Poets & Writers Blogs

Nunez, Acevedo Win 2018 National Book Awards

The winners of the 2018 National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony tonight in New York City. Sigrid Nunez took home the award in fiction for her novel The Friend (Riverhead Books), and Elizabeth Acevedo won the prize in young people’s literature for her novel, The Poet X (HarperTeen). Justin Phillip Reed won the prize in poetry for his debut collection, Indecency (Coffee House Press), and Jeffrey C. Stewart won the prize in nonfiction for his biography of Alain Locke, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press). This year the National Book Foundation also awarded a prize in translated literature to Yoko Tawada for her novel The Emissary (New Directions Publishing), translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani.

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

Emceed by actor Nick Offerman, the ceremony celebrated the importance of literature and books. “In our inexorable pursuit of freedom and human rights, books serve us as weapons and shields,” he said. “They are perhaps the greatest creation of human kind, one that is living and ever growing.”

Earlier in the evening, writer Luís Alberto Urrea presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Isabel Allende, who has published more than twenty books, most recently the novel In the Midst of Winter (Atria Books, 2017). Allende, who is the first Spanish-language author to receive the award, spoke about what the award meant to her as a Chilean writer living in America. “I have always been a foreigner… This award means maybe I’m not alien anymore,” she said. “Maybe I can plant roots. Maybe I’m not going anywhere.”

Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Doron Weber of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for his work on the intersection of literature and science.

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.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Sigrid Nunez, Elizabeth Acevedo, Justin Phillip Reed, Jeffrey C. Davis, Yoko Tawada.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines for Poets

As we move closer to the end of the year, deadlines approach for several poetry competitions. All contests listed below are accepting submissions throughout the coming week.

Nightboat Books Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Nightboat Books is given annually for a poetry collection. Kazim Ali and Stephen Motika will judge. Entry fee: $28. Deadline: November 15.

Perugia Press Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Perugia Press is given annually for a first or second poetry collection by a woman. Entry fee: $27. Deadline: November 15.

Jean Feldman Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Washington Writers Publishing House, and 50 author copies are given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: November 15.

Lena–Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize: A prize of $2,000 and publication by Pleiades Press with distribution by Louisiana State University Press is given annually for a poetry collection by a U.S. poet. The winner also receives $1,000 for book tour expenses. Traci Brimhall will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: November 15.

Yale Series of Younger Poets: An award of publication by Yale University Press is given annually for a poetry collection by an early-career poet who has not published a full-length book of poetry. Carl Phillips will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: November 15.

Narrative 30 Below Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a poem. The editors will judge. Entry fee: 25. Deadline: November 18.

Visit the contest websites for complete submission details, including eligibility guidelines and poem length requirements. For a look at more writing contests with upcoming deadlines, visit our Grants & Awards database and submission calendar.

Deadline Approaches for BMI & Believer Fellowships

Applications are currently open for the Black Mountain Institute & the Believer fellowships, open to emerging and established poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. Fellows will reside in Las Vegas for the 2019–2020 academic year, where they will join a thriving community of writers and scholars on the UNLV campus. Fellows will also receive a stipend and contribute to the Black Mountain Institute (BMI) and/or the Believer magazine.

The Shearing Fellowships for Emerging Writers, which offer an honorarium of $18,000 each, are open to writers who have published at least one book with a trade or literary press. The Shearing Fellowships for Distinguished Writers, which offer an honorarium of $25,000 each, are open to writers who have published at least three books.

The deadline for both fellowships is November 14 at 12:59 PM Pacific Standard Time. Using the online submission system, submit a writing sample of 10 to 20 pages, a cover letter, and a proposal (totaling no more than two pages) with suggested contributions to the Believer and/or BMI. Finalists will be asked to send copies of their books.

Applications will be reviewed by an advisory committee of UNLV graduate students, staff, and community stakeholders. Recipients will be notified in Spring 2019.

Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute aims to bring “writers and the literary imagination into the heart of public life through events, fellowships, publications, and student engagement opportunities.” The Believer, a five-time National Magazine Award finalist, is a bimonthly literature, arts, and culture magazine based at the Black Mountain Institute. The 2018–2019 fellows include Hanif Abdurraqib, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Amanda Fortini, Derek Palacio, and Claire Vaye Watkins.

The Image Is: A Poetry Workshop

Aldrin Valdez is a Pinoy artist and the author of ESL or You Weren’t Here (Nightboat Books, 2018). Their poetry and visual art has appeared in the Felt, Femmescapes, Nat. Brut, Poor Claudia, and the Recluse. They have presented work at Dixon Place, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Poetry Project, and been awarded fellowships from Queer/Art/Mentorship and Poets House. Currently Valdez curates the Segue Reading Series with fellow poet Joël Díaz.

On October 27 I led a workshop at the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division (BGSQD), currently hosted by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. The workshop was organized by Sarah Sala, founder of the Office Hours poetry workshop, with support from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. I haven’t led many workshops before, so this was an experiment of sorts. I called the craft class “The Image Is _____” and its focus, of course, was the image. A series of questions motivated this workshop:

  • What is an image?
  • Where and how do we encounter images today?
  • As prose writers, poets, and artists who use text, how do we each relate to images?
  • Do images factor into our individual works?
  • How can we use images to surprise our writing?
  • Is there an image that haunts/grips/inspires you, will not leave you, or one that you invoke often?
  • What does the image contain?
  • Is the image a dam we choose to break? What language emerges if we do?
  • Does the language trickle out? Or is it a torrent, flooding us/out of us into writing?
  • Are we prepared to write through this flood?

To guide the workshop, I shared poems by Derrick Austin, Anne Carson, Rio Cortez, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Lara Mimosa Montes, and Justin Phillip Reed. I see their work as having complex, dynamic relationships with images. They’re aware of how we are surrounded by, and surround ourselves with, images and the tools with which to make them. And they acknowledge and question images as historical, political, and personal. What can we learn from their works in thinking about our own creative processes?

In a series of exercises I asked the class to interact with images—those around them (the BGSQD bookshop and the Center are filled with art) and those on their phones (if they had phones)—as catalysts for writing. One particular exercise, inspired by poems from Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency (Coffee House Press, 2018) and Lara Mimosa Montes’s The Somnambulist (Horse Less Press, 2016), encouraged the class to think of the page—either as the screen of phones and computers or as a sheet of paper in their notebooks or a printed book—as constituting in itself a visual, physical, and material experience. Do we consider the white space, for instance, as blankness, silence, emptiness, a pause, or a held breath? Does a poem require that you move the book about in your hand? Is the poem concerned with legibility? What happens when a photograph precedes the text or a text precedes an image—how does that affect the experience of reading and our subjective ways of making meaning?

As a visual artist and writer, I enjoyed sharing these questions and activities with the class. It was thrilling to be writing together for a few hours, immersed in poetry—a collectivity I’ve been missing lately. I left the space feeling uplifted by the vulnerability and tenderness with which the group thoughtfully engaged and shared with each other.

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) Adlrin Valdez (Credit: Aldrin Valdez), (bottom) Workshop participants (Credit: Sarah Sala).

Last Day to Submit to Sonora Review Contests

Today is the last day to submit to the Sonora Review’s annual flash prose contest and nonfiction contest. Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Sonora Review will be given for a piece of flash prose and an essay. Nicole Walker will judge the flash prose contest and Jo Ann Beard will judge the nonfiction contest.

The theme of the contest is “Desire.” “Where can desire be found on the wide spectrum between contemplation and action?” write the editors on the contest website. “Does a child’s desire look anything like a spouse’s? How does desire shape-shift from person to person, culture to culture?”

Using the online submission system, submit three pieces of flash prose of up to 1,000 words each or an essay of up to 5,000 words by midnight (Mountain Standard Time). The entry fee is $8 for the flash prose contest and $15 for the essay contest.

Edited by graduate students at the University of Arizona, Sonora Review publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The review also runs an annual prize in poetry and fiction, which will be held later this year.

