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This week, look through some photographs you’ve taken while you were on a trip, either from recent summer travels or a long-ago vacation. To what extent does the photograph encapsulate that locale and your memories of that trip with emotional accuracy? Write a poem that explores the distance between your current self and that photograph, and between an image and a feeling or memory.

Verónica Reyes is the author of Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books, 2013). She is a Chicana feminist jota poet from East Los Angeles. She scripts poetry for her communities: la jotería, Chicanas y Mexicanos. She has received grants and fellowships from residencies, such as the Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, North American Review, and the Minnesota Review. Currently, Reyes teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.

firme tejana-clifas

“El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido//La jotería unida jamás sera vencida.” Xicana Power! Jota Power! In the air, I felt it. These fourteen mujeres voices needed to be here. To claim space. Establish our existence. In this society, the written text is valued. La palabra sets the boundaries as what gets recognized and what gets excluded. Chicana writing plays a pivotal role in breaking down puertas. Xicana jota literature must fight through many barriers. Our writings are a necessity.

April 2015
At the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Minneapolis, the frigid air outside planted the yearning for warmth. So many writers were excited to meet old friends. I saw young writers feel at home. This was their community. But then I felt a knot inside me. I scanned the book fair and the hallways. It slapped me. Most of these writers were white.

I looked for poets/writers who mirrored me: a Mexican American butch dyke. Immediately, I understood Latinas/os were just a smudge of color in this mass. And this pissed me off. I was not going to accept: Brown, queer or straight, authors “absent” at this major writers’ event. So I invited Xicana—dykes and straight—writers and proposed three events.

April 1-2, 2016
El Centro’s morning sol draped the sky, the buildings, and the cracked sidewalks with the yawn of light. On Pico and Venice, I stepped off the bus. Breathed in downtown’s morning: warmth, cars, dust. Strolled up Pico to Figueroa, the clatter of skyscrapers’ noise stammered.   
The Los Angeles Convention Center was booming. Strutted up the walkway and saw an old friend, Wanda, my fellow Chicana dyke, the moderator for the Jota panel. Her face, her embrace, her queerness, her cariño, said it all why our presence was necessary.

All the readings were awesome. “Jotas: A Chicana Lesbian Reading by Barrio-Based Writers” event was amazing. The writers—Wanda Alarcón, Verónica Reyes, Claudia Rodríguez, Griselda Suárez—performed their work to a beautiful audience who dared to attend the first session. Alarcón’s framed the importance of Xicana jota literature and today’s plight. They absorbed their words and gave a beautiful embracing applause. Feminist poetry filled the room about East L.A. tacos dorados via Long Beach, chanting of power in the room, and culminating with the hiss of spray paint from a Compton poet. Everything was blaring pride.

Puentes bridges“¡Chicana! Power! A Firme Tejana-Califas Reading.” These writers— Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Anel Flores, Guadalupe García Montaño, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Emmy Pérez—were mesmerizing. Joy was pulsing in the room. García Montaño introduced each writer and the authors empowered the room with stories set in San Antonio, Río Grande Valley, L.A., and la frontera. The lives of immigrants were honored. Cariño for familia bloomed in the room.

“Puentes=Bridges: A Queer-Straight Mujeres Reading” presented Olga García Echeverría, Estella González, liz gonzález, Melinda Palacio, and Karleen Pendleton Jiménez. The audience mirrored puentes. The event was a beautiful roundabout. Each writer introduced the next one. It honored bridges and the support of each other. The readings explored a hotel Juárez, the Inland Empire in the seventies, an East L.A. memoir for her mama, and shared the road to butch pregnancy. Questions flew in to the writers. The room enveloped the love of literature from laughter, to tears, to pride. It was a beautiful culmination.

Photos: (top) firma tejana-califas readers. (bottom) Puetes=Bridges readers. Photo credit: Michael Senado.
Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The new animated film The Secret Life of Pets explores the idea that when human owners are away, household pets shed their conventional façades and get into all sorts of mischief. Think about a pet you’ve owned or one you’ve been acquainted with through someone else, a movie, or a book. Write an essay that first notes the pet’s most readily apparent, idiosyncratic traits and habits, then imagines its secret life. What does the secret life you’ve imagined for the pet reveal about your own behavior when nobody's watching?

The Center for Fiction has announced its 2016 First Novel Prize longlist. The prize is given annually for a debut novel published in the award year. The winning author receives $10,000, and each shortlisted author receives $1,000. 

