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Think about big and small regrets you have in your life—things you wish you had done, people you wish you had treated better, directions you wish you'd gone. Draw a chart that represents a hierarchy of your regrets. It can be simple or decorative, straightforward or complex. Then write an essay that explores what you see when you look at it.

Conjure someone you haven't seen or talked to in over ten years. Imagine you receive a phone call from this person today. Why are they calling? What do they want? Write a story about it.

Take a walk that you know well—through your neighborhood, around the block where you work, or your route to the train or bus. Study this familiar landscape carefully, and try to find a detail that you hadn’t noticed before—a piece of graffiti, a certain row of trees, the pattern in which the sidewalk is cracked. Write about this new observation, small as it may be, starting with physical description and then allowing your thoughts to wander.

The website Brain Pickings posted a video version of Kurt Vonnegut's eight tips for how to write a great short story. Choose a draft of one of your unfinished stories and apply Vonnegut's advice during the revision process.

For the month of April, P&W–supported poet, playwright, and presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor blogs about his writing life and role as co-founder and director of the literary organization Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts. A Seattle native, Flor has published poems in Soundings Review, 4 and 20 Journal, Poets Against the War, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, among others, and his debut play “Daniel’s Mood–Mestizos,” a Studio Lab selection at Freehold Theatre, was published in 2011.

In 2006 I co-founded Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts with a friend—Maria Batayola. Our objective was to introduce the public to Filipino American writers, and we quickly discovered a number of Filipinos producing poetry, literature, and plays. This led us to launch our first reading at the Pagdiriwang Festival. Since then, writers such as Oliver de la Paz, Rick Barot, Geronimo Tagatac, Peter Bacho, Tess Uriza Holthe, Marianne Villaneuva, Toni Bajado, Oscar Penaranda, Donna Miscolta, Ben Gonio, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, and Angela Martinez Dy have been featured. This month I am hard at work coordinating our 2012 reading series.

Poets & Writers, Inc., has supported Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts readings since 2008. This past year, P&W funded the series at Seattle University and the University of Washington. Peter Bacho, author of Leaving Yesler, and Donna Miscolta, author of When the de la Cruz Family Danced, read from their recent novels. The funding supports the continued success of the readings and has elevated the profile of local Filipino writers. It’s also fostered the interest of the community, and several students have been inspired to embark on writing careers.

Pinoy Words Expressed will also be collaborating with the United Filipino Students at Seattle University and the Filipino American Students Association at the University of Washington to host readings from the anthology Hanggang sa MuliHomecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

In honor of National Poetry Month, commit to memorizing one poem a week during April. Allow the experience of inhabiting each poem in this way feed your own poetry. 

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Lebanese author Rabee Jaber was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, given for the past five years for novels originally written in Arabic. The forty-two-year-old author took the award, also known as the Arabic Booker (it is sponsored by major literary prize underwriter Man Booker), for his historical novel The Druze of Belgrade.

Still unpublished in English, a state that is likely to change shortly if the fate of past honorees' work serves as any indication, Jaber is a well-known author in his native Lebanon. He has published seventeen novels and, in 1992, won the country's Critics Choice Award for his debut, Master of Darkness.

Jaber received fifty thousand U.S. dollars, and each finalist received ten thousand dollars. The shortlisted authors were Jabbour al-Douaihy of Lebanon for The Vagrant, Ezzedine Choukri Fishere of Egypt for Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, Nasser Iraq of Egypt for The Unemployed, Bachir Mefti of Algeria for Toy of Fire, and Habib Selmi of Tunisia for The Women of al-Basatin.

The award was presented at the launch of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The winner and shortlisted authors will appear in conversation tomorrow evening at the festival to discuss risk-taking in Arabic fiction.

Past winners of the Arabic Booker include Saudi novelist Raja Alem (The Doves' Necklace) and Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari (The Arch and the Butterfly), who split the award last year, as well as Egypt's Bahaa Taher (Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (Azazel), and Abdo Khal of Saudi Arabia (Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles).

Bill Clegg of the William Morris Endeavor literary agency represents authors such as Mary Jo Bang, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Mark Doty, Rivka Galchen, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Salvatore Scibona, and Rebecca Wolff. But he's an author, too, having published last year the memoir Portrait of an Addict as Young Man and this April the follow-up Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. Both published by Little, Brown, the memoirs delve into Clegg's drug addiction and recovery. We asked Clegg to talk about what led him to become a literary agent, and a writer.

POETS & WRITERS: Your entry into the publishing industry was via the Radcliffe Publishing Seminar, and soon after you landed your first job at an agency. You've remarked on feeling a cultural outsider when you first arrived in New York (and within the rarefied air of the publishing world). But to the casual observer, you were moving quickly and easily among industry giants. Did outsider status fuel your passions and ambition?