Photo: Nicole Walker, Jo Ann Beard

Anna Badkhen Receives Barry Lopez Fellowship

Author, journalist, and war correspondent Anna Badkhen has been awarded the second Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and Community Fellowship. Badkhen will spend several weeks in residence in Hawaii, where she will also participate in outreach events and present a public talk on the social responsibility of contemporary writers.

Sponsored by the Manoa Foundation of Honolulu, the Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and Community Fellowship was established in 2015 by Frank Stewart and Debra Gwartney to honor the seventieth birthday of acclaimed writer and naturalist Barry Lopez, who is the author of fourteen books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the short story collection Outside (Trinity University Press, 2014). The fellowship is given to a writer whose work, like Lopez’s, “contributes to an awareness of the civic and ethical obligation of artists; that helps us understand, through storytelling, that the survival of a human world depends upon a commitment to integrity, empathy, and compassionate reconciliation; and inspires us to take social responsibility for the perils, which we have created ourselves, to the human and non-human world.”

The fellowship provides several weeks of solitude and support in a quiet environment where writers can work on a project of their choosing. There is no application process. Fellows are nominated and chosen by a committee of editors and writers. In addition to Barry Lopez, this year’s selection committee included poet Jane Hirshfield, writer Pico Iyer, and Frank Stewart, editor of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing. The fellowship and the public presentation are sponsored in part by the Manoa Foundation of Honolulu. Additional support is provided by the Halekulani Hotel, Waikiki.

Born in the Soviet Union, Anna Badkhen moved to the United States in 2004. She is the author of six books of nonfiction, including most recently Fisherman’s Blues: A West African Community at Sea (Riverhead, 2018) and Walking With Abel: Journeys With the Nomads of the African Savannah (Riverhead, 2016). She has also written about wars in Asia, Africa, and Europe for Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Common, the Boston Globe, and other newspapers and journals.

The winner of the first Barry Lopez Fellowship was novelist Ann Pancake.

Cholla Needles Monthly Poetry Reading

Rich Soos is the editor of Cholla Needles, which publishes a monthly literary magazine and poetry collections by local authors of the Joshua Tree community in California’s San Bernardino County. The Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library aims to keep people excited about poetry through writing workshops and a monthly reading series. Soos is the author of over twenty poetry collections and was the editor for Seven Stars Poetry from 1973 to 1998.

The name of the magazine, Cholla Needles, came from a poem I wrote after I fell on a cholla cactus and its needles stuck in my hand and foot. When I made the decision to start a new magazine, I used that poem to inspire my mission statement—asking writers to submit poems that would “stick with you” and make the magazine memorable.

Juan Delgado reading at Cholla NeedlesEach monthly issue of Cholla Needles is celebrated with an open reading and a featured poet. The readings take place outdoors in the beautiful desert of Joshua Tree, California, on the second Sunday of each month.

The audience of forty to fifty neighbors is often joined by visitors from around the world, there to explore Joshua Tree National Park. Readers have come from many countries including Ireland, India, Britain, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. Hardcore locals arrive each month too, no matter what the heat (even at 110 degrees in summer), because it’s simply a joy to celebrate poetry together.

In October, our reading began with a dance performed by youngsters from the community to a new poem by Kim Martin. The party continued with twenty-one other readers, and then the featured reader Juan Delgado, who shared poems from each of his fine collections.

Juan traveled “up the hill” from his home several hours away to delight the audience with early poems that celebrate the joy of youthful discovery, and poems from his newer collections, which celebrate how the passing of old friends enhances our deep understanding of life.

Our featured readers are supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. This support allows us to have poets visit from outside the area and keep our monthly parties fresh and exciting. There is tremendous appreciation from featured readers and audiences for Poets & Writers’ support. It provides a sense of pride knowing that someone from outside the area cares enough to help out in this way.

The time and location for our monthly readings are announced on our website. Visitors to the area are always welcome to bring their own work to share with us during the open reading portion of the party.

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. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Featured reader Juan Delgado at Cholla Needles (Credit: Bob DeLoyd).

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).