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In partnership with the family of a Vietnam veteran known for his antiwar writing and activism, Iowa Review has launched a multigenre writing contest open to U.S. military veterans and active duty personnel. The Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award competition, which offers one thousand dollars and publication in Iowa Review, is accepting entries of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on any subject.

Pulitzer Prize winner and Vietnam veteran Robert Olen Butler will select the winning work from a pool chosen by the journal's editors (all finalists will be considered for publication). Butler, much of whose work is informed by his experiences in the U.S. military, served in Vietnam as an intelligence agent and a translator. He is the author of twelve novels, most recently A Small Hotel (Grove Press, 2011), six short story collections, and a nonfiction book on craft, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction (Grove Press, 2005).

Writers may submit their work with a fifteen-dollar entry fee via Submittable or postal mail (an extra ten dollars gets entrants a yearlong subscription to the magazine). The deadline is June 15. Visit the Iowa Review website for complete guidelines.

In the video below, Butler discusses how his time in the military led the former playwright to fiction, and how his experiences in Vietnam have shaped his work.

Presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor, who is also the co-founder and director of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts, writes about his forthcoming P&W–supported event.

A while ago I met with Reni Roxas, the editor and publisher of Hanggang sa Muli–Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, and Seattle University’s United Filipino Club/Filipino Alumni Association to curate a P&W–supported April reading, something we’ve been doing since 2008. This year contributing writers include several local poets and memoir writers, but the event's success is largely due to the work of our college student cohosts. Responsibilities were parsed out so students had an opportunity to organize and manage the event. They scheduled the conference room, planned and implemented the marketing, arranged for book sales, and even set up and secured refreshments.

  • The April 18 poetry, memoir, and short story program included a welcome from UFC cohosts Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison, remarks by Silliman University Filipino Alumni Association member Mary Galvez, remarks from Reni Roxas, an introduction to selected readings by Maria Batayola and readings by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose), Greg Castilla, Toni Bajado, Jeff Rice, Dorothy Cordova, and myself.

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm, and innovation to everything they do. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers, and it’s a pleasure for me to help make their aspirations reality. Few things are better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers.

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.

Writer and energy-work practitioner Deborah Mayaan recently co-taught a workshop for people with cancer and their loved ones in Tucson, Arizona, with Rabbi Stephanie Aaron. The workshop was co-sponsored by Congregation Chaverim and the Readings/Workshops program.

In a recent workshop on embodying our values, a woman wrote about her frustration with her mother, who had agreed to take care of a collection of large household items that had great meaning to her mother. We had been working on extracting the positive values from happy memories, and finding the life lessons in challenging experiences. When searching for what she might learn from this, the woman in the workshop first thought about the benefit of simplifying and not collecting things, because they can be a burden on future generations. But she was open to other perspectives, and several people suggested that the collection could be seen as a gift to be enjoyed rather than curated, and could even be dispersed throughout the family.

We agreed that stories can be the best legacies: They take up very little space in paper form and virtually none electronically. No one needs to dust them or move them from house to house. And when more than one person wants this legacy, there is no fighting over it; it can be shared infinitely among people.

When written down, a story has an enduring quality, so that the original writer’s thoughts and feelings are conveyed intact. And yet, it is still alive. Even when the story is received by someone with no memory of the event, or even of the writer, the reader’s  perspective continues to evolve over time. This last point was especially important to one participant who had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, who was considering the legacy he would leave his children.

At all three venues where Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and I taught this winter—the Arizona Cancer Center, Casa de la Luz Hospice, and Congregation Chaverim—people felt the power of stories to help us clarify our values and strengthen us so that we can make the most of each moment, and share our legacies with those around us.

Photo: Deborah Mayaan (standing) tells a story about values learned from her mother. Credit: Rabbi Stephanie Aaron.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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 collaboration with Miami Dade College, the thirty-four-year-old National Poetry Series has established a new book award to accompany its five annual prizes, for a collection of Spanish-language verse. The winner of the inaugural Paz Prize for Poetry will receive five hundred dollars, and Akashic Books will publish the winning book in a bilingual edition.

The competition, open to American poets writing in Spanish, will begin accepting manuscript entries on May 1 and will close on June 15. Finalists will be announced in July, and a winner, selected by Puerto Rican American poet Victor Hernández Cruz, will be named in September.

"In our increasingly diverse nation, poetry in translation is not just desired, but necessary," says Alina Interian, executive director of Miami Dade College's literary hub, the Center, in a press release. "It allows for shared experience across cultures and greater understanding, and for even more beauty in our world."

Complete guidelines for the Paz Prize are available on the National Poetry Series website.

Trio House Press, a new poetry outfit in Staten Island, New York, is accepting entries for two book awards. The prize for a first or second poetry collection, judged by Ross Gay, will award publication and one thousand dollars. A second one-thousand-dollar award, judged by Michael Waters, will grant publication of a manuscript by a poet in any stage of her career.

In addition to publication and the monetary prize, the press will also offer winners a role behind the scenes at Trio House. The press has adopted a cooperative structure, so winners will become part of publishing operations for a twenty-four month period (similar to the model employed by, for example, Alice James Books and Calypso Editions) and be involved, each joining one of four committees, in the publication of subsequent books. (Trio House plans to release three titles a year.)

This year's judge in emerging poetry, Gay is the author of two collections, Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and Against Which (CavanKerry Press, 2006). He is a Cave Canem fellow and a professor at Indiana University and Drew University's low-residency MFA program.

General prize judge Waters, also a teacher in Drew University's program (as well as a professor at Monmouth University in his home state of New Jersey), is author of ten collections, most recently Gospel Night (BOA Editions, 2011). He is also coeditor of the most recent edition of Contemporary American Poetry, published in 2006 by Houghton Mifflin.

For both of Trio House's competitions, poets residing in the United States may submit manuscripts of forty-eight to seventy pages with an entry fee of twenty-five dollars by April 30. Entries are accepted via Submittable (formerly Submishmash).

In the video below, Gay recites a poem at the Page Meets Stage reading series in New York City.

Look through your poem drafts, notes, and writing fragments. Choose one line that you like and refine it until it feels as complete and polished as one line out of context can be. Use that line as a refrain in a new poem. When you've completed a decent draft, try writing an additional draft of the poem without the line, using it instead as the title.

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. 

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