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Author Tim O’Brien has been awarded the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. O’Brien, a Vietnam veteran whose work often deals with war, and who is perhaps most well known for his short story collection The Things They Carried, will receive $10,000.

Established in 2006 and inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize is given internationally for literature that promotes peace, social justice, and global understanding. In addition to two annual prizes given for a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction published in the previous year, the Richard C. Holbrooke Award—named for the United States diplomat who played an instrumental role in negotiating the Dayton Accords—is given annually for a body of work.

"The Dayton Literary Peace Prize promotes the cause of peace by helping people understand the ugly realities of war on a deep, personal level, which is exactly what I strive to do in my work," O'Brien said. "Over what has been a long career, this award means more to me than any other—by far."

Originally from Austin, Minnesota, O’Brien served in the United States Army in Vietnam for a year, and later worked as a national affairs reporter for the Washington Post. His first book was the 1973 memoir about his experiences at war, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. He received a National Book Award in 1979 for his novel about Vietnam, Going After Cacciato (Doubleday); his 1990 collection, The Things They Carried (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; In the Lake of the Woods (Penguin, 1995) received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction. His most recent novel is July, July, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2002. The sixty-five-year-old O’Brien lives in central Texas and teaches writing in the MFA program at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Previous Peace Prize winners include Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver, Studs Terkel, and Elie Wiesel. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, on November 11.

In the following 2010 Art Works podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts and Public Radio Exchange, O’Brien discusses The Things They Carried on the twentieth anniversary of its release.

Writer and literary organizer Rochelle Spencer blogs about the impact of P&Wfunded poets on other writers. She teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, and is the author of the e-book Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina.

In 2001, I had just received my MFA and was the unhappiest I had been in my life.

9/11 had saturated the city with grief. Also, because of a problem at the financial aid office, I graduated so broke that I had to write a $10 check to myself to get money from the bank—I couldn’t even make a $20 ATM withdrawal.

That fall, PW-funded poets Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez gave a reading, and while the venue slips my mind, I’ll never forget how grateful I was for the opportunity to see these poets together. There was no admission fee, and $3 purchased subway fare to and from the event.

Best $3 I've ever spent. It’s not enough to say that the reading gave me hope because it did something more: it gave me the opportunity to experience wonder again. In the years since, I’ve hosted readings, many of which were co-sponsored by Poets & Writers, to try to replicate moments like that. In honor of those moments, I asked my friends, writers themselves, about their favorite writers to hear read.

“[Amiri] Baraka brings a commitment to his reading and such a credo of revolutionary output,” says Treasure Shields Redmond, an Assistant Professor of English at Southwestern Illinois College and 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee. “I love Sonia Sanchez live—she’s a diminutive person but when she reads, she’s eight feet tall. Tyehimba Jess live—he has a certain soulfulness. And Jericho Brown always has outstanding figures in his poetry, figures you wouldn’t normally expect to speak, but they do.”

Amy L. George, author of DesAmy L. Georgeideratum (Finishing Line Press 2013), says she loves to hear Naomi Shihab Nye read “because she is very expressive and she takes her time with the text. Sometimes people just rush through and you can’t hear all of the nuances. For a good reading, you have to be committed to the integrity of the text and the overall message.”

Nicholas J. Beishline says simply, "Leonard Cohen... he was incredible."

I am fortunate to have experienced many wonderful readings, each special. Still, I think every good reading accomplishes the same thing—it allows us to focus on something outside of ourselves and our problems—and, as the writers’ words seep through, it allows us recognize the ways we are all connected.

Photo: Amy L. George. Credit: Calvin George.

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.

Karen Finneyfrock is a poet, novelist, and teaching artist in Seattle, Washington. Her second book of poems, Ceremony for the Choking Ghost, was published by Write Bloody in 2010. Her young adult novel, The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, is forthcoming from Viking Children’s Books in 2013. She is a former writer-in-residence at Richard Hugo House in Seattle and teaches for Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Writers-in-the-Schools. Last spring, P&W supported her reading with the Seattle Rock Orchestra.

What are your reading dos?
I try to remind myself that a show is primarily for the audience and not for me. When I think of the audience member's experience, it allows me to be less fixated on my own nervousness or a myopic concern for my work. I remind myself that stage fright is essentially selfish, and I can focus on connecting with the listener instead.

