Poets & Writers Blogs

Anna Burns Wins 2018 Booker Prize

Tonight at a ceremony in London, Anna Burns was announced the winner of the 2018 Booker Prize for her third novel, Milkman (Faber & Faber). The annual £50,000 (approximately $66,000) award is given for a novel published in the previous year in the United Kingdom.

“None of us has ever read anything like this before,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, the chair of judges. “Anna Burns’s utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose. It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humor.” Along with Appiah, the 2018 judges were Val McDermid, Leo Robson, Jacqueline Rose, and Leanne Shapton.

Burns, the author of three novels, is the first Northern Irish writer to win the prize. Her novel Milkman is a coming-of-age story about a young girl’s affair with an older married man during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Graywolf Press will publish the novel in the United States on December 11.

The finalists were Esi Edugyan for Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail), Daisy Johnson for Everything Under (Jonathan Cape), Rachel Kushner for The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape), Richard Powers for The Overstory (William Heinemann), and Robin Robertson for The Long Take (Picador). The five finalists and Burns will each receive £2,500 ($3,300).

The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious awards given for a book of fiction written in English. George Saunders won the prize last year for his novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, and Paul Beatty won in 2016 for his novel The Sellout. This year the prize, which is sponsored by the Man Group, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by hosting a Golden Man Booker Prize, awarded to the best-ever Man Booker Prize–winner. Michael Ondaatje won for his novel The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize in 1992.

Read more on the Man Booker Prize website.

Photo credit: Ray Tang

National Book Award Finalists Announced

This morning the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the 2018 National Book Awards. The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translated literature, and young people’s literature published during the previous year. The finalists will each receive $1,000; the winners, who will be announced on November 14, will each receive $10,000.

The finalists in poetry:
Rae Armantrout for Wobble (Wesleyan University Press)
Terrance Hayes for American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Penguin Books)
Diana Khoi Nguyen for Ghost Of (Omnidawn Publishing)
Justin Phillip Reed for Indecency (Coffee House Press)
Jenny Xie for Eye Level (Graywolf Press)

The finalists in fiction:
Jamel Brinkley for A Lucky Man (Graywolf Press)
Lauren Groff for Florida (Riverhead Books)
Brandon Hobson for Where the Dead Sit Talking (Soho Press)
Rebecca Makkai for The Great Believers (Viking Books)
Sigrid Nunez for The Friend (Riverhead Books)

The finalists in nonfiction:
Colin G. CallowayThe Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation (Oxford University Press)
Victoria Johnson for American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright)
Sarah Smarsh for Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Scribner)
Jeffrey C. Stewart for The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press)
Adam Winkler for We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights (Liveright)

The finalists in translated literature:
Négar Djavadi for Disoriental translated by Tina Kover (Europa Editions)
Hanne Ørstavik for Love translated by Martin Aitken (Archipelago Books)
Domenico Starnone for Trick translated by Jhumpa Lahiri (Europa Editions)
Yoko Tawada for The Emissary translated by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions Publishing)
Olga Tokarczuk for Flights translated by Jennifer Croft (Riverhead Books)

The finalists in young people’s literature:
Elizabeth Acevedo for The Poet X (HarperTeen)
T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick Press)
Leslie Connor for The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (Katherine Tegen Books)
Christopher Paul Curtis for The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic Press)
Jarrett J. Krosoczka for Hey, Kiddo (Graphix)

Fiction finalist Brinkley was featured in the 2018 Poets & Writers First Fiction feature, and poetry finalist Hayes and fiction finalist Groff were both featured in Episode 20 of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast. Translation finalist Lahiri was featured in Episode 6 of Ampersand, and poetry finalist Xie and fiction finalist Makkai have both contributed to the Writers Recommend series.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the largest literary prizes given in the United States. The 2017 winners were Frank Bidart in poetry, Jesmyn Ward in fiction, Masha Gessen in nonfiction, and Robin Benway in young people’s literature.

Franklin Electric Reading Series

Will Frazier is a poet whose writing has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Washington Square Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and No Tokens Journal. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

In early 2016, my friend Victoria Kornick and I wandered into an open house for a new coworking space in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. We met the owner of Franklin Electric (now known as Work Heights), Sam Strauss-Malcolm, who expressed an interest in hosting free community events in the new space. We offered up the idea for a reading series, and in the following weeks, we kept in touch with Sam and got two other friends involved: Jordan Majewski and Jessica Modi. We all met while studying poetry as undergrads and had all ended up living in New York.

Each of us invited one writer for the inaugural reading in February of that year, and since then, the Franklin Electric Reading Series has hosted monthly readings featuring emerging and established poets, fiction writers, and essayists. Though the events have come together in a number of ways, often we’ll be in touch with one writer interested in reading, and we’ll offer them the option of inviting other writers to create a lineup. It’s become an exciting way to host writers who may be intimately involved in each other’s work—as friends or colleagues—but may have never had the chance to read together.