BILL CLEGG: It fueled a lot of things.  What looks like ambition from the outside is often just compensating to get by. I was just trying to keep my head above water and along the way found escape and relief in booze and drugs and also, thank god, in the great work of writers I was lucky enough to represent. There were consequences to both modes of coping, some good, some not so good.

P&W: As a young man, you stood at the foot of J. D. Salinger's driveway, hoping he would come out and say hello. Did you aspire to write at an early age? Could you tell us about the romantic notion of a writer's life versus the work of writing? Do the two ever meet?

BC: I was in Paris a few weeks ago having dinner with a friend and her new boyfriend, a political journalist, who made my fixation on Salinger look like a flimsy crush. When I told him about standing at the bottom of the driveway in Cornish he smiled and excused himself from the table. A minute or two later he returned with a large NO TRESPASSING sign from you-know-where. It had fallen, he insisted, but I wasn't so sure. He'd made the trek twice from Paris—as an adult! What is it about Salinger and those books, that book? Funny that this restless, doubting political writer born and raised in France would linger in the same place hoping to connect with—even just be seen by—the same guy. It must have something to do with how he transcribed perfectly something that feels/felt so private and so intense—that ajar teenage feeling, the hesitancy at adolescence's end. Lingering at the end of the driveway is, in a way, a return to that feeling, that innocence. Maybe for some of us who never felt innocent the draw was exaggerated.

Did I think about writing then? In college, yes, and I wrote this terrible little children's story that was in the end a rip-off (I see now) of Holling C. Holling's Paddle to the Sea. I even sent it to an agent—the daughter of a older couple I did gardening work for in the summers in college. I had a fantasy she'd publish it and it'd go on to be a classic or something and I'd somehow be able to avoid the working world, the regular nine-to-five office-scape that I couldn't fathom finding a place in. Seven or eight months after sending her the manuscript she mailed it back without a cover note but scattered with Post-its with notes on them like "Sweet," "Cut," "No." I was crushed and probably as a result I now spend way too much time writing what I hope are thoughtful rejection letters to writers who submit their work to me for representation. Anyway, Salinger provided a fantasy of what that life could be like—away, shielded by woods, supported by the income of a book that would always sell, a few perfect pieces of literature to represent what I meant without messy human interaction to expose the flaws. We never met.

P&W: Your agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, hired you as an agent at William Morris Endeavor when you returned to the publishing world, after a year-long recovery from addiction. Is there an analog to an agent having an agent? Is it akin to a surgeon having his appendix out? Is it tempting to be a backseat driver? Is your relationship with Jennifer that of a typical author and agent, or more as peers? Has the experience altered your own client relationships?

BC: There are examples of writers I admire who are also in book publishing and who also have agents—David Ebershoff, Jill Bialosky, Robin Robertson—so I'd seen over the years that it was not only possible but essential. I think all agent-author relationships are pretty subjective. Having Jennifer as my boss as well as my agent has been lucky in that she knows better than anyone what's going on in all areas of my work life. And she has an uncanny ability to metabolize writing—almost instantly—into the most useful, insightful responses. We don't tend to have big discussions about the publishing stuff—we have a kind of short hand of nods and hand signals, "yups" and "nopes" that acknowledge what we both sense is right/better/wrong. There's not a lot of hand-wringing or second-guessing. I trust her completely and so, yes, with her driving I'm happy to be in the backseat. When it's time to go there, I settle in comfortably, do my job as an agent, call my clients.

P&W: Please tell us about working with your editor, Pat Strachan. Did this process provide any insight into your life as an agent? 

BC: Working with Pat has been a great privilege. She is the most sensitive and respectful reader and has an architect's eye with writing. She'll see a chapter or a paragraph or even a chubby sentence and with a few quick strokes suggest a shape that is not only more attractive but one that transmits more effectively—usually with greater economy—whatever it was you were initially and not so elegantly trying to say. 

Like fiction, good nonfiction narratives are often driven by description of place. Think of a place that you know well—your kitchen, your office, or a spot you often visit—and, from memory, write a passage that describes that place. Focus on the physical characteristics of the space, leaving out any emotion that may be connected to it, and be as descriptive and detailed as possible. The next time you’re there, read your description and see how accurately your memory served you. Take note of the details you may have missed. 

Look through your desk or visit a thrift store or drugstore to find a selection of postcards. Write short missives to yourself in the voice of an imagined character, sending a dozen or so cards to your home address. Allow your reaction to receiving the postcards and the messages themselves, inspire the beginnings of a story.

Open a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or a book from your bookshelves to any page; choose a word, and write it down. Repeat this nine times. Write a poem with ten couplets (they need not rhyme) using one of the words from your list in each couplet, without using the first person.

Bob Flor, co-founder and director of  Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts' on organizing their annual April Reading.

