Poets & Writers Blogs

Whiting Foundation Announces 2018 Award Winners

The Whiting Foundation announced the ten recipients of its $50,000 awards at a ceremony tonight in New York City. The annual awards are given to emerging writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama.

The winners are Rickey Laurentiis and Tommy Pico in poetry; Anne Boyer in poetry and nonfiction; Patty Yumi Cottrell, Brontez Purnell, and Weike Wang in fiction; Esmé Weijun Wang in nonfiction; and Nathan Alan Davis, Hansol Jung, and Antoinette Nwandu in drama.

“Year on year, we’re astounded by the fresh ways Whiting winners challenge form and stretch the capabilities of language, while scrutinizing what’s most urgent in the culture,” says Courtney Hodell, the Whiting Foundation’s director of writers’ programs. “The award is intended to give them the freedom to keep experimenting and growing.”

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards have given more than $7.5 million to 330 writers since its inception. Previous winners include poets Tracy K. Smith and Jorie Graham, fiction writers Deborah Eisenberg and Denis Johnson, nonfiction writers Mary Karr and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and playwright Tony Kushner.

Photos clockwise from top left: Rickey Laurentiis, Tommy Pico, Anne Boyer, Patty Yumi Cottrell, Brontez Purnell, Antoinette Nwandu, Hansol Jung, Nathan Alan Davis, Esmé Weijun Wang, and Weike Wang.

Deadline Approaches for Open-Genre Book Prize

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) Book Contest. A prize of $1,000 and publication by Les Figues Press will be given annually for a book of poetry or prose that “exceeds genre conventions.” Poet Simone White will judge.

Accepted entries include poetry collections, novellas, novels, story collections, essays, hybrid works, and translations. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 64 to 250 pages with a $25 entry fee (which includes a book of choice from the Les Figues catalogue) by April 1.

An imprint of the Los Angeles Review of Books’s LARB Books, Les Figues Press publishes feminist poetry, prose, visual art, and translation. Previous winners of the NOS award include Mariko Nagai for Irradiated Cities and Adam Tipps Weinstein for Some Versions of the Ice. Visit the Les Figues website for more information.

Women Take Home All Six National Book Critics Circle Awards

Last night in New York City the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards (NBCC) were announced. The winners in all six categories were women, including Layli Long Soldier in poetry for her collection, WHEREAS (Graywolf), Joan Silber in fiction for her novel Improvement (Counterpoint), and Xiaolu Guo in autobiography for her memoir, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove).

The poetry finalists were Nuar Alsadir’s Fourth Person Singular (Oxford University Press), James Longenbach’s Earthling (W.W. Norton), Frank Ormsby’s The Darkness of Snow (Wake Forest University Press), and Ana Ristović’s Directions for Use, translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref (Zephyr Press).

The finalists in fiction were Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Riverhead), Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Knopf), and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner).

The finalists in autobiography were Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir (Abrams), Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Harper), Henry Marsh’s Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins), and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Girl From the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia, translated from the Russian by Anna Summers (Penguin).

Additionally, fiction writer Carmen Maria Machado won the John Leonard Prize for her story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf); fiction writer and critic Charles Finch received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing; and creative nonfiction writer John McPhee received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which are among the most prestigious prizes for literature, are given annually for books published in the previous year. A board of twenty-four working magazine and newspaper critics and editors nominates and selects the winners each year. Visit the NBCC website for a complete list of winners and finalists.

(Photos from left: Layli Long Soldier, Joan Silber, Xiaolu Guo)

Deadline Approaches for Chautauqua’s New Prose Prize

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Chautauqua Janus Prize. An award of $2,500 and publication in Chautauqua will be given annually for a short story or essay by an emerging writer. The winner will also be invited to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, New York, this summer. Kazim Ali will judge.

Named for the Roman god Janus, who looks to both future and past, the new prize honors writing “with a command of craft that renovates our understandings of both” and seeks formally inventive works “that upset and reorder literary conventions, historical narratives, and readers’ imaginations.”

