Poets & Writers Blogs

An Industry of Writers and Our Greatest Freedom: A Snapshot From the New York Literary Scene

Winner of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction from Poets & Writers, and one of the “5 More Over 50” debut authors in the November/December 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Joan Dempsey is the author of the novel, This Is How It Begins (She Writes Press, October 2017). She received an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and was the recipient of a significant research grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her writing has been published in the Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora, and Plenitude Magazine, and aired on National Public Radio. 

On a crisp, clear October morning, the three of us hustled down Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, not wanting to be late for our meeting with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at the New Yorker. We hurried past chain-link fences, shrouded to obscure what remains undone in the wake of 9/11. We waved away hawkers who propositioned us with memorial tours. We tried not to think about going up thirty-eight stories in the One World Trade Center building.

I was in Manhattan as the winner for fiction of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, which includes an all-expenses-paid whirlwind tour of the New York literary scene. Brian Evans-Jones, the winner for poetry and a fellow Maine resident, kept pace beside me. Both of us trotted along after Bonnie Rose Marcus, director of Readings & Workshops (East) and the Writers Exchange, who kept us on schedule as we rushed from one meeting to the next.

By the end of our six days, we’d gathered with nearly thirty people working in the literary world. The meeting with Treisman came on our second morning, but in hindsight it feels like the culminating event because it so well personifies the collective spirit of the week.   

The guard in front of the revolving doors at One World Trade Center tried to shoo us down the block, assuming we were there for the 9/11 tour. We stated our purpose and were suddenly inside the cavernous lobby, the ceiling an impossibly high sixty-five-feet overhead. Other guards scrutinized our IDs, photographed us, carefully searched our bags, and ushered us through the metal detectors. We made nervous small talk, each of us keenly aware that we were heading up into the sky that used to house the twin towers.

The New Yorker offices are as lovely as you might imagine: walls lined with framed cartoons and magazine covers, books and papers everywhere, the distinctive Irvin typeface gracing the signs that indicate who inhabits each office. Walls of glass abound, maximizing the sweeping views out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and all the way uptown to the Empire State Building.

In Treisman’s office, she encouraged us to step right up to the window to get the full view; it was impossible not to think about those who had jumped. Far below, the twin reflecting pools occupy the footprints of the original towers. We talked about editing Alice Munro, the significance of fiction, and the gravity of fact-based journalism during the Trump era. “It’s no secret that we’re not fans of Trump,” Treisman said fiercely. I felt a similar fierceness—an urgency—in each of our meetings, an undercurrent of purpose that writers in gentler times are spared.

As we toured the New Yorker offices, a few people glanced up and smiled, but most were assiduously tending to their work. The quiet buzz of dedicated, brilliant, and creative industry I felt in that office was echoed in every other meeting that week. It filled me with a sense not of comfort, exactly, but of certitude. Literary artists continue to use words as writers have always used words: to speak truth to power, to inspire and bear witness, to exercise our greatest freedom. I am proud to be among them.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Photos: (top) Joan Dempsey and Brian Evans-Jones at the New Yorker offices (Credit: Bonnie Rose Marcus). (bottom) Joan Dempsey and Brian Evans-Jones with judges for the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award Tania James and Cynthia Cruz (Credit: Margarita Corporan).

Submissions Open for New $20,000 Poetry Prize

Submissions are open for the Four Quartets Prize, sponsored by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and Poetry Society of America. Launched in November, the prize is given for a sequence of poems published in the United States in the past two years. The winner will receive $20,000.

Established in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the U.S. publication of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, the prize will be judged by Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl. The prize is “first and foremost a celebration of the multi-part poem,” such as Eliot’s Four Quartets, Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville, and John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs.

Submissions are open until December 22. Authors, publishers, and agents may submit four copies of at least fourteen pages of a poetic sequence published in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 or 2017. Sequences published across multiple publications are eligible. There is no entry fee. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

The shortlist for the prize will be announced in New York City on April 12 at an event featuring actor Jeremy Irons at the 92nd Street Y. Three shortlisted finalists will each receive $1,000. The winner will be announced the following day.

