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Research one of the decades during which you were a child. Make a list of the popular music at the time, the best-selling books, the favorite movies and celebrities. Then write notes about politics—who was president? what were the major political issues in the United States and globally? Then freewrite about the neighborhood where you lived—who were your neighbors? what was the living situation like? what was a typical day for you and the people around you. Finally, choose an event from your life or from history that happened during the time you've researched and write about it, using your research to inform and contextualize what you write.  

Tin House Books rolls out the third installment of its fiction-prompt contest, "calling all writers who are obsessed with plot and obsessives who can write a mean story." The weekly competition extracts a story-starter from William Wallace Cook's Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots, originally published in 1923 and rereleased by Tin House last December, and invites writers to take a stab at creating a five-hundred word piece of flash fiction based on the prompt.

Entries are due each Monday (there's no fee to enter), and the winning story will be published on Tin House's Open Bar blog. Last week's champion, for a story that builds off the dilemma of a locked hotel room door, is Richard Osgood, "whose wild take on the situation," according to the Tin Housers, "had us thinking of Becker, David Lynch, and highway obstructionists."

Here's a look at this week's challenge, where {A} is the male protagonist and {B} is the female: "{A’s} profession is a hazardous one—aviator, automobile racing driver, steeple jack, “human fly”—and {B} considers this fact an obstacle to their marriage." The complete contest guidelines are posted on the Plotto contest page.

Think about a time or incident from your past when you just barely averted disaster. Write a story about it, but change the circumstances so that the disaster actually happens.

Poet Stanley Kunitz often advised his students to end a poem on an image without explaining it. Write a new poem or revise an old one, ending it with an evocative image left unexplained.

Poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor, blogs about the P&W-supported Calypso Muse Reading Series in New York City.

In  the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series. I wanted to create a place where Caribbean poets could nuture their work and native dialect. First, I called some of my favorite poets to tell them about the series. They were thrilled and jumped at the opportunity to share their work. Next, I contacted P&W to inquire about its Readings/Workshops program. My next call was to my friend Sigrid, who owned a small cafe in SoHo.

We opened that September to a full house! Rodlyn Douglas, Suheir Hammad, and Hal Sirowitz were my first features, along with a stirring open mic. The series boasted a bevy of poets from diverse backgrounds, some of the poets included: Sekou Sundiata, Jewelle Gomez, Elena Georgiou, and Cheryl Clarke.

Poets from Calypso Muse past have parlayed their voices into writing careers! Hal Sirowitz was awarded an NEA, Suheir Hammad won the Audre Lorde Writing Award, and Rodlyn Douglas was the P&W-supported writer at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center's senior writing program.

P&W gave Calypso Muse its first grants of twenty five dollars per reader! The support we received helped to nuture our stories. The series' poets reminded audiences that every voice is authentic and deserves celebration.

Since 1994, I have received P&W funding for a number of programs, including: Trini Girls Take Brooklyn, The Womens Reading Series at McNally Jackson Books, and the Calypso Muse House Reading Series. With P&W support, I've become a force in the literary community!

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylo. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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.

Playwright Jill Patrick, who runs Working Title Playwrights in Atlanta, Georgia, blogs about the organization's P&W-supported Playwrights &... series.

There is no greater danger than an artist without an outlet, which might be why so many playwrights write in other genres. Launched in 2005, Working Title Playwrights has provided playwrights the opportunity to write in other genres and to present their original work to the public. Held in bookstores and other non-theatrical venues, the readings bring together Atlanta-area playwrights and audiences that may have no interest in live theater. The audience is made up of folks who like to read, poetry enthusiasts, or those who may have just stumbled across the reading.

I was one of the original three Working Title Playwright members to participant in Playwrights &... (along with Pamela Turner and Marian X). I am a decidedly navel-gazing poet, slowly luring adverbs from my belly button. It took the challenge of putting together an hour-long reading of my own work for me to realize that my best writing had variations of the same ingredients: food and family. Eating the Singletaries: Tales from a Tall Redhead was a journey of discovery for me as a writer, and an emotional roller coaster ride for the audience. Not only do I have a lot to say about family, but there is an audience for my work (and not one word of it was meant for the stage). To my surprise and delight, I realized that I am not a playwright who writes poetry, but a poet who writes plays.

Through Playwrights &..., Patricia Henritze (co-author of Anthony+Cleopatra Remix, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's original) presented excerpts from her own memoir, Learning To Talk: My Life Story and Other Fiction. But, the program isn't limited to memoir. Hilary King presented Matthew, Mark, Luke & Potluck: Church Poems. Hank Kimmel paid tribute to the peerless Spalding Gray, The Last Stand of a Stand-Up Comic. Raymond Fast, Karla Jennings,Vynnie Meli, and Topher Payne were also introduced to audiences that may have otherwise been unaware of their diverse, dynamic voices. Playwrights &... will resume this fall with a reading by Lisa Brathwaite, author of True Hotku: 69 haiku celebration of women and our real hotness.

