Poets & Writers Blogs

Jane Wolfe of Melba’s: Po’boys and Books

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being a featured author at Melba’s in New Orleans as part of their Eat and Read series. Melba’s has been a unique leader for literacy in the city, offering customers free books with their lunch purchases. Authors read from and sign their books, and engage with customers and staff. Over the years authors have included Sarah Broom, Melissa Rogers, and Colson Whitehead. By combining food and books, folks are united in reading and eating. Melba’s literacy program has the support of the Clinton Foundation, and Bill and Hillary Clinton have even come to visit. It’s an amazing experience to see customers with a book in one hand and a po’boy in the other. I spoke with the woman behind it all—Jane Wolfe—about her love for New Orleans and literature.

How did the literacy program at Melba’s get started?
In 2007, as an older student, I entered academia to acquire a college degree. My graduate advisor was Jonathan Walton and in 2018, he visited New Orleans with his family. We had a book giveaway at Melba’s for his book The Lens Of Love: Reading the Bible in its World for Our World.

In the middle of the book signing, Jonathan looked up and said, “Jane, this is so needed to get these books into the hands of everyday people!” At that moment, I came to understand how I could help literacy in New Orleans.

You chronicle your personal and professional journey in your book, From GED to Harvard Then Inc. 500: How Two Teens Went From GEDs to Building the Fastest Growing Business in New Orleans (ForbesBooks, 2020). What were some of the challenges you faced in shifting from business owner to author?
Authors need time to bring thoughts to fruition. A businessperson does not operate in such a framework: There is no time for reflection in business. The greatest challenge was turning off the day-to-day operational mode of my mind that I used to succeed in business in order to write.

Beyond being a business owner, you have a masters degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. How does faith influence your writing and work?
As an older student I was given the gift of time to learn about my faith tradition. Once I understood Catholic Social Teaching I could see more clearly my place in the business world.

My two favorite classes at Harvard were “God and Money” by professor Harvey Cox and “Religion, Politics, and Public Policy” by professor Richard Parker. Their instruction put forth my faith in action at work through Catholic Social Teaching, and most importantly, helped me understand that businesses are not positioned in a society to merely make money. To learn about the world’s sacred scriptures at Harvard Divinity School, my thinking adjusted towards a global perspective. The theological degree allowed writing to come alive in ways I never thought possible.

What books are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Knopf, 2021) by Benjamin M. Friedman, Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press, 2020) by Dianne M. Stewart, 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know (Abingdon Press, 2018) by Matthew Richard Schlimm, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Avery, 2015) by Steve Silberman, and Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion (NYU Press, 2014) by Lerone A. Martin.

Photo: Colson Whitehead with staff members of Melba's at an event celebrating his novel The Nickel Boys.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Deadline Approaches for the Letras Boricuas Fellowships

Submissions are open for the Letras Boricuas Fellowships. Cosponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Flamboyan Arts Fund, the fellowships aim to connect and support Puerto Rican writers. This year fifteen writers will each receive an unrestricted grant of $25,000. A second cohort of fifteen writers will be selected in 2022 and all thirty fellows will be invited to gather in San Juan in April 2023. Writers may be working in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or children’s literature. Applications may be in Spanish and/or English.

Using only the online submission system, submit a personal statement, an artist statement, information about past publication, a résumé, and a work sample of 10 poems or up to 20 pages of writing by June 20. Spoken-word poets should submit 3 audio files of up to 2 minutes each. There is no submission fee. Writers must self-identify as Puerto Rican and live in either Puerto Rico or the United States to be eligible. Writers must also have a history of publication in their genre. Visit the website for complete guidelines, including more details about eligibility. The first cohort of fifteen writers will be announced in fall 2021.

Housed at the Flamboyan Foundation, the Flamboyan Arts Fund was created in partnership with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton, his renown musical. The fund works to “preserve, amplify, and strengthen the arts in Puerto Rico” and has provided support to both organizations and individual artists. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, meanwhile, aims to “build just communities where ideas and imagination can thrive” and is a major benefactor of the arts and humanities in the United States.

How Houston Leads the Way Part III

Hey mi gente, thanks for joining me for another blog post, and a big thank you to all who read these posts. As my time as literary outreach coordinator comes to a close, I will continue to highlight all things literary in Houston, and how the city leads the way with great community work.

