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Canada's Griffin Poetry Prize, which awards an international and a Canadian poet sixty-five thousand dollars Canadian (roughly sixty-six thousand American dollars) each, was announced last night in Toronto. The city's poet laureate, Dionne Brand, took the national prize for her long poem Ossuaries (McClelland & Stewart), and Tacoma native Gjertrud Schnackenberg won the international award for Heavenly Questions (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The judges, Tim Lilburn of Canada, Colm Toíbín of Ireland, and Chase Twichell of the United States, selected the winners from four hundred fifty collections representing thirty-seven countries. Twenty translations were among the entries, which are required to be written in English.

"Reading this book is like reading the ocean," said the judges of Schnackenberg's winning collection, comprised of six long poems, "its swells and furrows, its secrets fleetingly revealed and then blown away in gusts of foam and spray or folded back into nothing but water. Heavenly Questions demands that we come face to face with matters of mortal importance."

Of Brand's sprawling text, the judges said, "The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has not sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line. The story vaults us ahead with its emerging and receding characters, its passions and dramas, which include a violent bank robbery and tense escape, while each line holds us and demands we admire its complex beauties."

The finalists for this year's prize, each of whom received ten thousand dollars Canadian, are Canadian poets Suzanne Buffam for The Irrationalist (House of Anansi Press) and John Steffler for Lookout (McClelland & Stewart); Seamus Heaney for Human Chain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Khaled Mattawa for his translation from the Arabic of Adonis's Selected Poems (Yale University Press), and Philip Mosley for his translation from the French of François Jacqmin's The Book of Snow (Arc Publications).

In the video below, two students interpret international winner Schnackenberg's poem "Darwin in 1881," from Supernatural Love (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). Listen to a reading of the poem here.

Take a character from a story you've written or choose a character that you'd like to write about. Create an object that you imagine the character owns--a purse, for example, filling it with a wallet, lipstick, a notepad, a flashlight, keys, etc.; or a desk drawer or a check register. Write about each of the items contained within the object. What color is the lipstick? Is it the character's favorite color? Why? What's in the wallet? If there are receipts, where are they from? Explore your character through the object you've created.

Fiction International, a California-based journal emphasizing both literary innovation and progressive politics, has pushed its June 1 contest deadline to August 31. Through the remainder of the summer, the magazine is accepting submissions of short stories on the theme of "Blackness" for a one-thousand-dollar prize, and all entries will be considered for publication.

According to contest coordinator Joel Cox, the theme is "deliberately elastic," encompassing, for instance, "skin; sleep; death; meditation; apocalypse; birds falling from the sky, blanketing the sun; love unloved; the obverse of white."

"Contestants can take 'Blackness' wherever they choose," Cox says. The editors, including final judge Harold Jaffe, "will cede to them."

In the video below, Jaffe presents one of his latest texts, Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010) at Google's San Francisco office.

Camille Rankine, program and communications coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation, gives us the rundown on the organization's partnership with Willow Books, imprint of P&W-supported Aquarius Press in Detroit.

Each year since its founding, Cave Canem has published commemorative anthologies of poems produced by fellows and faculty attending the organization’s annual retreat. In 2006, this endeavor culminated in Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, published by University of Michigan Press. This year marks the start of a new take on this tradition: Cave Canem will partner with Willow Books to produce the Cave Canem Anthology series, which will be published biennially, revitalizing a tradition of showcasing exciting new directions in American poetry.

Willow Books, the literary imprint of P&W-supported Aquarius Press in Detroit, Michigan, develops, publishes, and promotes typically underrepresented writers. “We’re looking forward to adding the many voices of Cave Canem poets to our growing list of excellent literature by African American writers,” says Aquarius Press publisher Heather Buchanan. “This new venture is at the heart of our mission to expand opportunities for African Americans in the literary marketplace.”

Alison Meyers, executive director of Cave Canem, is excited about the prospect of bringing these collections to a wider audience. “This partnership with Willow Books adds a significant, public dimension to the body of work produced every year at our retreat. Over time, we believe the Cave Canem Anthology will become essential reading for educators, students and poetry lovers, and a standard title on the shelves of well-stocked bookstores and libraries across the country.”