The longlisted novels are: The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones (Mariner Books), All Joe Knight by Kevin Morris (Grove Press), Another Place You’ve Never Been by Rebecca Kauffman (Soft Skull Press), As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner (Lee Boudreaux Books), The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter by Kia Corthron (Seven Stories Press), Dodgers by Bill Beverly (Crown), Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson (Harper), The Girls by Emma Cline (Random House), Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright), Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf) How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee (Viking), Hurt People by Cote Smith (FSG Originals), The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni (Counterpoint), The Longest Night by Andria Williams (Random House), The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay (Melville House), The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (Riverhead Books), Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador), Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser (Ecco), Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings by Stephen O’Connor (Viking), Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss (Scout Press), We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin Books), What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Scribner), and Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore (Hogarth).

The shortlist will be announced in September, and the winner will be announced at the Center for Fiction’s annual benefit and awards dinner on Tuesday, December 6, in New York City.

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the 2015 prize for The Sympathizer (Grove Press), which also went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Previous winners of the First Novel Prize include Marisha Pessl, Junot Díaz, Hannah Tinti, Ben Fountain, and Tiphanie Yanique.

Publishers may submit books to be considered for the prize; submissions for the 2017 prize will open in January.

Listen to Yaa Gyasi read an excerpt from her novel, Homegoing, which is included in the Poets & Writers Magazine 2016 First Fiction roundup.

In “Superpowered Storytelling” in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Benjamin Percy refers to Tony Earley’s quote: “Every story is about the thing and the other thing.” Percy explains by citing two examples of fiction in which the story is about a character working a job, and an added layer about that character in a developing relationship. Write a short story in which the exterior plot follows the day-to-day actions of your main character at work, while the interior landscape is about her evolving relationship with a secondary character. How can you manipulate the details about the job to serve as a metaphor for the relationship?

Last week, a bunch of Ruby Roman grapes sold at an auction for almost eleven thousand dollars in Japan, where highly valued seasonal fruit can serve as an important status symbol. While money may not be the most obvious choice for poetic lyricism, it can reveal a lot about our society and human nature. Write a poem about a situation in which you had to make a sizable financial decision—saving or spending, dealing with a sudden gain or loss—and examine how your personal value system is intertwined with money. 

Vern Miller has authored many stories and articles. He holds advanced degrees in German Language and Literature, as well as an MBA degree, and has taught at two major universities. Now he is combining his enthusiasm for literature with his interest in business to publish the Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Fifth Wednesday Books, Inc., publishes a nationally recognized print magazine, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and the online literary magazine, FWJ Plus. In addition to the magazines, we organize and participate in literary events in many venues. Our mission is to be a bridge between the creative artist and a diverse and receptive audience, to make good poetry and prose a part of the daily lives of more people. We are an all-volunteer organization with highly qualified, very energetic, and intensely loyal editors and interns, who produce more than four hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays, black and white photography, book reviews, and interviews each year. We began as a print literary magazine, and have expanded our programs and activities to include presentations in Chicago, New York, and other locations, as an essential part of our pursuit of excellence.

Five years ago we decided to do everything we could to bring even more poetry to people in Chicago through events featuring poets from around the country, music, and book signings and receptions. We needed partners. We asked for support. Support arrived. We are grateful to the Poetry Foundation for the donation of their much sought after space for our programs for the past five years.

We needed more. We asked. Poets & Writers came through like champions. We have received critical support in the form of grants to assist with reading fees, without which we could not offer national writers to our audiences in Chicago. Here are some highlights:

In 2013, Poets & Writers helped us bring Marge Piercy and Ira Wood to our Chicago audience. (More than a hundred people braved a torrent of rain and wind.)

In 2014, Poets & Writers again provided critical support for a very successful program featuring three Illinois poets: Michael Anania, Elise Paschen, and Jeffery Renard Allen. (Almost a hundred people came for readings, music, and reception, despite the typical rainy weather in Chicago.)

In 2015, Poets & Writers came through again when we asked for help in presenting a program of African American poets including Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Roger Reeves, and others. (More than a hundred people filled the seats, even as I fretted about our lack of sufficient publicity.)

Photos: (top) Ira Wood, Marge Piercy, and Andrea Witzke Slot. (bottom) Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Calvin Forbes, Roger Reeves, and Kelly Norman Ellis. Photo credit: Fifth Wednesday Books.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago 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.

