The Game of Life

11.22.17

Max Brooks’s fantasy novel Minecraft: The Island (Del Rey, 2017), about a main character who must learn to survive on an island, is designed to reflect the experience of playing the Minecraft video game; in fact the narrative can be re-created in the actual video game. Write a short story that incorporates a video game, real or imagined, perhaps taking inspiration from other game-related novels such as Dennis Cooper’s God Jr. (Black Cat, 2005), in which a father is preoccupied with a scene in his deceased son’s favorite game; Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Crown, 2011), in which the teenage protagonist seeks to discover the secret hidden inside a game by its creator; or Nathan Hill’s The Nix (Knopf, 2016), in which the main character is addicted to video games. Can you draw any parallels between the journey of being a player in a game and the character arc that develops over the course of your story?

Transforming Language

11.21.17

“If I’m transformed by language, I am often / crouched in footnote or blazing in title. / Where in the body do I begin.” Many of the poems in Layli Long Soldier’s debut collection, Whereas (Graywolf Press, 2017), explore historical relations between Native Americans and the U.S. government through a lens focusing on linguistics and different forms of official language. Write a poem using found language from official documents or reference materials, such as legal decrees, applications, surveys, dictionary definitions, history textbooks, or identification cards, to explore personal feelings about nationality, identity, or family history. What makes the language and grammar in these texts powerful? Taking inspiration from Long Soldier’s poems, incorporate formatting and styling that contribute to the emotional intentions of your poem, such as strikethrough, border boxes, white spaces, sideways orientation of words and lines, italics, quotation marks, punctuation, and parentheses.

Upcoming Short Prose Deadlines

Prose writers, are you sitting on a short story, essay, or piece of flash fiction? With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, take some time before you fill up on turkey to fill out applications to the following contests with upcoming deadlines—each offering prizes from $1,000 to $20,000 and publication. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Deadline: Tuesday, November 21

Literary Death Match 250-Word Bookmark Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication will be given annually for a short short story of up to 250 words. The winning story will be published on Literary Death Match bookmarks and distributed to events around the world. The winner and finalists will also be invited to read at Literary Death Match events. Roxane Gay will judge. Entry fee: $15

Deadline: Thursday, November 23

Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival Brooklyn Nonfiction Prize: A prize of $500 and publication on the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival website is given annually for a work of nonfiction that is set in Brooklyn, New York, and renders the borough's “rich soul and intangible qualities through the writer's actual experiences of Brooklyn.” There is no entry fee.

César Egido Serrano Foundation International Flash Fiction Competition: A prize of $20,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend an award ceremony in Madrid will be given annually for a work of flash fiction written in English, Spanish, Hebrew, or Arabic. Three runner-up prizes of $1,000 each and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the award ceremony will be given to stories in each of the remaining languages. The winning works will be published in a prize anthology. There is no entry fee.

Deadline: Thursday, November 30

Fish Publishing Fish Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,400) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story. The winner will also receive a five-day short story workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2018. Entry fee: $26

Lascaux Review Prize in Short Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Lascaux Review is given annually for a short story. The winner and finalists will also be published in the 2018 Lascaux Prize Anthology. Entry fee: $10

Quarter After Eight Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest: A prize of $1,008.15 and publication in Quarter After Eight is given annually for a prose poem, a short short story, or a micro-essay. Stuart Dybek will judge. Entry fee: $15

Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Louisiana Literature is given annually for a short story by a writer who has not published a full-length book of fiction. The winner also receives domestic airfare of up to $500, private lodging, and a VIP pass to the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in March 2018 to give a reading. Jennifer Haigh will judge. Entry fee: $25

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Happy Thanksgiving, and happy writing!

A Street in Brooklyn: Writing Into the Urban Landscape

DéLana R.A. Dameron is the author of Weary Kingdom (University of South Carolina Press, 2017), which is part of the University of South Carolina Press’s Palmetto Poetry Series, edited by Nikky Finney. Her debut collection, How God Ends Us (University of South Carolina Press, 2009), was selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize. Dameron holds an MFA in poetry from New York University where she was a Goldwater Hospital Writing Workshop Fellow. She has conducted readings, workshops, and lectures all across the United States, Central America, and Europe.

I have been an alumna of the Cave Canem summer retreat since 2008, and had the opportunity to participate in smaller New York City workshops in 2008 and 2009. While the summer retreat is life-changing and affirming, and provided me with a long roster of lifelong friends in the poetry world, the prolonged space(s) with Myronn Hardy and Tracy K. Smith as facilitators provided me with a framework of what a community workshop could look like, how to be rigorous readers and writers in an after-work, weekly setting, while also building community. Cave Canem, for me, is about building a community of people who will sharpen your poeming pen.

I did all of this before I entered an “official” MFA workshop table at New York University. I say that to say, when I exited the MFA workshop table, I did not choose a life of teaching poetry in academia (though I would love to teach a class here or there!), but found other ways to pay my bills, and searched for opportunities to teach workshops to folks who went to work from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM and came and sat down and still endeavored to read and write poetry in a supportive and educational space.