Using the online submission system, submit up to 15,000 words of fiction or nonfiction with a $20 entry fee by March 31. Writers who have not yet published a full-length collection are eligible. Stories and essays must either be unpublished, forthcoming this year, or published no earlier than April 2017.

The Chautauqua Institution sponsors interdisciplinary art and educational programs, events, awards, and residencies throughout the year. In addition to the Janus Prize, the institution awards the annual Chautauqua Prize and Editors Prize for writers. Visit the website for more information.

Photo: Kazim Ali (Credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones)

Upcoming Fiction and Nonfiction Deadlines

Fiction and creative nonfiction writers, polish up your stories, novels, and essays! The deadlines are approaching for the following contests, each of which offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Fourth Genre is given annually for an essay. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 20.

New South Writing Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in New South is given annually for a story or essay. Alissa Nutting will judge. Entry fee: $15 (includes a one-year subscription). Deadline: March 21.

Enizagam Literary Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Enizagam is given annually for a short story. Rachel Khong will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 23.

Cleveland State University Poetry Center Essay Collection Competition: A prize of $1,000 and publication by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center is given annually for an essay collection. Brian Blanchfield will judge. Entry fee: $28. Deadline: March 31.

Bosque Press Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in bosque is given annually for a short story or a novel excerpt by a writer over the age of 40. Timothy Schaffert will judge. Entry fee: $22. Deadline: March 31.

Lascaux Review Flash Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Lascaux Review is given annually for a work of flash fiction. Entry fee: $10. Deadline: March 31.

Narrative Winter 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 fiction or creative nonfiction. A second-place prize of $1,000 is also awarded. Entry fee: $26. Deadline: March 31.

Gemini Magazine Short Story Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Gemini Magazine is given annually for a short story. Entry fee: $7. Deadline: March 31.

Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Prose Prize: A prize valued at $1,600 will be given annually to a fiction writer to attend a weeklong seminar at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Summer Conference in June. Robert James Russell will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

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

Ekphrazein ARAS: A Hub for Interdisciplinary Dialogue

Miriam Atkin is a poet and critic based in New York whose work has been largely concerned with the possibilities of poetry as a medium in conversation with avant-garde film, music, and dance. She teaches literature and creative writing at the City University of New York and is curator of the Ekphrazein reading series at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. Her poetry chapbook, Fours, was published by the Kaf Collective in 2017. Over the last decade she has written essays, reviews, and poems for various magazines online and in print.

Interdisciplinary practice has been a major concern of my work ever since I moved to New York in 2008 to immerse myself in its creative scenes as a first step toward writing about art professionally. I began attending events at a range of venues like Judson Memorial Church, Roulette, Poets House, the Stone, e-flux, and White Columns. I was surprised to find that I was one of few regulars at these spaces who were not practitioners in the medium at hand. I had spent my twenties in Rust Belt cities where the relatively small number of people in the arts necessitated that we all went to all the events. Despite our differing creative vocations, we were generally hungry for the kind of thinking and conversation that art-making provokes and we knew that our diverse aesthetic languages shared enough between them to be mutually understandable. But now, in New York, I found an art world that was firmly ghettoized.

Thus, it was when I encountered the cross-disciplinary, multigenerational, and broadly humanist scope of the program at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), I knew I had discovered a site for heterogeneous intellectual exchange that was rare in the city. I learned about the space—which is located at the C. G. Jung Center in East Midtown in New York City—after reading in the first installation of Ekphrazein, a series of events featuring artists in various mediums presenting work in response to a central thematic archetype. The theme of the inaugural event, which happened in late 2013, was the sun archetype. In accordance with the format for the reading, I chose an image related to the sun from ARAS’s collection, which served as a visual counterpoint for my writing. I loved the conversation between text and image that Ekphrazein facilitated, and the cross-disciplinary nature of the work I saw presented there was reiterated in the heterogeneity of the audience, which included psychologists, historians, anthropologists, and so on.

