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This past Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, eight thousand helium balloons were released into the night sky over Berlin. This week, write a story that takes place in Berlin on the day of the ceremony. Perhaps one of your characters grew up with the Berlin Wall up. Maybe one of your characters is traveling across Europe and just happens to be in Berlin that day. In your story, break down some personal barriers between characters, or try to unite them on a common ground.   

The next time you catch a glimpse of your shadow, study it for a while. Observe how it moves when you move, how it looks in different kinds of light. Think about what it would feel like if one day you looked for it and it wasn’t there. Write a poem to your shadow as if it were an old friend.

Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). The recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers, Inc., Kundiman, Rattle, and the Asian American Literary Review, Leigh serves as the Poetry Editor of Kartika Review. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a PhD student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The book tour was a risk. On good days, we called it an investment. Averaging early thirties, we were young enough to “stop everything and do this!” but old enough to be concerned about our finances. We decided against crowdfunding, dug into our savings, and reminded each other, “you only live once.” We would never publish first books again.

The four tour-bound poets—Michelle Chan BrownCathy Linh CheSally Wen Mao, and I—found each other through Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves emerging Asian American writers and instills in its fellows, an irrepressible belief that their words matter.

Book tours, we discovered, were a lost art. With few contemporary examples to emulate, we fashioned our tour from imagination. We created haphazard lists of venues, cities, and people we know or sort-of-used-to-know. The lists gave birth to the Honey Badgers Don’t Give a B**k Tour, our homebrewed, multi-week, poetry performance on wheels.

We woke early on futons and air mattresses (and once a yoga mat) strewn across the homes of strangers and friends. While we rewarded ourselves with the occasional Red Lobster feast or a quick dip in a lake, the tour was hardly a glamorous affair. We spent our long drives catching up on sleep or on freelance work, plus tweeting and tumbling so our moms could keep track of us, up and down the east coast.

When Joseph O. Legaspi, one of Kundiman’s founders, invited us to read with acclaimed poet Patrick Rosal as part of New York City’s Bryant Park Word for Word series, we jumped at the chance—especially when we learned that the Poets & Writers Readings and Workshops program would fund the event.

With over two hundred people in attendance, the Word for Word reading was our largest gathering on tour. It was a life-giving privilege not only to perform, but also to be financially compensated for a performance at the Bryant Park Reading Room, a space created during the Great Depression to welcome the out-of-work masses.

Several nights later, at one of our final readings in a Washington, D.C. bar called Petworth Citizen, only one person showed up. A community activist whom none of us knew personally.

Michelle, Cathy, Sally, and I exchanged surprised glances as we had nearly resigned to packing up without doing a reading at all. Then we resolutely pulled our chairs into a circle to include our new friend, plus Michelle’s husband, our second and only other audience member. We took turns performing our poems in that circle with as much energy as the first time. Then, we thanked the woman who sat with us by gifting her signed copies of each of our books.

I understood then that the fuel we had received in New York City took us through D.C. and to numerous other communities. It would not be a stretch to say our small gesture was an extension of the gifts first given to us by organizations such as Kundiman and Poets & Writers.

The extension continued when, a few weeks after the tour, I moved to Chicago and became one of the friends with an air mattress, as I hosted Cathy Che and poets Jess X. Chen and Paul Tran on a stop for their visual poetry tour, Lights Trauma Revelation. I read my poems, as one of four local poets, for their performance at the Marble Room, a Chicago reading series that hosted us in a Wicker Park dance studio, tucked under a train station. And there, Poets & Writers showed up once again to fund part of the reading.

I joked recently that I get paid as a poet when a stranger writes to say he resonates with my book, or when an old college friend finds a copy at an independent bookstore.  But with the Readings & Workshops program's generosity, I'm blessed and grateful to receive occasional financial compensation, as well. Whether friend or funder, I want to thank you, dear supporters, for your continued confidence in the importance of our words.

"Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows" - Book Trailer from Jess X Chen on Vimeo.

Photo (top): Eugenia Leigh. Photo Credit: An Rong Ku

Photo (bottom): Patrick Rosal, Cathy Che, Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao. Photo Credit: Honey Badgers Don't Give a Book Tour Tumbler page

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. 

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago and Washington, D.C. 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.

We all have music artists that we connected with in our youth. But as time goes on, our music tastes tend to change. This week, pick a song you haven’t listened to in over ten years and give it another try. Write a short personal essay about your reaction to the song. What was it about that song that made you connect with it at the time? Do you still like it as much as you did then? If not, what do you think that says about how you’ve changed as a person?

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot.” This rhyme commemorates the failure of the plot to assassinate King James I of England on November 5, 1605. The plot’s failure was due in part to the arrest of Guy Fawkes, who was guarding explosives placed beneath the House of Lords. This week, learn about a treasonous plot that was foiled and write a short story about it. Retell the historical event as it happened, or use the facts as inspiration for an original story involving your own characters.