When Cave Canem asked me to teach the Poetry Conversations workshop, billed especially for beginning and intermediate poets, I jumped at the opportunity and said yes. Here, I was able to come home, to open up space for the many levels of poets that would hopefully sign up for the course.

It became very clear to me that I wanted to teach what I live: writing the everyday/the landscape(s) I inhabit into poetry, making it sing.

The “A Street in Brooklyn: Writing Into the Urban Landscape” workshop was at once a survey of Gwendolyn Brooks’s work as a poet. Weekly we read chronological selections from A Street in Bronzeville (Harper, 1945), Annie Allen (Harper, 1949), The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960), In the Mecca (Harper, 1968), and single poems from her collected works in Blacks (David Co., 1987).

Of her own work and inspiration, Brooks said: “I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street. I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material.”

Reading Brooks is not only an exercise in understanding the mastery of writing the ordinary (Black folks in Chicago, the urban landscape writ large, etc.) into extraordinary poetry, but quickly I found that to teach Brooks over the span of her career, as documented in Blacks, is to also teach a Black history course, a Chicago history course.

Then, to charge the poets to do as Brooks did, and look out of their own windows for the poetry of their everyday lives, they included their own poetic historical markers of where and who they are now, especially in the context of gentrification, “urban renewal,” and the general displacement of Black cultural markers, people, histories, and stories.

At the last class there was an overwhelming sadness, but also a triumph. We had been through a literal journey together. At my urging, I asked poets to write about their neighborhood, a place that no longer existed, a place that showed NYC Black History—a mural, a statue, a hanging tree—and to write those things into sonnets, in rhyme, as ballads, as Brooks did in her early years. Together we coined the term “Brooksonian” and looked for moments when she shined the best, and then applied it to our poems that we brought to the table for workshop.

As the weeks progressed, and we marched along the historical timeline from 1945 (A Street in Bronzeville) to 1968 (In the Mecca) and beyond, we watched Brooks’s work open up, and we talked about what it meant to be a poet moved by a historic moment, and what it meant for Brooks to break open, even more, the poetic form. We talked about the uses of poetry, the politics of it, the immediacy and need. That same day a participant brought in a poem that referenced, as Brooks might have (and did for her Chicago Black people), Eleanor Bumpers, who was shot and killed by police in 1984 in the Bronx, as well as the now no longer existing Slave #1 Theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and all I could do was shake my head in awe: We had arrived.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: (top) DéLana R.A. Dameron (Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths). (bottom) Workshop participants (Credit: DéLana R.A. Dameron).
 

Frontier Poetry Award: One Poem, $5,000

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Frontier Poetry Award, a new prize of $5,000 and publication in Frontier Poetry given annually for a single poem. Ten finalists will each receive $100 and publication. The editors will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit up to four poems of any length with a $20 entry fee by Thursday, November 30. Multiple submissions are allowed. The winners will be announced in February 2018.

Established as an arm of the Masters Review, Frontier Poetry is now its own online publication that aims to provide a quality platform for emerging poets. Tyehimba Jess, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, recently judged Frontier's inaugural Award for New Poets. Visit the website for more information, including recent publications and what the editors look for in submissions.

Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

I Remember

11.16.17

In his experimental memoir, I Remember (Angel Hair Books, 1970), Joe Brainard begins every paragraph with the phrase, “I remember.” By repeating this simple form again and again, Brainard is able to uncover memories previously buried beneath other memories: “I remember my grade school art teacher, Mrs. Chick, who got so mad at a boy one day she dumped a bucket of water over his head. I remember one very hot summer day I put ice cubes in my aquarium and all the fish died. I remember after people are gone thinking of things I should have said but didn’t.” Try borrowing Brainard’s construction for your own experimental essay. Follow the beads of memory and see if they lead you somewhere surprising.

Jesmyn Ward, Frank Bidart Win National Book Awards

The winners of the 2017 National Book Awards were announced this evening in New York City. Jesmyn Ward took home the award in fiction for her novel Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), and Frank Bidart won the award in poetry for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Masha Gessen won in nonfiction for The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead Books), and Robin Benway won in young people’s literature for her novel Far From the Tree (HarperCollins). Each of the winners will receive $10,000.

Actress Cynthia Nixon emceed the ceremony and opened the evening by emphasizing the importance of books. “Books are among the most powerful weapons we have against what has lately felt like a hostile world,” she said. “For some of us books provide a welcome escape or a valuable resource for arming us with indispensable knowledge of history. But it also offers something we so desperately need: broadened perspective…. They cultivate empathy, they inspire action, they make us feel less alone, and they expose us to an experience we couldn’t imagine on our own.”

The winners of the 2017 awards echoed this sentiment. “Writing the poems was how I survived,” said Bidart upon winning the poetry prize. “I hope that the journeys these poems go on will help others survive as well.” In her acceptance speech, Ward addressed the crowd and said, “You looked at me and the people I love and the people I write about…. and you saw your grief, your love, your losses, your regret, your joy, your hope. I am deeply grateful, and I hope to continue this conversation with all of you for all of our days.”