The Poetry Society of America, based in New York City, is dedicated to promoting the place of poetry in American culture. The T. S. Eliot Foundation, based in London, is dedicated to celebrating poetry, literacy, and “all things Eliot.” The foundation also administers the annual £25,000 T. S. Eliot Prize, given for the best new poetry collection published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Making Ourstory

Nancy Agabian is the author of Princess Freak (Beyond Baroque Books, 2000) and Me as Her Again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter (Aunt Lute Books, 2008), which was honored as a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Nonfiction and shortlisted for a William Saroyan International Prize. Her novel manuscript The Fear of Large and Small Nations was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Agabian teaches creative writing at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University and for Heightening Stories, a series of community-based writing workshops online and in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York where she lives.

Sitting at a folding table at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, I worry that I am not queer enough. Some of the texts I’ve brought in to teach the Creative Writing From Queer Resistance workshop feel like old friends, read long ago, but others I haven’t even read yet. We will consider them each week on what I conceive as a timeline of queer liberation: Stonewall; feminist lesbian liberation; AIDS and Act Up; trans, bi, and gender/sexual fluidity; and marriage equality. But isn’t categorizing ongoing activism into History with a capital H decidedly not queer? And how am I an expert on resistance? I’m a forty-nine-year-old bisexual cis woman still healing from an abusive relationship six years ago, undergoing menopause, and caring for my elderly parents. How will I speak to the young people who sit around the table with me?

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.  —Audre Lorde

The gallery walls are hung with images of naked bodies. Workshop participants, women and nonbinary, introduce themselves. A pattern emerges: They want to reconnect with their writing. They have felt alone in the current political moment. They have wanted a place where they can be all of who they are—in race, culture, religion, and identity—and where queerness is not the otherness in the room. Someone asks, “When we discuss the texts, do we have to analyze them, or can we talk about the feelings and experiences they call up in us?” Over the next few weeks, our conversations crackle and spiral, one person’s thoughts inspiring a response in someone else; people want to talk about their lives with each other as much as they want to write. 

The danger in writing is not fusing our personal experience and worldview with the social reality we live in, with our inner life.... What validates us as human beings validates us as writers.  —Gloria Anzaldúa

Halfway through the workshop, someone brings pumpkin chiffon cake on the evening we discuss Hunger (HarperCollins, 2017) by Roxane Gay, and it’s an experience. So is Gay: We have three other texts to discuss, but her descriptions of what she feels she deserves and doesn’t deserve in the way of love, as a survivor of gang rape, is enough for us. Someone says, “What she says about sexual violence in relation to queerness is something we don’t always want to admit.” We talk about accepting sexuality not as fixed biology, but humanity. Something shifts in me; I let go of my fear and find my purpose in holding the space.

My warmth was hidden until I found the right people with whom to share it, people I could trust.... —Roxane Gay

When someone asks, “Can we read non-American or non-Western texts?” I ask for their input. At our final workshop two folks bring in a nonfiction story called “The Woman Who Loved Women” from The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices (Anchor, 2003) by Xinran, and a science fiction short story called “The Worldless” about a genderless future by Indrapramit Das. As the pair discusses what compelled them about each piece, I realize that we all make our own queer herstories, shaped by the spaces we form together. The words of the authors we have read these past weeks are actually in conversation with us...and we speak back to them.

You will read words...that don’t ring true to you. Please, take a pen or pencil and cross them out. Write in a word you like better. And when that word doesn’t work for you anymore, use another word. —Kate Bornstein

Part of ourstory is language, which shifts and changes as we speak and write. As workshop facilitator, I strive to not take up too much room, but my feelings and experiences belong to our queer writing space too. As someone in the workshop says, “Showing up here is an act of resistance.”

The Creative Writing From Queer Resistance workshop will read from their work on Wednesday, December 6 at 6:30 PM at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. For more information about the reading, please visit the events 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: Taken during rehearsal at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, (top) Nancy Agabian, (middle) Priya Nair, (bottom) Katrina Ruiz (Credit: Maria Jose Maldonado).