Memorable moments have included a choose-your-own-adventure nonfiction performance by Kristin Dombek and Stephanie Hopkins, an evening with readings from the entire staff of No Tokens Journal, and our two-year anniversary event last winter when we invited many previous readers back for quick, two-minute readings.

Though Victoria and Jordan each recently relocated to the West Coast, Jessica and I have continued on with the series. This fall, we’ve been grateful to host many poets with new books out—Catherine Barnett, Cynthia Cruz, and Monica Ferrell. We’re also excited to introduce some new formats for the series; we’ll feature Thora Siemsen interviewing Hermione Hoby and Paul Legault on October 6, as part of PEN America’s Lit Crawl. And on October 11 we’ll hear our first musical performance ever—with Nick Flynn and his band Killdeer—as well as readings from Jennifer Franklin and Fred Marchant, which is supported by Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program.

Readings typically take place on the second Thursday or Friday of the month at 7:30 PM, and always at 650 Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. For the latest, visit our Facebook page.

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.

Photos: (top, from left to right) Will Frazier, Victoria Kornick, Jessica Modi, and Jordan Majewski. (bottom) Franklin Electric event (Credit: Tag Christof).

Diaz, Keene, and Link win MacArthur “Genius” Grants

Poet Natalie Diaz, fiction and nonfiction writer John Keene, and fiction writer Kelly Link have received 2018 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships. They will each receive $625,000 over five years. The annual grants are given to “encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.”

This morning the MacArthur Foundation announced the full class of twenty-five fellows, which includes artists, musicians, scientists, scholars, social advocates, and more. “Working in diverse fields, from the arts and sciences to public health and civil liberties, these twenty-five MacArthur Fellows are solving long-standing scientific and mathematical problems, pushing art forms into new and emerging territories, and addressing the urgent needs of under-resourced communities,” says Cecilia Conrad, the managing director of the fellowship program. “Their exceptional creativity inspires hope in us all.”

Poet Natalie Diaz teaches at Arizona State University and published the poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon, 2012). “Diaz is a powerful new poetic voice, and she is broadening the venues for and reach of Indigenous perspectives through her teaching, cross-disciplinary collaborations, and language preservation efforts,” the MacArthur Foundation says in the award announcement.

Writer John Keene is the author of several books, including the story collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015) and the semi-autobiographical novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995). “Through innovations in language and form, he imbues with multifaceted subjectivities those who have been denied nuanced histories within the story of the Americas—primarily people of color and queer people—and exposes the social structures that confine, enslave, or destroy them,” writes the MacArthur Foundation.

Fiction writer Kelly Link “pushes the boundaries of literary fiction in works that combine the surreal and fantastical with the concerns and emotional realism of contemporary life.” Link has published four story collections, most recently Get in Trouble (Random House, 2015). Listen to Link read an excerpt from that collection here.

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jesmyn Ward received MacArthur grants last year, and Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, and Gene Luen Yang were among the writers who won grants in 2016. Fellows are recommended by external nominations, and then chosen by an anonymous selection committee; there is no application process. Between twenty and thirty fellows are selected each year.

For a complete list of this year’s recipients and more details about the fellowships, visit the MacArthur Foundation website.

 

Photos: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Bloom Readings at the Lounge

Sam Perkins is a freelance writer, poet, translator, and editor who has worked in magazines for two decades. His nonfiction work has appeared in the New York Times, Next Avenue, Atlas Obscura, and numerous travel magazines. His poetry translations from Chinese, done in collaboration with Joan Xie, have appeared in Exchanges: A Journal of Literary Translation and in the collection Thirteen Leaves (Three Owls Press, 2018).

Bloom Readings is a series that takes place monthly, always on Sundays at 5:00 PM, in “The Lounge,” an elegant 1920s event space in the Hudson View Gardens apartment complex on 183rd Street and Pinehurst Avenue in New York City. As curators of Bloom, Sarah Van Arsdale and I invite writers of prose and poetry from Washington Heights and beyond to share their work.

One of the most appealing features of Bloom is that we really aim to get the small details right: We have a printed program with suggested reading, we keep the inevitable white wine cold enough to drink without wincing, we have chips and dip, and we enlist the local bookshop co-op Word Up to sell the books of our featured readers. After the reading we go to one of the organizer’s apartments for a simple, leisurely meal.