The series will be inaugurated with the publication of Cave Canem XII: Poems 2008–2009, slated for release in fall 2011 or spring 2012.

Photo: (Left to right) First annual Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner Natasha Trethewey and Cave Canem Fellow Donika Ross. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

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.

Write a villanelle, a poem of five stanzas made up of three lines each, with a concluding quatrain (a four-line stanza). Lines one and three of the first stanza are refrains throughout the poem. The first line of the first stanza is the third line of the second and fourth stanzas; similarly, the third line of the first stanza is the third line of the third and fifth stanzas. Also, the first and third lines of the first stanza are the last two lines of the concluding quatrain. Every line should be the same metrical length. For examples, read Dylan Thomas’s "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art." 

The twenty-third annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced last night in New York City. Coinciding with this year's Book Expo America, the awards event brought out over four hundred attendees in celebration of LGBT literature.

Adam Haslett was honored for his novel, Union Atlantic (Nan A. Talese), the follow-up to his story collection, You Are Not a Stranger Here (Doubleday, 2002), a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Eileen Myles, author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, won the award in lesbian fiction for Inferno (A Poet's Novel) (OR Books).

Anna Swanson and Brian Teare took the prizes in poetry, Swanson for her debut collection, The Nights Also (Tightrope Books), and Teare for Pleasure (Ahsahta Press). Two novelists won in debut fiction, Amber Dawn for Sub Rosa (Arsenal Pulp Press) and David Pratt for Bob the Book (Chelsea Station Editions). The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet (Harper Perennial) by Myrlin Hermes won in bisexual fiction, and Holding Still For as Long as Possible (House of Anansi Press) by Zoe Whittall received the transgender fiction prize.

Barbara Hammer and Julie Marie Wade were also recognized for their memoirs, Hammer! Making Movies Out of Sex and Life (Feminist Press) and Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press), respectively. A complete list of winners, including honorees in drama, anthology, and young adult literature, is posted on the Lambda Literary website.

In the video below, fiction winner Haslett presents a dramatic reading of passages from Union Atlantic.

Think about the times in your life when you've been the most frightened. Choose one of these times, and write a scene or story about what happened using third-person narration.

From February 17 to March 31, 2011, P&W-sponsored writers Rachelle Cruz, Angel Noe Garcia, and Kamala Puligandla held an after-school creative writing workshop for high school students at John W. North High School in Riverside, California.

For six weeks this past winter Rachelle Cruz, Angel Noe Garcia, and Kamala Puligandla led John W. North High School students through creative writing and performance exercises to develop their understanding of character, persona, voice, sensory detail, and revision. Their interactive workshops were lively with theater games, and during some sessions, well over fifty students showed up to class.

Rachelle Cruz and Kamala PuligandlaThe workshop was inspired, in part, by UC Riverside professor and novelist Susan Straight, who emphasized to her students the need for community participation through the arts. When her graduate students approached her with an interest in teaching in the Riverside community, she recommended her alma mater, North High.

“As newcomers to Riverside, it was a great way to connect with the neighboring high school and other local community establishments, like Back to the Grind, an incredibly supportive coffee shop in the downtown area where we held our students’ final reading,” said Cruz.

Angel Noe Garcia said, “As a writer, I was particularly excited about working with students again. It took me out of the ‘bubble’.”

“The support from Poets & Writers not only encouraged me to put my best teaching forward, but it was a nice message for the students as well, that writers who want to work with them are supported by a national writers’ organization,” added Puligandla.

“Riverside in general doesn’t get a lot of love from outside communities,” Cruz said. “I recently heard someone say, ‘Suicide, Homicide, Riverside.’ I come from Hayward in the Bay Area, another community shrouded in stereotypes of crime and shadiness, and these can be true sometimes, but not always. Underneath these stereotypes are local institutions, like Back to the Grind, Inlandia Institute, and the Gluck Arts Program, that are working hard to provide arts programming to the community. After working with students from North High School with the support of Poets & Writers, we realized how hungry they are for art and expression. I see the workshop as that first orienting step into, hopefully, more arts programming for youth and families.”

Photo: (Left to right) Rachelle Cruz and Kamala Puligandla. Credit: Cathy Linh Che.

