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At their annual benefit and awards dinner held last night in New York City, the Center for Fiction announced Tiphanie Yanique as the winner of the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Yanique, who won for her debut novel, Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead Books, 2014), will receive $10,000. The annual prize is given for a debut novel published in the previous year.

Yanique was chosen from a shortlist of seven debut novelists. The shortlisted finalists, who each received $1,000, were Rene Denfeld for The Enchanted (Harper), Smith Henderson for Fourth of July Creek (Ecco), Josh Weil for The Great Glass Sea (Grove Press), Vanessa Manko for The Invention of Exile (The Penguin Press), Ted Thompson for The Land of Steady Habits (Little, Brown), and Matthew Thomas for We Are Not Ourselves (Simon & Schuster). In July the Center for Fiction announced the longlist for the prize, which included twenty-six novelists. David Gilbert, Tayari Jones, and Margaret Wrinkle judged.

Yanique is the author of a short story collection, How to Escape From a Leper Colony (Graywolf Press, 2010), and a picture book, I Am the Virgin Islands (Little Bell Caribbean, 2012). Land of Love and Drowning tells the story of two sisters and their half-brother orphaned after their parents die in a shipwreck. The novel takes place during the early 1900s in the Virgin Islands. In a video from our Poets & Writers Live event in New York City last June, Yanique—along with four other authors— discusses her work, her process, and what inspires her to write.

Established in 2006, the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize honors reporter and writer Ray Flaherty, the father of late writer Nancy Dunnan. Dunnan, who sponsored the award, passed away in August. Previous winners of the prize include Junot Díaz, Ben Fountain, Hannah Tinti, and Margaret Wrinkle.

Photo Credit: Debbie Grossman

It has never been easier to learn how to cook with culinary shows on television, tutorials on the internet, and an abundance of cookbooks and food blogs specializing in all sorts of cuisines. This week, write a scene in which one of your characters has sparked an interest in cooking. Does cooking come naturally to her, or is it difficult for her to master? Does she set lofty goals, like winning a competition?

This week, write a whimsical, nonsensical poem about a creature you’ve dreamt up. Try to let go of the meanings associated with the words you use every day when describing this creature. Instead, use words as springboards for weird associations, as colors in a vast mural. Let your mind run wild and hang on for the ride. For inspiration, read Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” 

Brian Castner is the author of The Long Walk (Doubleday, 2012), an Amazon Best Book of 2012 and Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle selection for 2013. His writing has appeared in Wired, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Outsideand on National Public Radio. Castner is the co-founder of Buffalo, Books & Beer, a new literary series in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.

We’re all still learning how to come home from a war. Veterans struggle to readjust, civilians and family wonder how to welcome back their changed loved ones. We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves; Odysseus had trouble, too.

This truism of history still applies: Every veteran saw their own war, had their own individual experience, were exposed to their own proportion of terror and transcendence, and deal with their own mix of pride and regret. It follows, then, that no single national program or strategy will best welcome home all these men and women.

For some veterans, though, writing helps. Trauma therapy for some, but for most, just a human need to share an experience with others. The same could be said for the country at large, of course; narrative helps all of us make sense of our lives.

Inclusivity. This is what spurs Words After War, a literary nonprofit based in New York City, to organize workshops and events around the country. Rather than focusing on writing for a small circle of military peers, Words After War instead creates opportunities for veterans and civilians to speak to each other. It’s an effort to bridge the civilian-military divide, one story at a time.

This past semester, with support from Poets & Writers, I led a Words After War workshop on the campus of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. On Tuesday evenings, war was a lens through which to read and write and think about the same topics that have always preoccupied writers. Many traditional workshops use this lens model, we simply considered violence and its aftermath instead of environmentalism or realism or faith or any other typical construct. 

There is no good writing without good reading, so we started each session with Whitman or Hemingway or Vonnegut or Klay (who visited our class just weeks before he won the National Book Award). We studied classics, but also new work from Siobhan Fallon, Brian Turner, and Hassan Blasim, and two post-Vietnam books, Qais Akbar Omar’s A Fort of Nine Towers and Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story. What better way to start than to put great sentences—moving sentences, jarring sentences, and imperfect sentences—in everyone’s ears? An ice-breaker, for the workshopping that followed.

I’d like to think that the strength of our program is to be found in the stories we wrote and the precision and quality of the feedback we provided each other. To judge our success in bridging the civilian-military divide, we could parse the demographics of our group (five veterans/six civilians, four women/seven men, three graduates of creative writing programs, three retirees, a lawyer, a photographer, a poet, an anthropology professor, a magazine editor, an author of four books, one that had not written in decades), but I’d rather examine the work we produced.

