Earth’s “most tenacious creatures,” according to National Geographic’s website, are small aquatic invertebrates called tardigrades—also commonly known as water bears. Among their amazing feats are the fact that they can dry out completely and survive without water, they were launched into outer space and survived, and they roamed the earth and seas long before humans and will likely outlast us. Write a short story that incorporates a water bear, perhaps finding sci-fi, fantasy, or horror inspiration in its physical attributes, or writing a narrative that philosophizes about the range of its adaptations.
Tonight at a ceremony in New York City, the Whiting Foundation announced the winners of the 2017 Whiting Awards. Among the largest monetary prizes given to emerging writers, the annual awards are given in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Each winner receives $50,000.
This year’s winners are Simone White and Phillip B. Williams in poetry; Kaitlyn Greenidge, Tony Tulathimutte, Jen Beagin, and Lisa Halliday in fiction; Francisco Cantú in nonfiction; and Clare Barron, Clarence Coo, and James Ijames in drama.
Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards aim to “identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture.” More than $7 million has been awarded to 320 emerging writers since the award’s inception. “The prize offers the gift of radical freedom to writers with the talent and imagination to match it,” said Courtney Hodell, the foundation’s director of writers’ programs.
Previous winners have included Tracy K. Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jorie Graham, Elif Batuman, Alice Sola Kim, and Ocean Vuong.
The award is not open to submissions; an anonymous group of writers, editors, agents, critics, professors, booksellers, and other literary professionals are selected by the Whiting Foundation each year to nominate writers and serve as judges for the awards. Visit the Whiting Foundation website for more information.
Top row, from left: Phillip B. Williams, Simone White. Middle row: Tony Tulathimutte, Lisa Halliday, Clare Barron, Kaitlyn Greenidge. Bottom row: Francisco Cantú, Jen Beagin, James Ijames, Clarence Coo.
“There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter,” wrote Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder in 1956. Write a poem centered around one image or sensation you associate with the spring season, using diction and rhythm to evoke the repeated refrains, patterns, and cycles of nature. Explore both the symbolic and physical beauty of your image.
Tanya Ko Hong explores both cultural and personal experiences with her writing, and seeks to bridge the gap between first-generation Korean immigrants and their Korean American children through her bilingual works. She has been published in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Two Hawks Quarterly, Portside, Cultural Weekly, Korea Times, and Korea Central Daily News. She has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and is the author of four books, including Mother to Myself (Prunsasang Press, 2015).
On a chilly January evening, the Korean language reverberated through the Poet’s Garden at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California for the “Bittersweet: The Immigrant Stories” event. In all the mainstream poetry readings I’ve attended, the voices of these first-generation immigrants have been absent. Many immigrants want to express themselves but cannot due to language, social, and cultural barriers. In the Korean writer circles, the few who give voice to the immigrant experience aren’t even confident that their stories are worthy of translation or performance in English. Without translation, these original stories are in danger of dying out with the immigrant generation. I want to prevent that. As Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
Since there didn’t seem to be an event celebrating the works of immigrants, I knew I had to do it. Why should my fellow immigrant artists feel invisible, voiceless, and unworthy? This evening was the realization of my dream to celebrate their works with a multicultural audience. Light evening breezes tossed the overhead string of lights as eleven artists shared immigrant experiences of Korean, Mexican, Filipino, and other cultures. Korean poets read selections as originally written, and then American poets read the translations.
Heard in English for the first time, “Sugarcane Arirang” by So Hyun Chang, recounted the first Korean Americans’ long days in the sugar fields of Hawaii. In Korean, the refrain of “Arirang” conveyed the rhythm of life in the fields and longing for home. The translation spoke of the raw and emotional experience. It was not a coincidence that the event date coincided with the one hundred and fourteenth anniversary of the first documented Korean immigrant’s arrival in Hawaii. The bittersweet aspect of the evening was the truth of the immigrant experiences and generational differences, which had been kept in silence for so long.
