Search Among the Birds

2.22.18

Mary Ruefle’s essay “My Search Among the Birds” takes the form of short diary entries, all relating to birds. The entries each begin with a date and range from simple descriptions (“I saw a bird in the bushes near Dairy Queen. It looked thin to me.”) to more inward reflections (“Although all poets aspire to be birds, no bird aspires to be a poet.”). This week, try taking daily notes on a specific subject that will allow you to observe and be introspective. It could be anything: cellphones, airplanes, mice, socks. See where this act of sustained attention leads you, and craft your entries into an essay.

PEN Announces 2018 Award Winners

Last night PEN America announced the winners of its 2018 Literary Awards. The annual awards, which this year totaled more than $350,000, are given for books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and translation published in the previous year. Below are the winners of a select few prizes.

Layli Long Soldier won the $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award for her debut poetry collection, WHEREAS (Graywolf Press). The award is given for a book of any genre for its “originality, merit, and impact.”

Jenny Zhang won the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for her story collection, Sour Heart (Lenny). The prize is given for a first novel or story collection. Mia Alvar, Rion Amilcar Scott, Justin Torres, and Claire Vaye Watkins judged.

Alexis Okeowo won the PEN Open Book Award for her nonfiction book, A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa (Hachette). The award is given for book of any genre by a writer of color. Eduardo C. Corral, Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Amy Quan Barry judged.

Len Rix won the PEN Translation Prize for his translation from the Hungarian of Magda Szabó’s novel Katalin Street (NYRB Classics). The prize is given for a book-length translation of prose from any language into English. Eric M. B. Becker, Lisa Hayden, Jenny Wang Medina, Denise Newman, and Lara Vergnaud judged.

The late Ursula K. Le Guin won the $10,000 Pen/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for her essay collection No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Vinson Cunningham, James Fallows, and Gillian Tett judged.

Edmund White received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and Edna O’Brien received the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Both awards are given for a body of work.

Visit the PEN website for a complete list of winners and finalists.

Photos: Layli Long Soldier, Jenny Zhang, Alexis Okeowo

Tell a Fairy Tale Day

2.21.18

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. To honor the occasion, try writing your own fairy tale with a contemporary twist. If you need some inspiration, examples abound of stories influenced by the magical logic and archetypes of fairy tales. In Robert Coover’s “The Frog Prince,” for example, a woman marries a frog and kissing him offers her a hallucinogenic experience. The anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Penguin Books, 2010), edited by Kate Bernheimer with Carmen Giménez Smith, is filled with diverse approaches to the retelling of classic fairy tales. What elements of modern life or progressive point of view will you incorporate into your tale? 

Reflex/Response: Kaveh Akbar at the Poetry Center of Chicago

Natasha Mijares is an artist, writer, curator, and educator. She received her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited at MECA International Art Fair in Puerto Rico, Sullivan Galleries, TCC Chicago, and Locust Projects and has been published in Container, Calamity, Vinyl Poetry, Bear Review, and Hypertext Magazine. She is a teaching artist for the Poetry Center of Chicago’s creative literacy residency program in Chicago public schools, Hands on Stanzas, and curates and hosts the Six Points Reading Series.

The Poetry Center of Chicago (PCC) was founded in 1974, and we work hard to promote poetry in Chicago through readings, workshops, and arts education. Something that I have been working on at PCC is to offer more workshops for adults. Last year, we had a poetry and dance workshop with Ana Castillo and the nonprofit organization Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, thanks to the generous support of Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. With this continued support, I was able to organize a morning workshop with poet Kaveh Akbar as well as an evening reading and discussion with him and Tarfia Faizullah that took place on January 26. 

The workshop sign-up was open to the public and took place at Loyola University Chicago. We had twenty-three participants from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, and places in the city. Kaveh Akbar opened up the workshop by discussing the unique architecture of our psychic algorithms and how this allows us to create a restorative experience of language that is uniquely our own. He led two activities to be used as sustainable tools for the writing practice.

The first activity incorporated a “bibliomanic” response in which each participant picked words from poetry books that stood out to them. After acquiring a pile of dazzling words and ideas, the participants were able to craft their own poems and the responses were energetic, playful, and provocative. The second activity was the “one-word story.” In groups of three, two participants began a poem by saying one word at a time and the third participant acted as the scribe. Again, the activity was a trust of the psyche as opposed to any premeditated plan. Akbar stressed how certainty is the death of a poem and how we should trust our reflexive responses.

The workshop participants and the PCC staff had a wonderful experience. One of the participants noted: “He was a great teacher—full of curiosity and fun, and he shared that infectiously with us. Akbar’s prompts were really wonderful, they allowed me to get into writing immediately, and led to a great output of work for myself, and it seemed, for others too. I’m so grateful the center was able to offer this workshop for free.”

In the evening, both poets opened by reading Chicago poets. Tarfia Faizullah read a poem from Fatimah Asghar’s forthcoming debut collection, If They Come for Us (One World, 2018), and Akbar read “off white” by Nate Marshall, before reading from their own collections along with some new work.