First, I would like to shine a light on all the organizations and literary journals doing the work during the pandemic and keeping the doors open: Public Poetry, Nuestra Palabra, Defunkt Magazine, Inprint, Stages Theatre, and Poetry Around Houston, to name a few. They adapted and created new ways for literature to stay alive. Some organizations flipped their live scheduled events and adapted them into Zoom or Facebook Live events while others switched to podcasts. The most important effect is that the public benefited from it all. These aren’t the only examples. So many individual artists are making waves and collaborating to make words come alive in the city, and as we approach the summer, new events are beginning to blossom and it is beautiful to see.

Speaking of, two Houston grantees from our United States of Writing Project Grants, Omer Ahmed and Joy Priest, will each be hosting events in the coming weeks. Ahmed is collaborating with Loyce Gayo to lead a three-part workshop series focused on community identity in the face of gentrification. You can check out the upcoming sessions on June 10 and June 17 which are open to all communities in Houston, not just writers. Priest and Aris Kian will be cohosting the “Poet &” reading series, which will highlight and support Houston poets who have careers or practices outside of writing, including myself! The readings are scheduled for June 15, June 22, and June 29.

And finally, a shout-out to Deborah DEEP Mouton—who keeps it ever so real, always doing the work—for being a part of the planning committee and participating in events for last weekend’s third annual Fresh Arts Summit. If you missed it, videos from the keynote kick-off event and other panels are available on YouTube through July 5.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

The first literary deadlines of the summer are approaching! If you are at work on a book-length manuscript of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, or have recently published a first book, take note of the following contests, which close on June 15, June 17, or June 23. There is also a special fellowship opportunity for writers based in Maine. All offer a cash prize of $500 or more.

42 Miles Press 42 Miles Poetry Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by 42 Miles Press, and 30 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Current and former students of Indiana University in South Bend are ineligible. David Dodd Lee will judge. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $25.

Autumn House Press Literary Prizes: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication by Autumn House Press are given annually for a poetry collection, a book of fiction, and a book of creative nonfiction. Each winner also receives a $1,500 travel and publicity grant. Eileen Myles will judge in poetry, Deesha Philyaw will judge in fiction, and Steve Almond will judge in nonfiction. All entries are considered for publication. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $30.

Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Award: A prize of $1,500 and publication by Bitter Oleander Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $28.

Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Awards: Three prizes are given annually to a poet, a fiction writer, and a creative nonfiction writer to honor their first books. The winners each receive an all-expenses paid trip to several of the 13 GLCA colleges, each of which pays an honorarium of at least $500, to give readings, meet with students, and lead discussions and classes. Books published in 2020 and 2021 are eligible. Faculty members of the colleges will judge. Submissions are to be made by the book’s publisher. Deadline: June 23. Entry fee: none.

Maine Arts Commission Maine Artist Fellowship: A fellowship of up to $5,000 is given annually to a poet, a fiction writer, a creative nonfiction writer, or a writer working in a genre beyond these categories who has lived in the state of Maine for at least one year. The fellow is expected to reside in the state for the year of the fellowship. Writers enrolled in a degree-granting program are ineligible. Deadline: June 17. Entry fee: none.

University of Akron Press Akron Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication by University of Akron Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Erika Meitner will judge. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $25.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Live Events Return to New Orleans

Now that many are getting vaccinated and New Orleans has its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since last year, I am expecting to see more in-person events happening in the city.

Arts and culture are the pulse of New Orleans and its economy. Many writers and artists have struggled during the pandemic, but this summer will usher in more outdoor events to showcase and support their work. In addition, the New Orleans Book Festival, the Louisiana Book Festival, and the New Orleans Words & Music Festival are just a few literary events that have recently announced dates for live events in the fall that you can plan to attend in person. In the meantime, you can always stop by a local bookstore to give them an economic boost and support your favorite authors. See the Literary Places database for bookstores to order books from or visit.