Sarah, the Bloom team, and I want to make our readings an enjoyable, memorable moment for the readers. One of our challenges is that we’re a bit of a hike for readers coming from Brooklyn, Queens, or New Jersey. We like to think these details count. This year, thanks to Poets & Writers, we’ve been able to offer readers a small honorarium. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Bloom is proud of the roster of writers who have come to read, established voices like Rachel Hadas, Cornelius Eady, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and Teresa Svoboda, and emerging voices like poets Rico Frederick and Sarah Jewell, and at our most recent reading, short story writer Dennis Norris II. Wherever they are in their careers, all are dedicated to their craft and calling.

For our reading on September 23, translator, scholar, and essayist Leah Souffrant read from her book, Plain Burned Things: A Poetics of the Unsayable, and performed “Thread: Attention to Loving,” a selection from her new manuscript Entanglements, which was accompanied by a video piece “Visual Entanglements 9.” Leah’s reading focused on the difficulty of expressing what is sensed but ultimately unknowable. As she read, Leah projected a series of flowing images on the wall behind her. Straddling the border between abstract and representational, the arresting video sequence reinforced and expanded the themes she tackles in her writing—the frustration and fascination we feel as writers, trying to explain the objective and subjective worlds we occupy.

Dennis Norris II read “Last Rites,” a moving, meditative short story recently published in the anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life (Atria Books, 2018) edited by Jennifer Baker. The narrative moves through the thoughts of a father, “The Reverend,” waiting to be rescued from a car crash. Toggling back and forth through time, we follow the Reverend’s memories of his son as a child, his late wife, and the demons that resurface as he tries to come to terms with his past as a husband and father. Dennis’s career is taking off. It’s a wonderful feeling to give young writers a boost.

Although Meena Alexander was unable to attend the reading, we were treated to a selection of poems from her recent collection, Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), read by Leah Souffrant and Sarah Van Arsdale. Even in her absence, Meena’s words filled the room with, as she puts it in her poem “Darling Coffee,” “the periodic pleasure of small happenings.”

Interspersed with the other readers, Joan Xie, a poet who writes in Chinese and English, and I read from our recently published collaborative translation, Thirteen Leaves, an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry. We chose poems from Lan Lan, Guma, and Arxin, none of whom are well-known in the United States but are widely recognized in China. Arxin’s poem, “Those Years on the Bank of Sanduo River,” sums up a feeling many poets and other creative writers have when they consider the writing life:

... I saw my house on the beach
         — a lone cabin

surrounded, battered
by snow on all sides.

Running a monthly series takes extra work, which couldn’t be managed without our great team: Kate Hogan, Joan Greenbaum, Barbara Blatner, and Gabriella Barnstone. Together, we divide and conquer, and get it done.

This October, we have a great line-up of readers: Nathan McClain, Tishon Woolcock, Glynn Pogue, and Carol Potter. We look forward to having a great 2018–2019 season enhanced by funding provided by the Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. We’re so grateful for the support!

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: Sarah Van Arsdale and Sam Perkins (Credit: Wesley Schmidt).

An Explosion of Language: Publishing American Sign Language Poetry

Alisa Besher is the programs manager at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and organized Publishing American Sign Language Poetry with Douglas Ridloff, an event featuring a workshop and performance of ASL poetry. Besher is studying in the American Sign Language English Interpretation Program at LaGuardia Community College with the goal of making scholarly and cultural events accessible to the Deaf community and supporting Deaf talent. In addition, she is an artist educator and museum guide, currently working at Dia Art Foundation.

A full description of the image is available belowOn September 13, scholars, authors, and poets came together for a workshop and performance in New York City that approached the question, “How can American Sign Language poetry be published?” In the afternoon workshop, this question was addressed through several angles, from interactive digital publications and the preservation of video “texts” to pop-up books, flip books, and comic strips.

In her introduction to the evening performance, Deaf scholar Rachel Mazique from the Rochester Institute of Technology spoke about Deaf literature as an emerging genre within the American canon, holding its rightful place alongside other minority literatures. However, Deaf literature cannot be found in its own section in most bookstores due to the scarcity of publications and lack of awareness in mainstream literary circuits.

This event was hosted by the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, an institution with no affiliation to Deaf scholarship, but with a long-standing commitment to research and public programming in literature and poetics. Hosting this conversation at CUNY was a deliberate effort to bridge the gap between hearing and Deaf audiences. With a grant from the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers, we were able to offer honorariums to the poets.

The evening included several performances of ASL poetry by Deaf poet Douglas Ridloff, who runs the monthly ASL SLAM at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Flying Words Project, a collaboration between Deaf poet Peter Cook and his hearing collaborator Kenny Lerner, who have been performing together internationally for the past thirty years. Deaf author and artist Adrean Clark led an exercise in translation, exploring the creative potentials of the written systems of ASL.