December Poetry Contest Deadlines

Happy December! Poets, a new month means new opportunities to submit to the following contests with deadlines in the first half of December. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Deadline: Saturday, December 3

Australian Book Review Peter Porter Poetry Prize: A prize of $5,000 Australian (approximately $3,810) is given annually for a poem. A second-place prize of $2,000 Australian (approximately $1,520) will also be given. The winners will be published in Australian Book Review. John Hawke, Bill Manhire, and Jen Webb will judge. Entry fee: $25 Australian (approximately $19)

Deadline: December 15

Willow Books Literature Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Willow Books is given annually for a poetry collection by a writer of color. Entry fee: $25

December Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication in December is given annually for a group of poems. Luis J. Rodriguez will judge. Entry fee: $20

Public Poetry Poetry Contest: A prize of $1,000, publication on the Public Poetry website, and an invitation to give a reading in Houston, Texas, is given annually for a poem on a theme. This year’s theme is “Power.” Cyrus Cassells, Tony Hoagland, Raina J. León, and Sasha West will judge. Entry fee: $15

Hidden River Arts Trilogy Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Hidden River Review will be given annually for a group of poems. Entry fee: $17

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.

November 30 Deadline for Short Story Prize

Submissions are currently open for the J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction, an award of $500 and publication in Dappled Things given annually for a short story that deals with faith and the afterlife. The Dappled Things editors will judge.

The editors are looking for “carefully crafted short stories with vivid characters who encounter grace in everyday settings—we want to see who, in the age we live in, might have one foot in this world and one in the next.” Using the online submission system, submit an unpublished story of up to 8,000 words by November 30. There is no entry fee. The winner will be announced in March 2018.

Dappled Things is a literary journal dedicated to providing a platform for emerging writers to “engage the literary world from a Catholic perspective.” Its editors seek writing that “takes advantage of the religious, theological, philosophical, artistic, cultural, and literary heritage of the Catholic Church in order to inform and enrich contemporary literary culture.” Visit the website for complete guidelines and to read previous winners’ stories.

Adopted Korean Writers Read for a Global Audience

Julayne Lee is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Not My White Savior (Rare Bird Books, 2018). She is a Community Literature Initiative scholar and a Las Dos Brujas alum. She has been published by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Cultural Weekly, and Korean Quarterly. As part of the Writ Large Press #90X90LA project in 2017, she hosted the first-ever reading with adoptees of color in Los Angeles and is launching a writing workshop for those who identify as adopted people of color or racially ambiguous. Lee is cofounder of Adoptee Solidarity Korea – Los Angeles (ASK-LA) and can be found on Twitter @julayneelle.

Since the 1950s, South Korea has produced approximately two hundred thousand overseas adopted Koreans. As we’ve entered adulthood, gathering and connecting through our shared experiences have played important roles in our identity formation and well-being. For some, writing has been a means to navigate our adoption journeys, which at times can be very isolating geographically and emotionally.

In October 2017, over two hundred and thirty adopted Koreans gathered from across the country and around the world to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Adopted Koreans Association – San Francisco (AKA-SF) with a conference. A reading with adopted Korean writers highlighted their experiences through poetry, memoir, and fiction.

The reading brought together authors Jessica Sun Lee (An Ode to the Humans Who’ve Loved and Left Me), Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello (Hour of the Ox), SooJin Pate (From Orphan to Adoptee), and former Fresno Poet Laureate Lee Herrick (Gardening Secrets of the Dead). I also shared poems from my forthcoming collection, Not My White Savior. Our writing documents a variety of perspectives and issues including imagining the Korean families we might have grown up in, interrogating the text of our adoption files, highlighting the approximately thirty-five thousand intercountry adoptees without U.S. citizenship, and questioning our place both with family and in America.

Regardless of some of us having met only via e-mail prior to the reading and having our own unique experiences, our writing resonated amongst one another and with the audience. In the discussion that followed the reading, attendees expressed how meaningful and validating it was to hear our honest, raw words. The emotion in the room signified how giving life to shared experiences that have been suppressed can help us release significant thoughts and feelings, and begin to heal. With an ever-increasing focus on mental health for adopted people, this reading was critical in validating our experiences and bridging the isolating divide some of us have experienced.

My hope is that the bonds we formed through our shared experiences will carry us forward to continue this important work of writing and healing, and in turn provide a means of healing for others in our community. While honesty in writing can be challenging, as Aspen Matis, author of Girl in the Woods (HarperCollins, 2015), has said, “Authenticity sings.” And sing we did.

