Poets & Writers Blogs

Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition Accepting Submissions

Submissions are open for the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. Sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN), the annual competition seeks “lasting nonfiction that is outside the realm of conventional journalism and has relevance to North Carolinians.” Many forms of nonfiction writing are accepted, including cultural criticism, reviews, profiles, interviews, travel articles, and historical or place-based pieces. The first prize winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize and be considered for publication in Ecotone. Second and third place winners will receive $300 and $200 respectively.

Submit a nonfiction manuscript of up to 2,000 words with a $12 entry fee by January 15. NCWN members pay $10. Randall Kenan will judge. Writers who are legal residents of North Carolina or members of the NCWN are eligible. Winners will be announced in March 2020. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Founded in the mid-1980s, the NCWN “connects, promotes, and serves” the writers of North Carolina and has administered the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Contest since 2008. In addition to awarding more than $4,000 every year through its contests, the NCWN offers editing services and online classes, and hosts various community events. The contest’s most recent winner is Pam Van Dyke, who won the 2019 award for her essay “ABC to XYZ.”

Literary Holiday Gifts for Writers and Booklovers

It’s the holiday season and time for giving. If you’re considering what to give to the writer or booklover in your life, here are a few ideas.

Independent bookstore gift cards: I’ve never met a writer or reader who didn’t love a gift card from a local bookstore. There are always independent bookstores that could use shoppers and you never know what author might be giving a reading or signing a book while you’re there. Not only is a gift card a great present, you’ll be supporting small businesses and literary artists. A few of my favorites in New Orleans are Blue Cypress Books, Community Book Center, Faulkner House Books, Garden District Book Shop, Octavia Books, and Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop. You can also check out the Literary Places database for bookstores near you.

Buy a book from a small press: There are so many small presses putting out incredible work from emerging and established writers who may not be on the big best sellers lists. Get their books into the hands of a friend. Some small presses operating out of New Orleans are Lavender Ink, Trembling Pillow Press, and University of New Orleans Press. The Small Presses database also has a list of wonderful publishers to choose from.

Donate to a literary organization: For something outside of the box, consider donating to a literary organization in the name of a friend or family member as a gift. These nonprofits are instrumental in creating support systems and opportunities for local writers, including fellowships, retreats, and workshops. Some organizations to consider in New Orleans are 826 New Orleans (which has chapters in other cities), Antenna, and One Book One New Orleans.

Take a friend out to a literary event: Maybe you have a friend who’s never been to a poetry reading or you’ve been meaning to take someone to your favorite reading series. What better time than now to introduce new writers to a good friend and create more community as a way of giving back? The Literary Events Calendar is a great place to start to find an event near you.

Random act of kindness: Is there a writer you like or follow online? Give them a big shout-out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Give the gift of recommendation. Let your networks know who’s on your literary radar and why. You’d be surprised how helpful this can be to a writer in your community and beyond.

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

Poison Pen Reading Series

The Poison Pen Reading Series holds events in a bar called the Poison Girl Cocktail Lounge. The series has been going for twelve years, just a little longer than Houston VIP Slam (which I featured last week), but functions in a very different way. The series brings three writers together who read on the outside patio of the lounge. Audience members get to relax in a space under the stars and listen to literary works from writers from Houston and beyond.

The readings are usually hosted by Scott Repass, one of the owners of the lounge, and start at 8:00 PM on every third Thursday of the month. The featured readers vary for each event, but most times, audience members will get the opportunity to hear from at least one writer from the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, a writer from the Houston literary community, and a visiting writer from outside of Houston. Writers share work from all genres including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

I have been to many Poison Pen readings and have had the pleasure of being a featured reader, the last time was this past July when I was honored to share the stage with poet Natasha Carrizosa and fiction writer Robert Liddell. The readings are always jam-packed, standing room only in most cases, so if you plan to attend, get there early for a drink and to find a good seat for the reading. It’s worth it.

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

From Miami to Detroit

There are so many writers in Detroit that I am discovering. This week I want to share a conversation I recently had with local poet and editor Jeni De La O.

Jeni founded Relato:Detroit, a bilingual community storytelling series, and Poems in the Park, an acoustic poetry reading series in historic Lafayette Park. A first-generation Cuban American who grew up in Miami, Jeni came to writing from humble beginnings. “My mom grabbed some scraps of fabric from a dress she’d made me, cut up a cereal box and went at it with her hot glue gun to make me a journal,” she says about what drove her to write as a youngster.