Poet, translator, and publisher John Lee Clark, who is DeafBlind, introduced the potentials of ProTactile literature. If ASL poetry is an emerging field, ProTactile literature is in a phase of incubation. Developed by and for the DeafBlind community over the past decade, ProTactile is haptic, using the whole body to establish space, syntax, tone, and all the elements of a complex linguistic system. Clark performed one of his poems, originally written in English, in ProTactile on the body of his interpreter. This was observed and signed in ASL from one Certified Deaf Interpreter to another, and simultaneously voiced into English by a hearing interpreter. All at once, three languages collided, converged, and delivered a poem which began with the line: “We break our story into eight parts because there are eight of us to tell it tonight.”

The juncture between ASL and English was a theme throughout the evening. “Language, language, language…I can play with language!” Kenny Lerner voiced from behind Peter Cook, with his arms thrust under Cook’s to create a four-armed man. Their two pairs of arms signed the ASL word for “language” across Cook’s chest, crisscrossing diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. Their spoken words and visual signs met and bounced off of each other. If one were to simply read the transcript of this poem, one would miss the truly playful nature of their performance, and the “explosion of language” they created.

Douglas Ridloff performed his dynamic ASL poem about bustling New York City alongside a voiced transcription written in collaboration with Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. The pair invited interpreter Lynnette Taylor to join them on stage to sign Holman’s spoken words. The audience witnessed the triangulated ping-pong of interpretation as the ASL poem was supplemented by spoken words and simultaneously interpreted back into ASL.

The complex questions proposed by the participants throughout the evening and during the discussion, moderated by Deaf author Sara Nović, do not come with easy answers. What is lost, what is gained, and what new meanings emerge in the tension and translation between ASL and English? How can ASL users assert their own literary genre, their own poetic forms, while also reaching audiences beyond the Deaf community? How can the Deaf community decolonize English’s hold on literary discourse, and how can it flip the script, to mine English for its own benefit? These questions may not have easy answers, but they are worthwhile to examine, to hold in our hands, and to knead and morph into new ideas and discussions as we continue to take steps to honor, respect, and celebrate the talent of Deaf poets.

To read more about the event, visit the Center for the Humanities website.

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: John Lee Clark (center) performs one of his poems in ProTactile with four interpreters (Credit: Jordan Lord).
 
Image description: Four people on auditorium stage. An interpreter stands to the left, wearing a black shirt and grey pants, signing with the Y handshape. John Lee Clark sits facing the camera, in a button up blue shirt and dark pants, signing with two V handshapes. Seated facing him and behind him are two interpreters wearing black shirts. Another interpreter kneels in front of John, facing him and the seated interpreters, signing with two F handshapes.

Healing by Writing: Workshops for California Wildfire Survivors

Margo Perin teaches writing workshops that focus on healing and bringing out of the shadows the unheard voices of underserved youth and adults. She is the author of the autobiographical novel The Opposite of Hollywood (Whoa Nelly Press, 2015), and the editor of Only the Dead Can Kill: Stories From Jail (Community Works/West, 2006) and How I Learned to Cook & Other Writings on Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004). Perin’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in Heyday/PEN’s Fightin’ Words; San Francisco Chronicle Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Mexico’s El Petit Journal, and Holland’s Psycologie Magazine. She was also commissioned to write a poem for San Francisco’s Spiral of Gratitude public memorial. Perin is the cofounder of Whoa Nelly Press and the Sonoma County Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools.

The Healing by Writing workshops and reading held this past June were attended by Sonoma residents who experienced the October 2017 Northern California wildfires. Most of the participants did not see themselves as writers, but as residents of the county seeking healing from the trauma of the fires.

Some had lost their homes, others had been evacuated. Everyone knew someone who had lost a home. Two participants lost their community when their entire neighborhoods burned. Another’s small town housed hundreds of evacuees. The participants shared how they were still trying to come to terms with the fires and were experiencing various symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The workshops were designed solely for the purpose of providing an opportunity for self-expression, with a focus on personal and community healing and transformation. There was no critique to ensure a completely open and supportive environment, and to encourage the participants to write what they felt.

The writing resulted in grief over the losses experienced, anger at a generalized feeling that they should “get over it” and “move on,” fear of the coming summer with its risk of more fires, and gratitude at surviving along with loved ones and neighbors.

Participants used the word “fires” both literally and metaphorically. One described fleeing during last October’s firestorm in the middle of the night and being thrown back by the fierce winds. Another recounted a memory of being burned as a child, and yet another used it as a metaphor for breast cancer. Other themes included a family’s lack of understanding of the trauma experienced from the fires; how a love of fire starting in childhood had turned to fear; and the importance of learning, no matter what, to always make up with loved ones.

Participants were given the option of sharing their writing, both in the workshops and at the public reading. Almost all were excited to share their writing publicly. The Sonoma County audience was openly moved and appreciative of the readings; some even asked the writers to read their pieces again privately in a corner of the gallery, which I understood to be an act of further bonding and community healing.