The pandemic showed us how technology can close the gap of social distancing and offer access to incredible virtual programming. We will likely see a combination of in-person and virtual events in the future, but I’m sure many of us are looking forward to taking part in live events, whether on a stage or in the audience. Whatever your comfort level may be for socializing, there are always plenty of ways to enjoy writing and support the literary community. Check out the Literary Events Calendar for upcoming readings, workshops, and other literary events.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Deadline Extended for Reese’s Book Club LitUp Fellowship

The submission deadline for LitUp, a new fellowship program administered by Reese’s Book Club, has been extended to June 13. Conceived to champion underrepresented voices, LitUp is open to diverse writers who identify as women, who do not have an agent, and who have not yet published a book. The five fellows selected for the program’s first cohort will receive an all-expenses-paid five-day writer’s retreat, a three-month mentorship with an established author, and marketing support from Reese’s Book Club.

Using only the online submission system, submit a full-length adult or young adult fiction manuscript featuring a woman protagonist, a synopsis of up to 750 words, and a series of personal statements by June 13. There is no application fee. The inaugural class of fellows will be announced at the end of the year or in early 2022. Visit the website for complete guidelines, including details about eligibility and LitUp’s definition of diversity.

Reese’s Book Club is curated by actor and producer Reese Witherspoon and features books with “a woman at the center of the story.” In addition to providing a reading community to its members, the book club also gives back via The Readership, billed as its “pay it forward platform.” The Readership, which seeks to “advance diverse voices, promote literacy, and make book joy available to all,” helps power LitUp.

Motown Spoken Word Artist of the Year: Kyle Mack

Last week I wrote about the finalists for the Motown Mic spoken word competition. This week I had the chance to connect with the 2021 Motown Spoken Word Artist of the Year, Kyle Mack. Born and raised in Novi, Michigan, he began exploring the city of Detroit after meeting his now fiancée, Ashley Adams. Adams is a poet who goes under the stage name Galaxy and Mack credits her for inspiring him to enter the contest. “I owe all the thanks to her because if it wasn’t for her pushing me to finish and submit my poem, especially when I was doubting myself, none of this would have been possible,” says Mack.

What’s even more impressive is that Mack’s winning poem is also the first spoken word poem he’s ever written. Mack is a musician and rapper (you can find his music on Spotify and Apple Music), and this was a new venture for his artistry. Mack eloquently reflected on the differences between these two genres: “To me, I feel spoken word is more raw compared to music. With music, you always have a beat or background instruments. With spoken word there is just your voice.”

For Mack, participating in the Motown Mic spoken word competition exemplifies how pushing yourself forward to try something new can be a great experience. “The competition allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and indulge in a different form of art that I’ve always wanted to indulge in,” says Mack. It is often said that poetry and music go hand in hand. Mack has shown how these genres can connect and transition between each other.

As for the future, Mack has an album called Catholic School Bastard coming out on July 23. He is looking forward to sharing his artistry and performing once venues begin opening up. You can watch an interview with Mack on Motown Museum’s Facebook page.

Photo: Kyle Mack, winner of the 2021 Motown Mic Spoken Word Competition.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

Writers of all stripes will find opportunities in the last contests of May and the first of June. With deadlines of May 30, May 31, or June 1, these opportunities include a prize for undergraduate fiction writers, several contests awarding book publication, and grants supporting the translation of book-length works of poetry and prose. All offer a cash award of $1,000 or more and three charge no entry fee.

American Short Fiction Halifax Ranch Fiction Prize: A prize of $2,500 and publication in American Short Fiction is given annually for a short story. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: $20.

Anhinga Press Prize for Poetry: A prize of $2,000, publication by Anhinga Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Ellen Bass will judge. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $25 ($28 for electronic submissions).

BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by BOA Editions is given annually for a short story collection. Peter Conners will judge. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $25.

Boulevard Emerging Poets Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Boulevard is given annually for a group of poems by a poet who has not published a poetry collection with a nationally distributed press. The editors will judge. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: $16.

Bridport Arts Centre Bridport Prizes: Two prizes of £5,000 (approximately $6,871) each and publication in the Bridport Prize anthology are given annually for a poem and a short story. Two second-place prizes of £1,000 (approximately $1,375) each and publication are given in each category. A prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,375) and publication is also given for a work of flash fiction. Raymond Antrobus will judge in poetry and Robert McCrum will judge in fiction and flash fiction. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: £10 (approximately $14) for poetry, £12 (approximately $17) for fiction, and £9 (approximately $12) for flash fiction.