Jeni moved from Miami to Detroit about ten years ago. “When I got to Detroit, the people felt like home, and that feeling of home lets you breathe,” says Jeni. “This city puts life and movement and connection into your writing in a way I haven’t felt or seen elsewhere.” Some of her favorite venues and events in Detroit include the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, the Brain Candy series held at Green Brain Comics, and the East Side Reading Series

I asked Jeni if she could put out a call to action to Detroit writers, what would it be? In chorus with many of the local writers I have spoken with, Jeni suggested a large gathering of literary artists or a citywide poetry festival. I truly think that there are already writers beginning to lay the groundwork for something of that magnitude in years to come. I am glad to have a voice and to highlight voices in this growing conversation.

Jeni De La O.
 
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

As we enter the last month of 2019, the time is right to submit to contests with a deadline of December 15. These poetry, fiction, and nonfiction awards include opportunities to attend a residency in upstate New York and to have your work reviewed by a literary agency. Most offer a prize of $1,000 or more. 

Center for Book Arts Letterpress Poetry Chapbook Competition: A prize of $500 and letterpress publication by the Center for Book Arts is given annually for a poetry chapbook. The winner will also receive an additional $500 to give a reading with the contest judge at the Center for Book Arts in New York City in fall 2020, and a weeklong residency at the Winter Shakers program at the Millay Colony for the Arts in Austerlitz, New York. Entry fee: $30.

Commonwealth Club of California Book Awards: Five prizes are given annually for a poetry collection, a book of fiction, a first book of fiction, a book of creative nonfiction, and a book of fiction or nonfiction that relates to California published during the previous year. Books written by authors residing in California are eligible. Entry fee: none.

F(r)iction Short Story Contest: A prize of $1,000 is given three times a year for a short story. Entry fee: $15.

LitMag Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction: A prize of $3,500 and publication in LitMag is given annually for a short story. A second-place prize of $1,000 will also be given. The winners will have their work reviewed by Sobel Weber Associates literary agency. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20. 

Mid-American Review Poetry and Fiction Contests: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Mid-American Review are given annually for a poem (the James Wright Poetry Award) and a short story (the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award). Entry fee: $10. 

Silverfish Review Press Gerald Cable Book Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by Silverfish Review Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a first poetry collection. Entry fee: $25, which includes a copy of the winning book.

Willow Books Literature Awards: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication by Willow Books are given annually for a book of fiction and a book of creative nonfiction by writers of color. 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.

Deadline Approaches for Columbia Journal’s Winter Contest

Submissions are currently open for Columbia Journal’s 2019 Winter Contest, which features awards for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. One winner in each genre will receive a $1,000 cash prize and publication in Columbia Journal in spring 2020. At least two runners-up will also be selected and announced for each category.  

Using only the online submission system, submit a cover letter and up to five poems totaling no more than five pages or a piece of prose of up to 5,000 words with a $15 entry fee by December 15. Ruth Madievsky, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Ada Calhoun will judge for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, respectively. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Founded in 1977, Columbia Journal is edited by students in the Columbia University School of the Arts MFA program. The journal, which publishes a print edition every spring and online content throughout the year, seeks to “showcase the best poetry, nonfiction, fiction, translation, and visual art.” Previous issues have featured Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sharon Olds, among others. 

Poets Respond to Gentrification

On November 22, I attended “Poets Respond to Gentrification,” a reading cosponsored by the Readings & Workshops program that was part of the 2019 Words & Music Festival.

The sold-out reading was held at the Community Book Center, the only remaining Black-owned bookstore in New Orleans. There was a large, diverse crowd of attendees which included local poets. The evening began with youth jazz musicians playing classic songs including “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.” Veteran poet Peteh Muhammad Haroon emceed the reading which featured Skye Jackson, Michael Quess Moore, Sha’Condria iCon Sibley, and Akilah Toney.

Seventeen-year-old Akilah Toney started the evening with a poem containing the refrain: “You not from here, you don’t know how it feel. You love the culture, not the people—the love not real.” Skye Jackson wore a long, black velvet, off-the-shoulder dress and delivered a poem about being born and raised in New Orleans and the tension she feels from watching the neighborhoods change. Michael Quess Moore, a former teacher and now a full-time artist, addressed colonization and the global impact of white supremacy in his poems. Moore has been on the front line of the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Sha’Condria iCon Sibley opened with a poem exploring the current political climate and questioned what her poem should be called suggesting, “We’re Living Between Barack and a Hard Place.”