Knowing that the workshops and reading were funded by Poets & Writers had great significance to the participants and audience members as it made them feel that their experiences and those of the county were supported.

At the end of the event, participants volunteered how “heard” they felt, that they experienced “healing and transformation” through writing and sharing their work, and became aware that when they articulate their experiences, they’re also giving a powerful voice to the county as a whole.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers, thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Margo Perin (Credit: Chris Stewart).

Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford Unveiled at the Silo City Reading Series

Aidan Ryan is the publisher at Foundlings Press, which he cofounded with Max Crinnin, Darren Canham, and S. James Coffed. He is the author of Organizing Isolation: Half-Lives of Love at Long Distance (Linoleum Press, 2017), a collection of visual cut-up poetry. Ryan is a regular music critic for Scotland’s the Skinny and has written on travel and the arts for CNN, the White Review, Rain Taxi, and Traffic East, among others.

Every day, from the early 1900s to the last quarter of the twentieth century, the hundred-foot-tall concrete grain silos along Buffalo, New York’s namesake river and Lake Erie thrummed and hushed with rushing grain. At the city’s peak, thirty-eight of these towering elevators held forty-seven million bushels, and helped to feed the world. Now, on three nights a year, every summer since 2012, those same grain silos hum and echo with poetry.

The Silo City Reading Series is the “heartchild” of poet Noah Falck, education director at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. The series brings together a visiting poet, a local reader, a visual artist, and a musical act to perform for over one hundred people at the center of one of Buffalo’s remaining grain silos.

Silo alumni poets, including Ocean Vuong, Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Natalie Shapero, have all spoken of the venue’s power to break both performers and audience members free from the traditional boundaries and expectations associated with poetry readings. Every experience is amplified and made more intimate by the concrete cylinder’s natural seven-second echo.

On August 18, the city’s grain silos held a “micro-arts festival” to honor the work of Frank Stanford and herald the publication of a book that takes its title from one of his posthumous manuscripts, Constant Stranger. With the support of Poets & Writers, the festival brought the poets Kazim Ali, Marcus Jackson, and Matt Henriksen to Buffalo for one extraordinary night of performances, which included readings by Stanford’s close friend Bill Willett and a theatrical performance by Torn Space Theater.

Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford began in the late spring of 2017 as an attempt at a themed issue for our poetry magazine, Foundlings. Stanford—both a poet and a publisher, as cofounder of Lost Roads—had a major influence on our beginnings as a magazine and our growth into a press. Though Stanford’s influence stretches from Forrest Gander to Terrance Hayes and beyond, he remains unknown to many, obscure even to some who study him, persistently mischaracterized, and outside the “canon.”

The book sets out to present Stanford in a contemporary context, and make a case for his enduring relevance by publishing not more of his work, but the work of present-day writers who study, admire, or wrestle with him. We hardly grasped just how vital Stanford’s work really was, nor to how many contemporary readers, scholars, and writers, and our themed issue ballooned into a three-hundred-page book with thirty-plus contributors.

Marcus Jackson opened the evening, using the intimate circle of the Marine A silo to read poems from his collection Pardon My Heart (Northwestern University Press, 2018). Following a set by the electronic music group UVB76 and then a short break, Kazim Ali took the stage to read a mix of poetry from his latest collection, Inquisition (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), and unpublished work—including, and very much in the spirit of Stanford, poems conceived that day.

Matt Henriksen and Bill Willett, who has been a constant steward of Stanford’s legacy, read a selection of Stanford’s poems, bouncing back and forth to deliver well-known works like “Linger” and “The Light the Dead See,” knotty excerpts from The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (Lost Roads Publishers, 1977), and lesser-known “deep cuts.”

To close out the evening, Foundlings Press editor in chief Max Crinnin and I unveiled Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford, and spoke briefly about the project’s genesis, its meaning for our press, and our hopes for its reception. The book will be officially released at the Frank Stanford Literary Festival on September 21–23 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Everyone who saw it swears the moon appeared twice that night: once orange and full, low above the last remaining factories along the lake, and later, after the Torn Space performance, half-veiled and pale, hung high in the total dark. Whether through the power of suggestion or something more profound, Bill Willett swore it was Frank at play.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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.

Photos: (top) Aidan Ryan (Credit: Matthias Spruch). (middle) Marcus Jackson (Credit: Nancy J. Parisi). (bottom) Kazim Ali (Credit: Nancy J. Parisi).

Deadline Approaches for Manchester Writing Competition

Submissions are currently open for Manchester Metropolitan University’s Poetry and Fiction Prizes. The annual £10,000 awards are given for a group of poems and a short story. The winners will also be invited to attend an award ceremony in Manchester, England, in November.

Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Carol Ann Duffy, and Adam O'Riordan will judge in poetry; Niven Govinden, Livi Michael, Alison Moore, and Nicholas Royle will judge in fiction.

Using the online submission system, submit three to five poems totaling no more than 120 lines or a story of up to 2,500 words with a £17.50 entry fee by September 14. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy established the Manchester Writing Competition in 2008. The competition, which has awarded more than £155,000 to writers, is designed to “encourage and celebrate new writing across the globe.” Last year Romalyn Ante and Laura Webb split the poetry prize and Sakinah Hofler won the fiction prize.

The Roots and Wings Project Helps Prisoners Tell Their Stories

Jesse Bliss is a playwright, director, producer, poet, actress, veteran educator, and curriculum writer. She is the founder and creative director of the Roots and Wings Project, a theater company with a mission to provide a stage and space for voices of the unnamed, unknown, and misunderstood. The Roots and Wings Project is a recipient of a Cultural Pathways Grant from the California Arts Council and has received support from Poets & Writers for its prison programs. Bliss also produces Think Outside the Cage on KPFK 90.7 FM, a radio show voicing truth about mass incarceration, and was featured in Look What She Did!, a documentary directed by Julie Hébert.

The very energy of prison is punitive, designed to drive love out. Perhaps this is why implementing the Roots and Wings Project’s ASCENSION, a P&W–supported theater and writing pilot workshop series at the California State Prison in Lancaster, a men’s prison, and the California Institution for Women, a women’s state prison in Chino, was nearly impossible.

Days and weeks of e-mail requests turned into months. Finally, the workshops were approved. On my first trip out to the prison in Lancaster, where the wind never stops blowing on the exaggeratedly long sidewalk stretches to the entrance, the facility said no to the first workshop session. There was no getting in to speak to anyone after a two-hour drive. On the second visit, it took me two hours to finally enter into A Yard and meet the inmates.

Once I was in, participants at both penitentiaries wrote from the very depths of their souls. Their stories brought to light experiences most could never imagine surviving, and exposed truths about how people are led to incarceration and kept captive with draconian sentencing.

Some of the participants have life without parole sentences. One student went into the prison system at eighteen, three days following his high school graduation. He’s been incarcerated for two decades, and in those years has developed a friendship with his victim’s wife—a friendship she initiated. He writes: “She saw beyond the cold written record of my past into the present, to the core of who I really am.”

Another participant was sixteen months away from her release from prison when she was given a life sentence for a domestic violence charge. Many of the women express that they were put in prison for defending themselves against abusive men. I don’t ask, but if they share about their case in our writing workshops, I lovingly listen. Anna, a workshop participant, writes: “WOMAN. To be strong yet assumed weak, to work and love harder, yet be given less—less pay, less honor, less respect—for our weakness is our strength, our tears our freedom, to feel, to be: humanity in a world of insanity.”

One of our students grew up in a home where both his parents were drug users and dealers. The house was always getting shot up. His diaper was perpetually full. He grew to become what he knew and, while addicted to drugs, murdered someone over a twenty-dollar debt. He is one of the greatest keepers of peace I’ve ever known and a passionate advocate for helping others to transform and heal despite unthinkable intergenerational trauma. He often recites Shakespeare by heart.

Another student played one of the most stunning reggae songs on the guitar that I’ve ever heard called “Beautiful Day.” How, in there, does a human being author that song? He also eloquently writes: “Prison beds are expanding instead of consciousness.... You’ll see one electric fence with prisoners on both sides of it, society is on lockdown and they don’t even know it, out of necessity prisoners become poets.”

We culminated the workshops with powerful readings described in a student’s letter this way: “Soon, the room was bristling with hope and with stories of our children, our mothers, our wives, our communities, even our freedom. And when we returned to the dark confines of our cells, we brought with us a deeper, brighter, lingering purpose in our lives.”

We laughed. We cried. We read. We talked. We listened. We loved, all in the spirit of one of our writer’s words: “By finding the courage to speak up!”

With support from Poets & Writers, and in partnership with Unlock Tomorrow and Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, the Roots & Wings Project will hold a second series of workshops this fall at the California Institution for Women.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers, thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Jesse Bliss (Credit: Angela L. Torres).

Sonia Sanchez Receives Wallace Stevens Award

The Academy of American Poets has announced that Sonia Sanchez has received the 2018 Wallace Stevens Award, which is given annually to “recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” Sanchez will receive $100,000.

Sonia Sanchez is our peerless griot of American poetry,” says Terrance Hayes, a chancellor of the Academy. “There is no poet like her in the whole motley canon. There may have never been a more appropriate recipient of an award honoring poetic mastery and originality.” Sanchez, who was chosen by the chancellors of the Academy, has written more than a dozen poetry collections that address ideas of womanhood, black culture, and more. Her most recent collection is Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010).