Submissions are currently open for the BOAAT Press Chapbook Prize, awarded annually for a poetry chapbook. The prize includes $1,000 and publication of the winning chapbook in both a printed and handmade edition. Between one and four finalists will also each receive publication of their chapbooks as PDF digital downloads on BOAAT’s website and a $50 honorarium. 

BOAAT’s editorial team will select a longlist of twenty-five chapbooks, and award-winning poet Richard Siken will choose the winner. Siken is the author most recently of War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon, 2015), as well as the collection Crush (Yale University Press, 2005), which won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize.

Using the online submission manager, submit a manuscript of 15 to 30 pages of poetry along with a $17 entry fee by July 15. The winner and finalists will be announced by October. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Previous winners of the chapbook prize include Jess Feldman, Brenda Iijima, and Rebecca Farivar.

Watch a video below detailing the creation of BOAAT Press’s handmade book designs.

South African writer Lidudumalingani has won the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing for his story “Memories We Lost.” He received £10,000 (approximately $12,900) and has been offered a monthlong residence at Georgetown University as the writer-in-residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics. The annual award, now in its seventeenth year, is given for a short story published in English and written by an African writer.

“The winning story explores a difficult subject—how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia. This is a troubling piece, depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape,” said judge Delia Jarrett-Macauley. “Multi-layered and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.” In addition to Jarrett-Macauley, the 2016 judges were Adjoa Andoh, Robert J. Patterson, and Mary Watson.

The shortlist for the prize included Abdul Adan of Somalia and Kenya for “The Lifebloom Gift,” Lesley Nneka Arimah of Nigeria for “What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky,” Tope Folarin of Nigeria for “Genesis,” and Bongani Kona of Zimbabwe for “At Your Requiem.” They each received £500 (approximately $650), and all of their stories, along with Lidudumalingani’s, can be read at the Caine Prize website.

Established in 2000, the Caine Prize was launched to “encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally.” The deadline for the 2017 prize is January 31, 2017; publishers may submit six copies of a story between 3,000 and 10,000 words published in English by an African writer. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Previous winners of the prize include Zambian writer Namwali Serpell, Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor, and Nigerian writers Tope Folarin and Rotimi Babatunde.

Listen to Lidudumalingani read his winning story, “Memories We Lost.”

The Irukandji jellyfish, mostly found off the coast of Australia, are the most poisonous box jellyfish, and at one cubic centimeter, also the smallest. Another distinguishing feature is its sting, which produces what scientists call a “feeling of impending doom,” partially caused by venom triggering hormones connected to anxiety. Write a personal essay about a time in your past in which you felt intensely anxious about a situation, and were unfailingly convinced of a negative outcome. What were the circumstances and external factors that led you to this perspective? Did you overcome your fears and emerge from the other side with a new outlook?

On June 20, 2016, the Readings & Workshops (East) program alongside the Queens Center for Gay Seniors organized a celebratory evening of poetry for LGBTQ seniors in Jackson Heights, New York. Poets & Writers brought together LGBTQ teaching artists Amber Atiya, Regie Cabico, Shira Erlichman, and Emanuel Xavier to perform their work. The reading culminated four months of writing workshops with diverse programming ranging from playwriting to watercolor poetry comics. The reading at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors was a heartwarming and unique experience, bringing together LGBTQ New Yorkers across many generations. We asked the evening's performers their thoughts on the experience. Below are their responses.

“From the start the seniors were incredibly warm, present, and receptive. I heard deep ‘ooofs’ and ‘oooos’ after some of us poets’ riskier lines. They were there with us—100 percent—start to finish. We were able to turn sharp corners as readers and trust that they'd be open and follow our lead. Simply put, I loved it. I was touched that I could read about illness, specifically mental illness, the stigma that comes along with it, the ‘coming out’ process of saying, ‘I have mental illness,’ the specifics of medication and the resilience it takes to grapple with it all and have a bright-hearted crowd listening intently, finding ways to enter my narrative, to connect, even if they didn’t directly relate to everything. As a reader, what more can you hope for? And yet, it’s not just the way they listened during the performance. After the show they made a point to reach out, introduce themselves, and say a few words; our private conversations were tender, their gratitude so felt, their own stories filling the air. I got hugs and posed for goofy pictures. I was made to feel not just welcomed, but included, at home.”
—Shira Erlichman, writer and musician, whose album Subtle Creature is forthcoming in August 2016.

