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Last night, during a ceremony at the New School in New York City, the National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of its book awards for publishing year 2013.

Frank Bidart won in poetry for Metaphysical Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won in fiction for Americanah (Knopf); and Sheri Fink won in nonfiction for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown).

Amy Wilentz won the autobiography award for Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti (Simon & Schuster); Leo Damrosch won the biography award for Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press); and Franco Moretti won the criticism award for Distant Reading (Verso).

The winners were chosen by a panel of established literary critics from a list of thirty finalists announced in January. The shortlist in poetry included Lucie Brock-Broido for Stay, Illusion (Knopf); Denise Duhamel for Blowout (University of Pittsburgh Press); Bob Hicok for Elegy Owed (Copper Canyon Press); and Carmen Gimenez Smith for Milk and Filth (University of Arizona Press). The finalists in fiction were Alice McDermott for Someone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Javier Marias for The Infatuations (Knopf); Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being (Viking); and Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown). The finalists in nonfiction were Kevin Cullen and Shelly Murphy for Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice (Norton); David Finkel for Thank You for Your Service (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Lawrence Wright for Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Knopf).

Anthony Marra won the inaugural John Leonard Prize, which honors a first book in any genre, for his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth). Critic Katherine A. Powers won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing award, and fiction writer, essayist, and translator Rolando Hinojosa-Smith won the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The National Book Critics Circle awards are given annually for books published in the previous year. For more information about the awards, visit the NBCC website or its literary blog, Critical Mass.

In the video below from Britain's Channel 4 News, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses race, love, hair, and Americanah.

Heather Dubrow, director of the Poets Out Loud reading series, holds the John D. Boyd SJ, Chair in the Poetic Imagination at Fordham University. A critic of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, she has published six scholarly books, a coedited collection of essays, and an edition of As You Like It (as well as articles on pedagogy and educational policy). Wearing her other hat as poet, she is the author of a collection titled Forms and Hollows (Cherry Grove Collections), two chapbooks, and a play produced by a community theatre. The journals where her poetry has appeared include Prairie Schooner, the Southern Review, the Southwest Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Yale Review. Two of her poems have been set to music and performed, and one was featured  on the Poetry Daily site.)

After I’d taught for many years at Carleton College and the University of Wisconsin (and more briefly elsewhere), Fordham University offered me the John D. Boyd SJ, Chair in the Poetic Imagination—an appointment that I might well have accepted for that title alone. When I arrived, Elisabeth Frost was heroically directing both the Poets Out Loud readings and the contest whose winner, the POL Prize book, is published by Fordham University Press. But about a year later Beth decided to focus on the latter portfolio, her work as editor of the Poets Out Loud book series (she shortly afterwards expanded the program to include publishing a second book each year)—and I happily inherited the program of poetry readings.

If anyone else is in line for such an inheritance, hold out for a series like POL: I am fortunate to direct a program that benefits from having been alive and well for over two decades (we celebrated its twentieth anniversary with the gala event at Lincoln Center’s Rubinstein Atrium featuring J. D. McClatchy and Julie Sheehan and from all the work of Elisabeth Frost and earlier directors. And we benefit from being in New York, with its splendid supply of both distinguished and promising poets.

Of course, our metropolitan location has its downsides, too. Hotel prices and other expenses are steep enough that we can almost never invite out-of-town writers. Fortunately, the Jesuit commitment to poetry, exemplified by and perhaps itself inherited from Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as the much appreciated support of Poets & Writers, keeps us afloat, though on a shoestring (if shoestrings, like those airplane cushions, can function as flotation devices). Another challenge of being in New York is that competition for audiences is intense here; in contrast, at, say, Carleton, the visiting writer was usually the only game in town. But we hold all the readings at Fordham’s campus in Manhattan, near Lincoln Center, which is readily accessible to people throughout the city, and we regularly attract audiences of about ninety to a hundred people, with nearly twice that for a few events.

I’ve happily continued many longstanding POL policies. We’re deeply and enthusiastically committed to diversity in the poetic styles and ethnicities of the readers and similarly committed to representing both established and emerging writers. In other words, POL refuses to be drafted into the poetry wars. Admission remains free. And our audience is also diverse, encompassing everyone from high school and university students from Fordham and around the city to very distinguished poets to members of the general public.

Taking over a series that was already going strong opened up possibilities for additional initiatives. Looking inwards to the Fordham community, we now encourage entering students to become familiar with POL from the get-go by connecting our September reading to the themes of First-Year Orientation. Looking outwards, we have an outreach to high school students from underserved communities; our current partners are Cristo Rey New York High School, the High School for Business, Enterprise, and Technology, and the organization Girls Write Now. Students from those groups participate in prereading workshops on the poets appearing that night—which those poets visit—before going to the reading itself. Like other members of the audience, they have the opportunity to enter drawings and win a free inscribed book by one of the evening’s writers. In the final event of the year, some of these high school participants read their own work together with a distinguished writer in what we call a poetry sandwich (in past years Edward Hirsch, Marie Howe, and Anne Waldman appeared in these sessions, while this year we look forward to Elizabeth Alexander’s participation); in 2014 we’ll be publishing poems by all the students in the workshops, not just those who read that night, on our site. And last year POL took its show on the road—or rather on the subway—by setting up another outreach, this time to senior citizens, by reading in a few residences.