I have since become the curator of Ekphrazein, and on February 16, we hosted our sixth reading held in the Jung Center’s first floor event space, with support from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. The thematic focus of the night was ashes, and each artist performed against a projection of their chosen ash image. The program began with multimedia artist Akeema-Zane reading poetry while accompanied by harpist Elsz. Poet Geoffrey Olsen was second on the bill, which concluded with a performance of improvised music and dance featuring Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Devin Brahja Waldman (saxophone), Megumi Eda (dance), and Yoshiko Chuma (dance). The presentations ranged between painstaking poetic craft and the playful abandon of free jazz, with each set activating a charged intimacy between artist and audience. Afterwards we all went up to ARAS for a candlelit wine reception, where I observed the enthusiasm with which audience members approached performers to engage in conversation about the night. It was energizing to see new acquaintances made and new doors opened to potential creative fusions across disciplines. I look forward to seeing what works and alliances this uncategorizable series will galvanize in the future.

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) Miriam Atkins (Credit: Rijard Bergeron). (bottom) Poet Akeema-Zane and harpist Elsz (Credit: Jamie Thomas). 

Deadline Approaches for Frontier Poetry Chapbook Contest

Submissions are currently open for the Frontier Poetry Chapbook Contest. A prize of $2,000 and digital publication by Frontier Poetry is given annually for a poetry chapbook by an emerging writer.

Using the online submission system, submit an original manuscript of 10 to 30 pages with a $20 entry fee by March 15. Poets with more than two published full-length collections are ineligible.

The judges are looking for poems that “express both traditional excellence in craft and a willing fearlessness in content and form.” Poets previously published in Frontier include Tiana Clark, Chelsea Dingman, and Momtaza Mehri.

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

Yale Announces Recipients of Windham-Campbell Prizes

Yale University has announced the eight recipients of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prizes. The winners, who will each receive $165,000 to honor their literary achievement or promise, are poets Lorna Goodison of Jamaica and Cathy Park Hong of the United States; fiction writers John Keene of the United States and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi of Uganda and the United Kingdom; nonfiction writers Sarah Bakewell and Olivia Laing, both of the United Kingdom; and playwrights Lucas Hnath and Suzan-Lori Parks, both of the United States.

Established in 2013 by writer Donald Windham in memory of his partner, Sandy M. Campbell, the annual awards are administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and are given to English-language writers from any country to allow them to focus on their work without financial concerns. Fifty-one writers from fourteen countries have received the prize since its inception.

The winners are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. Previous winners include poets Carolyn Forché and Ali Cobby Eckermann, fiction writers C. E. Morgan and Teju Cole, and nonfiction writers Maya Jasanoff and Hilton Als.

This year’s awards will be conferred at the Windham-Campbell Festival, held from September 12 to September 14 on the Yale University campus.

(Photos clockwise from top left: Lorna Goodison, Cathy Park Hong, John Keene, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lucas Hnath, Olivia Laing, Sarah Bakewell)

Finalists Announced for Inaugural $35,000 Book Prize

The finalists for the first annual Aspen Words Literary Prize have been announced. The $35,000 award will be given for a book of fiction published in the previous year that “illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.” The winner will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the 2018 Aspen Words Summer Benefit in Aspen, Colorado, as a featured speaker and guest of honor.

The finalists are What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Riverhead Books) by Lesley Nneka Arimah, What We Lose (Viking) by Zinzi Clemmons, Exit West (Riverhead Books) by Mohsin Hamid, Mad Country (Soho Press) by Samrat Upadhyay, and Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner) by Jesmyn Ward.

Judges Stephen L. Carter, Jessica Fullerton, Phil Klay, Alondra Nelson, and Akhil Sharma selected the finalists from twenty semi-finalists. The winner will be announced on April 10 at an awards ceremony at the Morgan Library in New York City. Visit the Aspen Words website for more information.

(Photos from left: Moshin Hamid, Samrat Upadhyay, Zinzi Clemmons, Jesmyn Ward, Lesley Nneka Arimah)

Tim Fredrick on Newtown Literary and the Queens Lit Scene

Tim Fredrick is the author of the short story collection, We Regret to Inform You (Ingram, 2012). His stories have been published in Burningword, Pif Magazine, Wilde Magazine, and Hamilton Stone Review. He is the founding editor and executive director of Newtown Literary, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting writers from and living in the Queens borough of New York City.

