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My guiding philosophy of writing, maybe even of life, is that the path to the truth runs through shame. So dig through your memory banks and write about the most shameful episode you can remember. The challenge here is to provide the reader the basic dramatic context, then to slow down and move moment-to-moment during the worst of it. This need not be for general consumption. It's more an exercise in radical disclosure.
Today's fiction prompt comes from fiction writer Steve Almond, whose most recent book God Bless America: Stories was published this week by Lookout Books.

Longtime P&W-supported sponsor and writer M. L. Liebler, author of fourteen books of poetry including The Moon A Box, which received the 2005 Patterson Poetry Award of Excellence, blogs about the second annual Detroit Michigan Writers' Retreat in downtown Detroit.

On the morning of September 17, about forty or so metro-area writers attended the second annual all-day Detroit Michigan Writers’ Retreat sponsored by Metro Detroit Writers and Springfed Arts at the legendary Virgil H. Carr Cultural Center in the heart of Paradise Valley. Folks arrived early for coffee, greetings, and to meet new writer friends. John D. Lamb once again offered an affordable, excellent retreat as he has since 1998. The retreat, for many years, was in northern Michigan, and each retreat featured a great lineup of acclaimed writers such as Michael Moore, Ben Hamper, Joyce Maynard, Thomas Lux, Alicia Ostriker, Dorianne Laux, and Billy Collins, among others. Last year, John moved the event from the wilderness of northern Michigan to the center of the city.

This morning began with a poetry craft talk by Denise Duhamel, who stressed the need to bring the concrete experiences of life into poems to make them as real as possible for audiences. She used examples from great works by Pablo Neruda, Ezra Pound, and Etheridge Knight. Denise was followed by Ohio novelist and memoirist Robert Olmstead, who offered detailed fiction techniques that reached many of Detroit’s fiction writers.

Following Robert's talk, writers took to the park in front of the Carr Center for lunch, gossip, and other writerly things. After lunch, E. Ethelbert Miller gave a motivational talk about the importance of being “activists for literature." I could hear by the discussions that followed, Miller's ideas resonated with Detroit-area writers. The afternoon craft talks ended with a strong presentation on memoir writing techniques and ways to get the most from our life stories. Miller shared his memoir on growing up in Trinidad and coming of age in New York City.

The day concluded with an open mic by the participants. This is the chance for attendees to share their talents, and I always find it very inspirational. Topics ranged from world peace to an exploration of diversity and multiculturalism. I was particularly struck by Ami Mattison, a Guam poet, who read an engaging poem about her life as a member of the Chamorro people.

By 6:00 that evening everyone left the retreat invigorated, charged up, and ready to take on their writing in new, inspirational ways... Success!

Photo: M. L. Liebler.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit, 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.

Choose a draft of a poem that you've been working on or a poem that you aren't satisfied with. Print it out double-spaced. Write a new line between each line, then revise the poem as a whole, working to first expand it, then distill it to its most powerful form.

The San Diego City College International Book Fair, which took place in San Diego, California, October 3 to 8, featured P&W-supported writers Cris Mazza, Wanda Coleman, Austin Straus, Christopher Buckley, and Laurel Corona.

Maybe it’s because she grew up in a family of “hunters and gatherers” in the wilder parts of San Diego County that fiction writer Cris Mazza espouses a “stone soup” approach to writing. In other words, she welcomes the happy accidents that find their way into her work and is amused by the prospect of literary critics mining her pages for symbolism.

Mazza, reading from her novel Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, was one of more than fifteen writers to present their work at the sixth annual San Diego City College International Book Fair, which took place on the community college campus. Though small compared to mega-festivals like the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the City Book Fair earns the title of “International” by emphasizing writing from the U.S./Mexico border. City Works Press, a local collective based at San Diego City College (SDCC), recently published Wounded Border/Frontera Herida: Readings on the Tijuana /San Diego Region and Beyond.

Social justice is a common theme in the work of City Book Fair writers. Mazza’s latest novel chronicles the risks taken by trafficked sex workers who serve migrant farm workers in the fields. Mazza said she hoped to bring awareness to the problem. “I usually write something when I’m troubled [by an issue], not inspired,” she said. “But maybe they’re kind of the same thing.”

However, she admitted that she didn’t have any illusions about the power of fiction to stop what government and law enforcement haven’t been able to.