What are your reading don’ts?
I think of the idiom, "Never wear a hat that has more personality than you do." Never wear an outfit that will upstage you or shoes that might cause you to trip. With that said, I like to dress like I'm ready to be seen. My other big don't is: Don't exceed the time limit you've been given. Time your work and be respectful to organizers and audience.

How do you prepare for a reading?
If I'm performing poetry, I like to rehearse late at night or early in the morning before I even get out of bed. I envision myself on the stage, and I run through everything I will say, even my banter between poems. Then, I run my pieces again in the shower. If I'm reading prose, I like to read through the selection and consider the context the audience will need about the piece to appreciate it the most. I make bullet points to remember what I want to say to the audience, but I never read from a script when I'm speaking about the work or to the crowd.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
My best crowd-pleaser works because it is imagistic, literal, and uplifting at the end. I wouldn't want this for all of my poems, and I do seek to challenge audience members with pieces that create discomfort, but I like to leave people feeling good. I think of Shakespeare playing to all levels of the house. I want some pieces that every listener—even those new to poetry or new to abstract work—can say, "I got it," after hearing.

What was it like to perform with the Seattle Rock Orchestra?
Performing with a rock orchestra is exactly as cool as it sounds. First, composer John Teske met with me and listened to my poem, then he created an original, experimental score, which included vocalizations as well as instrumental noise. For example, as my poem started, "Even the wet floor of the city bus...," musicians made slurping noises behind me. John's concept was out of the box and stretched the idea of what music and poetry can sound like together. It avoided the cliché of pretty words with some nice stringed instruments playing and took it to the place a rock orchestra should go.

Standing on stage surrounded by a group of musicians, all attuned to my performance, was like being the spider at the center of an artistically sensitive web. I got the feeling they were prepared to follow me wherever I was going to go.

Photo: Karen Finneyfrock. Credit: Inti St. Clair
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.

Willow Books is currently accepting submissions for its first annual Literature Awards. A prize of $2,000 will be given for a book-length work of literary prose, and a prize of $1,000 will be given for a full-length collection of poetry. The two winning manuscripts will be published in spring 2013 by Willow Books.

The Willow Books Literature Awards are given to United States writers from culturally diverse backgrounds. “Our mission is to develop, publish, and promote writers typically underrepresented in the market,” the press’s website states. Ten finalists will be announced on January 21, 2013, and the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony and reading in Chicago later in the spring. The remaining eight finalists will have selections of their work published in an e-book anthology. All finalists for the awards are expected to attend the ceremony and assist in future online publicity for the press.

Judges for the poetry prize include poets John Murillo, Ching-in Chen, and Naomi Ayala; judges for the prize in literary prose include fiction and nonfiction writers Pauline Kaldas, Latha Viswanathan, and Ana-Maurine Lara.

“We are excited about our new competition and the caliber of our judges,” says Randall Horton, editor of Willow Books. “We are also planning to host workshops during the awards weekend, so watch for updates.”

Poets may submit three copies of a collection between 50 and 125 pages, along with a $25 entry fee; prose writers may submit three copies of a novel, short story collection, memoir, or essay collection (totaling no more than 100,000 words), along with a $30 entry fee. The deadline for submissions is October 1. Submissions are accepted via postal mail only.

Willow Books, established in 2007 as an imprint of the Detroit-based Aquarius Books, publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Some of the press’s recent authors include Tara Betts, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Krista Franklin, and Tony Medina.

Willow also partners with the Cave Canem Foundation to publish the biennial Cave Canem Anthology, a collection of poetry by Cave Canem faculty and fellows.   

For the required entry form and complete submissions guidelines for the Literary Awards, and for more information about Willow Books, visit their website. 

Using the advice column as your form, write about a problem or challenge you have faced. Addressing a fictional recipient who is facing the same issue, offer your best advice on how to handle the situation. For inspiration, check out the Rumpus's advice column, "Dear Sugar," penned by creative nonfiction writer Cheryl Strayed.

Write a short story in which a museum is the setting for the central conflict. Consider the following questions: What kind of museum is it? Why are the characters there? Do any of the museum's objects trigger a turn in the story? Visit a local museum or peruse one's holdings online to find inspiration.


During the next week, take note of the various flora and fauna you encounter. Look through classification books or search online for the precise names for the animals, birds, and plants you’ve observed. Choose the most sonorous names and include two in your next poem.