How did Newtown Literary begin? What prompted you to launch it?
I began Newtown Literary in 2012 after getting to know several writers in Queens and attending various literary events there. Something was definitely bubbling up at the time, and I was reading and hearing incredible work. Unfortunately, not much of that work was being associated with Queens; authors usually said they were from “New York City” in their bios. I decided that it was time for a written record of the work being produced in Queens and for “So-and-so is from Queens” to be a badge of honor in an author’s bio. The borough has a long history of the literary arts and some of the best literature being produced now is from writers living in Queens or who grew up there.

The literary events scene in Queens is going strong. What’s next?
One of the great things about the literary scene here in Queens is that it is grassroots. The people who organize reading series, events, literary journals, small presses, and so on are everyday writers who want to contribute to the community. So, in the larger literary scene, it’s hard to know what’s next. For Newtown Literary, we are going to continue with our journal and with our free classes and professional development program. Our focus lately has been on removing barriers to participation. Our free writing classes program—which offers twice-a-month, one-off, free writing classes taught by established Queens writers, such as Scott Cheshire, Jill Eisenstadt, Joseph O. Legaspi, and Min Jin Lee—was born out of a desire to make high-quality creative writing instruction available to everyone, no matter their income. We will continue in this vein.

In addition to being a literary organizer, you’re also a creative writer. What’s it like wearing two hats, so to speak?
It’s not easy! I often have to choose between my commitment to Newtown Literary—and by proxy, other writers—and my commitment to my own writing. I wish I could say that I chose my own writing more often, but it’s “easier” for me to choose my work at Newtown Literary because it doesn’t challenge me as much as writing does. Running a small nonprofit is so much easier than writing a novel!

Is there any advice you’d offer to creative writers who want to participate in the “behind the scenes” of literary organizing?
Do it. Reach out to people in charge and say, “Hey, I’d like to get involved.” At least at Newtown Literary, it’s that easy.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your work with Newtown Literary?
What I value most about Newtown Literary is our community—it’s not competitive and there are no hard feelings when one person succeeds. While working on the organization takes time away from my own writing, the friends and colleagues I’ve made working here are constantly asking me, “How’s your writing?” and if I respond, “Well...” I know I need to get to work. Some of my closest friends—the ones I go to when I need to talk or vent or celebrate—come from the organization, as well.

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) Tim Fredrick (Credit: Tim Fredrick). (middle) Writer’s Block class led by Scott Cheshire (Credit: Newtown Literary). (bottom) Get Published panel (Credit: Newtown Literary).

Poetry Chapbook Contest Offers Cash and a Residency in Slovenia

Submissions are currently open for Verse’s Tomaž Šalamun Prize, given annually for a chapbook of original poetry or poetry in translation. The prize includes $500, publication by Factory Hollow Press, and a monthlong residency at the Tomaž Šalamun Center for Poetry in Ljubljana, Slovenia, valued at approximately $1,500. Anaïs Duplan will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a poetry manuscript of 20 to 28 pages with a $15 ($10 for current students) by March 15.

The residency will be held from May 20 to June 20, 2019. The resident will be provided with private lodging in an apartment with a full kitchen and bath, but is responsible for her own meals and travel expenses. Visit the Verse website for more information.

Photo: Bookshelf at the Tomaž Šalamun Center for Poetry featuring a photo of the author

The AfroSurreal Writers Workshop on Creative Community

Rochelle Spencer, founder of the AfroSurreal Writers Workshop, which meets monthly in Oakland, writes about the genesis of the workshop and an event with P&W–supported fiction writer Learkana Chong. Spencer’s book AfroSurrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction is forthcoming from Taylor & Francis in July, and she is the coeditor of the anthology STEAM: Women on the Intersections of Science and Art with Jina Ortiz and Manjula Menon.

The AfroSurreal Writers Workshop—Audrey T. Williams, Thaddeus Howze, Dera R. Williams, Kelechi Ubozoh, Rochelle Robinson, Peter A. McKay, and Shannon Holbrook—were just a bunch of nerdy black folks who met at Oakland’s African American Museum and Library eager to discuss books and writing.