Later in the afternoon on October 8 (the main day of the festival), poet Wanda Coleman alluded to the Occupy San Diego protests happening downtown. Her dynamic voice and musical riffs rang through the auditorium as she bellowed, “It’s way too late—we should have protested the Civil War.”

Other readers and panelists included poet Austin Straus, novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and poet and nonfiction writer Luis Rodriguez, who drew a large crowd that included many young Latino SDCC students. Outside the auditorium, visitors browsed at booths operated by small presses and independent bookstores. A few blocks away, a crowd of protesters—accompanied by a handful of babies and dogs—held up signs saying “End War, Feed the Poor” and “Trickle down?! It NEVER RAINS in Southern California!”

Photos: (Top) P&W staff member Jamie FitzGerald (in hat) with bookfair attendees. Credit: Cheryl Klein; (bottom) Austin Straus. Credit: Cheryl Klein.

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

U.K. poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy is among the writers shortlisted for this year's T. S. Eliot Prize, given for a poetry collection published in the United Kingdom. The award, which Duffy received in 2005 for her previous collection, Rapture (Macmillan), has honored international luminaries such as Anne Carson, Mark Doty, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Walcott since its founding in 1993.

The books up for "the most demanding of all poetry prizes," in the words of judge and poet Gillian Clarke, are:
John Burnside's Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape), which won the 2011 Forward Prize earlier this month
Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees (Picador)
Leontia Flynn's Profit and Loss (Jonathan Cape)
David Harsent's Night (Faber and Faber)
John Kinsella's Armour (Picador)
Esther Morgan's Grace (Bloodaxe Books)
Daljit Nagra's Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (Faber and Faber)
Sean O'Brien's November (Picador)
Bernard O'Donoghue's Farmer's Cross (Faber and Faber)
Memorial (Faber and Faber) by Alice Oswald, who won the Eliot Prize in 2002 for Dart (Faber and Faber)

"To me an exciting book is one that makes me want to be a poet—to stop and write a poem at that very moment," says Clarke, who will select the winner with the help of fellow poets Stephen Knight and Dennis O'Driscoll. "All these books are nourishing, exciting, and challenging. Some are more challenging, others more nourishing, but all are tremendously important to us in their different ways—in quiet ways and in pizzazzy ways."

The winner, who will receive a fifteen-thousand-pound prize (approximately twenty-four thousand dollars), will be announced by the Poetry Book Society on January 16. Each finalist will take home one thousand pounds (approximately sixteen hundred dollars).

Pick a short story by another writer and use its ending as the beginning for a new story of your own.

The Man Booker Prize was awarded last night to British author Julian Barnes, who had been a contender for the honor on three previous occasions. The author, who once called the prize "posh bingo," won this year for his best-selling novel The Sense of an Ending, published earlier this month in the United States by Knopf (the original U.K. publisher is Jonathan Cape).

Barnes, who was a finalist in 1984, 1998, and 2005, says he stands by his earlier assessment of the award as a sort of game whose outcome is dependent on the fluctuating tastes of the judging panel. For shortlisted authors full of "hope and lust and greed and expectation" he suggests treating the award as a lotterythat is, until you win and "realize that the judges are the wisest heads in literary Christendom."

This year's chair of judges, Stella Rimington, whose Booker jury faced criticism earlier this year about its prioritization of accessible books over those of high literary merit, called Barnes's book "very readable, if I may use the word." She added that it has "the markings of a classic of English literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading."

Barnes received fifty thousand pounds (approximately seventy-nine thousand dollars). The shortlisted authors each took home twenty-five hundred pounds (approximately thirty-nine thousand dollars).

In the video below, Barnes reacts to his win.

The eighth annual Story Prize, the twenty-thousand-dollar award given for a short story collection, will be judged by an award-winning fiction writer, a translator and international literature scholar, and a memoirist who curates a celebrated reading series.

Sherman Alexie, whose most recent story collection, War Dances (Grove Press, 2009), won the PEN/Faulkner Award, will be joined by Indiana University professor Breon Mitchell, who has translated the fiction of Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, and Franz Kafka, among others. Completing the jury is Louise Steinman, curator of the Los Angeles Public Library's ALOUD reading and conversation series and author of the memoir The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father’s War. The three will select the winner from a trio of finalists chosen by prize director Larry Dark and founder Julie Lindsay.