The Women’s National Book Association has announced that novelist Ann Patchett has been selected to receive the 2012-2013 Women’s National Book Award. According to the Association’s website, the biennial award is given to “a living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.”

Ann Patchett, whose most recent novel is State of Wonder (HarperCollins, 2011), is the bestselling author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Bel Canto, which won both the PEN/Faulkner and Orange Prize in 2002. Patchett’s work has also garnered such accolades as the New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and the BookSense Book of the Year Award; and has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Vogue.

In 2011, Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes opened Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, after the last remaining bookstores in the city had closed their doors. Patchett has since become a nationally recognized advocate for independent bookselling, and this year was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Formerly known as the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award (named for the prolific playwright, critic, editor, and author) the Women’s National Book Award has been given since 1940. International journalist and author Masha Hamilton received the award in 2010; previous recipients have included Pearl S. Buck, Barbara Bush, Blanche W. Knopf, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the video below, Ann Patchett discusses State of Wonder for the first installment of Forbes Magazine's ForbesWoman Book Club series.

Fiction writer and literary organizer Rochelle Spencer blogs about P&Wfunded events at unexpected venues. She teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, and is the author of the e-book Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina.

A poetry reading in a hair salon? Why not?

Poetry happens everywhere, and sometimes experiencing those flashes of imagination can be just what we need to make it through the day.

When my best friend Stacia ShStacia Shabazzabazz revealed to me her dream of using the arts to do something positive for the Atlanta community, I told her about the Poets & Writers Readings/Workshops program. Stacia is the owner of 32nbelow.com, an online clothing store with the mission of “raising self awareness in low-income communities.” 32nbelow.com also sponsors literary events with the help of P&W funding. Some of Shabazz's most memorable readings have taken place in a nightclub (Compound), a clothing store (Select Menswear Boutique), a conference center (Atlanta Association of Black Cardiologists Conference Center), and a hair salon (Roots International Hair Salon).

Stacia’s events don’t have the muted atmosphere you sometimes find at an academic reading; at 32nbelow readings, you hear cheers when a favorite poet “blesses the mic,” and you see audience members nod their heads to a poet’s voice like they’re listening to a favorite song. Stacia attributes her successful readings to finding poets who speak to the audience’s needs: “Most of the spoken-word artists speak about love or politics—two things that usually hold people’s attention.”

I lived in Atlanta, where Stacia’s readings are held, for five years, but I was born in Detroit, and many Detroiters know about a popular reading series that occurs in an unusual place: a church. Writer L. Bush, the host/producer of Spirit Spit, says that the "gothic atmosphere" of the church creates an "almost mystical" feeling for both the audience and the performers. And, after readings, audience members have come up to Writer “and told [him] how the reading had brought them to tears—or inspired them to write something on the spot or sign-up for open mic, which they had never expected to do."

Life is crazy, chaotic. As a graduate student, college instructor, and fiction writer, I sometimes feel guilty for even going to the bathroom. But poetry in unexpected places is one of life’s little pleasures. It reminds us of why we’re here.

Photo: Stacia Shabazz. Credit: Issan Otto.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta and 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.

Bertha Rogers's  poetry collections include Sleeper, You Wake: and Heart Turned Back. Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000.  Bertha is the founding Executive Director of Bright Hill Press & Literary Center, and has been organizing readings in the Catkills since 1991. She is also the Poet Laureate of Delaware County, New York. Bertha blogs about the Poets & Writers-supported The Art and Soul of the Catskills Festival.

For the past several years, I've organized poetry and prose readings sponsored by Poets & Writers for The Art and Soul of the Catskills Festival held in Delhi, New York. The readers are regional authors, most of whom have published collections of poetry or novels; and the readings  are held in a tent on the village square in Delhi, the seat of Delaware County. The square was immortalized on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1951.

Poets Barry Seiler (Frozen Falls) and John Paul O'Connor (Poems for the First Hundred Days); novelists Mermer Blakeslee (In Dark Water), Charlotte Zoe Walker (Condor and Hummingbird), Marjorie B. Kellogg (Lear's Daughters) and many more have read in the tent on the green. Young writers have been introduced at the Festival, too; winners of Bright Hill's Share the Words Poetry Competition and the Empire State Poetry Competition. Reading for the Festival is a unique and picturesque experience; festival-goers meander around the square, stopping in artists' booths and food concessions until, finding thier way to the authors' tent, they sit and enjoy the words in the air.  After the readings, there are lively Q&A periods and time to sign books.  These Art and Soul Readings are snapshots of rural America enjoying both emerging and established writers.