Center for Fiction New York City Emerging Writer Fellowship: Nine fellowships of $5,000 each and a one-year membership to the Center for Fiction in New York City are given annually to fiction writers living in New York City who have not yet published a book of fiction. Winners also have the opportunity to meet with editors and agents who represent new writers, and have access to the center’s writing space, the Writers Studio, for one year. Students who will be enrolled in a degree-granting program during the fellowship period, or who are currently under contract with a publisher for a work of fiction, are ineligible. Deadline: May 30. Application fee: none.

Elixir Press Fiction Award: A prize of $2,000, publication by Elixir Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a short story collection or a novel. Ann Harleman will judge. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $40.

Milkweed Editions Max Ritvo Poetry Prize: A prize of $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions is given annually to a U.S. poet for a debut poetry collection. Henri Cole will judge. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $25.

PEN America PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants: Ten grants of $3,000 each are given annually to support the translation of book-length works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction that have not previously appeared in English or have appeared only in an “outdated or otherwise flawed translation.” An additional $5,000 grant, the PEN Grant for the English Translation of Italian Literature, will be given to support the translation of a book of fiction or nonfiction from Italian into English. Manuscripts with up to two translators are eligible. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: none.

Salamander Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Salamander is given annually for a short story. Yiyun Li will judge. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: $15.

Southern Poetry Review Guy Owen Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review is given annually for a single poem. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $20.

Stony Brook Southampton Undergraduate Short Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a short story by a college student. The winner also receives a full scholarship to attend the Southampton Writers Conference in summer 2022, and their winning work will be considered for publication in Southampton Review. Deadline: June 1. Entry fee: none.

University of Georgia Press Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication by University of Georgia Press is given annually for a collection of short fiction. Deadline: May 31. Entry fee: $30. 

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

How Houston Leads the Way Part II

Hey mi gente, thanks for joining me for another blog post. As my time as Houston’s literary outreach coordinator comes to a close, I want to get back into all the ways that Houston is making waves.

Let’s talk about the only literary conference created specifically for the emerging writer: the Boldface Conference for Emerging Writers. Hosted by University of Houston’s undergraduate literary magazine Glass Mountain and run by a brilliant set of up-and-coming writers from the university’s Creative Writing Program, Boldface is a conference like no other. The five-day conference includes daily workshops, readings, craft talks, social events, and panels with professionals in the literary field, all specifically designed with the needs of the emerging writer in mind.

What I love most about how their programming works is that the organizers are versatile and thoughtful enough to change it up to meet the needs of the public. Last year, they were able to quickly reorganize and provide a virtual experience called the Strikethrough Workshop. This year, the annual conference will be held virtually from May 24 to May 28 and features craft talks with Melissa Febos, Diana Goetsch, Donika Kelly, and Ito Romo. Visit the website for the Boldface conference to find out more and to register for the events.

I also want to give a big congrats to local educator and poet Kim-Ling Sun who was awarded a United States of Writing Project Grant for her upcoming project “Celebrate and Stop the Hate.”

Sun, along with writer Addie Tsai, have created a two-part writing workshop series for BIPOC teens to celebrate heritage and work towards unity between communities. In the first workshop, teens will learn about different poetic forms and work on generative poetry. In the second workshop, teens will all present their works as part of a community reading. The workshops are free and will be held on Saturday, May 22 and Saturday, May 29, from 1:00–2:00 PM CDT. Those interested can sign up for the workshop here.

In addition, a reading featuring Sun and Tsai, along with Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman and Min Kang, will be held live at Social Beer Garden HTX and live-streamed via Facebook on June 5 starting at 4:00 PM CDT. The “Celebrate and Stop the Hate” AAPI reading will also include a charity raffle, food trucks, and lion dance performances.

And, a major shout-out to Joshua Nguyen who won the 2021 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry for his first full-length collection, Come Clean, forthcoming in the fall from University of Wisconsin Press.

Lastly, I am so excited to share that I have been named the 2022 Texas poet laureate by the Texas Commission on the Arts! I have plans and can’t wait to celebrate with everyone.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Motown Mic Finals

The Motown Mic spoken word competition came to an exciting conclusion with a grand finale virtual event on April 29 featuring five poets: Arrie Lane, Dizmantle, Keebie Mitchell, Kyle Mack, and Vizo. This annual poetry slam hosted by the Motown Museum in Detroit was open for submissions earlier this spring asking for pieces from poets that helped celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s record “What’s Going On.”

