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Is it necessary to be vulnerable if you want to become closer with someone? This week, write an essay that gives advice to those looking to be more open with the people they know. Use your personal experience to discuss whether vulnerability has helped create stronger connections, or if an alternative experience offered positive results for tighter bonds. 

Just as we often have a favorite t-shirt, sandwich, or brand of coffee, we also have favorite words; the ones we use in everything we write without even realizing it. Think about why you use these words so often. Is it because they reflect your personal writing style, or because it’s become a habit? This week, read carefully through one of your stories, circling the words that keep popping up. Then explore different options for expressing the same sentiment. 

PEN American Center has announced the longlist for its 2015 Literary Awards. The annual prizes are given for works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and children’s literature written by emerging and established writers. This year PEN will award over $150,000 to writers through its awards.

The full longlist for the 2015 awards, given in seventeen categories (eight of which do not have a longlist), can be read on PEN’s website. Below are the semi-finalists for a few awards:

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): Awarded annually for a debut short story collection or novel published in the previous year that represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

The UnAmericans (Norton) by Molly Antopol
Ruby
(Hogarth) by Cynthia Bond
Black Moon
(Hogarth) by Kenneth Calhoun
Redeployment
(Penguin Press) by Phil Klay
Ride Around Shining
(Harper) by Chris Leslie-Hynan
The Dog
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jack Livings
The Wives of Los Alamos
(Bloomsbury) by TaraShea Nesbit
The Heaven of Animals
(Simon & Schuster) by David James Poissant
Love Me Back
(Doubleday) by Merritt Tierce
Time of the Locust
(Atria Books) by Morowa Yejidé

Judges: Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, Victor LaValle

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): Awarded annually for an essay collection published in the previous year that exemplifies the dignity and esteem the essay form imparts to literature.

Moral Imagination (Princeton University Press) by David Bromwich
Theater of Cruelty
(New York Review Books) by Ian Buruma
Loitering
(Tin House Books) by Charles D’Ambrosio
Surrendering Oz
(Etruscan Press) by Bonnie Friedman
The Hard Way on Purpose
(Scribner) by David Giffels
Where Have You Been?
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Michael Hofmann
The Empathy Exams
(Graywolf Press) by Leslie Jamison
Sidewalks
(Coffee House Press) by Valeria Luiselli
Limber
(Sarabande Books) by Angela Pelster
You Feel So Mortal
(University of Chicago Press) by Peggy Shinner

Judges: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, Mark Slouka

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000); Awarded annually for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color.

An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press) by Rabih Alameddine
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Charles M. Blow
Team Seven
(Doubleday) by Marcus Burke
Streaming
(Coffee House Press) by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Every Day Is for the Thief
(Random House) by Teju Cole
An Untamed State
(Black Cat) by Roxane Gay
A Brief History of Seven Killings
(Riverhead Press) by Marlon James
Citizen: An American Lyric
(Graywolf Press) by Claudia Rankine
The Fateful Apple
(Urban Poets and Lyricists) by Venus Thrash
The City Son
(Soho Press) by Samrat Upadhyay
Kinder Than Solitude
(Random House) by Yiyun Li

Judges: R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks, Chinelo Okparanta

Finalists will be announced on April 15, and the winners will be announced on May 13 and honored at an award ceremony at the New School in New York City on June 8.

Established in 1922, PEN American Center has administered its Literary Awards for nearly fifty years. Based in New York City, PEN works to “ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.”

These days, friendships are often formed over the Internet. Have you corresponded with someone via a social networking site or dating site who you’ve never met in person? This week, write a poem about what you imagine meeting this person would be like. If you’ve never seen a picture of him or her, write about what you think this person looks like based on how he or she writes. 

Black Balloon Publishing, an imprint of the newly established Catapult, has announced Tegan Nia Swanson as the winner of the 2014 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize for her debut novel, Things We Found When the Water Went Down. The annual award includes a prize of $5,000 and publication for a novel or short story collection.

The editors selected Swanson’s book from more than 1,500 submissions. “Tegan’s novel is organized as a series of artifacts,” says Black Balloon associate editor Julie Buntin. “Reading Things We Found When the Water Went Down is a process of discovery, of excavation, and it’s precisely this narrative ambition that makes the book such a perfect fit for this prize. I had the sense while turning the pages that I was in the presence of something new.”