Photo: (left to right) Jill Patrick, Daphne Mintz, Sherry Lee. Credit: Perry Patrick.

Support for the Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

The Pushcart Prizes, given annually since 1976 for poems, stories, and essays published by literary magazines and indie outfits, purport to highlight the "best of the small presses" in a yearly anthology. Looking to apply some objective analysis to the results (and determine, by Pushcart standards, where his own fiction might be in the most distinguished company), one writer has taken to tracking winning venues over the years.

Since 2008 Clifford Garstang, author of the story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009) and editor of Prime Number Magazine, has looked back at the past ten years of Pushcart anthologies and calculated the most-honored magazines, using a system that awards points for Pushcart wins and honorable mentions. The results for 2012, broken out by genre, were reported last week his Perpetual Folly blog.

This year's tally saw Georgia Review, Ploughshares, and Southern Review taking top slots across all three genres, with Conjunctions ranking in the top five in both fiction and nonfiction. Poetry was the front-runner in its genre of specialization. Big movers in fiction, in relation to Garstang's 2011 rankings, were A Public Space and One Story. In nonfiction, Harvard Review and n+1 made jumps this year, tied for thirty-second place. (Small presses make a lesser showing, though BOA Editions holds the fifteenth spot in poetry.)

Garstang admits that ten-year retrospective he takes naturally favors older journals, as well as magazines that appear in print (only one online journal was highlighted in the 2012 award anthology). "Pushcart has for several years been criticized for discriminating against online magazines," Garstang writes on his blog. "Online magazines have made some inroads in the annual volume. I expect this will accelerate and the problem will correct itself. We shall see. In the meantime, for those of us who submit work to online journals—some of which are excellent—we have to look elsewhere for measures of quality."

For more information about the 2012 Pushcart Prize anthology, visit the prize website.

Using Lorrie Moore's "How To Be An Other Woman" from Self-Help (Knopf, 1985) as inspiration, turn a personal experience into a twelve- (or more) step, how-to manual. The piece can be a simple enumerated list, or it can be more detailed, conveying a broader story; but use the second-person, and keep it instructional.

Barely South Review, the literary journal of the MFA program at Virginia's Old Dominion University, has announced its first writing contest. The Norton Girault Literary Prize for fiction, which will alternate annually with awards in poetry and creative nonfiction, offers one thousand dollars and publication in Barely South.

The 2012 judge is Cristina García, whose debut novel, Dreaming in Cuban (Knopf), was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992. Her other novels include The Agüero Sisters (Knopf, 1997), Monkey Hunting (Knopf, 2003), A Handbook to Luck (Knopf, 2007), and The Lady Matador's Hotel (Scribner, 2010).

Fiction writers may submit a story of up to 25 pages via snail mail or Submittable, the online submission system, until February 29. Results will be announced in April.

Find a blank notebook, and for one week fill it with whatever strikes you—images, photographs, cut-out excerpts from articles or books, notes on matchbooks, maps, drawings, and your own writing. At the end of the week, use this material as inspiration for a story.

Record the advertising slogans and advertising copy that you encounter throughout the day. Pick one slogan/catchphrase or a brief selection of advertising copy and incorporate it into a poem, without mentioning the object or service being marketed.

In November, P&W–supported writers Philip Levine and Adam Falkner read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. P&W’s development and marketing associate, Auzelle Epeneter, writes about attending her first Readings/Workshops (R/W) event.

This fall I decided to really make a go of it—I was going to carve out the time to attend my first P&W–supported event. I joined P&W’s staff over the summer to manage the Friends of Poets & Writers program, but between finding my sea legs in this new role and planning (and executing) a wedding, it took me some time to make the space in my schedule.

Being present at an R/W event was of particular importance to me because the program is supported in part by gifts I help raise through the Friends program. My daily efforts contribute toward sustaining all of Poets & Writers’ programs, including Poets & Writers Magazine and pw.org, but I wanted to see firsthand what an R/W event was all about.

On a rainy night in November, I found space in a packed house at Bowery Poetry Club for Page Meets Stage’s monthly offering—that night, Poet Laureate Philip Levine read with NYC-based spoken-word poet Adam Falkner. Page Meets Stage has been around since 2005, and its website describes the series as one that “pairs more page-oriented, academic poets with poets who come from a more spoken-word or performative background. Both poets are on stage at the same time and read back and forth, poem for poem.”

That night, Levine and Falkner presented their work to a crowd of rapt listeners. The juxtaposition was a real pleasure—Levine quiet, distinguished, and simple in his approach, Falkner bold, thoughtful, and raw.  But each showed genuine interest and delight in hearing his counterpart read, and each allowed their seemingly disparate styles to build upon one other. The dialogue developed throughout the evening and resulted in a resonance that left everyone in the room buzzing.