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


New York City author Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story has won the twelfth annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize honoring fiction written in the humorous spirit of the prize's namesake, British author P. G. Wodehouse. Judge Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival—at which the prize was announced—called the novel "great literature" and "wild comedy."

"Shteyngart's writing is thrilling," Florence told the Guardian. "He's a staggeringly clever satirist who manages to create worlds and people of perfect coherence and outrageous misfortune."

Shteyngart's prize is a double magnum of Bollinger champagne, a set of Wodehouse books, and a pig named after his book (the Gloucestershire Old Spot will join a herd that includes fellow swine with names such as Solar, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye).

The shortlisted titles this year were Serious Men (John Murray) by Manu Joseph, Comfort and Joy (Penguin) by India Knight, The Coincidence Engine (Bloomsbury) by Sam Leith, and The News Where You Are (Penguin) by Catherine O'Flynn.

Last summer's trailer for Super Sad is below, featuring Jeffrey Eugenides, Mary Gaitskill, Edmund White, Jay McInerney, and Shteyngart's student, James Franco.

Amazon has revealed the three finalists for its novel publication prize, and now the company is asking the public to weigh in. Until June 1, readers can read excerpts of manuscripts by Gregory Hill of Denver, Lucian Morgan of Phoenix, and Phyllis Smith of New York City, as well as reviews by a panel of industry professionals, and vote for their favorite title on the contest website.

Hill is shortlisted for East of Denver, the story of an elderly father and his son who plan a bank robbery to avoid losing their family farm. Morgan's Dog Christ centers on a wheelchair-bound man and the international cast of characters who come through his home, and Smith's I Am Livia bases its cunning protagonist on a figure from history, the wife of Julius Caesar's adopted heir.

The Breakthrough Novel winner receives an advance of fifteen thousand dollars as part of a publishing contract from Penguin. Amazon will announce the winner in Seattle on June 13.

Camille Rankine, Program & Communications Coordinator at Cave Canem Foundation, gives us the rundown on the longtime P&W-supported literary organization's workshops for poets of color.

Since 1999, Cave Canem has offered tuition-free, multiple-session workshops in New York City that provide emerging writers with opportunities to work with accomplished poets, such as Tracy K. Smith, Tyehimba Jess, and Kimiko Hahn, to name a few. Limited to an enrollment of twelve to fifteen, the workshops offer rigorous instruction, careful critique, and an introduction to the work of established poets—all within the supportive, safe environment that characterizes Cave Canem's week-long retreat.

“Participating in a Cave Canem workshop…was a major stepping stone in my development as a poet,” says one workshop student. “Cave Canem has given me the confidence, inspiration, direction and community that have proved to be invaluable. . .I will always be grateful to this community of poets and now, friends.”

This year, Cave Canem inaugurated Poetry Conversations, open-enrollment writing workshops for poets of color in the early stages of their writing. Fall and spring sessions are held at Cave Canem’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at The Hill House Association Center.

Regardless of level, in Cave Canem workshops emerging poets hone their craft and experiment with new ways of approaching the page. Each workshop series culminates in a public reading by participants. On May 25, 2011, at 6:30 PM, participants in Writing Across Cultures: Poetry as Cultural Voice, a P&W-supported workshop for Arab American writers and poets of color, conducted by Nathalie Handal, will share new work in a reading at Cave Canem’s space in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

Photo: (left to right) Graduate Fellow Hallie S. Hobson, Cave Canem Executive Director Alison Meyers, and Camille Rankine. Credit: Ruth Ellen Kocher 

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.

Browse through a collection of photographs in a book or online (such as the New York Times or the Library of Congress) and choose an image that you find arresting. Use the title of the photograph (if it has none, write one for it first) as the title and the starting point for a poem.

Last fall, P&W co-sponsored a reading and workshop with poet Craig Santos Perez at University of California in Santa Cruz, where we have supported literary events since 2003. Perez also happens to be a past recipient of P&W’s California Writers Exchange Award, a prize that introduces promising California poets and writers to New York City’s literary community. We asked Perez how he approaches giving a reading.