Swanson is a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, where she was the 2011 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in Ecotone, Bellingham Review, and Connu, and in the Black Earth Institute’s About Place Journal. She won the 2013 Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2014 Fiction Fellowships at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. She currently lives in Lyon, France.

Things We Found When the Water Went Down will be published by Black Balloon in the fall of 2016, and will be distributed by Publishers Group West. The finalists for this year’s prize were Anne Corbitt, Joan Frank, and Karen Tucker.

Founded in 2013, the prize is named for Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, a one-eyed, one-armed British naval commander made famous for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars—a man “who defied convention at every turn.” 

Mike Meginnins won the inaugural Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize for his debut novel, Fat Man and Little Boy, which was published in October 2014.

The winners of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night at the New School in New York City. Claudia Rankine, whose poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) was the first book in the NBCC’s history to be nominated in two categories—poetry and criticism—took home the award in poetry. Marilynne Robinson won in fiction for her novel Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and Roz Chast won the autobiography prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury).John Lahr won in biography for Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton); David Brion Davis won in general nonfiction for The Problem of Slavery In the Age of Emancipation (Knopf); and the criticism prize was awarded posthumously to Ellen Willis for The Essential Ellen Willis (University of Minnesota Press), edited by Willis’s daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz. Phil Klay won the John Leonard Prize for his National Book Award–winning short story collection, Redeployment (Penguin Press); the John Leonard Prize recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre. Alexandra Schwartz, an assistant editor at the New Yorker, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The poetry finalists were Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press), Willie Perdomo’s The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Books), Christian Wiman’s Once in the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and the late Jake Adam York’s Abide (Southern Illinois University Press).

The finalists in fiction were Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press), Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), Lily King’s Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press), and Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead).

The autobiography finalists were Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Norton), Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side (Tin House), Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure (Random House), and Meline Toumani’s There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books).

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which are considered amongst the most prestigious awards given in the literary world, are given annually for books published in the previous year. A board of twenty-four working newspaper and magazine critics and editors nominates and selects the winners each year. The 2013 winners included Frank Bidart for poetry and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for fiction.

Photos from left to right: Claudia Rankine (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times), Marilynne Robinson (Ulf Andersen/Getty), and Roz Chast (Bill Franzen/Washington Post)

The finalists for the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction have been announced. The annual award honors the best work of fiction published by an American author in the previous year.

The five finalists are Jeffery Renard Allen’s Song of the Shank (Graywolf Press), Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen (Hogarth), Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (Tyrant Books), Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Knopf), and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation (Knopf). More information about the finalists can be found on the PEN/Faulkner website.

The winner of the $15,000 prize will be announced April 7. The four remaining finalists will each receive $5,000. All finalists will be honored during the annual PEN/Faulkner Award Ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on May 2. The ceremony, which will be hosted by B. J. Novak, is open to the public; tickets are available online or can be purchased by calling the Folger Box Office at 202-544-7077.

Judges Alexander Chee, Marc Fitten, and Deirdre McNamer selected this year’s finalists from 360 novels and short story collections from 142 publishing houses. In a press release, the judges said of their selection process, “The finalists we chose are writing some of the best of American fiction now—urgent and profound work that is deeply engaged with our world, even as it redefines what we call ‘American fiction,’ and what we think of as America.”

Now in its thirty-fifth year, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is sponsored by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and is the largest peer-judged fiction award in the United States. Karen Joy Fowler won the 2014 award for her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz received the award in 2013 for his short story collection Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club.

 

This week, write an essay using exactly one hundred words. Pick a concept you’ve been thinking about recently, like daylight savings time, or a personal story someone’s reminded you of recently, like when you learned to ride a bike. It doesn’t take long to write one hundred words, but you must make every one of them count.

We can imagine that animals have a very different concept of life than we do. To a lobster gazing through the glass of his tank at humans in a seafood restaurant, the world looks very different. An ant, whose average life expectancy is sixty days, most likely does not fear death the way humans do. This week, write a story from the perspective of your favorite animal. Watch Tim Seibles read his poem “Lobster for Sale” for inspiration.

This past Sunday was International Women’s Day. The theme for 2015 was “Make it Happen,” a slogan encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women. This week, write a poem celebrating the achievements of women. Write about the accomplishments of women in your community, or a woman you think deserves recognition for her strength of character and outstanding achievements. 