Earlier in the evening, Bill Clinton presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Richard Robinson, the chairman, president, and CEO of Scholastic. “All over this country there are people who are forming new neural networks at the speed of light, stimulated by books that wouldn’t be here if not for [Robinson’s] day job at Scholastic and his commitment to this kind of philanthropic work,” said Clinton.

The foundation also honored Annie Proulx with the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution  to American Letters. Actress Anne Hathaway, who starred in the 2005 film adaptation of Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain,” presented the award to the writer, who is the author of several story collections and novels, most recently Barkskins (Scribner, 2016). The annual $10,000 award is given for lifetime achievement, which Proulx wryly noted in her acceptance speech. “Although this is award is given for lifetime achievement,” she said, “I didn’t start writing until I was fifty-eight.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the literary world’s most prestigious prizes. The 2016 winners included poet Daniel Borzutzky, fiction writer Colson Whitehead, and nonfiction writer Ibram X. Kendi.

 

The Objective

11.15.17

Miranda July’s short story “The Metal Bowl” is about a marriage and a secret that one partner brings to it, but the narrative ends up depending on the eponymous metal bowl. July’s story joins a tradition of short stories that hinge on a single (often surprisingly mundane) object, such as Lydia Davis’s “The Sock” and Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Accordion.” Try writing your own short story or scene in which a nondescript object plays a crucial role.

Dear Abstraction

11.14.17

In a series of poems titled “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin,” Terrance Hayes seemingly addresses an abstraction: How can one have both a past and future assassin? Would this assassin be a person, or would it be a system, a history, a feeling? Hayes embraces the ambiguity, and writes his poems as if he were speaking to an individual: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” Is there a force in your own life that is asking to be addressed? Try writing your own sonnet that confronts this force—however abstract—and speaks to it as if it were a person.

Access for All

Kenny Fries is the author most recently of In the Province of the Gods (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017), which received the Creative Capital literature grant. His other memoirs include The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory and Body, Remember: A Memoir. His books of poems include In the Gardens of Japan, Desert Walking, and Anesthesia. He is the editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience From the Inside Out, and was a Creative Arts Fellow of the Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, and twice a Fulbright Scholar (Japan and Germany). Fries teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College.

For those of us who live with disabilities, when we think of access we mostly think of physical access: ramps, lifts, and technological aides. But cultural access is just as essential as physical access to an inclusive society.

Cultural access is a two-way street. People with disabilities need to see themselves represented—not stereotypically and as fully human—in our culture. But disabled and nondisabled alike benefit from access to disability culture because the experience enriches all of us.

I recently completed a fifteen-city tour for In the Province of the Gods, a memoir about my time as a disabled foreigner in Japan. Immersing myself in Japanese culture and meeting with artists, disability studies scholars, and atomic bomb survivors, while at the same time coming to terms with my HIV diagnosis, I learn about how Japan views impermanence and mortality.

Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program supported three tour events that increased access to disability culture. I read and was in conversation with writer Susan R. Nussbaum at Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, which is committed to making our society more inclusive of people with disabilities by “removing barriers so people with disabilities can live the future they envision.” Access Living’s Disability Arts & Culture Project is exemplary of the centrality of disability arts and culture to such inclusion.

The audience at Access Living included people with disabilities of different ethnicities and sexualities, Chicago-based artists, as well as students from the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at the University of Illinois, Chicago. A wide-ranging discussion about my writing process for In the Province of the Gods; my intersecting identities of being disabled, gay, and Jewish; and what it means to be considered “other” both in Japan and the United States ended the evening.

At Georgetown University I helped inaugurate a disability studies minor, which draws on course offerings ranging from anthropology to English, to nursing to theology. I read from and talked about In the Province of the Gods both at a packed event open to the public, as well as in the more intimate setting of a freshman seminar titled “Disability, Culture, and the Question of Care.”

I read at the University of Houston’s Medicine and the Arts Series, part of the Honors College’s Medicine & Society Program, which gives pre-health professionals, other students, and the public an opportunity to connect the arts to “the meanings of illness and caregiving.” Programs in narrative medicine and medical humanities are growing across the United States, and it is important that the stories of and by people with disabilities are included to counteract the dominant medical model of disability, which is predicated on eradicating disability either by killing it or curing it. One of the highlights was visiting their Literature and Medicine class, where a student shared his e-mail dialogue with a Buddhist professor about my book’s relationship to the process of shedding the self. 

The dialogues in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Houston are examples of what historian Paul K. Longmore calls our quest for “collective identity.” Longmore writes, “whereas the society-at-large prizes self-sufficiency, independence, functional separateness, and physical autonomy, the disability experience puts forth the values of self-determination, interdependence, personal connection, and human community.” On a month-long book tour, these events stood out as they not only increased access to disability culture, but also the importance of such values during the turbulent times in which we live.

Support for Readings & Workshops in Chicago, Houston, 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.

Photos: (top) Kenny Fries (Credit: Micheal R. Dekker). (bottom) Libbie Rifkin, Teaching Professor at Georgetown University, and audience (Credit: Kenny Fries).

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