Reading dos: Smile. Give thanks to the organizers, fellow performers, and the audience members. Drink water. Mark the pages you're going to read. Be prepared and organized. Be composed. Read your best work. Make eye contact with the audience. Share some background to the work. Read with passion.
Reading don’ts: Don't read too quietly. Don't shuffle through papers as if you just rolled out of bed. Don't say that you're going to read from your book that you don't like anymore because you wrote it a year ago. Don't talk for too long about the background of a poem. Don't drink water in the middle of a poem. Don't read drunk or high (unless that's part of your aesthetic). Don't go over time. Don't read too fast. Don't be hostile to the audience during Q&A. Do not not smile.

How you prepare for a reading: I prepare for a reading by figuring the best set list possible based on the time I'm given to perform, the venue, the organizer(s), the audience demographic, and my mood. I try to choose a mix of published and new work. I rehearse my performance beforehand, making sure I have the timing down. For my reading at UCSC, I also brought some gifts (free books and a can of SPAM) for the audience members who asked me questions during the Q&A.

Strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member: Last March I read at a social workers conference in Guam and was asked, by a much more experienced woman (as in thirty years older), "Are you married?"  I barely made it out of that room alive.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why it works: I have different poems that could ignite very different pleasures. For the pleasure of laughter: "Spam's Carbon Footprint." For the pleasure of emotional resonance: "from Aerial Roots" (from my second book). For the pleasure of resistance: "from Achiote" (from my first book).

But this is not always true because you can never read to the same crowd twice. Which is to say, all crowds are different and unpredictable and a writer has to be flexible, especially writers of color. Sometimes a poem that gives a certain kind of pleasure to one audience (let's say, composed of all native peoples) may not give the same pleasure (or any pleasure at all) to another audience (let's say, composed of all white peoples).

How giving a reading informs your writing and vice versa: If I read new work, I always find little edits I should make. So in that sense, it's good for revision. The more readings I've done over the years, the more connected I feel to the tradition of oral poetics and spoken word. I find myself using more oral poetry techniques in my work than ever before.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on: I spend all the money I receive from reading gigs to buy more poetry books!


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

Poet Traci Brimhall has appeared a number of times in our Recent Winners pages over the past few years. She has found notable success in the realm of contests, receiving awards including a fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing that took her to Madison for a year of teaching and writing; a grant from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund; the First Book Award from the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, for Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010); and the recently announced Barnard Women Poets Prize for her second collection, Our Lady of the Ruins. (The volume, selected by Carolyn Forché, will be published by W. W. Norton.) We asked Brimhall, who is currently a doctoral candidate at Western Michigan University, a few questions about how she approaches contests and what advice she has for writers considering competitions.

How many contests have you entered? How many did you enter before winning your first award?
I entered seventeen contests before I got the call that my first book, Rookery, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. My records for my second book, Our Lady of the Ruins, are less accurate. Although I submitted to a handful of contests, the first response I received was the acceptance from the Barnard Prize, so I don't have the other contests listed on my submission spreadsheet. I believe it was seven or eight contests, plus some open reading periods.

So you’ve also submitted book manuscripts to publishers, outside of a competition?
I sent out Our Lady of the Ruins to a few open reading periods. I was certainly less aware of them when I first started sending out Rookery, but now that I've started screening for a couple of different book prizes, I think first book contests offer the advantage of limiting the pool of submissions. With open reading periods, a manuscript goes up against poets with two, three or ten books under their belt. That does not necessarily mean their work is stronger than yours, but the fish in that pond are certainly bigger.

What do you look for in a contest?
When I was still in my MFA program [at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York], I started paying attention to publishers. If a book took the top of my head off, I looked at the press. If I read a poem in a journal that made me clutch my pearls, I would look up that poet's bio and see if they'd published a book, and, if so, where. When I started looking at submitting my work to a contest, I'd already been paying attention to where poetry I admired was being published, and that's about all I looked for in a contest. Of course, I read many poets with brilliant work from presses that I knew wouldn't be interested in what I was doing, but on the whole, I just wanted to metaphorically sit at the table with poets who left me in awe when I read their poems.