Submissions are currently open for the New York Times Modern Love College Essay Contest. The prize is awarded to a current U.S. college student for an essay that “illustrates the current state of love and relationships.” The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the New York Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com. Four runners-up will also receive publication in the Times Sunday Styles section and on nytimes.com.

To enter, writers should e-mail a previously unpublished essay of 1,500 to 1,700 words along with their name, e-mail, phone number, college, and year of graduation to essaycontest@nytimes.com by Sunday, March 15. There is no entry fee. Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times Modern Love column and author of Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers), will judge. The winner will be announced May 3.

The New York Times Modern Love column has sponsored its college essay contest two previous times—in 2008 and 2011—and received thousands of submissions each year from students representing hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country. Caitlin Dewey won the 2011 prize for her essay “Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between us,” and Marguerite Fields won the inaugural prize in 2008 for her essay “Want to Be My Boyfriend? Please Define.” The essays of previous finalists can also be read on the New York Times website.

For more information about the Modern Love column, read Jones’s article “How We Write About Love.”

A Washington, D.C. poet, Carolyn Joyner has been featured in many publications and anthologies including Obsidian, Amistad, and Beltway Quarterly poetry magazines, Gathering Ground, Beyond the Frontier, Mass Ave Review, and the 2004-2005 Cave Canem annual collections. She is a former WritersCorps and River of Words Project instructor, and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Cave Canem. In 2010, she cohosted Poet’s Corner, a program on local D.C. radio station, WPFW, and in 2003 and 2013, she received an Artist Fellowship grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Joyner has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University.

“They strutted like peacocks,” she said.

Upon completion of writing poems in a workshop for displaced women, a colleague likened the pride swelling from their chests to the swagger of the glorious peafowl. I was studying to be a poet at the time, and was immediately smitten by her comparison. It not only seemed to flesh out the emotion of the women’s newfound self-respect, but awoke in me the warmth and delight she felt about it. How great to limber up the imagination enough to stir lyrical life into those who didn’t know it was there. I vowed right then that I would do my best to achieve this impact when it was my turn to lead a workshop, and when I attended one, I would expect nothing less. This was a tall order for a newcomer, and the challenge persists to this day.

When I was first invited to conduct a Saturday workshop for the CentroNía community in Washington, D.C., which is funded through the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers, I was asked to identify my implementation strategy. Would the focus be on the use of visual and sensory imagery? Would it be theme-based? Understanding that this would be the least of my concerns, I settled on a “generative” workshop—one designed to generate poems.

The poetry workshops at CentroNía have always been exciting and unique. I lived in the community and had attended many. The participants are very eclectic and representative of the intergenerational, varied ethnicities and cultures of the community, writers who range from the experienced to those just trying their hand. And this was the challenge—to tailor a workshop that would address the literary needs of such a diverse group and have them leave “strutting like peacocks.”

Workshop preparation took me well beyond the usual outline of discussion and accompanying exercises. I threw myself into my own thoughts, sensations, and feelings about poetry, and moved away from placing too much importance on the distinct characteristics of the target group. I thought of the workshops I had attended where my “imagination machine” was awakened, censors were turned off, I trusted my inner guide’s prompt, and wrote with ease and patience. This is what I wanted for the participants, and I set about constructing ways to ignite the “intrinsic ardor” that Phillis Wheatley referenced in her poem, “To the University of Cambridge, in New-England.” I’m always encouraged and amazed when reminded that she understood, at such a young age, that we carry the will to become poets despite the obstacles around us. 

My literary desires and expectations include many of the same things as the workshop participants: to stretch the mind, feel free to go off on a writing tangent, be irrational, and embrace the “intrinsic ardor” of our calling. I began to realize how essential the repeated exposure to poetry is through community workshops, for the participants, as well as for those who lead them. We read and discussed the works of a wide spectrum of poets—from Wallace Stevens to Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou to Emily Dickinson, Genny Lim to E. E. Cummings—and we let poetry “dance carefully in our minds.”

The work that Poets & Writers is doing for so many cities is nothing short of revolutionary. The philosophy embodies the belief that once a mind expands, it resists contraction, and therefore, narrow-mindedness.  As a writer, I have become more pliant, my writing is more imaginative, and my ability to blend abstract and concrete elements has greatly improved.