Photo:  Bertha Rogers.   Photo Credit:  Bertha Rogers.  

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The letter is one of the earliest and most widely practiced forms of the personal essay: It tells a story about the author's life; it poses questions; and, perhaps most important, it's a way of connecting to a reader. Write a letter to someone you know, keeping the basic tenants of the personal essay in mind. The letter should be about you, but should also somehow address a larger question or idea. For inspiration, check out Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road (Grossman, 1970), a collection of letters that documents her years-long correspondence and relationship with the owners of Marks & Co., a bookstore in London.

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) is currently accepting applications for the 2013 Wachtmeister Award. The biennial prize, which is offered in alternating genres, will be given this year to a poet.

The award includes a fully funded residency of up to thirty days at VCCA, a retreat for writers, visual artists, and composers located on a 450-acre estate at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately sixty miles south of Charlottesville. The winner will also receive a $1,000 honorarium and travel reimbursement of up to $750. The total value of the award, which includes a private bedroom, private workspace, and three meals a day, is $7,150. 

Applicants for the Wachtmeister Award must have worked professionally for the previous fifteen years, and must have published at least two full-length poetry collections. Applicants should submit three copies of up to five poems (totaling no more than ten pages), the application form, and curriculum vitae, along with a brief biography and statement of purpose, by September 30. Poets who have not previously attended VCCA are eligible.

Originally called the VCCA Award for Excellence, the Wachtmeister Award is endowed by VCCA board member Linda Wachtmeister and is administered by the VCCA Fellows Council. The award is given to support writers, visual artists, and composers whose achievements in the arts are widely recognized.

Poet and fiction writer Ha Jin, whose most recent book is the short story collection A Good Fall (Pantheon, 2009), last received the Wachtmeister Award in writing in 2004. The author of six novels, four short story collections, and four books of poetry, Jin has received the National Book Award, a PEN/Faulkner Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Open year-round, the VCCA offers residencies of two weeks to two months and accommodates twenty-five artists at a time. Residents may also use the facilities of nearby Sweet Briar College. Since its founding in 1971 by writers Elizabeth Coles Langhorne and Nancy Hale, over 4,000 writers, artists, and composers have attended residencies at VCCA.

For an application form and complete guidelines, or for more information about residencies at VCCA, visit the website. 

The Canadian social reading website Wattpad has named its new poetry awards for author and literary icon Margaret Atwood. The first annual Attys, which include a grand prize of $1,000, will be given for a group of ten poems. Other prizes will include feedback sessions with Atwood and the chance to be a character in the Man Booker Prize-winning author’s next novel.

“I'm very honoured to have [the prize] named after me,” Atwood wrote in a message to entrants on the contest website. “Poetry is at the core of each language, and language itself is at the core of our humanity.”

Wattpad is a Toronto-based digital platform for writers and readers to share new creative work. According to its mission, Wattpad offers a “creative, welcoming, and completely free community to connect with readers from around the world. Writers can build an engaged fan base, share their work with a huge audience, and receive instant feedback on their stories.”

The contest, sponsored in part by the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, aims to further that mission by celebrating digital-first poetry, which may be read, shared, and even submitted from anywhere. “We anticipate that some entries will be written on mobile devices,” said Allen Lau, Wattpad’s cofounder. “We want to create an opportunity for poets to share their work and for audiences to discover the genre, [and we] are excited to see how the world connects over poetry.”

Atwood, who joined Wattpad's community of nine million writers and readers in June, has three new poems posted on the website. “May you enjoy composing your own poems, and enjoy reading the poems of others,” she wrote. “These are very ancient pleasures; by sharing in them, you are sharing in our own deep history.”

Poets should submit ten poems, each which demonstrates a different poetic form. Submissions will be accepted through the Wattpad website until October 31.

In the video below, Atwood discusses her creative process with the folks of Big Think.

Write a story in which one of the following objects triggers a flashback: a child’s keyboard, a bag of Werther’s Original Caramels, a taxidermied animal, a bar of lavender soap, or an old travel brochure.

In his poem “Refrigerator, 1957” (originally published in the New Yorker, July 28, 1997), Thomas Lux writes about a jar of “lit-from-within red” maraschino cherries that, as a boy, he never ate from. Write a poem about something that you longed for when you were younger, but was always off-limits.

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