Some stories you would expect from a veteran writing group—a nighttime raid in Afghanistan, a day on the gunnery range in basic training—but most may surprise. A dying grandmother who keeps a secret to the end of her life. A son with nightmares while his father fights in Iraq. Travels in Korea. A meditation in a snow-filled graveyard. We workshopped prose poems and flash fiction, chapters from novels, and a Civil War biography told through letters. Some stories had a military connection, but plenty did not; grief and love are grief and love, after all.  

In short, a veteran writing workshop looks a lot like any other serious literary class. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to produce good writing; Hemmingway’s one true sentence.

Photo (top): Don Bond, Brian Castner at a teaching workshop. Photo (center): Brittany Gray. Photo (bottom): Marilyn Rochester. Photo Credit: Words After War

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers. 

After hosting its first writing contest last spring, the literary travel magazine Nowhere is currently accepting submissions to its inaugural Fall Travel Writing Contest. Both fiction and nonfiction entries are eligible. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication.

The Nowhere editors are “looking for young, old, novice and veteran voices to send us stories that possess a powerful sense of place.” Using the online submission system, writers may submit stories and essays between 800 and 5,000 words with a $15 entry fee by January 1. Works that have been previously published are eligible, but must not have been chosen as a contest winner. Lorin Stein, the editor of the Paris Review, will judge.

Founded by travel journalist Porter Fox, Nowhere magazine began as a web zine in 2009 and relaunched as a digital quarterly in 2013. “We are a magazine about the world,” the editors write. “The Nowhere staff values the ties that travel and cultural exchange foster….Our writers—and readers—are the kind of people who still look out a plane window in awe. We don’t just see places, we see people, culture, diversity and commonality. Travel to us—like any good pastime—is a game of reinvention, of who you are and how you interact with your world.”

Visit the Nowhere website to learn more about the magazine, and to read the current issue. Or check out the video below.

First we had “Black Friday.” Then came “Cyber Monday,” and now, “Gray Thursday.” Holiday shopping is unavoidable, and these deal days have almost achieved a holiday status all their own. This week, write a short personal essay about your attitude towards holiday shopping. Do you look forward to it, or do you dread it? Do you plan to finish your shopping all at once, or do you space it out and plan ahead? 

Do you remember how you used to play with toys as a child? If you sat down today with your blocks, your old train set, or your favorite doll, the way you’d interact with these toys would probably be very different than when you were five or six years old. This week, try and enter the mind of a child crouched on the living room floor, building a world fueled by imagination, and translate it into a short story. Think of the weird names kids give to their toys, and the strange logic that comes from the innocence of trying to grasp mature concepts. Good examples can be found in The Lego Movie, which came out earlier this year.

Sometimes keeping a secret can seem like the most daunting task in the world. This week, write a poem to someone about a secret you’ve been wanting to tell him or her. Play with metaphor, perhaps leaving the subject open to interpretation. 

Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her poems have been published most recently in Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of ColorBoston ReviewBlack Renaissance NoireAtlas Review, and Apogee Journal. A proud native Brooklynite, she is a member of a women's writing group that will be celebrating thirteen years next spring.

Question: Where does a word-rich, money-poor poet from Flatbush inevitably end up?

Answer: At the food stamp office.

Office of clients in faux furs and bubble coats, of institutional green walls like the abortion clinic I accompanied a friend to. Land of city workers, collecting mugshots and electronic fingerprints, "to cut down on fraud," as one supervisor claimed, through a mouth full of jelly beans. The chaos of the food stamp office—aka the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—has been great fodder for writing practice. Security guards escorting irate clients from the waiting area; the man who kept yelling at case workers to “check the schematics,” told me all he wanted was to cook a nice meal for his fifty-third birthday; the stranger who chatted me up during my train ride to the SNAP center, teaching me a spell to make a man fall hard (hint: it involves Haitian rum and drilling a hole into an apple), and pulling out his Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to show me a picture of himself, femmed up, in a bobbed wig.

These are moments I live for as a writer, scribbling notes in the margins of a SNAP booklet ("What You Should Know About Your Rights & Responsibilities") or on the back of a voter registration form I’ll never use. Occasionally, these moments become poems, a couple of which appear in my chapbook, The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop, recently published by Argos Books. (Shout out to my nephew J----, who checked my ego by constantly asking, “Ams, what’s the name of your book again?” Only to walk off, chuckling, before I could answer.)