I met Reni Roxas the editor and publisher of “Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul” with Seattle University’s United Filipino Club and their Filipino Alumni Association to develop an April reading. Contributing writers included several local poets and memoir writers. Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts worked with the UFC or their counterpart, the Filipino American Student Association at the University of Washington, since 2008 to host readings featuring Filipino writers.

I’ve learned a lot, and am continuing to learn a lot, in my classes at ACT, so it’s nice to step back into the role of teacher with these annual readings. Responsibilities are parsed out so students have an opportunity to organize and manage an event. They schedule the conference room, plan and implement the marketing, arrange book sales, set-up and secure refreshments. Students emcee and host these readings, usually attracting 40 to 50 people.

The Wednesday, April 18th evening program of poetry, memoir and short story includes:

Welcome, UFC Co-emcees Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison
Remarks by SU Filipino Alumni Association, Mary Galvez
Editor's Remarks, Reni Roxas
Introduction to Selected Readings, Maria Batayola
"The Pretenders" narrated by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose)
"Bridging the Gap Among Filipinos in America" by Greg Castilla
"First Visit to Balogo" by Toni Bajado
"Sambayan" by Jeff Rice
"The Soil of My Roots" by Dorothy Cordova
"Pinoy Heroes" guest reading by Robert Francis Flor
* Q&A Panel *
12-Minute Audience Writing Exercise: "What Homecoming Means to Me" and sharing of written works
Closing Remarks, UFC Co-emcees
Book-signing and refreshments

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm and potential. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers and it’s a pleasure to help bridge the gap of taking their aspirations from dreams to reality. What could be better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers?

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

P&W–supported presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli, author of Lobster With Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, blogs about his experience as a P&Wsupported poet.

As I began to get a steady hold on the roller coaster that is nonprofit management, while still finding time to engage NYC's rich literary scene, I quickly realized that not only did Urban Word NYC benefit from P&W’s Readings/Workshops program, but I would personally benefit from P&W support.

I was asked to read at the P&Wsupported Parachute Literary Festival in Coney Island. The coolest thing about the reading was that it was held at the New York Aquarium in front of a wall-to-ceiling sized tank of glowing jellyfish! So, while I read poems about robots, the jellyfish floated behind me looking like spaceships. Fitting. It was an incredible event and the venue made it extremely memorablenot to mention The Cyclone roller coaster and Totonno’s Pizza down the block.

My trajectory crossed paths with another amazing P&Wsupported reading, The Inspired Word series. What made this event special, aside from it being a great weekly open mic and feature, was that I was reading as a contributor to Best American Poetry 2011. My former professor and friend, poet David Lehman, hosted the reading and it was an honor to read with esteemed poets.

Being in NYC, the circles seem to get smaller and smaller. What once seemed like a dream, slowly became a reality that always seemed to be connected to P&W. I couldn’t have imagined ten years ago that one day I’d be part of a P&Wsupported reading for Best American Poetry...

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: Syreeta McFadden.

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 Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Last night Steven Millhauser took the Story Prize, the annual award celebrating a short story collection published in the previous year, at a ceremony in New York City. Following readings by the author, who began his career as a novelist (a Pulitzer Prize–winning one, at that), and his fellow finalists, Don DeLillo and Edith Pearlman, Millhauser's We Others (Knopf) was announced as the selection for this year's twenty-thousand-dollar award.

Millhauser, who admits influences ranging from Dr. Seuss's And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street to makers, inventors, and craftsman (including those ne'er-do-wells of his youth who revealed their secret, and unmatched, talents in woodshop), was recognized for his skill at pushing the boundaries of the imaginative process. As prize director Larry Dark noted in his onstage interview with the author, one uniting feature of Millhauser's oeuvre is the "escalation of efforts" exemplified in stories such as "Snowmen," which the author presented last night. Millhauser followed the story with a reading of a "thingamajig," which he asked the audience to regard as such, avoiding classifying the two-minute lyric romp as a "poem" or "story."

Both DeLillo, shortlisted for The Angel Esmeralda (Scribner), and Pearlman, a finalist for Binocular Vision (Lookout Books), took home five thousand dollars each. The judges for this year's award were author Sherman Alexie, translator Breon Mitchell, and Louise Steinman of the Los Angeles Public Library.

After the prizes were presented (and the authors swamped with readers seeking autographs), the evening wound down with a party for the finalists, an intimate celebration in a Greenwich Village restaurant befitting the tiny beauty of, as DeLillo put it, "the classic American form."

In Sarah Manguso’s memoir The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), the author writes, “suffering, however much and whatever type, shrinks or swells to fit the shape and size of a life.” Write about a time in which you experienced suffering—emotionally, physically, or otherwise—and try to focus on how that suffering fit into the shape of your life then, and how it has helped shape the life you know now.

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