I had no idea whether those in attendance would accept the dare to recreate themselves and write poems that would make them “strut like peacocks,” but most gave it their all, and left happily with an awesome starter poem in hand. I didn’t wait to see their swagger, I had my own.

Photo (top): Carolyn Joyner.  Photo Credit: Mignonette Dooley. 

Photo (bottom): Carolyn Joyner reading. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Bruce

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Washington, D.C. 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.

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The Whiting Foundation announced the winners of the Whiting Awards yesterday. Now in its thirtieth year, the annual awards are given to ten emerging writers in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Each winner receives $50,000.

The 2015 winners in poetry are Anthony Carelli of New York City; Aracelis Girmay of New York City and Amherst, Massachusetts; Jenny Johnson of Pittsburgh; and Roger Reeves of Chicago. The winners in fiction are Leopoldine Core and Dan Josefson, both of New York City, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi of South Bend, Indiana. The winner in nonfiction is Elena Passarello of Corvallis, Oregon. The winners in drama are Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn, both of New York City. The winners will participate in a reading tonight at BookCourt in Brooklyn.

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards support “exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture.” Previous recipients include poets Linda Gregg, Jorie Graham, Terrance Hayes, Li-Young Lee, Nathaniel Mackey, and Tracy K. Smith; fiction writers Lydia Davis, Deborah Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, ZZ Packer, and Tobias Woolf; and nonfiction writers Jo Ann Beard, Wayne Koestenbaum, Ian Frazier, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts.

Each year the New York City–based Whiting Foundation selects a small committee of writers, scholars, and editors to judge the prize. The judges, who remain anonymous, select the recipients from a pool of nominations the foundation solicits from writers, professors, editors, agents, critics, booksellers, and other publishing and theater professionals. There is no application process.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Anthony Carelli, Aracelis Girmay, Jenny Johnson, Roger Reeves, Elena Passarello, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Dan Josefson, and Leopoldine Core. (Whiting Foundation)

Last night in New York City, Elizabeth McCracken was announced the winner of the tenth-annual Story Prize for her collection Thunderstruck (The Dial Press). The $20,000 prize is awarded for a short story collection published in the previous year.

The finalists, who each receive $5,000, were Francesca Marciano for her collection The Other Language (Pantheon) and Lorrie Moore for her collection Bark (Knopf). In addition, Kyle Minor received the Story Prize Spotlight Award—a prize of $1,000 given for a collection that merits additional attention—for his second collection, Praying Drunk (Sarabande Books). During last night’s event, the finalists read and discussed their work on stage with prize director Larry Dark.

A former public librarian who currently teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, McCracken has received literary grants and awards from numerous organizations including the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy in Berlin. McCracken’s previous books include the story collection Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry, the novels The Giants House and Niagara Falls All Over Again, and the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figure of My Imagination. Thunderstruck is her first short story collection in two decades.

“When you read this book it’s hard to believe it’s her first collection in twenty years—these stories are funny, nuanced, and self-assured,” said prize director Larry Dark. In her on-stage discussion with Dark, McCracken talked about her process, her return to the short story form, and the importance of humor in her writing. “The extent to which I believe that there is redemption in the world of sadness—it is by humor,” she said. McCracken also discussed her use of sensual detail and the importance of creating “evidence that the world in the story existed.”

Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from a record 129 submitted books, representing 85 different publishers. The winner was selected by three judges: Arsen Kashkashian, a book buyer and general manager of the Boulder Bookstore; Noreen Tomassi, director of the Center for Fiction in New York City; and author Laura van den Berg. “Each story in the collection reads like a masterwork, rich and confident and surprising, and together they form an electrifying whole,” the judges said of McCracken’s work. “She writes with such an open and compassionate heart that even the most damaged and lost of her characters thrum with life.”

Established in 2004 to honor the short story, the Story Prize is the largest award given for a book of fiction in the United States. Previous winners include Mary Gordon, George Saunders, Steven Millhauser, and Tobias Wolff.

“Let it be known:  I did not fall from grace. / I leapt / to freedom.” The ending of Ansel Elkin’s poem "Autobiography of Eve" is packed with confidence. Write an essay reflecting on a time when you felt a similar sense of empowerment. Maybe you ended a stifling relationship, or went back to school to train for a new career? Write about the initial fear and the certitude of your actions.

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