The Story Prize is still accepting entries of story collections published during the second half of 2011. Submissions must be made by November 15.

Finalists will be announced in January, and the winner announcement will follow an evening of readings and interviews with the finalists in New York City on March 21.

Longtime P&W-supported sponsor and writer M. L. Liebler, author of fourteen books of poetry including The Moon A Box, which received the 2005 Patterson Poetry Award of Excellence, blogs about the kickoff celebration for the second annual Detroit Michigan Writers' Retreat in downtown Detroit.

Summer in Detroit is over... the season is turning from hot and humid into fresh apple fall. There isn’t any frost on pumpkins yet, but it won’t be long before the first snowflakes fall.

Though temperatures may be dropping, Detroit's literary scene is just warming up. On September 16, Detroit kicked off another full season of literary activities with our annual Detroit Michigan Writers' Retreat in downtown Detroit. A good number of folks packed the small theater at the College for Creative Studies to listen to a diverse group of writers.

This year's readings started with the urban narrative poetry of Rutgers's Tara Betts. Tara was followed by A. Van Jordan, the current writer-in-residence at the University of Michigan, who delivered a spirited reading that combined quantum physics and comic book heroes. Poet Denise Duhamel whooed the audience with her hilarious poems that explored Barbie, sex, and other contemporary and uniquely American topics.

Readers were treated to a little fiction from Ohio novelist Robert Olmstead, as he read from his bestselling novel Coal Black Horse. Robert left the audience wanting more (and sold quite a few copies of the book!). Roger Bonair-Agard kicked it up a notch with a performance-based reading. He read poems featuring interesting moments from his childhood in Trinidad, one of which was a wonderful poem about how his aunt took him to the barber against his mother’s wishes.

Photo: M. L. Liebler.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit, 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.

Compose a poem of five stanzas with four lines each. Use five of the following words: promenade, mettle, flap, azimuth, arbor, heap, mast, foxgrape. Write the final line of the poem using words whose vowel sounds contain a, e, i, o, u, in that order (for example, "The stay between window and room"). 

Poet, playwright, theater artist, and educator Michael Oliver blogs about his P&W-supported writing workshops at CentroNia and Pigment Art Studio in Washington, D.C.

My poetry writing workshops at CentroNia and Pigment Art Studio have been among the most eclectic workshops I have ever engaged in, as a participant or as a leader. The mostly older adult group has ranged from the experienced poet with several books published to the poetry enthusiast who joined the workshop as a way to nurture his or her appreciation for the art. Many have joined for the long haul, coming back with new work each time; some have visited with a friend, shared work, and moved on.  Most come from neighborhoods close to CentroNia, some from the suburbs of D.C.; some from rural areas, attending because they were in town for the weekend and decided to check it out.

For some, like Janet Martin from Trinidad, poetry has long been a lifeline. Poetry sustains her through tragedy and anchors her as she embraces those struggling around her. In her poem, "Ju Ju Girl, Island Gal," she speaks of solace wrought from her island self:

ju ju gal dancin' on I soul
spirit steppin' a jewel to behold
transformin' I back to me tru self

For D.C.-native Diane Gardner as well, poetry brings comfort through the bittersweet joy of memory. Her poem "Mother Lee" pays loving tribute to her late mother, Alice Lee:

I long for the old time step and glad return;
I lived your last breath like a fish out of water
You slipped away on my birthday like a petal on a cool breeze.
Mama—
I long for the old time step and glad return.
Alice's baby girl.

Whatever the background or level of craft of participants, the workshops have been encouraging and instructive, as my approach to writing with others in a poetic learning environment has always been to harnass the power of collective wisdom. I like having each participant share his or her perceptions of a poem, avoiding judgment as much as possible. I try, to the best of my ability, to bring collective wisdom to some kind of resolution or summary, steering the writer to another poet or to an overall perception, without forcing an issue.

These workshops continue to provide a safe and nurturing space for the evolution of new poetic voices and the honoring of life stories, extraordinary in their depth and resilience. The art of the poem unites us, keeps folks coming back, month after month. We look forward to our gatherings. 

Photo: Michael Oliver. Credit: Franciso Rosario.

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.

