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Writer John Berger says: “What makes me write is the fear that if I do not write, something which ought to be said will not be.” This week, make a list of five things that you feel urgently need to be said about current events. Choose one of them and write an essay expressing your personal opinions—recount related anecdotes, share emotions, and reflect on why this matter is important to you.

In Elegy for a Dead World, a creative-writing video game featured in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, players write stories and poems while traversing through deserted worlds inspired by the poetry of Shelley, Keats, and Byron. This week, find fictional inspiration by choosing a Romantic poem and writing down, in complete sentences, the mood or atmosphere. Describe the visual landscape that you imagine, then create a scene and introduce characters.

The tanka is a type of classical Japanese poem, most popularly known in its five-line form, with syllable counts of 5/7/5/7/7. In ancient Japanese tradition, the short poetic lines were exchanged between lovers in the morning, after spending an evening together. This week, try your hand at writing a tanka. Start with a concrete image or object you closely associate with a loved one. Then create a dramatic shift in thought or emotion to express the speaker's personal response. For inspiration, read examples of the tanka compiled by the Academy of American Poets.

Adrienne Perry blogs about her P&W-supported writers of color workshop and reading at Writespace in Houston, Texas. Perry earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College and is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She serves as the current Editor of Gulf Coast and is a Kimbilio Fellow. Perry's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tidal Basin Review, Copper Nickel, and Indiana Review. She is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. 

Adrienne PerrySome of the best advice I’ve heard about writing came from a high school guidance counselor. When seniors grew nervous about writing college essays, she calmed them down by saying their job was simply to: “Tell a story. Tell a story only you can tell. Tell it in your own voice.” In her view, if the college essay met those three criteria, the student had investigated their life and experience enough to say something unique, something that mattered to them and would be more likely to matter to admissions officers combing through hundreds of personal narratives.   

I’ve carried the “tell a story, tell a story only you can tell” advice around for years, even sharing it with my own college counselees, but I had never run it by creative writers. This April, I decided to share it with my writers of color workshop at Writespace in Houston. What happened? It became a mantra seeping into the workshop rhetoric. One of the frustrations I’ve heard from writers of color, in this workshop and elsewhere, is that people so often make unconscious assumptions about the kinds of stories writers of color will tell and the voices those stories will be in.

Telling our own stories in our own voices takes courage and pushes the imaginations of both white and nonwhite readers. Charles Redd shared that our writers of color workshop “created something special in me, [and was] impacted by shared experiences.” Another writer from the workshop, Ima Oduok, wrote in an e-mail: “When I saw Writespace was hosting a workshop for writers of color, I was ecstatic. The literary world is still mostly filled with white men, and that imbalance makes me hold back in other workshops or conferences. There's an unspoken, unsubtle message that literature is not for us. Workshops, such as this one, invite those who would normally be shy about developing.”

On the last day of the workshop, we ended early and held a reading. For a city as racially and ethnically diverse as Houston, this reading and this workshop at Writespace were both, in some ways, a first. And except for one or two of the writers, the reading was a personal first, too. The Writespace studio is small and cozy, so we took the long tables into the hallway and set up tight rows of chairs, wondering who would come to hear us telling stories only we could tell and in our own voices. Turns out, quite a few. By the time the reading started, the room was packed.

The man who made perfectly shaved ice in San Antonio, a waitress who used a Taser on an attacker after a late night shift, a woman unwinding from a night of partying on a balcony in Virginia Beach, the dissolution of a marriage as seen through a favorite TV show—each reading was singular, a reminder that not only should we write the stories only we can tell, but that doing so in a workshop for writers of color can be a powerful part of that process.

Photo: Adrienne Perry. Credit: Lesli Vollrath.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston 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.

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.” These words of wisdom from Special Agent Dale Cooper, a character in David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks, are extremely important to remember—especially when you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. Write about your pleasures, guilty or otherwise, and how they enhance your life. If you treat yourself to the same thing every day, like a morning Starbucks latte, does it still feel special? Or has it become more of a habit? Maybe you need to expand your definition of the word present. Sometimes moments of peaceful solitude, like taking a walk to the park during your lunch break or soaking in a hot bath before bed, can be just enough.

The Dublin City Council announced today that British author Jim Crace has won the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Crace, who won for his novel Harvest (Doubleday, 2013), will receive €100,000 (approximately $113,000). The annual award, which is one of the world’s largest prizes for a single book, is given for a novel written in English and published in the previous year.

Now in its twentieth year, the IMPAC award only accepts nominations from libraries. Crace’s novel was chosen from 142 titles that were nominated by libraries in 114 cities in thirty-nine countries. The Swiss library Universitätsbibliothek Bern and the Tallahasee, Florida–based­ LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library both nominated Crace’s novel. Valentine Cunningham, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Daniel Hahn, Kate Pullinger, Jordi Soler, and Eugene R. Sullivan judged.