Poets Out Loud has also been very pleased to build bridges to other poetry organizations. We’ve been cosponsoring events with the Poetry Society of America for two years now—this year’s readers were Frank Bidart and Jonathan Galassi. In 2013 Fordham initiated and co-organized a series of readings and discussions on the subject of Donne and Contemporary Poetry, with participants including the Barnard Women Poets series, the New York Public Library, and the John Donne Society; future events in the series are planned at the interdisciplinary organization Helix and Fordham itself.

Well, actually, we had a splendid program in that Donne and Contemporary Poetry series all set up in February at Fordham (Molly Peacock reading, Nigel Smith performing his settings of Donne poems), only to be snowed out. John Donne, Un-done, as he apparently wrote himself. But I assured his agent that the event is being rescheduled in the fall. (Visit www.fordham.edu/pol for a forthcoming announcement).

The touchstones for poetry that Emily Dickinson famously identified also aptly describe directing a poetry reading series. “If...it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me”—yes, that describes running a poetry series when an elaborately planned event like that one is cancelled or when one discovers the day before a reading that another group is widely announcing that it has booked the room assigned to us. On the other hand, Dickinson also declares of poetry, “I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off”—and the top of my head has been delightfully and delightedly blown off by the readings themselves and by the audience’s responses. Witness comments such as “Fantastic series. Has reignited my love of poetry” and “Much more entertaining than I had ever expected to find poetry” and "Poets Out Loud reminds me how and why I fell in love with poetry and why it will always be a part of me.”

Top Photo: Heather Dubrow. Photo Credit: Katie Lockhart. Middle Photo: J. M. McClatchy.  Photo Credit: Michael Dames. Bottom Photo: Julie Sheehan. Photo Credit: Michael Dames.

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 NewYork 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.

In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes describes the punctum as “that rare detail” in a photograph that strikes the viewer. This week, look through old photographs for a detail that captivates your attention. Write about this detail. Why does it draw you in?

Claremont Graduate University announced today that Afaa Michael Weaver of Somerville, Massachusetts, has won the annual $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his book The Government of Nature (University of Pittsburgh Press). The award, given annually to a midcareer poet, is one of the largest monetary poetry prizes in the United States.

Yona Harvey of Pittsburgh has won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for her debut poetry collection, Hemming the Water (Four Way Books). The award is given annually to a promising new poet for a first book.

The son of a sharecropper, Afaa Michael Weaver grew up in Baltimore where, after two years in the Army, he worked in factories for fifteen years before attending Brown University on a full scholarship. The Government of Nature is his twelfth poetry collection. “He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet,” said chief awards judge Chase Twichell in a press release. “It’s truly remarkable." Weaver has received two Pushcart Prizes, the May Sarton Award, and fellowships from the NEA, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Pew foundation, as well as a Fulbright appointment in Taiwan. He is also a translator of Chinese poetry, having worked with poets from China and Taiwan. He teaches at Simmons College and in Drew University’s graduate program in poetry and poetry in translation.

Yona Harvey’s poetry and prose have appeared in jubilat, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, Rattle, the Volta, West Branch, and elsewhere. She has received a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts residency and an Individual Artist Grant in Literary Nonfiction from The Pittsburgh Foundation. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Now in its twenty-second year, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award was established at Claremont Graduate University by Kate Tufts in memory of her husband, who worked in the Los Angeles shipyards and wrote poetry as his avocation. The award is given for a work published in the previous year by a poet “who is past the very beginning but has not yet reached the pinnacle of his or her career.” The Kate Tufts Discovery Award has been given annually since 1993. A ceremony for the winners will be held in Claremont on Thursday, April 10.

Finalists for the 2014 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award were Brenda Shaughnessy for Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press) and Brian Teare for Companion Grasses (Omnidawn). Finalists for the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award were Kim Young for Night Radio(University of Utah Press) and Leila Wilson for The Hundred Grasses (Milkweed Editions). Along with Twichell, the judges were David Barber, Kate Gale, Ted Genoways, Carl Phillips, and Stephen Burt.

Marriane Boruch won the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Heidy Steidlmayer received the 2013 Discovery Award.

Motels are frequently depicted in novels, TV, and film. This week, write a scene that takes place in a motel. Perhaps it's a seedy, roadside fleabag; a clean, well-maintained establishment with a dark history; or simply a familiar setting for a dramatic turning point in your narrative. You can weave it into a short story or use it as a starting point for a new piece. It can be inspired by your own experience or entirely imagined.

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.

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