At the end of the evening, I read “American Dream” in both Korean and English, which ends with the question, “Who am I to you, America?”
The chill of the night was replaced by the warmth of friendship as we physically huddled together to conserve heat. The audience included writers who seldom venture outside of the Korean community, let alone to a Los Angeles venue like Beyond Baroque. The shared laughter and tears began to dismantle the barriers, borders, and fences of race, language, culture, gender, and age that often keep us divided.
On April 29, 2017, I will cohost an event at Beyond Baroque to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, an upheaval shared by Angelinos across cultural lines but seldom discussed today. As with “Bittersweet,” my goal is to bring voices to the shared pain and anguish of our neighboring communities. Let us express and listen to each other. We have suffered in silence too long.
I thank all the participants; my cohost Julayne Lee; and the artists So Hyun Chang, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Christine Gonzalez, liz gonzales, June C. Kim, Soo Bok Kim, Duk Kyu Park, Kuya Paul, and Hiram Sims for making “Bittersweet” such a special night.
Special thanks to Beyond Baroque and their director, Richard Modiano.
Photo 1: Tanya Ko Hong. Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher. Photo 2: The Immigrant Stories readers: (front L-R) June C. Kim, So Hyun Chang, Tanya Ko Hong, Julayne Lee, Kuya Paul, and Soo Bok Kim. (back L-R) Duk Kyu Park, Christine Gonzalez, and Hiram Sims. Photo credit: Patrick Hong.
The winners are:
Poetry: House of Lords and Commons: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Ishion Hutchinson
Fiction: LaRose (Harper) by Louise Erdrich
Memoir: Lab Girl (Knopf) by Hope Jahren
General Nonfiction: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown) by Matthew Desmond
Biography: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright) by Ruth Franklin
Criticism: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury) by Carol Anderson
The award-winners were announced last night at a ceremony in New York City, during which the NBCC also honored the winners of three more prizes: Yaa Gyasi received the John Leonard Prize for her debut novel, Homegoing; Margaret Atwood received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award; and Michelle Dean received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
The NBCC also announced the inaugural recipients of its Emerging Critics Fellowship, a new program that “aspires to identify, nurture, and support the development of the next generation of critics.” The fellows are Taylor Brorby, Paul W. Gleason, Zachary Graham, Yalie Saweeda Kamara, Summer McDonald, Ismail Muhamad, and Heather Scott Partington.
Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle is comprised of seven hundred working critics and book review editors throughout the country, and has administered its awards since 1975. The prizes honor “the best books published in the past year in the United States,” and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry.
In late February, frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians responding to early warm temperatures began migrating from their winter hideouts to vernal pools to begin the spring mating season. Some of the animals were chaperoned to safety by concerned volunteers across trafficked streets late at night in New York and other Northeastern states. Write an essay about a time in your life when you made a big decision or took a leap. Did someone arrive to accompany you or were you on your own? Was your emotional journey guided by a crossing guard who brought you to safety?
In “The Emotional Realist Talks to Ghosts” in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, George Saunders discusses the different stages of writing his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House, 2017). The long process included attempting a third-person version of the story, as well as a play. Though neither form was quite right, Saunders says, “It made me more convinced that there was definitely a story there.” Take a short story in progress and rewrite one particular scene in two new forms—from a different narrative point of view, and in a dramatic script format. What are the main ideas that remain consistent and integral to the story throughout all three versions?
A salt lake in Melbourne, Australia recently turned pink due to the growth of algae “in response to very high salt levels, high temperatures, sunlight, and lack of rainfall.” The phenomenon transformed the lake from its natural blue tone to an unusually bright flamingo color. Write a poem that begins by evoking the sensations of one color, and then—gradually or abruptly—turns a strikingly different color, perhaps even pink. How will you manipulate the mood, images, sounds, and rhythms of your language to reflect the color change?