            

      

Imagine a character whose job—such as a banker, thrift store cashier, babysitter, college president—typically implies certain traits about this person and a certain lifestyle. Write a story in which this character's life outside of his or her work is drastically different from what is typical. Explore in your writing why this is so, using it to inform the plot and to create tension in the story.

The National Book Foundation (NBF) announced the National Book Award finalists today from Portland on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The finalists in poetry are:
Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press)
Yusef Komunyakaa for The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Carl Phillips for Double Shadow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Adrienne Rich for Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 20072010 (Norton)
Bruce Smith for Devotions (University of Chicago Press)

The finalists in fiction are:
Andrew Krivak for his debut novel, The Sojourn (Bellevue Literary Press)
Téa Obreht, who was honored by the NBF last year as a 5 Under 35 author, for her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife (Random House)
Julie Otsuka for her novel The Buddha in the Attic (Knopf)
Edith Pearlman for her story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books)
Jesmyn Ward for her novel Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury)

This year saw the first graphic book finalist, in the nonfiction category: Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout (It Books). The nonfiction shortlist also includes biographies of Malcolm X and Karl and Jenny Marx, as well as Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve (Norton), a look at Lucretius's philosophical poem, "On the Nature of Things."

The National Book Award winners will be announced on November 16 in New York City.

In the video below, Finney reads and discusses the story behind a poem from Head Off & Split.

The Association of German Publishers and Booksellers Foundation (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels Stiftung) awarded its 2011 German Book Prize on Monday evening just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Fifty-seven-year-old author Eugen Ruge won the twenty-five-thousand-euro award (approximately thirty-four thousand dollars) for his first novel, In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts (In times of fading light).

The novel, which received the Alfred Döblin Prize in 2009 when still in manuscript form, was praised for its humor despite the gravity of its subject. "Ruge's family saga is a reflection of East German history," said the prize jury. "He manages to tame the experiences of four generations over fifty years into a dramatically refined composition. His book tells the story of the socialist utopia, the price demanded of the individual, and its gradual extinction."

An English translation of Ruge's novel is in the works, but a firm publication date has not been announced. In the meantime, English speakers can read a translated excerpt on the website Signandsight.

Longtime P&W-supported sponsor and writer M. L. Liebler, author of fourteen books of poetry including The Moon A Box, which received the 2005 Patterson Poetry Award of Excellence, blogs about his monthly workshop at St. Clair Shores Library in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

They all gathered, once again, as they have on the third Wednesday of the month for the past twenty-one years. Students, mothers, senior citizens, retired politicians, teachers, librarians, real estate agents, retired cops, and the occasional visitor who heard about us and wanted to “check us out.” Last night’s visitor was a fellow named Skippy, a retired Navy man from Connecticut who was so impressed with the quality of the work he heard and read that he politely asked if he could publish some of it in his church paper back home.

I love these folks. I have met monthly with them as a small way of giving back to the community where I was raised and still proudly live. In fact, I live in the same house that my wife grew up in, and where I walked to every night while dating her when we were fifteen-year-olds.

Last night we heard and workshopped wonderful poems by the former County Commissioner who lamented the destruction of the ecology of America by contrasting it with the beauty of Spain’s wide-open spaces and well-kept urban areas. After this piece, a widow read her satirical poem about a suburban man who lives his life in a rush and doesn’t realize the beauty around him.

Another cool, outside the box, poem was a wonderfully rich work entitled "The Ascetic Life" by a retired librarian who explored the contemplative life of a “Holy Fool.” A young teenager read a poem that was written to get “something off [her] chest.” It was a poem about how her younger sister has continually belittled her and put her down her entire life. The poem was her empowering response that she “wasn’t going to take it anymore.” The poem received cheers from the seniors and an “I know exactly what you mean” acknowledgement from another teen in attendance.

The evening concluded with another moving poem from one of our newer regulars, an eight-six-year-old widower who never wrote a poem in his life until he joined our group. He wrote about frequently waking up thinking there were “a lot of people in [his] house,” only to realize that he was alone.

To quote Walt Whitman, “Have you ever felt so good to get at the heart of poem?” These people, young and old, are doing just that, and the great majority of them have never written a poem in their lives until now. I am grateful and honored to spend time with this diverse and welcoming group of poets. For me, this is where the real poetry in America lives!

Photos: (Top) M. L. Liebler. (Bottom) M. L. Liebler with workshop participants. Credit: Pamela Liebler.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit, 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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