It was great to know that these four engaging readers were able to receive mini-grants from the R&W program. The reading was followed by an open mic and drinks at nearby Whiskey & Sticks, a wonderful way to wrap up a night about community.

The flyer for the “Poets Respond to Gentrification” reading.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Houston VIP Slam

I would like to take time to focus some attention on a few of the literary organizations helping Houston shine bright. Houston VIP Slam, currently led by Houston’s poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, is a slam team that provides community for writers who want to take their stories to the stage. Houston VIP has just celebrated ten years of their program and they show no signs of stopping.

I have been a big fan of their work and dedication for quite a while and the format for their monthly slam is so inclusive and so necessary for community building. Each slam is scheduled for the last Saturday of the month and begins with a writing workshop, a unique structure that provides time and inspiration for new work to be created. Local poets and anyone in attendance for the slam are invited to participate in a series of writing exercises led by the night’s emcee. The workshop usually takes place between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM.  The slam begins at 8:00 PM and concludes with a featured poet taking the stage to wow the crowd. 

Houston VIP holds twelve slam events for the year, with one poet winning each slam. The winning twelve poets then move on to compete in the Grand Slam at the end of the season for a spot on the Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. The top five poets from the Grand Slam represent Houston at the annual National Poetry Slam.

The next workshop and slam will be on December 14 featuring Rudy Francisco. If you’re in the Houston area and looking for something to do on a Saturday night, go by. It is truly a beautiful experience. 

The 2018 Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. (Credit: Christy Lee)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

A Literary Home

Lia Greenwell is a poet and essayist currently living in Detroit. We work together at InsideOut where Lia is the operations coordinator. Recently I was able to speak with Lia, who offered fresh insight on how Southeast Michigan has influenced her writing.

Originally from Adrian, Michigan, Lia first discovered the magic of writing in The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which she describes as full of “colorful, lyrical prose.” Although the novel was assigned for school, it felt different from the other books she had been reading. “I had never seen language used like that before, especially in something that I was reading for school. Cisneros’s prose took away the idea that books all had to look and feel the same.”

Although Lia began writing as a poet, she says, “poetry felt like I had to fit my writing into too small of a format—it felt strict. Prose allowed my writing to be weird.” I personally found this very relatable as someone who started out writing (very bad) fan fiction, and thought my path in writing would be confined to novels. Much like Lia, the discovery of a new genre (for me it was poetry) allowed me to go in new directions.

Lia is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and worked with youth writers through the Girls Write Now program in New York City. When asked about how leaving and returning to Michigan has affected her as a writer, Lia says, “I had to leave and come back to see what the landscape meant to me.” Lia has lived in Detroit for over three years, but still feels like a newcomer and enjoys discovering local venues and writers. “I think of places like Room Project. I feel like there is always something new being revealed there.”

I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Lia and discuss the long-term transitions that a writer goes through to find their niche and community. It was encouraging and made me think of how writers often feel isolated on the journey to find their place in the literary world. In Detroit, there is a home for writers.

Lia Greenwell. (Credit: Tyler Klifman)
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Youth Writers Thrive in New Orleans

In New Orleans, you don’t have to be an adult to hone your skills and find a literary community. Youth writers are thriving and preparing to lead the next generation of New Orleans writers.

Here are a few places where young writers can find resources and adults can hear some amazing youth writers share their work:

N.O.Y.O.M.: The New Orleans Youth Open Mic was started in the spring of 2014. N.O.Y.O.M. is open to seventh through twelfth grade students in the Greater New Orleans area and provides a stage and space for young people to explore themselves and share their experiences with their peers through writing. N.O.Y.O.M. partners with the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, which hosts their shows on the third Wednesday of the month, and the New Orleans Public Library is often on-site proving free books and additional resources for all students in attendance.

826 New Orleans: I served on the board in the early days when it was called Big Class. The 826 New Orleans Youth Writing Center has after-school programming, workshops, and field trips for young writers aged six to eighteen. It’s a beautiful space on St. Bernard Avenue with a shop full of books, including student publications, 826 T-shirts, and more.

NOCCA: New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is the local school of the arts that offers intensive instruction in culinary arts, dance, media arts, music, theatre arts, visual arts, and creative writing. Their creative writing program is robust and rigorous. I’ve taught classes there on several occasions and students are reared to enter creative writing programs in the future.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: The Greater New Orleans Writing Project is an affiliate sponsor that administers the Scholastic Writing Awards for Southeast Louisiana. The competition provides awards to writers in grades seventh through twelfth in our region in writing categories that include flash fiction, novel writing, personal essay and memoir, and poetry.

