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Poet Kelly Norman Ellis, author of Tougaloo Blues and longtime P&W-supported writer and presenter of literary events, spotlights Chicago's Proyecto Latina and its famed Chisme Box.

One of the blessings of living and working in Chicago is the great ethnic and racial diversity. I am often humbled at the hard work of community arts organizations in my city and their commitment to representing this great diversity. These organizations bring quality art to the people for little or no charge and are essential relationships in building a literary community outside the boundaries of college classrooms and MFA programs. Because CSU is a university serving mostly black and brown people, the importance of coalition building is critical to exposing these people to the work of writers who live and work in these communities of color. One such organization is Proyecto Latina.

Proyecto Latina is a multimedia project that amplifies the success and impact of Latinas by sponsoring a reading series and a website that allows women to create a culture of self-empowerment, spotlight emerging and established Latina talent, create safe spaces in underserved communities, provide a virtual platform to chronicle stories, share resources, and start dialogue.

The third Monday of every month Proyecto celebrates the creativity of a Latina artist. The roster of writers is very impressive. Writers such as Xanath Caraza, Yolanda Nieves, Awilda Lupe Gonzalez have all graced the Proyecto Latina mike. The website includes advice for emerging writers, interviews with established writers, and information about the work of Latina writers in the Chicago community and abroad.

Also on the Proyecto Latina website is a photograph of the Chisme Box (Chisme means "gossip" in Spanish). It’s described as “a regular at our monthly readings and she loves to interact with everyone. She loves the buzz of a crowded room and has the bad habit of eavesdropping on everyone, but rest assured she can keep a secret. Despite her name she prefers funny confessionals to mean-spirited gossip and is unapologetic about spitting out deposits that don’t sit well with her." The Chisme Box is a way to share stories, information, wisdom, truth. As our writing program grows at CSU, I will be reminded of the Proyecto Latina’s Chisme Box and the ways artist make worlds whereever we go.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Choose a poem—one of your favorites or one chosen randomly from a book. Scan its meter, marking the stressed and unstressed syllables of each word. (Read a definition of scansion from the Poetry Foundation). Write a poem, using the same meter and number of lines.

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the most lucrative honor of its kind at one hundred thousand euros (more than one hundred forty thousand dollars), was announced this afternoon. Irish-born author Colum McCann, who currently resides in New York City, won the 2011 award for his novel Let the Great World Spin (Random House, 2009).

The "genuinely twenty-first century novel that speaks to its time but is not enslaved by it" won the National Book Award in 2009. It was selected for the IMPAC Award from among more than one hundred sixty titles nominated by one hundred sixty-six libraries around the world.

Other finalists this year were Americans Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna, Yiyun Li for The Vagrants, Joyce Carol Oates for Little Bird of Heaven and Irish writers Colm Tóibín for Brooklyn and  William Trevor for Love and Summer. Also shortlisted are Michael Crummey of Canada for Galore and Australian writers David Malouf for Ransom, Craig Silvey for Jasper Jones, and Evie Wyld for After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice.

In the video below, McCann discusses his winning novel on a recent episode of City University of New York's video program City Talk.

Write a story using the following as the first sentence: There are three things she told me never to do.

Virginia's Fall for the Book Festival, sponsors of three annual awards for prose, and its partner the Washington, D.C., poetry haven Busboys and Poets have announced the festival's inaugural poetry award. Yesterday Claudia Rankine, author of Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004) and three other collections, was announced winner of the honor, which is accompanied by a five-thousand-dollar prize.

Rankine joins novelists Amy Tan, who is this year's Fairfax Prize winner, and Stephen King, who received the Mason Prize, as a 2011 Fall for the Book honoree. A fourth prize for nonfiction will be announced in the coming weeks. The authors will appear at the festival, which takes place from September 18 to 23, to accept their prizes.

In the video below, Rankine discusses the lure of unknown, but recognizable, worlds in poems, and the hallmark of bad verse.

We asked Emily Rubin, author of the debut novel, Stalina, to share her experience running the P&W-sponsored Dirty Laundry reading series.

In 2005, I cofounded Wash and Dry Productions to produce Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose (DLLOP), the reading series that takes place in working Laundromats across the country. The idea to bring writers to local Laundromats came about one evening in a brainstorm session over a couple of beers with my friend and writer Gregory Rossi. We wanted to organize a series in a nontraditional setting where writers could share their work with their fans as well as people outside the literary community. 