To attend a reading of well-crafted poems by great writers is, to me, a rare treat. But to experience two people in conversation, discovering together how their connections make up similar but unique pieces of the evolution of American poetry, was something else altogether.

Photo: Philip Levine (left) with Adam Falkner. Photo credit: Lee Weston Taylor.

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.

For the month of February, longtime P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor blogs about her favorite subject: poetry, among other topics. Taylor is the founder of the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which takes place in New York City, and author of the collections Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing the Body.

I was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, in the town of Arima, a small town nestled between mountains and red hills. My mother grew up in this town as well, and from her I inherited my love of poetry. When my mom was a child, part of her school curriculum was to read and memorize poetry. She was excellent at this, and at the end of every school year she would win the poetry recitation contest.

When I was a toddler, my mother was getting dressed to go to a local poetry reading. I began begging her to take me along. It was already past my bedtime, so she said, "no," but I put up such a fuss that she told me if I could dress myself, I could go. My mother says that I left the room and when I returned I was fully dressed, including socks and shoes. The only thing she had to do was zip the back of my dress. She was astonished because she didn't know I could dress myself. My mother took me to the reading that night... I like to believe that that was the beginning of my love affair with poetry.

As I grew older, I too enjoyed memorizing and reciting poems. In my grammar school years our country was under British rule and we were forced to study and memorize English poetry. We studied the works of Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Shakespeare. These were beautiful works of art, but I began to lose interest. I wanted poems that I could hold, poems that I could ask questions of and find myself in the answers. I longed to see myself in the poems that I loved. I wanted poems that had mangoes, coconut trees, and star apples, poems with brown girls with shiny cocoa skin, and thick nappy braids contained by huge red and yellow bows, not just girls with milk-white skin and ringlets of golden curls blowing in the wind.

So, when I first heard the political and social musings of Calypso, coupled with the African-Griot rhythms of steel pan and dialect, I began to feel the stirrings of different poems taking root inside me. Calypso is an uptempo rhythm with roots in West Africa. Calypso evolved as a way of spreading news around the island, its lyrics explore issues of skin color, hair texture, family life, and everyday political and personal struggle with humor and story... I was finally hearing stories of my life, and the lives of the people I lived with and loved.

At thirteen, I immigrated to New York City. Right away my dialect set me apart. My peers and teachers laughed at my accent, but something inside said: Love your dialect, it is your birthright, part of a proud heritage. Inspired by that voice, during the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which brings poets of all nationalities and languages together.

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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.

Starting yesterday, forty-year-old literary journal Ploughshares began accepting entries for a new writing contest open to unpublished poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. The Emerging Writer's Contest, an expansion of last year's inaugural competition in fiction, will award one thousand dollars and publication to a writer in each genre.

In order to be considered "emerging," writers should not have published a book or chapbook in any form (self-published works included). Ploughshares invites potential entrants with eligibility questions to inquire via e-mail.

Poets may submit between three and five poems and prose writers may submit works of up to five thousand words along with a twenty-dollar entry fee, which includes a subscription to Ploughshares, until April 2. For complete guidelines and to access the submission manager, visit the journal's website.

The winner of the first contest was thirty-six-year-old Thomas Lee, for his story "The Gospel of Blackbird," which appears in the current issue of the magazine, alongside fiction by James Franco, William Giraldi, Ann Hood, and Rachel Kadish. Sample works from the issue, guest edited by Alice Hoffman, are accessible online.

The Claremont Graduate University has announced the winners of this year's Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, two of the more lucrative honors in the genre. The one-hundred-thousand-dollar Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, given to a writer in midcareer, went to New York City poet Timothy Donnelly for his second collection, The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books). Donnelly, whose first book, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of "Eine Lebenszeit," was published in 2003 by Grove Press, has also published widely in journals such as A Public Space, the Nation, and the Paris Review.

Debut poet Katherine Larson of Tucson, Arizona, received the ten-thousand-dollar Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Radial Symmetry (Yale University Press). Larson's book was published in 2011 as the winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize the previous year, selected by Louise Glück.

The finalists for the Kingsley Tufts prize were Ed Roberson for To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press) and Christian Wiman for Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Finalists for the debut award were Julie Hanson for Unbeknownst (University of Iowa Press) and Shane McCrae for Mule (Cleveland State University Poetry Center).

Serving as the final judges for the award were poets David Barber, Kate Gale, Ted Genoways, Linda Gregerson, and Carl Phillips. The preliminary judges were poets Jericho Brown, Andrew Feld, and Suji Kwock Kim.

The winners will be feted on April 19 at a ceremony in Claremont, California, presided over by poet Maxine Hong Kingston.

The video below was filmed at Donnelly's Cloud Corporation release party at the offices of A Public Space in Brooklyn, New York.

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