Do you have a work of fiction or nonfiction ready to submit? Get this week started by submitting to the following contests—which offer prizes of up to $10,000 and have deadlines within the next two weeks.
Colorado Review Nelligan Prize: A prize of $2,000 and publication in Colorado Review is given annually for a short story. Richard Bausch will judge.
Deadline: March 14
Entry Fee: $17
Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest: A prize of $10,000 is given for an essay. Two $2,500 runner-up prizes will also be awarded. The winning essays will be published in Creative Nonfiction. The theme for the contest is “Dangerous Creations: Real-life Frankenstein Stories.”
Deadline: March 20
Entry Fee: $20
Ruminate William Van Dyke Short Story Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Ruminate is given annually for a short story.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20
The Pinch Literary Awards: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in the Pinch are given annually for a short story and an essay. Caitlin Horrocks will judge in fiction and Jill Talbot will judge in nonfiction.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20
James Jones Literary Society First Novel Fellowship: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel. A selection from the winning work will be published in Provincetown Arts. Runners-up will each receive $1,000.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $30
Southampton Review Frank McCourt Memoir Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southampton Review is given annually for a personal essay.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $15
Prairie Schooner Book Prize: A prize of $3,000 and publication by University of Nebraska Press is given annually for a short story collection. An editorial board will select finalists; Kwame Dawes will serve as final judge.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20
Micah Zevin is a librarian poet living in Jackson Heights, New York with his wife, a playwright. He works for the Queens Library and has recently published poems in the Best American Poetry Blog, Headlock Press, the Otter, Newtown Literary Journal and Blog, Poetry and Politics, Reality Beach, Jokes Review, Post (Blank), the Tower Journal, and the American Journal of Poetry. Zevin received his MFA in Poetry from the New School in 2014 and is the founder and curator of the Risk of Discovery Reading Series, now at Blue Cups in Woodside, New York.
Shortly after graduating from the New School, I started to think about how I could continue the same sense of community, support, creative energy, and stimulation that I received from my fellow students and professors. I saw a post on Facebook that was searching for someone to host and curate a reading series/open mic at a new comedy and creative venue in Astoria. The idea was to feature a diverse mix of Queens and non-Queens-based writers, and get local writers from my New School MFA connections and on social media to bring another reading series to the often overlooked borough of Queens and its budding literary scene, which happens to be my home and birthplace.
The “Risk” and “Discovery” in the reading series title was inspired by essays on writing by Yusef Komunyakaa, which emphasize the surprise that can come in one’s writing when challenging subjects or ideas are tackled in an unorthodox or imaginative way. At the most recent incarnation of my reading series, I give my attendees a handout with poetry prompts that asks them to write instant poems (the discovery), and then read them aloud (the risk). These poetry prompts have also been an effective way to jumpstart my own writing and bring things out of me from angles and perspectives that wouldn’t have otherwise been extracted or mined. Featured readers, such as Mathew Yeager, Nicole Goodwin, and Ryan Black, have taken the challenge and read their “instant poems” aloud.
Joanna Fuhrman was a featured poet for our February 21 event, and upcoming events include poets Matthew Hupert and Bill Lessard on March 21, and Uche Nduka and Francine Witte on April 18 during poetry month.
Featured poets who are paid an honorarium are thrilled that this reading series has received grants from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, which encourages writers to travel and go on tours to promote their collections. The option to pay featured readers attracts a wide range of writers to my reading series, and it has grown and built a regular audience over the last three years.
The Poets & Writers Literary Events Calendar is the perfect place to post information about the series and upcoming featured writers, and posts can be shared on social media.
Ultimately, running a reading series, despite organizational and logistical challenges, is a rewarding experience because it connects writers and literary enthusiasts with one another, and helps build a network in the borough of Queens and beyond.
Photos: (top) Micah Zevin. Photo credit: Susan Weiman. (middle) Joanna Fuhrman. (bottom) Audience members at the open mic. Photo credit: Micah Zevin.
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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.