Sitting outside at Zum Schneider, a new German beer garden on Avenue C, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, we looked down the avenue considering places we might hold the readings. There was a bodega, a church, a Chinese restaurant, and then, at East Fifth Street, the Ave C Laundromat. Our eyes opened wide and we knew we had our venue. At the time, the third annual HOWL! Festival was organizing and the producers invited us to participate. Sam Lipsyte and Legs McNeill read at the first Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose to more than seventy people at the Avenue C Laundromat that August. The writers and audience were enthusiastic and wanted to know when and where the next Laundromat reading would take place.

Since then there have been more than thirty readings and close to one hundred writers have been presented in between the washers and dryers throughout the New York City metropolitan area. We have taken the show on the road and presented local writers in Laundromats in San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program funded a dozen readings in New York City from 2006 to the present. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Meet the Composer have provided additional funding for the program. The series has been covered extensively in the press with articles in the Villager, Time Out NY, Brooklyn Rail, and several international journals as well. It has also aired on television on NBC, Reuters, and the NY Bureau of Russian TV, featuring radio interviews with writers and myself for National Public Radio and the BBC. 

Photo by Taka Kawasaki.

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.

Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite, putting pen to paper and transcribing everything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Review what you’ve written and circle any phrases, images, words that appeal to you. Using those fragments, freewrite again for five minutes. Again, circle anything that appeals to you, and use those fragments as the starting point of a poem.

Yesterday afternoon the PEN/Faulkner Foundation honored short story writer Edith Pearlman with its twenty-fourth annual PEN/Malamud Award. The prize, given to honor a writer's contribution to the short fiction form, includes a five-thousand-dollar honorarium and a reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Pearlman is the author of more than two hundred fifty stories published in four books—most recently Binocular Vision (Lookout Books, 2011)—as well as in numerous literary magazines and anthologies such as Best American Short Stories and New Stories From the South. The author, born in 1936, released her debut collection, Vaquita and Other Stories, in 1996.

"Pearlman’s view of the world is large and compassionate, delivered through small, beautifully precise moments," wrote Roxana Robinson earlier this year in a New York Times review of Binocular Vision. "These quiet, elegant stories add something significant to the literary landscape."

Pearlman joins authors such as Edward P. Jones, John Updike, Eudora Welty, Grace Paley, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lorrie Moore in the ranks of past PEN/Malamud Award winners.

Make a list of your daily routine during any given week: wake up, shower, drink coffee, walk the dog, drive to work, go to lunch, have dinner with friends, etc. Choose an event from that list and use it as the starting point for a scene, but transform the mundane into the complicated by introducing something unexpected. If, for example, you choose driving to work as your starting point, disrupt the ride with a phone call, an accident, a radio broadcast—something that changes what would normally happen. Write a story from there.

The sixteenth annual Orange Prize was announced this afternoon in London. Twenty-five-year-old Serbian American author Téa Obreht became the youngest writer to receive the thirty-thousand-pound prize, for her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). (The novel was published in the United States by Random House in March.)

"Obreht's powers of observation and her understanding of the world are remarkable," says chair of judges Bettany Hughes. "By skillfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms. The book reminds us how easily we can slip into barbarity, but also of the breadth and depth of human love."

Obreht's book won out over the favorite, Emma Donoghue's Room (Picador), which took the Youth Prize yesterday. Also on the shortlist for the prize, given annually to a woman novelist, were The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury), Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre), Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking), and Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape).

In the video below, Obreht discusses her book, and how she had to return to the places of her nomadic youth to create it, on PBS's NewsHour.

On the eve of the sweet sixteenth celebration of the Orange Prize, award finalists' books were reviewed by a panel of teenage writers for a special Youth Prize. Irish Canadian novelist Emma Donoghue's Room (Picador) won with the group of three young women and three young men, all age sixteen and hailing from England.

"Tickled pink to be the Orange Prize Youth Panel winner!" Donoghue remarked. "When I wrote Room I was imagining a reader anything from eleven up, so I'm really chuffed it's finding so many young readers."

The thirty-thousand-pound main prize (roughly fifty thousand dollars), given for a novel by a woman writer of any nationality, will be awarded tomorrow in London. The other shortlisted titles are The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury), Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre), Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking), The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), and Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape).

The video below is the American book trailer for Room, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Canadian Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

For the month of June, poet Kelly Norman Ellis, author of Tougaloo Blues and longtime P&W-supported writer and presenter of literary events, will spotlight Chicago's literary landscape.

I love what I do. I get to talk to smart, talented people about words. I am the director of creative writing at Chicago State University (CSU). But the nature of directing a creative writing program at an underfunded state university tests my creative endurance and that of my colleagues each year. Our MFA program’s sister institution, the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing (GBC), has been the saving grace of our program. The GBC, named in honor of the esteemed Pulitzer Prize winner and Illinois poet laureate, serves as the home of the MFA program, a meeting place for creative writing students, both graduate and undergraduate, and provides literary readings and workshops, mostly famously the Gwendolyn Brooks Conference.