We meet monthly and aim to support writers of color creating weird, surreal, or absurdist art, and celebrate all people, including senior citizens, religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBITQ communities, members of poor and working class neighborhoods, and of course, people of color.

Bay Area writers support each other, and we were encouraged by Gina Goldblatt, director of the Liminal Center, Manjula Menon and Meg Hayertz from the Surreal Women Writers Group, J. K. Fowler’s Nomadic Press, Vernon Keeve III and MK Chavez from the Association of Black and Brown Writers, and the Emergent Strategy (AK Press, 2017) reading group organized by Audrey T. Williams and Aryeh Shell—all of which either came out to our readings or provided space for us to talk and develop ideas. The Bay Area is the kind of place where literary community matters.

In the spirit of this tradition, with sponsorship from the Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program, the AfroSurreal Writers hosted fiction writer Learkana Chong, along with Dera R. Williams and Shannon Holbrook, for a few hours of writing, AfroSurreal games, and vegetarian soul food last November.

Chong, who has a blog called lampshade on her head, enjoys seeing a live audience respond to her work. “I don’t get to experience that very often as a writer—usually I have to ask someone after I share something online what their thoughts were, and the response isn’t as exciting or visceral. Seeing and hearing people laugh at all the right parts reassured me that my story resonated the way I hoped it would.”

Williams describes sharing her work as empowering: “The reception to my work made me realize that I’m on the right path. I think people are interested in learning about different facets of Oakland and how the past has shaped—and is still shaping—Oakland. Working with the Emergent Strategy group, something came to me, and I decided to reclaim my space in Oakland. I was raised here and came here when I was two years old. This has been my life so I’m reclaiming it.”

In addition to the readings, there was a poem-generating game. “Playing games” recounts Holbrook, a speculative fiction writer who led attendees in the game, “is part of natural human interaction—it’s how we get to know each other from our earliest stage of development. Play is essential. We’re there to support each other creatively.”

“It’s incredibly gratifying to hear feedback from people who tell me they can relate to what I’ve written,” Chong says. “Or that they can vividly picture the narrative as it unfolds, or that the story tugged at their heartstrings or got them to think in some way. It affirms there is a place in the world for my storytelling after all, and that’s one of the best feelings to have as a writer.”

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: Learkana Chong (Credit: Laneè Mecca Woodard).

Upcoming Poetry Contest Deadlines

Poets, do you have a poem, chapbook, or full-length collection ready to submit? There’s still time to enter the following contests, which offer prizes ranging from $500 to $10,000 and publication. The contests are all open for submissions until February 28 or March 1.

Deadline: February 28

Association of Writers & Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry: A prize of $5,500 and publication by University of Pittsburgh Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Ross Gay will judge. Entry fee: $30

National Poetry Series Open Competition: Five prizes of $10,000 each and publication by participating trade, university, or small press publishers are given annually for poetry collections. Publishers include Beacon Press, Ecco, Milkweed Editions, Penguin Books, and University of Georgia Press. Entry fee: $30

Deadline: March 1

Atlanta Review International Poetry Competition: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Atlanta Review is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $12

Tusculum Review Chapbook Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Tusculum Review is given annually for a poetry chapbook. Emilia Phillips will judge. Entry fee: $20

42 Press 42 Miles Poetry Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by 42 Miles Press, and 50 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. David Dodd Lee will judge. Entry fee: $25

Broadside Lotus Press Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award: A prize of $500 and publication by Broadside Lotus Press is given annually for a poetry collection by an African American poet. No entry fee.

Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500, publication by Ahsahta Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Jennifer Moxley will judge. Entry fee: $25

Airlie Press Airlie Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Airlie Press will be given annually for a poetry collection. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $25

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



PEN Announces 2018 Award Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Layli Long Soldier, Jenny Zhang, Alexis Okeowo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support for Readings & Workshops in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Natasha Mijares (Credit: German Caceres). (middle) Reading attendees (Credit: Max Maller). (bottom) Kaveh Akbar and Tarfia Faizullah (Credit: Max Maller).