“It has been an overwhelming surprise and a delight to discover that my latest book has won the IMPAC Dublin award,” said Crace. “Harvest proved to be a generous novel in the writing. Readers and critics were more than generous in their responses. And now, thanks to the further generosity of a whole wide-world network of book-loving strangers, Harvest has struck lucky again—it will be included in the distinguished and twenty-year-long list of fiction honored by this truly international and discriminating award. No writer could hope for more than that.”

The shortlisted novels for the prize were Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Lulu Norman’s translation from the French of Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God; The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent; Sue Branford’s translation from the Portuguese of Bernardo Kucinski’s K; Geoffrey Strachan’s translation from the French of Andreï Makine’s Brief Loves That Live Forever; TransAtlantic by Colum McCann; Someone by Alice McDermott; and Sparta by Roxana Robinson.

Previous winners of the prize include Juan Gabriel Vásquez for The Sound of Things Falling, Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin, Per Petterson for Out Stealing Horses, Colm Tóibín for The Master, and Edward P. Jones for The Known World.

Photo: Jim Crace. Credit: Matt Writtle.

You know that weird notion that sometimes surfaces when you meet new people—that feeling that you already know them, but can’t remember why or how? Write a scene for a story about two people who both experience the same déjà vu upon meeting, with a plot driven by their need to figure out how they know each other. Use this opportunity to add an element of magical realism to your story. Perhaps they were married in a past life, or maybe they met in a dream. Once they solve the puzzle, how does this impact their lives going forward? Do they even believe the answer, or do they agree it’s too far-fetched?

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." Take to heart Kurt Vonnegut's words, from his 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine, and spread some kindness through your poetry. Pick someone you admire and write a poem to this person about all the things you want to say to him or her, no matter how personal or embarrassing. Try to avoid focusing on physical appearance or material possessions, and instead celebrate the personality traits or the fond memories you’ve shared. Consider sharing your poem with this person, or at least say some of the lovely things you’ve written to him or her. Kind words have such power; they can lift your spirits, boost your self-esteem, and even change your life—and your poem.

Submissions are currently open for Southern Poetry Review’s Guy Owen Award, given annually for a poem. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review.

Submit three to five poems totaling no more than ten pages with a $20 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to Southern Poetry Review, by June 15. Submissions can be made via the online submission system or via postal mail to Department of Languages, Literature, and Philosophy, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31419.

Southern Poetry Review staff established the Guy Owen Award in 2002. Recent winners include Traci Rae Letellier for “Outlaw Country,” chosen by the late Claudia Emerson; Janet Smith for “The Children’s Section,” chosen by Arthur Smith; Susan Schmidt for “If They Came Our Way,” chosen by Kathryn Stripling Byer; and Catherine Staples for “Red Rover,” chosen by Carl Dennis. Established in 1958, Southern Poetry Review is published biannually.

Photo: the current issue (Volume 52, Issue 2) of Southern Poetry Review

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Latin@ Scholarship for the Frost Place’s Conference on Poetry, given to a Latina or Latino poet. The recipient will receive tuition, room, and board—valued at $1,500—to attend the Frost Place’s Conference on Poetry in July in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Poets who self-identify as Latin@, have a strong commitment to the Latin@ community, and are at least 21 years old are eligible to apply. Submit three to five poems of any length with the required entry form by June 15. There is no application fee.

The winner will attend the Frost Place’s annual Conference on Poetry, held from July 12 to July 18 at Robert Frost’s former homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire. The conference features poetry workshops, lectures, craft discussions, readings, and time to write. The 2015 faculty includes Gabriel Fried, Joan Houlihan, John Murillo, Patrick Phillips, and Martha Rhodes.

Poet Javier Zamora, a former attendee of the Conference on Poetry, helped establish the Latin@ scholarship. “My time at the conference was essential in cementing relationships that helped my writing’s early stages,” says Zamora. “Although the faculty is diverse, while at the Frost Place I saw a lack of a Latin@ presence within the attendants….The purpose of this scholarship is to begin to increase our visibility in these spaces. The idea is to create more possibilities for inclusion.”

We have dictionaries and encyclopedias to provide us with official definitions, but sometimes the personal definitions we construct take precedence. These personal definitions may be created from experiences, memories, the opinions of others, or the truths we've come to discover. This week, choose a word you've created your own definition for and write a personal essay in the style of a dictionary entry. Begin with the pronunciation, the part of speech, and origin of the term. Then go on to state the definition and historical significance of the word.  