Submissions are open for the Table 4 Writers Foundation’s third annual grants, given annually to fiction and nonfiction writers over the age of twenty-one. The winner will receive $5,000 and two runner-ups will each receive $2,500.

The grants are given for short stories, essays, or novel or memoir excerpts that somehow deal with New York City. To apply, submit four copies of four to ten pages (or 1,000 to 2,500 words) with the required entry form and a $10 entry fee via postal mail by November 15. Applications should be mailed to 1650 Broadway, Suite 405, New York, NY 10019.

The Table 4 Writers Foundation established its writers grants in 2012 in honor of restauranteur Elaine Kaufman. Kaufman, who passed away in 2010, ran an Austro-Hungarian bar on the Upper East Side of New York City for over forty-seven years. The restaurant was a favorite among writers, journalists, and editors. Kaufmann, who always sat at table four, was known for offering support and advice to writers.

The 2014 recipients will be announced in February and celebrated at the foundation’s annual spring gala in New York City. The 2013 recipients are Matthew Perron, Kurt Pitzer, Danny Thiemann, Jennie Yabroff, and Karen Yin. They each received $2,500, and their winning entries can be read on the foundation’s website. The foundation received over one hundred entries for the 2013 contest.

Photo: Elaine Kaufman

In Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Rosencrantz muses, “We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?” If you were to imagine death as something tangible—an object, a location, or a living thing—what would it be? Write a poem meditating on why this particular thing symbolizes loss, and the coming of an end.

For over forty-five years, the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS) has hosted nationally and internationally acclaimed poets in the welcoming and intimate setting of the Katonah Village Library in Northern Westchester County. Each reading is followed by an interactive Q&A session, as well as a reception and book signing. The distinguished poets who have appeared over the years include six poets laureate of the United States, six poets laureate of New York State and sixteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001-2003, directed the series for seventeen years and continues to serve on the poetry advisory board. The series draws an audience, not only from Northern Westchester, but also the greater Tri-State region. The series provides a valuable service to the community—hearing live poetry is an important experience that differs from reading a poem on the page. KPS believes it is important to broaden the audience for poetry, and reaches out to regional high schools and colleges. The series is pleased to take part in creating a vibrant and intellectual literary community of readers, writers, and educators.

How many years and poets does it take to make an incredible reading series? In the case of the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS), forty-seven years, six U.S. poets laureate, sixteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and a host of renowned poets. This lively poetic scene would not be possible without vital support from grantors like Poets & Writers, a dedicated group of poetry lovers of all ages, and the wonderful venue of the Katonah Village Library.

The series began in 1967 with Robert Phillips showing up at the library with a gallon of wine, some cheese, and a poet in tow. When Bob left to join the faculty at the University of Texas, he handed the baton to Billy Collins. A few years later, prompted by the small turnout at a Samuel Menashe reading, I offered, as good friends tend to do, to help Billy with the series. I didn’t realize that I would inherit most of the organizational duties due to his 2001 inauguration as U.S. poet laureate! After my stead as Co-director, Director, and now as Poetry Advisor, I continue to be nourished by my involvement in the series and fondly refer to it as my personal MFA program. As Billy Collins aptly said, “If you sat on the steps of the Katonah Village Library for the past twenty-three years [and now forty-seven!] without moving, nearly every notable American poet would walk by you."

The intimate, informal atmosphere of our readings, and the book signing reception that follows, encourages everyone to interact with each other and the featured poet. Visiting poets often comment on the vibrancy and enthusiasm of our audience. Not only have we built an audience, but along with them, a thriving community of readers and writers.

Some highlights:

• Stephen Dunn’s reading two weeks after September 11, 2001, which audience members said helped them cope with the tragedy

• The Ilya Kaminsky reading in 2003 moved people to tears

• Many moments of laughter provoked by Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, Ellen Bass, and other poets

• A young mother with leukemia who credited the series with upgrading her quality of life as she underwent treatment

• Dylan Thomas’s "A Child’s Christmas in Wales" recited by James Navé every December, a community ritual drawing families and folks of all ages

Given the current strength of KPS, it is hard to believe that in the 2009-2010 season, the series came close to losing solvency. Help came in the unlikely guise of a September 2010 article in the New York Times, “Even Poetry is Undergoing Setbacks.” Surprisingly, unsolicited checks arrived from as far away as California! With those funds and the creation of a new Executive Committee, the series was revived. KPS now offers four annual readings, as well as some additional community events and workshops. The Katonah Poetry Series also has a new media presence to take it into the twenty-first century, including a website (featuring unique poet interviews), a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and coming soon—Instagram! Our recent Billy Collins reading attracted nearly three hundred people, and we are confident that we will be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary in 2017. Does that make us one of the oldest— and newest— reading series in the United States? Please “friend us” and we’ll look forward to welcoming you to the KPS family.