The Academy announced all of the winners of the 2018 American Poets Prizes today, including Sanchez. Martín Espada has won the $25,000 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes “distinguished poetic achievement” and includes a residency at the Eliot summer home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. “Martín Espada is a poet of musical richness, passion, high and low comedy, imagistic vibrance, wild metaphor, and storytelling skill, with a sense of history,” says chancellor Alicia Ostriker. “He is a celebrant of love and a persistent troubler of the waters. As a ‘people’s poet’ he has been called North America’s Neruda.”

Craig Morgan Teicher received the $25,000 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his collection The Trembling Answers (BOA Editions, 2017); the annual award is given for the best book of poetry published in the United States during the previous year. Laura Kasischke, Campbell McGrath, and Mary Szybist judged. “The Trembling Answers is a collection as ecstatic as it is solemn, and what this poetry shares with us about love, faith, doubt, and poetry itself is essential,” says Szybist.

Geffrey Davis has won the James Laughlin Award for his collection Night Angler (BOA Editions, 2019). The $5,000 award, which includes a weeklong residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami, is given annually for a second book of poetry forthcoming in the next calendar year.

Raquel Salas Rivera won the $1,000 Ambroggio Prize for the collection x/ex/exis (poemas para la nación) (poems for the nation), and David Larsen won the $1,000 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for his translation of Ibn Khālawayh’s Names of the Lion (Wave Books, 2017). Anthony Molino won the $10,000 Raiziss/De Palchi Book Prize for his translation of Paolo Febbraro’s The Diary of Kaspar Hauser (Negative Capability Press, 2017).

Read more about the winners on the Academy of American Poets website.

 

A Community Reading Series: Rockland Poets

Bryan Roessel is a poet, event organizer, and science teacher in New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley and started the Rockland Poets reading series with a couple of friends in order to bring poetry events to Suffern, New York. Roessel believes strongly in the power of art to expose new perspectives and ideas, and writes about science, relationships, and depression.

Rockland Poets, formerly known as Suffern Poetry, has been hosting monthly poetry open mics and slams in the Lower Hudson Valley’s Rockland County since 2011. We’re a pretty small organization, currently run by seven volunteers, all of whom are residents of Rockland County or northern New Jersey. We run our events because art and community are vital. Poetry is an accessible art form in that you don’t need any special training or tools to create poems or to appreciate them. In the spirit of that accessibility, all of our events are open to the public and almost all incorporate open mics, where anyone can sign up to share their work. The grants we’ve received through Poets & Writers over the years have been of great importance to keep these events open and running.

The funding has allowed us to keep admission costs low for attendees, and to bring in diverse poets from all over North America to read. Typically, a featured reader will do a half-hour set before the open mic portion of the event, and we’ve invited established poets such as Billy Tuggle from Chicago and Chris August from Baltimore. To help emerging poets grow as writers, we welcome them to discuss their craft and influences at the end of their sets. In addition to these events, we’ve hosted outstanding creative writing workshops, such as a generative workshop led by Salt Lake City poet RJ Walker, and a performance and choreography workshop led by New York City poet Anthony McPherson.

The community response has been positive and supportive. We’ve started using a computer-based sign-in system at the door to track attendance, and over one hundred and fifty people have attended our events in the past year. Almost half have returned at least once, which signals to me that we’re doing something right. A few of our teen audience members have told us that they find our series really valuable and are grateful it exists. The feedback we’ve received emphasize the “warm environment” and “accepting atmosphere,” as well as the “great writers” that share their work at our events, which helps fuel us as we plan for future events.

This October, we’re hosting the sixth annual Empire State Poetry Slam, a statewide team-based slam tournament held in a different city in New York each fall. We are also considering a collaboration with other local literary organizations to create and host an annual literary or poetry festival. The future of Rockland Poets lies in continuing to gather community support for our organization and events, and to adapt to the needs of our local community and the writers we support. We hope to continue that work for many years to come.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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.

Photo: Bryan Roessel (Credit: Button Poetry).

Deadline Approaches for Omnidawn Poetry Prize

Submissions are currently open for the Omnidawn Single Poem Broadside Poetry Contest, given for a single poem. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in OmniVerse, Omnidawn Publishing’s online journal. The winner also receives fifty copies of a letterpress broadside of the winning poem. Dean Rader will judge.

Submit a poem of 8 to 24 lines with a $10 entry fee ($5 for each additional poem) by August 20. Writers may submit using the online submission system or via post to Omnidawn Publishing, 1632 Elm Avenue, Richmond, CA 94805.  The winner will be announced in December and published in April 2019. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Previous winners include Beatrice Szymkowiak for her poem “Yangtze Baiji Expedition Log” and Anca Roncea for her poem “Turns.”

