plays in literature. This week, try to write a scene that incorporates a spring tradition. It can be something as ancient as a maypole festival, as commonplace as “spring cleaning,” or it can be a new tradition, made up for the purpose of your story. If you need some inspiration, research how different cultures welcome the spring months.

Dimitri Keriotis’s short story collection The Quiet Time is forthcoming this fall from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Flyway, BorderSenses, Evening Street Review, and other literary journals. He teaches English at Modesto Junior College and co-coordinates the High Sierra Institute. He and his family live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Anyone flipping through Poets & Writers Magazine will notice a number of ads for writing workshops, all of which sound tasty for one reason or another. Like probably millions of other writers, I’ve participated in different workshops and have benefited from working with some talented writers who have led enriching workshops. Without question, these gatherings are worth their weight in gold. But what if you can’t afford their often hefty price tags? Writers workshops are not the only place for writers to go when wanting to give their writing a boost, especially if they want to pay close to nothing.

For the past eight summers I’ve been fortunate enough to teach workshops at the High Sierra Institute (HSI). An extension of the Yosemite Community College District, HSI is housed at Baker Station, a former U.S. Forest Service field station in the middle of the Sierra Nevada. HSI’s remote locale enhances the workshop experience; our busy lives, the ones that involve jobs and bills and laundry, become suspended as we enter a weekend of reflecting, writing, and critiquing. This alternative to a writers workshop is far too mellow to call a boot camp (I factor in a siesta into the schedule), but it’s certainly an immersion of sorts. Also, because HSI is far from a city, cell and Internet services do not exist, so our heads are in our stories, our attention on each other instead of on a smartphone or a website. When we’re not in session discussing writing, we’re eating meals together or sitting beneath pines or around a campfire talking—mainly sharing personal stories. The weekend courses I’ve led involve a lot of writing and discussion of participants’ pieces. By the third day the writers are concentrating on the piece that holds the most personal significance and are revising it to present at a final workshop. Writers leave with many pages of new and revised prose and usually a clear understanding of where they want to take their writing.

All of the courses at the High Sierra Institute are offered through the Yosemite Community College District, so college units are attached to them. My point is that the hours of my weekend course, which runs Friday through Sunday, translate to one unit, costing California residents $63, and non Californians $230. Lodging at HSI in the Bunk House, a cabin, or campsite, is free. Participants bring their own food. I’ve seen free online workshops but have yet to find a face-to-face experience that can compete with this price, though I wish there were many more out there.

The price creates eclectic groups. Retirees, college kids, and people mid-career. Liberals and conservatives. People with and without money. Our pursuit of writing our stories brings us together. The dirt-cheap price enables such a coming together that rarely exists at writing workshops, which essentially cater to those with enough money to enjoy the honey. Writers should not have to mortgage their homes or hawk their cars to afford opportunities that work on their craft. It’s nice to be able to give writers this chance.

Photo: Dimitri Keriotis. Credit: Ingrid Keriotis.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Victorian poet Robert Browning wrote dramatic verse, poems that doubled as monologues. This week, write a monologue in the voice of a fictional character. For inspiration, read Browning's "My Last Duchess" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." If you’re stuck, try assuming the voice of a character from one of your favorite novels.

Cati Porter is a poet, editor, and community arts facilitator. She is the author of Seven Floors Up (Mayapple Press, 2008), as well as several chapbooks, most recently The Way Things Move The Dark (dancing girl press, 2013). Her work is included in the anthologies Women Write Resistance, White Ink, Letters to the World, and Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel–Second Floor. The recipient of poetry awards from So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Crab Creek Review, and Gravity & Light, she is founder and editor of the online journals Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry and Inlandia: A Literary Journey. She is executive director of the Inlandia Institute. For many years, P&W has supported Porter's events as both a poet and presenter.

Cati PorterWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
Based in Riverside, California, and beginning in partnership with the City of Riverside and Heyday Books, the Inlandia Institute as a regionally focused independent literary nonprofit is unique. Of course, we do everything that you might expect: We publish books, host author events and book signings, and offer writing workshops and other related programs. What it is that sets us apart is our dedication to Inland Southern California, defined as much by the people as by the geography, and the broad range of programs that we offer.