Photo: (top) Committee members from left: Van Kozelka, Director of Katonah Village Library; Leisha Douglas, Ph.D., KPS Poet Advisor; Julie Nord, KPS Publicity; Andy Kuhn, KPS VP; Moira Thielking, KPS President; Marlene Gallagher, KPS; Stephen Peeples, KPS Treasurer; Jessica Bennett, KPS; Barb Chintz, KPS.
Photo: (2nd from top) Ellen Bass reading from her new collection, Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014).
Photo: (3rd from top) Billy Collins Reading.
Photo: (bottom) Billy Collins connecting with fans. Photo Credit: Leslye Smith, Studio Smith Photography.

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.

Good Halloween costumes distill the essence of what or who you are dressing up as, so that it’s immediately recognizable. This week, think about the scariest Halloween costume you’ve ever seen. What was it about the costume that really made an impact on you?  

The fright-seekers are gearing up to get scared this week, visiting haunted houses, riding haunted hayrides, and stumbling through cavernous corn mazes. Imagine one of your characters is hired to be a monster for one of these frightful events. Why does she take the job? Does she like scaring people, or does she just need the money? What does her costume look like? Does she feel guilty about frightening people?

Haunted houses are a classic setting for ghost stories. This week, write a poem about the house you live in as though it were haunted. Imagine what kind of spirits might live there, why they remain, and how they inhabit the space. Describe the sound of the creaky floorboard near the refrigerator, the way the windows slide shut on their own, and the weird smell near the fireplace. For inspiration, read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Haunted Houses.” 

Submissions are currently open for the Madison Review’s Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry and Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction. The prizes are given annually for a trio of poems and a short story. Each winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Madison Review.

Using the online submission system, submit either three poems totaling no more than fifteen pages, or a story of up to thirty pages with a $10 entry fee by November 1. The editors of the Madison Review will judge.

Established in the early 1970s, the Madison Review is the undergraduate student­–run journal of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The biannual review has published the work of poets Stephen Dunn, Lisel Mueller, and C. K. Williams, and fiction writers Charles Baxter and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The 2013 poetry prize–winner was Steve Tomasko for his poems “And No Spiders Were Harmed,” “The Plane of the Ecliptic,” and “An Inordinate Fondness.” Phillippe Diederich won the fiction prize for his short story “The Falling.” The winning pieces were published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Madison Review.

Kirkus Reviews has announced the winners of its inaugural Kirkus Prize. Established this year to celebrate the eighty-first anniversary of Kirkus Reviews, the $50,000 prizes will be given annually for a book of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature published in the previous year.

Lily King won the fiction prize for her novel Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press). The finalists were Siri Hustvedt for The Blazing World  (Simon & Schuster); Dinaw Mengestu for All Our Names (Knopf); Brian Morton for Florence Gordon (Houghton Mifflin); Bill Roorbach for The Remedy of Love (Algonquin Books); and Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests (Riverhead). Kate Christensen, Stephanie Valdez, and Marion Winik judged.

Roz Chast won the nonfiction prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury). The finalists were Leo Damrosch for Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press); Elizabeth Kolbert for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Holt); Armand Marie Leroi for The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Viking); Thomas Piketty for Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press); and Bryan Stevenson for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau). Sarah Bagby, Sloane Crosley, and Gregory McNamee judged.

Kate Samworth won the young readers’ literature prize for her picture book Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (Clarion). Claudette S. McLinn, Linda Sue Park, and John Edward Peters judged.

The 2015 Kirkus Prize will be awarded to books published between November 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, and given a Kirkus Star review. For a traditional Kirkus review, authors, agents, or publishers may submit two copies of a book at least four to five months before its publication date. Self-published authors may order a Kirkus Indie review for $425 (for a review in seven to nine weeks) or $575 (for a review in four to six weeks). The editors of Kirkus Reviews estimate their reviewers cover eight to ten thousand books every year and give 10 percent of those books a Kirkus Star. Founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, Kirkus Reviews is published twice monthly. 

Upper Left: Lily King, photo by Winky Lewis. Upper Right: Roz Chast, photo by Bill Franzen.

10.23.14

From: The Time Is Now

When you sit down to write, do you invoke a muse? Who is this muse, and what do you ask of her? Is this someone in your day-to-day life, or an unearthly entity—like the nine muses in Greek mythology? This week, write a personal essay about a person who brings you inspiration, courage, and clarity in moments of creative effort. 

Is there a celebrity that you think one of your characters is destined to meet? Write a scene in which he or she has a chance encounter with this famous person. Have the two carry on a normal conversation before your character recognizes this person is a celebrity. Perhaps this star has some words of wisdom to impart to your character (or the other way around), or maybe he or she is just looking for a friend. For inspiration, watch this video in which recording artist Jay-Z meets a woman named Ellen in a New York City subway car.

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