Can you imagine having all these resources as a writer in high school? Amazing!

Young writers at 826 New Orleans.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

The Colony Summit

Hey mi gente! This week I wanted to spend a little time putting a spotlight on what community building through writing can look like. Here in Houston, we have writing groups that focus on poetry or fiction, and those are excellent workspaces being put together, but there is a need for information about the world around writing and publishing for writers of color. Enter the Colony Summit—a space and group designed to be a resource for writers of color in the Houston area.

The idea is super simple: Give writers of color a space to meet, provide some snacks, some ideas, some experts, and some resources and let these writers ask questions. Tintero Projects, a group I started for emerging Latinx writers, has a hand in organizing these events, along with support from VIP Arts Houston, Houston Public Library, My Brother’s Keeper, Houston Department of Health, and the Mayor’s Office of Education.

This project is still fairly new. So far it’s been a year of meetings. The Colony Summit meets quarterly and so the meetings are always packed. This all began as an idea batted around by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, the current poet laureate for Houston, and me about a year ago. We both felt more needed to be done to gather all the writers of color up in the city and get folks talking to one another about where they are in their writing and what ways we could provide support. For example, some writers don’t know about submissions to literary journals or how to create a Submittable account for submissions. Others want to know about fellowships and residencies, or are just searching for community.

Our last Colony Summit meeting was on November 9, but be on the lookout for the next one. If you are in the Houston area and want to check out a session, don’t hesitate. Look for @vipartshouston on Instagram for announcements and more information.

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

Venue Check Detroit

I love having an opportunity at the end of each week to reflect on the connections I have been able to make as a literary outreach coordinator. I want to take this opportunity to highlight venues in the city that have been getting more involved in the literary community through events, workshops, and books.

Spread Deli in Detroit’s Midtown area (formerly known as Cass Corridor) has a mission to “spread good vibes and great sandwiches.” On December 17, they will be opening their doors to host an open mic starting at 5:00 PM. This small but inviting space is also a fantastic choice for any writer who needs a place to write during the day.

Detroit Sip has been a supportive space for community activists and writers, and home to numerous workshops sponsored by Riverwise. Detroit Sip shares a building complex with Neighborhood HomeBase, a new community space that hosted this year’s Write-A-Thon Detroit. Located in the city’s University District, this is another small and welcoming space that remains rooted in its surrounding neighborhood.

Norwest Gallery of Art is a growing gallery in Detroit’s Rosedale community along the developing Grand River Creative Corridor, an art corridor and neighborhood revitalization project. The gallery is dedicated to contemporary arts with a curatorial focus on African and African American artists, and is open for rent to literary artists seeking event space. In fact, Riverwise writing workshops have been hosted here as well.

Norwest Gallery is directly next door to Pages Bookshop, which often hosts readings with authors of new books. Pages will be offering 10 percent off for teachers on Black Friday, and is an annual participant in Small Business Saturday. Another community-based bookstore to support is KAN Books (Know Allegiance Nation Books), which is dedicated to authors and artists of color in Michigan and beyond. Located in Detroit’s North End, the bookstore and co-op space hosts writing and self-publishing workshops and aims to bring communities together by inspiring the next generation of writers.

I hope that this list of Detroit venues encourages everyone to visit a new space and strengthen our literary community.

Readers at a KAN Books event.
 
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

The last deadlines of November are approaching for contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Each of these contests has a deadline of November 30, and all but one offer a prize of $1,000 or more. 

Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Chapbook Series: A prize of $1,000, publication by Beloit Poetry Journal, and 50 author copies is given annually for a poetry chapbook. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20.

BOA Editions A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by BOA Editions is given annually for a first book of poetry by a U.S. resident. Richard Blanco will judge. Entry fee: $25.

Brunel University London International African Poetry Prize: A prize of £3,000 (approximately $3,668) is given annually for a group of poems by a poet who was born in Africa, is a national of an African country, or whose parents are African. Poets who have not yet published a full-length collection are eligible. Entry fee: none.

Burnside Review Press Book Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by Burnside Review Press, and 10 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Darcie Dennigan will judge. Entry fee: $25, which includes one title from the press’s catalogue.

Cider Press Review Book Award: A prize of $1,500, publication by Cider Press Review, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Lesley Wheeler will judge. Entry fee: $26.

Dappled Things J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction: A prize of $500 and publication in Dappled Things is given annually for a short story. The editors will judge. Entry fee: none. 