“LGBTQ seniors + Jackson Heights + poetry = why I still love New York City. I was thrilled to connect with elders who have seen and lived through so much (and endure), who were attentive and lovely, and welcomed four poets into their space. (What a treat to perform in a zip code that doesn’t begin with 1-0-0 or 1-1-2!) Many thanks to Poets & Writers for inviting me to perform and for recognizing the importance of intergenerational programming. Thank you to Shira, Regie, and Emanuel for their words and hearts and jokes. To the queerest borough and the Queens Center for Gay Seniors: love and love to you, always."
—Amber Atiya, poet and book artist, and author of the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014).

“My workshop was an intimate celebration of seniors' lives in Jackson Heights. It was my first time working with an elderly population and their candidness blew me away. Hearing stories of coming out during the pre-Stonewall era, romantic foibles, and their political passion to be themselves was heartbreaking and humorous. The audiences at the senior center’s banquet were riveted and inspired by hearing four younger diverse queer voices. So many of the seniors were not exposed to the theatrically charged works of the readers. So many audience members came up to me and thanked me. These seniors have seen and related to so much of the readers’ work on mental health, family, religion, and race. An audience member from the workshop shared his struggle with cancer to the group in a way that he had never shared before. These brave hearts embrace poetry, they listen with a rainbow pride. They inspire me to be fearless.”
—Regie Cabico, spoken word pioneer and slam champion, and coeditor of Flicker & Spark: A Contemporary Anthology of Queer Poetry and Spoken Word (Lowbrow Press LLC, 2013).

“I’ve read in front of many different audiences throughout the years, everywhere from universities to prisons, and I always walk away astounded that my work doesn’t only appeal to my age group or younger but mostly to those that are much older. As a gay Latino poet, it amazes me when a little old white lady comes up excitedly to meet me in, like, Ohio. Sometimes we forget how our work can be widely universal and speak through the generations. That’s why being invited by Poets & Writers to read for our LGBTQ seniors was such an honor because it was an opportunity to share our words with such a vibrant part of our community. It is just as important for us to listen to their stories and acknowledge those that came before us because our LGBTQ history should never be forgotten. Our struggle for equality continues but our journey was nothing compared to theirs.”
—Emanuel Xavier, poet and activist, author of the poetry collections Radiance (Rebel Satori Press, 2016) and Americano: Growing up Gay and Latino in the USA (Queer Mojo, 2012), and the novel, Christ Like (Queer Mojo, 2009).

For more photos of the event, click here.

Photos: (top) Poets Amber Atiya, Emanuel Xavier, Regie Cabico, Shira Erlichman. (bottom) Queens Center for Gay Seniors group photo. Photo credit: Christian Rodriguez.

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 Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers. This program is supported by public funds from the New York City Council, in partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Department for the Aging.

A high school in Maine recently celebrated the forty-year anniversary of a Twinkie that has been on display on campus, still intact, since 1976, when a science teacher unwrapped one of the snack cakes and set it out for a spontaneous lesson on chemistry, food additives, and decomposition. Write a short story in which your main character makes a comparably spontaneous decision or gesture, and then fast-forward forty years later to reveal how that seemingly small action becomes far-reaching, or perhaps even life-changing.

The higher temperatures, longer days, and more time spent outside in the summer months propel many of us toward beach reads and dramatic blockbuster films. Oftentimes, these forms of entertainment are filled with exciting, action-packed scenes, plots that twist and turn, and sequences that keep us on the edge of our seats. Write the summer blockbuster version of a poem. Try to balance the use of easily accessible, widely appealing language and images with emotions that are both universally recognizable and unique to your personal sensibilities.

Every summer there’s that one song—or maybe two—that you just can’t escape at barbecues, pool hangouts, beach bonfires, on car radios, and in air-conditioned malls. Eventually you find your memories of that summer are inseparable from the ubiquitous song. Write an essay about a recent summer and the song that played throughout the season that stuck with you. You might decide to take a closer look at the lyrics of the song, and recount specific events and memories to help you process their harmonious connection.

Fireworks were first invented in the seventh century, during the Tang Dynasty in China, and were traditionally set off at special occasions—such as births, deaths, weddings, birthdays, and holidays—to channel good luck and scare away evil spirits with their bright lights and loud sounds. Write a short story that takes place at a celebration with fireworks. Do the pyrotechnics heighten the scene with a sense of wonder and drama? What do your characters hope to exorcise or gain, as they watch the fireworks display?

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