My mentor, musician and writer Norman Riley (the “Great Sage of Hell’s Kitchen”), once advised me to say, “yes” to any creative opportunity that felt right, that allowed me to sleep at night. I’ve performed at over ten events so far this year, which for a poet making chump change, has been financially challenging.

Two of these amazing shows were funded, fully or in part, by Poets & Writers. “Celebrating a Sacred Space for Women’s Voices” was curated by JP Howard, poet and creator of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (love to my co-features: Keisha-Gaye Anderson, Charleen McClure, and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor). And a reading at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City was organized by poet Cathy Linh Che (dap to my co-readers: Wo Chan, Cathy Linh Che, Paul Tran, and Javier Zamora).

Real talk: It feels good to be compensated for my writerly endeavors, to not be entirely stressed about how much money’s left—or ain’t left—for my subway fare after a gig. (And I can testify that travel reimbursement goes a long way, all you reading series curators out there. Ten events times $5.00 is…) It feels good to have pocket change for everyday living expenses, to support other poets’ events, a little something-something in my purse for the $8 cover or two-drink minimum plus tip. Thank you for allowing me that, Poets & Writers.

It’s still a struggle from one day to the next, don’t get it twisted. Call me a stubborn Capricorn with Virgo rising. Call me a woman about her business: A chapbook welcomed into the world with the best launch ever (I see you, Krystal Languell, Cynthia Manick, and Betsy Fagin!); an upcoming Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon workshop that I’m facilitating, co-sponsored by Poets & Writers; and a couple of events scheduled for 2015, dates pending. 

Call me a New York poet knee-deep in blessings.

Photo (top): Amber Atiya reading at Poets House. Photo Credit: Arnold Adler

Photo (bottom): Akinfe Fatou, Amber Atiya, and JP Howard at the chapbook launch for The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop. Photo Credit: Ed Toney

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers. 

Thanksgiving is a holiday of abundance, good will, good company, and most importantly, good food. We all have our favorites—that platter or dish we set strategically in front of us and hope nobody asks us to pass. This week, write about the one item in your Thanksgiving feast that you look forward to every year. Is it something you make? If not, who usually makes it? Is it a secret family recipe? In an age when most dishes can be purchased or made on any day of the year, take a moment to reflect on how certain dishes become special. 

11.26.14

From: The Time Is Now

When writing, we usually employ as many senses as we (or our characters) typically experience. Take a scene you’ve already written and tally how many times touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell are used to describe the environment, characters, and action of the story. Which one do you rely the most heavily upon in your writing? Remove all of the instances in which that sense is used, and use an alternative sense in its place. How does this affect the tone, the action, or the scene as a whole? 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, write a poem of thanks. Make it all-encompassing, widely accessible, heartfelt, and tender. It could be a proclamation of all the things you are thankful for, or it could be for someone you want to thank. When you’re finished, make copies of your poem and leave one in a public place, where it is sure to be found. Do not sign the poem, and do not address it to anyone in particular. The poem is for whoever finds it and appreciates it.  

Rebecca Hoogs is the author of the chapbook, Grenade (GreenTower Press, 2005) and the poetry collection, Self-Storage (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Zyzzyva, the Journal, Poetry Northwest, the Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, among others. She won the 2010 Southeast Review poetry contest and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Artist Trust of Washington State. Hoogs is the Program Director for Seattle Arts & Lectures and occasionally co-directs and teaches in the Summer Creative Writing in Rome program for the University of Washington. 

Rebecca HoogsWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
I think what makes Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) unique is not only the breadth of our programming, but the way we interweave our public programs with our education program, Writers in the Schools (WITS), whenever we can. At each of our lectures and readings, we open the evening by featuring a young student writer reading their original poem, story, or memoir. After, we encourage the young writer to sit beside the featured author at the booksigning table—two peers, side by side—to sign copies of their work for the audience. These moments in the spotlight can be utterly transformative for our young writers—often we hear that it’s the first time their parents are seeing them in such a positive light. These are magical moments and it’s an honor to use the SAL stage not only to present the best authors of our time to Seattle’s readers and writers, but to give them a glimpse of the best writers of the future, as well.

Many of these writers also visit a WITS classroom while they are in Seattle. For instance, James McBride, the opening speaker in this year’s Literary Arts Series, spoke with a group of several hundred students at Garfield High School (where some classes were reading his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water). Bringing real-life authors to students during the school day is just as important to us as bringing them to the evening presentation.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Last spring, after many years of trying, I finally succeeded in persuading Anne Carson to return to Seattle to appear in our Poetry Series. As Anne and her partner Currie and I planned for their visit, what would happen onstage evolved: We added musicians, invited collaborators, and I was asked to track down “as many sheets” as I could get. The resulting performance was a one-of-a-kind night featuring Anne’s words in many voices (including her own), a chorus of Gertrude Steins, music by the lovely local musicians Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, and, of course, those sheets rising up and down in a meditative dance-poem. It was a magical night that took risks, pushed boundaries, and asked the audience to join the performers in riding on the possibility of failure or flight. It was a dream come true.