Fish Publishing Fish Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,330) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story. The winner will also be invited to attend a five-day short story workshop and read at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2020. Colum McCann will judge. Entry fee: €20 (approximately $22) for online submissions or €22 (approximately $24) for submissions by mail.

Munster Literature Center Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize: A prize of €2,000 (approximately $2,219), publication in Southword, and a weeklong residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland, is given annually for a single poem. Kim Addonizio will judge. Entry fee: €7 (approximately $8) for the submission of a single poem or €30 (approximately $33) for the submission of five poems.

Narrative Fall Story Contest: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a short story, a short short story, an essay, or an excerpt from a longer work of prose. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication in Narrative is also awarded. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $27.

Poetry International C. P. Cavafy Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Poetry International is given annually for a single poem. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $15.

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

University of North Texas Rilke Prize: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a poetry collection published in the previous year by a mid-career poet. U.S. poets who have published at least two previous poetry collections are eligible. The poetry faculty of the University of North Texas will judge. Entry fee: none.

White Pine Press Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by White Pine Press is given annually for a poetry collection by a U.S. citizen. Entry fee: $20. 

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.

Choi, Broom Win 2019 National Book Awards

At a ceremony tonight in New York City, the winners of the seventieth annual National Book Awards were announced. Susan Choi won the award in fiction for her novel Trust Exercise (Henry Holt), and Sarah M. Broom won the award in nonfiction for her memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Atlantic). Arthur Sze won the award in poetry for Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press), and Martin W. Sandler won the award in young people’s literature for 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury). László Krasznahorkai and Ottilie Mulzet won the award in translated literature for Mulzet’s translation from the Hungarian of Krasznahorkai’s novel Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (New Directions).

The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature, and translated literature published during the previous year. The winners each receive $10,000.

Actor and longtime host of the PBS show Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton emceed the evening. He opened the ceremony by celebrating the importance of literature. “Literature is the birthright of every one of us—if you can read in at least one language, you are, in my definition, free,” he said. “No one can pull the wool over your eyes.”

Earlier in the evening, writer and indie bookstore owner Ann Patchett presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “The creativity, ingenuity, and resilience of booksellers is nothing less than remarkable,” said Teicher. “I accept [this award] on behalf of the thousands of indie booksellers across this country who every day thousand and thousands of times perform that special act of magic of placing the right book in a reader’s hands.”

Director, actor, and writer John Waters presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Edmund White, saying, “He is beyond distinguished…but he’s disreputable too.” A fiction writer, biographer, and cultural critic, White has published several books, including In Hotel de Dream and States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. According to the National Book Foundation, White and his work “remain central to any consideration of gay male life in late twentieth-century America.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are some of the most prestigious literary prizes given in the United States. In 2018, the awards went to Justin Phillip Reed in poetry, Sigrid Nunez in fiction, Elizabeth Acevedo in young people’s literature, Jeffrey C. Stewart in nonfiction, and Yoko Tawada and Margaret Mitsutani in translated literature.

Photos (clockwise from top left): László Krasznahorkai, Ottilie Mulzet, Sarah M. Broom, Susan Choi, Martin W. Sandler, and Arthur Sze.

Coates and Ward in New Orleans

“Are you in line?” asks a man wringing out the rain from his shirt behind me. He tells me he is there to see Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As I scan the line of people waiting to enter Temple Sinai on Saint Charles Avenue, I think to myself, I wonder if anyone would ever stand out in the rain to hear me speak.

On October 30, the rain didn’t stop New Orleans from packing the main floor and balcony of the temple to see Jesmyn Ward in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ward, an acclaimed novelist and professor at nearby Tulane University, asked Coates questions about his new book, The Water Dancer, and if it was difficult to transition from writing nonfiction to writing his first novel.

“In a novel you have to pay attention to details and almost obsess about them in ways you don’t have to in nonfiction,” said Coates. He gave an example of how in fiction, you have to include what kind of curtains are hanging when a character enters a room.

Coates was charismatic and blended his journalist instincts and oftentimes flipped the questions asked of him onto Ward, especially when asked the question she hates being asked, “What are you working on?” His reply, “I don’t know Jesymn, what are you working on?”

Ward acquiesced to the reply and talked about a new novel she’s working on that is set in New Orleans. In turn, Coates responded that he’s just touring for now, but projects are always in the works.

The event ended with questions from the audience ranging from the 2020 election to civil discourse. In a reply to a question about how to speak to people who don’t want to hear views different from their own, he told the audience that we can’t put too much stock in people whose minds are already set. “Life is short,” said Coates. “We got books to write.”

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