Judge Dean Rader is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), and the chapbook, Landscape Portrait Figure Form (Omnidawn, 2013). He is also the coeditor of the anthologies Speak to Me Words: Essays on Contemporary American Indian Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2003) and Bullets Into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017), as well as the editor of 99 Poems for the 99 Percent: An Anthology of Poetry (99: The Press, 2014).

Established in 2001, Omnidawn Publishing publishes poetry and prose that seeks to “open readers anew to the myriad ways that language may bring new light, insight, awareness, as well as a heightened respect for and appreciation of differences.” The press has published poets Rosmarie Waldrop, Lyn Hejinian, Craig Santos Perez, and among others. 

Recovering Poetry at New Choices

Judith Prest is a poet, photographer, mixed media artist, and creativity coach. Her poems have been published in Mad Poets Review, Chronogram, Akros Review, The Muse: An International Journal of Poetry, Earth’s Daughters, Up the River, Upstream, Writers Resist, and in six anthologies. Prest spent twenty-six years as a school social worker and prevention trainer before retiring in 2009. She currently works part-time facilitating recovery writing and expressive art groups with adults in day treatment for addiction. She lives in Duanesburg, New York with her husband and three cats.

Anyone who has survived more than a decade or two on this planet has stories to tell. Often, however, people who struggle with addiction have not had the opportunity to sit down and write their stories, not even for themselves. For the clients I have worked with in recovery, any available energy they have is directed at surviving challenging life circumstances. Some have been incarcerated, and when the prison doors open, they land in a halfway house or in day treatment for addiction. Then suddenly, there is time and room to reflect on experiences, to tell the stories that need to be told.

I wrote poetry through my college years, then I got derailed by life. I started writing again about twenty years ago and have had my work published in literary journals and anthologies. Soon after my return to writing, I began to incorporate poetry and expressive arts into my social work practice. I now work as a creativity coach and workshop leader, along with my part-time work at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, New York.

I believe that writing, particularly poetry, is a powerful tool for healing and growth. Creative writing can be a great recovery strategy. Getting our experiences, questions, and feelings onto the page, allows us to see what’s there, and work with it.

At New Choices, I have been leading recovery writing groups for over ten years. When we can, we like to bring in someone new who can offer a fresh approach. This is where John Fox, director of the Institute for Poetic Medicine (IPM) in Palo Alto, California comes in. John travels widely around the world and across the United States to bring “poetic medicine” to hospitals, retreat centers, community programs and, in this case, to New Choices Recovery Center.

John facilitates two ninety-minute group sessions with New Choices clients. Using poetry, he invites participants to access their creative side and respond with their own poems. This program adds to the poetry and creative writing already experienced at New Choices. We have had poetry open mic events, published four books of writing by our clients (two books were published with help from IPM), and some clients participate regularly in recovery writing groups.

This special poetic medicine program allows all clients at or in the program to experience one of John’s poetry immersion workshops. Even clients who do not read or write have been able to create poetry in John’s sessions, with me as their scribe. He has a way of helping poetry “sneak up” on people. Often, folks who never imagined writing anything will write a poem and find the courage to read it out loud to the group.

John and I are dedicated to bringing the healing power of poetry to folks who have struggled with other aspects of life. We want to continue to help people experience the elation of creating and sharing poetry. Thank you to Poets & Writers for making it possible for John to work his “poetic medicine magic” at New Choices again this summer!

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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.

Photo: Judith Prest (Credit: Leiah Bowden).

Upcoming Short Fiction Deadlines

Fiction writers, are you looking for places to submit your short stories and flash fiction pieces this month? Look no further: The following contests each offer a prize of at least $1,000 and publication. The deadlines are either August 26 or August 31.

TulipTree Publishing Stories That Need to Be Told Contest: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a short story. The winning work will also be published in the contest anthology, Stories That Need to Be Told. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: August 26.

Aesthetica Creative Writing Award: A prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,290) and publication in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual is given annually for a short story. The winner also receives a consultation with the literary agency Redhammer Management, a subscription to Granta, and a selection of books from Bloodaxe Books and Vintage Books. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: August 31.

Gemini Magazine Flash Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Gemini Magazine is given annually for a short short story. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $5. Deadline: August 31.

Glimmer Train Press Fiction Open: A prize of $3,000 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories is given twice yearly for a short story. A second-place prize of $1,000 is also given. Entry fee: $21. Deadline: August 31.

Glimmer Train Press Very Short Fiction Award: A prize of $2,000 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories is given twice yearly for a short short story. Entry fee: $16. Deadline: August 31.

Gulf Coast Barthelme Prize for Short Prose: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Gulf Coast is given annually for a short short story. Entry fee: $18. Deadline: August 31.

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.