What was your most successful literary program, and why?
What a hard question! There are so many ways to look at success and so many different kinds of successful programs. However, I feel that our Literary Arts Series event with George Saunders last spring epitomizes our most successful programs. He was one of the most moving, funny, and inspiring people I’ve ever heard speak and many of our long-time audience members left saying that it was one of the best—perhaps even the best—lecture that they’d ever heard in the twenty-six years of our series. That, to me, is pretty high praise. Different events will appeal to different folks, but my ultimate goal is that—at the end of every lecture or reading—someone leaves saying, wow, that was the best event I’ve been to in years.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Watching the World Series with Robert Hass at a sketchy bar down the street from our venue, fifteen minutes before his reading.

Helping an author undo the forgotten tailor tacks on his new suit, ten minutes before he took the stage.

Hearing 2,500 voices sing “Because the Night” with Patti Smith after her reading from her memoir Just Kids.

And, just last week, being blown away by the visual kismet and crazy layering of Matthea Harvey reading her poems (sponsored by Poets & Writers—thank you!) about glass girls in a glass factory in the Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass, under the Space Needle and below a full moon occasionally pierced by planes. It was an amazing night in which the setting magnified and reflected her work in all the best ways.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I strive to put together series that are not only comprised of my personal favorite writers, but who are the favorite writers of our community (or who will be!). As a result, I read much more broadly than I would otherwise and am more open-minded. To then get to hear authors in person speak about their work, to offer insight into their process, to reflect on their career, is a gift that just deepens the experience of reading.

As a poet, the Poetry Series provides the most direct inspiration for my own work. As host for the series, I am preparing for weeks in advance—reading casually at first, perhaps, and with increasing intensity and adrenaline (and yes, anxiety) as the event looms and my introduction and interview of the poet near. Preparing in this way reminds me of what I always loved (in the end) about school—reading work deeply and then synthesizing through writing and questions, lodging the work into my own conscious and subconscious. I am sure that this kind of deep reading has inevitably given me new tools, ideas, and forms to experiment with, but most of all, it has given me pleasure.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
There’s critical synergy in the work we do. Through Writers in the Schools, we’re cultivating the next generation of readers and writers while simultaneously supporting our region’s writers (we pay more than $200,000 a year to the fabulous local writers to serve as WITS writers-in-residence). These young writers are featured on the stages of our public programs and the writers-in-residence also receive free tickets to our Literary Arts Series and Poetry Series (free inspiration for their own writing life!). Each year, thousands of readers and writers of all ages are uplifted, challenged, and ultimately changed through tales of persistence, insights into the writing process, new cultural context, critical lenses into literary history, and intimate vignettes of partnership. Together, we remember what it means to be human and share a story. Together, we write that story.

Photo: Rebecca Hoogs      Credit: Libby Lewis Photography
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.

Submissions are open for the sixth annual InkTears Short Story Prize, given for a short story. The winner will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,500), and his or her story will be e-mailed to the InkTears readership.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,000 to 3,500 words with a £6 (approximately $9) entry fee by November 30. Both unpublished and previously published stories are eligible. The winner, runner-up, and four finalists will be announced by March 30, 2015.

Founded by writer and technology entrepreneur Anthony Howcroft in 2009, InkTears is a website devoted to short fiction. Readers receive a story via email each month. In a short video posted in May 2014, Howcroft—who chairs the judging panel for the prize—offers advice to writers who are submitting to the short story contest: Make it a story only you can tell; read the rules; show, don’t tell; make sure to use a consistent point of view; and focus more on the story than on its grammar.

Tom Serengeti won the 2013 prize for his story “Messenger to Riverlea.” For the 2013 competition, InkTears received over five hundred submissions.

Looking back, can you pick out a moment in your life that was altered by a simple action or pure happenstance? Perhaps someone you met under unfortunate circumstances (a fender-bender, at the doctor's office) ended up becoming a close friend of yours. Maybe, as a result of getting hopelessly lost, you discovered a diner that serves the best cherry pie you’ve ever had in your life.  This week, write an essay about one of these instances. Or, if you’ve had multiple experiences of this nature, try and string them all together in the same piece. 

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