Because of financial constraints, our writing program does not have a formal writers series, but the GBC's programming and physical space have kept our creative writing program thriving. The center and its directors both past and present (Professor Haki R Madhubuti, Dr. Joyce E Joyce, the late Dr. B.J. Bolden and Professor Quraysh Ali Lansana) have provided an important literary environment for the university and Chicago’s south side communities. The center is a world within a world.

This world includes a video archive of literary readings by Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara, John Edgar Wideman, bell hooks, Edward P. Jones, Amiri Baraka, Saul Williams, and Lucille Clifton and scholars Houston Baker, Maryemma Graham, Joanne Gabbin, and Cheryl Clarke, among others. The center’s dedication to social justice through the HYPE program, which works to educate young people about AIDS/HIV, has produced two anthologies (Fingernails Across the Chalkboard and Spaces Between Us), co-edited by graduates of our writing program (ML Hunter and Randall Horton).

Centers like the GBC are a cultural and artistic lifeline for a community of black and brown people struggling against oppressive forces. In this small space, contemporary writers have shared their words and expertise with the students of CSU and the surrounding communities with workshops and readings; Martin Espada, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Honoree Fannon Jeffers, Crystal Wilkerson, Frank X Walker, Roger Bonair-Agard, Jessica Care Moore, and Achy Obejas have done this work for little or no financial reward. They serve the community because of their commitment to writing and the right of every person to own her own stories and to craft those stories with the attention they deserve.

It is possible to make a world with what you have. Even though we do not have vast financial resources, we have the commitment of writers around the country who believe in the necessity of art in the lives of every person. Every day I enter our small space and am greeted by the portraits of Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks. I walk into the space where Ms. Brooks taught poetry and where she made a world fashioned from poems... And what a world it is.

Photo: Kelly Norman Ellis. Credit: Natasha Marin.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”

Last night in Brooklyn the Moby Awards, sponsored by indie press Melville House, celebrated the best, worst, and weirdest of last year's book trailers. A panel of critics, editors, and other lit types representing the Huffington Post, McNally Jackson Books, the Millions, GoodReads, and more selected the following to receive the honorary golden sperm whale.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Ron Charles for his Totally Hip Video Book Review Series for the Washington Post

Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Book Trailer as Stand Alone Art Object
How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley

Best Small House
Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

Best Big House
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Worst Performance by an Author
Jonathan Franzen in his Freedom trailer

Most Celebtastic Performance
James Franco in the trailer for Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story 

Worst Small / No House
Pirates: The Midnight Passage by James R. Hannibal

Worst Big House
Savages by Don Winslow

What Are We Doing To Our Children?
It’s A Book by Lane Smith

General Technical Excellence and Courageous Pursuit of Gloriousness
Electric Literature, including the below short "Can a Book Save Your Life?"

Most Monkey Sex
Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

Worst Soundtrack
Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley

Most Angelic Angel Falling to Earth
Teen tome Torment by Lauren Kate

Most Conflicted (we published the book but the trailer is sooo good!)
The Beaufort Diaries by T Cooper


 

On a recent Tuesday night, a group of budding poets squeezed around a plate of chocolate chip and circus animal cookies in the soon-to-be-remodeled West Hollywood Library in California. They were there for The Poetics of Your Life, an autobiographical poetry workshop led by P&W-sponsored writer Steven Reigns and founded on the premise that a safe writing space is the best place to excavate memories.

Steven Reigns“I’ve used my own writing to make sense out of things that have happened in the past,” he explained. He laid down his class rules, which included “No criticism of anyone’s writings…even your own” and “What happens in class, stays in class” or “the Vegas Rule.”

After reading and reflecting on poems by Dorianne Laux and Deborah Paredez, and warming up with a group erasure poem, he issued the first prompt: Write about a fire in your life. The responses were both literal and metaphorical, ranging from a car fire to a self-inflicted iron burn to a dancer’s internal fire.

Following his reading a poem called “Wedding Dress,” in which poet Michael Waters warmly recalls wearing his wife’s bridal gown for Halloween, Reigns asked the group to write about a time they’d cross-dressed or worn an item of clothing belonging to the opposite gender. Whether it was about slapping on a fake mustache for a costume party or falling in love with previously off-limits designer ball gowns, everyone produced poems of self-discovery.

With just a few minutes left of the two-hour workshop, Reigns encouraged anyone who wanted to share but had been too shy to step forward. A small handful did, and their poems clearly moved the group. Reigns then issued a last, last call, and it happened again. 

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

Photo: Steven Reigns with workshop participants. Credit: Cheryl Klein.

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