In addition to literature and literacy, we also take on cultural and environmental projects that are of significance to our region. One example of this is Women Making Waves. This project recorded the oral histories of women activists who were integral to the preservation of our region’s open spaces, like Sycamore Canyon Park and Santa Rosa Plateau. The project was later integrated into our website as an interactive permanent exhibit and resource. Another is an upcoming publication of memoirs centered around the burning of Lowell School and the subsequent desegregation of the Riverside Unified School District, the first large school district to voluntarily do so, and which will include interviews with former Lowell students, community leaders, and others who had insight into that tumultuous period.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
We’re proud of all of our programs and projects, but we were thrilled this past fall when Inlandia had the opportunity to partner with Poets & Writers to present Sal y Muerte, a day-long workshop and reading project held at the Salton Sea—such a heartbreakingly beautiful and desolate location, but completely ripe for creating art. The project included workshops in poetry and prose with Sandra Alcosser, Brandon Cesmat, and desert natives and inveterate Inlandians Maureen Alsop and Ruth Nolan. The workshops culminated in a reading by campfire accompanied by Cesmat’s guitar. This is the sort of workshop that embodies what Inlandia is all about—bringing people together where language and landscape intersect.

And I would be remiss to not mention that we are also extremely proud of our new Inlandia Literary Journeys project, in partnership with the Riverside Press–Enterprise. ILJ includes a weekly literary column, video interview series, and affiliated blog.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
The first literary event I ever hosted—eight years ago, back in 2006—I was petrified. Above all, I am a writer, and I have an affinity for hiding behind a monitor or a book. But now, through the Inlandia Institute, I host events on average of once per week, so while I do still get butterflies, it has become much easier. I admit that I began presenting literary events out of the largely selfish motivation of wanting to attend more readings closer to home. It has enriched my own sense of what is possible, both in literature and life.
 
What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
I have watched as the Inlandia Institute has built a solid community of creative thinkers, writers, and readers, rising up out of common interests—in this case, language, self-expression, and an appreciation for this place that we call home. In the last few years, other groups have risen up here too—I'm thinking specifically of PoetrIE and the Wild Lemon Project, whose missions are similar to our own. Organizations like these and the cadre of literary-minded folks that run them are what help to forge this region’s literary identity and put it on the map, so to speak. Literary programs encourage engagement with our humanity and with other human beings, something as necessary as air, but not necessarily as easy to come by. The Inlandia Institute is helping to change that.

Photo: Cati Porter at an event at Cellar Door Books. Credit: Matt Nadelson.

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

We’ve all had to pack our belongings into boxes at some point. People move for their jobs, partners, or just to experience a change. This week, reflect on your past moves. Which was your best moving day and which was your worst? What obstacles and challenges (both logistical and psychological) have you faced while moving? What did you learn from the experience?

Vela Magazine, an online journal that publishes works of nonfiction written by women and inspired by travel, has launched its inaugural nonfiction contest for women. The winner will receive $500 and publication. The deadline is March 31; there is no entry fee.  

The editors seek a “strong voice, a compelling narrative, and/or a powerful driving question. We’re interested in a wide range of essays and stories, including literary journalism, personal essays, memoir, and expository or experimental essays.”

Women writers may submit a previously unpublished essay of up to 6,500 words along with a cover letter via the online submission system. While there is no entry fee, donations to the magazine are accepted with submissions; those who donate will receive a PDF titled Women We Read This Year, an annotated compilation of writing by women from 2013, drawn from the magazine’s weekly Women We Read This Week column.

In addition to the winner, two finalists will also have their work published.  All entries will be considered for publication.

Michelle Orange, the author of the essay collection This Is Run­ning For Your Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), will judge.

Vela Magazine was founded in 2011 by nonfiction writer Sarah Menkedick in response to the gender disparity in publishing, which is tracked each year through VIDA’s annual count. “As long as [this disparity] continues to be the case,” Menkedick writes in the magazine’s manifesto, “then I believe in creating a separate space in which women can write what they want to write, with the same intellectual freedom as men; without a major overhaul of self and world views.”

The prospect of shopping excites some, while others find the experience tedious or even stressful. This week, write a scene in which your character is faced with a big purchase, perhaps one that requires some prior research. Is your character impulsive or thorough? Does he or she approach the experience with excitement or unease? What does your character ultimately end up purchasing?

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