Every so often, we run into people we recognize but can't quite place. Perhaps you catch sight of a strangely familiar face at your favorite coffee shop, and then later at a diner while visiting family out of town, and are puzzled by the coincidence. Write a story in which two of your characters keep crossing paths, either accidentally or because of particular circumstances. What keeps them from properly introducing themselves? Could they become good friends, or will they become adversaries?  

This week, concentrate on the sounds of words and pick four or five words that you love to hear and pronounce. Don't worry about whether these words are complex or commonplace, just focus on the way they sound when spoken aloud. Then using one as the title, incorporate these favorite words into a poem. Create a narrative if you wish, or allow yourself to focus completely on sound as you piece together your poem. Consider the similarities between the words you've chosen, in terms of their meaning and their internal music.

Submissions are currently open for the Bard College Fiction Prize, given annually to a fiction writer under the age of 40 who has published at least one full-length work of fiction. The winner will receive $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The recipient must give at least one public lecture and meet informally with students but is not expected to teach traditional courses.

Submit three copies of a published book of fiction, a cover letter, and a curriculum vitae by June 15. There is no application fee. Submissions can be made via postal mail to P.O. Box 5000, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established in 2001, the Bard Fiction Prize is “intended to encourage and support young writers of fiction to pursue their creative goals and provide an opportunity to work in a fertile and intellectual environment.” Recent recipients include Laura van den Berg for her second story collection, The Isle of Youth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); Bennett Sims for his debut novel, A Questionable Shape (Two Dollar Radio, 2013); Brian Conn for his debut novel, The Fixed Stars (Fiction Collective 2, 2010); and Benjamin Hale for his debut novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011).

The Bard College Written Arts department offers an undergraduate major but no graduate degree in creative writing. Core faculty members include Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Porochista Khakpour, Ann Lauterbach, Joseph O’Neill, Susan Fox Rogers, and Mona Simpson.

Veronica Santiago Liu is the general coordinator of Word Up Community Bookshop, a collectively managed volunteer-run bookshop and arts space in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Her writing, comics, photography, and silkscreen prints have been published in Broken Pencil, Quick Fiction, We'll Never Have Paris, and other journals and zines.

When Word Up Community Bookshop first opened as a temporary “pop-up” shop in June 2011 in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, the longtime New Yorkers who’d wander into the storefront would take one look at our makeshift space—our donated home furniture only hinting at a retail environment, our scattershot collection of small press books and broadly encompassing events calendar (indeed, the whole ad hoc system created by neighborhood volunteers) —and say, “This feels just like the Lower East Side once did.”

We were frequently compared to a few community art spaces in particular, spaces that made people feel at home while representing a greater artistic community. A Gathering of the Tribes—the longtime gallery/salon and home of Steve Cannon—was one such downtown space. Thus, we were ecstatic to host a crew of esteemed poets from A Gathering of the Tribes on April 25 with support from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers. Though many have sorely missed Cannon’s magical living room on East Third Street since the eviction by a new owner in 2014, the creative people who gave the place life are still doing their thing all over the city: creating and sharing adventurous, irreverent, intimate poetry and stories.

The presenting poets were excited to reunite; indeed, coorganizer and Washington Heights-based poet Sheila Maldonado marveled that everyone was actually on time for the reading. A mix of uptowners and downtowners representing all the colors of the people of New York City sat in the audience, or peered out from behind bookcases where they shopped, transfixed by the words. Through it all, the evening’s energy was palpable—I mean, really, literally everyone cheered at every welcome and introduction.

The legendary Steve Cannon—who Poonam Srivastava later called a testament of the life of the city—kicked off the night’s tellings, with stories of getting to the event that very evening, and stories about each of the poets present whose work he’d published. Everyone was unsure of when he’d started a poem or had slipped back into a story of now, highly amused all the same.

Reading next was Ron Kolm, poet, bookseller, Unbearables member, and author of Welcome to the Barbecue  (Low-Tech Press, 1990), Rank Cologne (P.O.N. Press, 1991), Divine Comedy (Fly By Night Press, 2013), and Suburban Ambush (Autonomedia, 2014). Sheila Maldonado whose poetry collection one-bedroom solo was published by Fly by Night Press in 2011, read from her book as well as new work.

Poonam Srivastava, whose book is forthcoming this summer from Fly by Night Press, told a not-quite allegory about driving in the city and in the refrain of the evening, asked for just a little more lesbianism, please. After a short intermission, Frank Perez, author of the chapbooks Rhythm of Life and The Short Cut, took the mic, followed by Chavisa Woods, the award-winning author of The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013) and Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Autonomedia, 2012). Mariposa Fernandez, author of Born Bronxeña: Poems on Identity, Love & Survival (Bronxeña Books, 2001), read next and Melanie Maria Goodreaux warmly closed out the evening with a heartfelt reading!

Photos: (top) Steve Cannon. (bottom) Poonam Srivastava. Photo Credit: Veronica Liu

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

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