Interviews with all five poets can be found on their Instagram page, @motownmuseum. Each poet had the unique opportunity to work with performance coaches in the Motown Museum studio to record video and audio of their poetry performances to be aired for the grand finale. Former Motown Mic winner Mikhaella Norwood hosted a beautifully curated airing of the short films and performances from each poet of their submitted piece. At the end of the event, viewers were able to use a unique link to vote for their favorite poet.

On April 30, the 2021 Motown Mic spoken word artist of the year was announced via Instagram Live: Kyle Mack! Mack is a musician and rapper and his poem “Young America” is the first spoken word poem he’s ever written. The rhythmic piece reflects on what the city of Detroit means to him. In my next blog post, I’ll be interviewing Mack about his inspirations and what this victory means to him. Looking forward to it!

You can watch the grand finale event with an introduction from Smokey Robinson here:

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History Accepting Submissions

Submissions are open for the 2022 PEN/Jean Stein Grants for Literary Oral History, which lend support to writers at work on “literary works of nonfiction that use oral history to illuminate an event, individual, place, or movement.” While the award was previously presented to a single recipient, this will be the second cycle in which PEN America offers two grants of $15,000 each.

Using online the online submission system, submit three statements, a curriculum vitae, a project outline, a writing sample of 20 to 40 pages from the project, and 6 to 10 pages of unedited interview transcripts relevant to the sample by June 1. There is no entry fee. Only unpublished works-in-progress are eligible. No submission may be slated for publication earlier than April 1, 2022. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The PEN/Jean Stein Grants are named in honor of the author and editor Jean Stein, who died in 2017. Stein was well known for her literary oral histories, including books on Robert Kennedy and Edie Sedgwick. Last year’s grant recipients were Helen Benedict, whose work-in-progress chronicles the lives of refugees of Greece, and Brett Ashley Robinson, whose project reckons with the history of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.

Benefits of the Twittersphere

Want to know what’s happening in the New Orleans literary scene? A good way to learn more about how to support the writers and the work Poets & Writers’ United States of Writing initiative is doing in the city is to follow the Poets & Writers’ New Orleans Twitter feed. There, you can:

1. Learn more about the writers in New Orleans. Often I tweet or retweet about upcoming events happening in the city featuring emerging and established writers, some of whom have received funding from the Readings & Workshops program.

2. Stay in the literary loop. Organizations and writers both inside and outside of New Orleans often ask me to share opportunities such as jobs, internships, and submission calls for publications.

3. Follow the conversation. What topics are writers talking about? What are literary organizations and publications sharing? You can find out how broad the community is, the latest news, and how to connect by checking out our feed.

Lastly, a big congrats to the seven New Orleans writers who received United States of Writing Project Grants from our second round! A special shout-out to Ayo Fayemi-Robinson who was awarded a grant for her project “The Black Pages,” the first session of which will take place Wednesday, May 26 at 5:00 PM CT.

“We'll walk down the history of African American poetics,” wrote Fayemi-Robinson describing her project, “and address why sound has always mattered and how it is that our poetics never left the stage. What we celebrate is not a return, but a resonance.” The event will include a presentation and Q&A led by Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Be sure to check out the Literary Events Calendar for more information on this and other upcoming projects!

If you have any questions or want to reach out, you can always contact me directly via e-mail at NOLA@pw.org

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

Whether you are polishing a short piece or developing a full-length manuscript, there are several exciting writing contests accepting submissions into early May. These contests include financial support and a residency opportunity for a nonfiction writer working on a manuscript about the desert. All offer a cash prize of $1,000 or more and close on May 1, May 3, or May 5.

Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Atlanta Review is given annually for a single poem. All entries are considered for publication. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $15.

Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize: A prize of AUD $6,000 (approximately $4,681) is given annually for a story. A second-place prize of AUD $4,000 (approximately $3,121) and a third-place prize of AUD $2,500 (approximately $1,951) are also given. The winners will all be published in Australian Book Review. Gregory Day, Melinda Harvey, and Elizabeth Tan will judge. Deadline: May 3. Entry fee: AUD $25 (approximately $20).

Bristol Short Story Prize: A prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,390) and publication in Volume 14 of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology is given annually for a short story. Irene Baldoni, Tom Robinson, and Mahsuda Snaith will judge. Deadline: May 5. Entry fee: £9 (approximately $13).