Thanks to the support of a micro grant from Illinois Humanities, we were able to have the poets lead a discussion following the reading. Akbar used the space to interview Faizullah about her new book and the discussion lead to questions about Muslim identity, epigenetics, and when to address the self. The audience contributed questions and feedback that pulled us toward the roots of each poet’s work. It made for an evening of honest, warm, and powerful celebrations of poetry and the community that builds it together.

Editor’s Note: For more on Kaveh Akbar, read “The Whole Self: Our Thirteenth Annual Look at Debut Poets” from the January/February 2018 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. You can also hear Tarfia Faizullah read from her new poetry collection, Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press, 2018), in the eighteenth episode of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

Support for Readings & Workshops in Chicago 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) Natasha Mijares (Credit: German Caceres). (middle) Reading attendees (Credit: Natasha Mijares). (bottom) Kaveh Akbar and Tarfia Faizullah (Credit: Natasha Mijares).

Sunshower

2.20.18

Many cultures have expressions to describe the phenomenon of sunshowers. In Japan, a sunshower is said to mean that foxes are getting married; in Iran, that a wolf is giving birth; and in the United States, that the devil is beating his wife. In her poem “Sunshower,” Natalie Shapero uses this American expression as a refrain and twists it in a way that critiques both the saying and the culture it represents. Using Shapero’s poem as a model, try taking one of the many cultural expressions for a sunshower and use it as a refrain for a poem. Begin with the words: “Some people say…” 

Upcoming Prose Deadlines

Prose writers! There’s no time like the present to submit your best short stories, essay collections, and novel manuscripts to the following contests with deadlines of February 28 and March 1. The contests all offer publication and cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Good luck!

Deadline: February 28

Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers: A prize of $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 author copies is given three times a year for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not appeared in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Entry fee: $18

Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,240) and publication in the Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short short story. Sherrie Flick will judge. Entry fee: $17

Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Red Hen Press is given annually for a book of fiction or nonfiction by a woman. Lidia Yuknavitch will judge. Entry fee: $25

Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing: A prize of $10,000 and publication by Restless Books is given in alternating years for a debut book of fiction or nonfiction by a first-generation immigrant. The 2018 prize will be given in fiction. Writers who have not published a book of fiction with a U.S. publisher are eligible. No entry fee.

Deadline: March 1

Mad Creek Books Journal Non/Fiction Collection Prize:  A prize of $1,500 and publication by Mad Creek Books, the trade imprint of Ohio State University Press, is given annually for a collection of short prose. Michelle Herman will judge. Entry fee: $25

Selected Shorts Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize: A prize of $1,000 and tuition for a 10-week writing class through New York City’s Gotham Writers Workshop is given annually for a short story. The winning work will be published in Electric Literature and recorded live at a Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space in New York City in June. Jess Walter will judge. Entry fee: $25

Hidden River Arts Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Hidden River Press will be given annually for a book of historical fiction. Entry fee: $22

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.

 

A Place for Every Book

2.15.18

Adam Sternbergh’s essay “Transportive Reading for Underground Transportation” in the New York Times discusses the concept of the “subway read” as a book that seems especially suitable for reading on a subway train, in the vein of “beach reads,” “airplane reads,” or “cabin reads.” Write a personal essay about the ideal setting for your own writing to be read. Where do you want to take a reader emotionally or mentally, and what might be a desirable physical environment for that interplay? Perhaps it’s a space that aligns comfortably with elements of your writing, or one that provides striking contrasts.

Wine and $5,000 for a Southern Novel

Submissions are currently open for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. An award of $5,000 is given annually for a debut novel set in the American South published in the previous year. The winner will also be entitled to a complimentary glass of wine each day for a year at Crook’s Corner Café & Bar in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Tayari Jones will judge.

The author may live anywhere, but eligible novels must be set primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, or West Virginia. Self-published books are eligible, but e-books are not.

Authors and publishers may submit two copies of a book (or bound galleys) published between January 1, 2017, and May 15, 2018, with a $35 entry fee by May 15.

The winner of the 2018 prize was Stephen O’Connor for his novel, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings.

Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

Be My Cockroach

2.14.18

While roses, chocolates, cards, jewelry, and romantic dinners are some of the conventionally popular gifts exchanged on Valentine’s Day, for the past several years, the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City has promoted an enticing alternative: the Name-a-Roach fundraiser. Donors are given the honor of naming one of the Bronx Zoo’s Madagascar hissing cockroaches after a special someone of their choice. This week, write a story in which a character receives an unusual token of affection. Is the gift a hit or a miss? How does the gesture, whether humorous, grotesque, or ill-conceived, affect this relationship?

For I Will Consider

2.13.18

In one of the most famous cat poems published, “Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry],” eighteenth century English poet Christopher Smart uses anaphora (each sentence in the poem begins with the word, “for”) to thoroughly meditate upon his cat, Jeoffry. More recently, the poet Chen Chen borrowed this form for his own poem “For I Will Consider My Boyfriend Jeffrey.” This week, try joining the tradition by writing a poem with the same form that begins with the words: “For I will consider.” Use the form to explore the behaviors and characteristics of a beloved person or pet in your life. 

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