How did you know your manuscripts were ready to go out?
Part of it is knowing when you're ready to break up with the work. With Rookery, I felt ready to move on, but I kept coming back to the manuscript to tweak poems or reorder. So I broke up with the manuscript a section at a time. I looked at the poems in each section and then wrote breakup poems where I tried to have it out with my obsessions so I could be done with them once and for all. Of course obsessions follow you wherever your work goes, but I did feel like I put my obsessions' belongings on the lawn and told them to get lost. Each breakup poem became the final poem in each section of the book. With Our Lady of the Ruins, I felt like that manuscript broke up with me. As much as I wanted—and still want—to keep writing those poems, the magic is gone. And who knows why. I was living in my car when I wrote most of them, and maybe the change in my life and my energy affected the way I was writing. Maybe I'd said all I needed to say. It was interesting to discover that the second manuscript functioned very differently than the first. Compiling and ordering one book didn't seem to teach me what I needed to know for the second. I hope I can be lucky enough to have my own work surprise and move me a third time.

How do you select individual pieces to submit to a competition—if this is ever something you do?
I've never had much luck with individual poem contests. I don't often submit to those because the contest fees are usually about fifteen dollars, and if I have a manuscript ready or one that's about to be ready, I'd rather spend twenty-five dollars sending that out. If I didn't have to budget in order to afford contest fees, I would probably submit to a lot more places, but fifteen dollars is four small lattes or a new book, and I'd rather have coffee and poetry than a small chance at winning a contest.

What is the most rewarding aspect of receiving an award?
The most satisfying thing lately has been the validation after a lot of discouraging feedback. I had a teacher tell me to throw away the poems in the second book and start over. I've had editors respond with a strong negative reaction to poems from the second book. One even said I didn't have any talent. Of course I wrote the poems anyway. I love those poems. I loved writing them. I look forward to reading them thirty more times in galleys and then beyond that. But it's hard to hear that poems I believed in were received poorly, and it was amazing to get the email from Saskia Hamilton at Barnard that said Carolyn Forché selected the book for the prize.

Have you ever had a negative experience as a result of winning a prize?
It's definitely surprised me that not everyone is happy for other people's good news. My good news has changed some friendships and even ruined one. Sometimes the good news doesn't feel worth it, because my greatest joy in poetry after writing a good poem is the community. Being a poet means that I share something in common with thousands of amazing strangers around the country, and whenever I travel for a reading or conference, I meet people who are passionate about the same things I am. A few years ago, I was told to think my competition is Shakespeare, Keats, and Dickinson, not anyone publishing in literary journals. If that's my competition, I don't ever have to worry about winning anything, I can run the race for the goddamned pleasure of it. And isn't the pleasure of it why people start writing in the first place?

What piece of advice do you have for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?
I really do think it's a great way to try and find a home for your work. Since judges change most years, you can always try again, whereas if an editor at a press says no, that's probably a fairly firm no. Many contests are judged blindly, often without acknowledgments pages, which means they're truly looking at just your poems. I also enjoy submitting in general, whether it's a manuscript or individual poems. I like the sense of possibility it gives me. The more you send out, the more times you will probably hear no, but then one day, you'll get that letter or that call that finally and joyfully says yes.

In the video below, vocalist Jennifer Lien performs Brimhall's poem "Aubade With a Broken Neck" from Rookery.

Quiddity, a literary journal out of Benedictine University in Springfield, Illinois, has launched its inaugural contest for a prose book trailer. The biennial competition is open to short films based on both unpublished manuscripts and published books of fiction or creative nonfiction, offering a five-hundred-dollar prize in each category.

Aside from the cash prize, Quiddity will also arrange to promote the winning trailers in the journal and on National Public Radio member station WUIS Springfield, as well as on the Web sites of both. The journal's prose editor David Logan and emerging novelist A. D. Carson will judge.

Authors should submit films of no longer than three minutes in the manuscript category, and publishers or presses should submit entries for published books; entry is free. Complete guidelines and entry forms are available on the Quiddity website.

Entries aren't due until December 10, but a look at Carson's sample trailer below might leave some writers wanting to carve out substantial time to get production just right, or assemble a crew—friends and colleagues are permitted to assist in the trailer's creation. Videos simply featuring authors reading do not qualify for this competition.

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