Georgia Review Loraine Williams Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Georgia Review is given annually for a single poem. Arthur Sze will judge. All entries are considered for publication. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $15 entry fee (no fee for current subscribers).

High Desert Museum Waterston Desert Writing Prize: A prize of $2,500 and a two-week residency at the PLAYA artists and scientists’ retreat in Summer Lake, Oregon, is given annually for a nonfiction work-in-progress that “recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and the human narrative, with the desert as both subject and setting.” The winner will also be provided with travel and lodging to attend a reception and awards ceremony at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, in September. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: none.

Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Leapfrog Press is given annually for a short story collection, novel, or novella. Ann Hood will judge. Deadline: May 3. Entry fee: $35.

University of Nebraska Press Backwaters Prize: A prize of $2,000, publication by University of Nebraska Press, and 20 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. An honorable mention prize of $1,000 and publication by University of Nebraska Press will also be given. Huascar Medina will judge. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $30.

Wick Poetry Center Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize: A prize of $2,500 and publication by Kent State University Press is given annually for a debut poetry collection. The winner is also invited to teach a weeklong writing workshop at Kent State University and give a reading with the judge. Tracy K. Smith will judge. Deadline: May 1. Entry fee: $30.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

How Houston Leads the Way

Hey mi gente, I hope that you are well and reaching all your goals or if you have stumbled along the way, I wish you the strength to get back up. My last blog post was the last interview for the COVID Vivid series, in which I asked Houston writers what they’ve been doing since the pandemic started. I want to send a major thank you to everyone that participated in the series and shared their very personal experiences. I hope everybody who reads this blog has been able to benefit from these entries.

I will be switching gears as my time as literary outreach coordinator draws to a close. I’ll be focusing these last few posts highlighting all the ways that the literary experience in Houston points to the future. There are so many brilliant opportunities happening it’s hard to count. Each of these last posts will focus in on one or two (or three) things happening in the city.

While discussing the need to highlight major happenings in poetry during the month of April with Readings & Workshops program coordinator Ricardo Hernandez, I was reminded about what makes Houston such a brilliant place. I mentioned that I wondered why the Houston Poetry Fest happens in October when National Poetry Month is in April, and of course it should have made sense to me already—the Houston Poetry Fest predates National Poetry Month by a decade.

Established in 1985, the festival is held at our University of Houston-Downtown campus and is free and open to the public. There are readings and panels, and off-site events throughout the city to attend. Sadly, the festival had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic, but we hope to celebrate this October, which would mark the annual event’s thirty-sixth anniversary.

Continuing this celebratory vibe, I’d like to send congrats to Adriana Salazar who received a United States of Writing Project Grant from Poets & Writers for her upcoming workshop series. Salazar’s “Examining Oneself Through Self Portraits” will look at the building blocks of identity, examining the self both as a collective and as individuals using self-portraits to create new works. The three-part virtual workshop series will be in collaboration with fellow grantee Omer Ahmed and starts in May so keep an eye out in the Literary Events Calendar for more details.

Last but not least, major shout-out to the fifth and newest Houston poet laureate, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean! Bean’s two-year term began this month and runs through April 2023. As poet laureate, he will work closely with the Houston Public Library and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to implement his community outreach project “Space City Mixtape,” an album of twenty-track spoken word and creative audio experiences by Houstonians. He will also conduct eight workshops in Houston’s public libraries, and create videos and poems to share on social media. Looking forward to seeing his work and events in the city.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

BOMB Fiction Contest Open for Submissions

Submissions are open for the biennial BOMB Fiction Contest. The winning writer will receive a prize of $1,000 and publication in BOMB. Novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, will judge.

Using only the online submission system, submit a short story of up to 5,000 words and a cover letter with an entry fee of $25 by May 3. For writers in the United States, the entry fee includes a one-year subscription to BOMB. The winner will be revealed on July 31. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Founded in 1981, BOMB is a multimedia publishing house that spotlights artists and artwork in various disciplines, including literature, film, and visual art. In addition to publishing a print quarterly—which features interviews, portfolios, as well as essays, fiction, and poetry—BOMB maintains a regular online publication. BOMB also hosts one literary contest each year, alternating between poetry and fiction. The winner of the most recent fiction contest was Alexandra Gauss for her story “Sanssouci.”