Thanks to AKA-SF for hosting the reading and to Poets & Writers for sponsoring this important reading. 

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: Julayne Lee (Credit: Samantha Magat).

Upcoming Short Prose Deadlines

Prose writers, are you sitting on a short story, essay, or piece of flash fiction? With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, take some time before you fill up on turkey to fill out applications to the following contests with upcoming deadlines—each offering prizes from $1,000 to $20,000 and publication. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Deadline: Tuesday, November 21

Literary Death Match 250-Word Bookmark Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication will be given annually for a short short story of up to 250 words. The winning story will be published on Literary Death Match bookmarks and distributed to events around the world. The winner and finalists will also be invited to read at Literary Death Match events. Roxane Gay will judge. Entry fee: $15

Deadline: Thursday, November 23

Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival Brooklyn Nonfiction Prize: A prize of $500 and publication on the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival website is given annually for a work of nonfiction that is set in Brooklyn, New York, and renders the borough's “rich soul and intangible qualities through the writer's actual experiences of Brooklyn.” There is no entry fee.

César Egido Serrano Foundation International Flash Fiction Competition: A prize of $20,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend an award ceremony in Madrid will be given annually for a work of flash fiction written in English, Spanish, Hebrew, or Arabic. Three runner-up prizes of $1,000 each and an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the award ceremony will be given to stories in each of the remaining languages. The winning works will be published in a prize anthology. There is no entry fee.

Deadline: Thursday, November 30

Fish Publishing Fish Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,400) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story. The winner will also receive a five-day short story workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2018. Entry fee: $26

Lascaux Review Prize in Short Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Lascaux Review is given annually for a short story. The winner and finalists will also be published in the 2018 Lascaux Prize Anthology. Entry fee: $10

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. Stuart Dybek will judge. Entry fee: $15

Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Louisiana Literature is given annually for a short story by a writer who has not published a full-length book of fiction. The winner also receives domestic airfare of up to $500, private lodging, and a VIP pass to the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in March 2018 to give a reading. Jennifer Haigh 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. Happy Thanksgiving, and happy writing!

A Street in Brooklyn: Writing Into the Urban Landscape

DéLana R.A. Dameron is the author of Weary Kingdom (University of South Carolina Press, 2017), which is part of the University of South Carolina Press’s Palmetto Poetry Series, edited by Nikky Finney. Her debut collection, How God Ends Us (University of South Carolina Press, 2009), was selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize. Dameron holds an MFA in poetry from New York University where she was a Goldwater Hospital Writing Workshop Fellow. She has conducted readings, workshops, and lectures all across the United States, Central America, and Europe.

I have been an alumna of the Cave Canem summer retreat since 2008, and had the opportunity to participate in smaller New York City workshops in 2008 and 2009. While the summer retreat is life-changing and affirming, and provided me with a long roster of lifelong friends in the poetry world, the prolonged space(s) with Myronn Hardy and Tracy K. Smith as facilitators provided me with a framework of what a community workshop could look like, how to be rigorous readers and writers in an after-work, weekly setting, while also building community. Cave Canem, for me, is about building a community of people who will sharpen your poeming pen.

I did all of this before I entered an “official” MFA workshop table at New York University. I say that to say, when I exited the MFA workshop table, I did not choose a life of teaching poetry in academia (though I would love to teach a class here or there!), but found other ways to pay my bills, and searched for opportunities to teach workshops to folks who went to work from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM and came and sat down and still endeavored to read and write poetry in a supportive and educational space.

When Cave Canem asked me to teach the Poetry Conversations workshop, billed especially for beginning and intermediate poets, I jumped at the opportunity and said yes. Here, I was able to come home, to open up space for the many levels of poets that would hopefully sign up for the course.

It became very clear to me that I wanted to teach what I live: writing the everyday/the landscape(s) I inhabit into poetry, making it sing.

The “A Street in Brooklyn: Writing Into the Urban Landscape” workshop was at once a survey of Gwendolyn Brooks’s work as a poet. Weekly we read chronological selections from A Street in Bronzeville (Harper, 1945), Annie Allen (Harper, 1949), The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960), In the Mecca (Harper, 1968), and single poems from her collected works in Blacks (David Co., 1987).

Of her own work and inspiration, Brooks said: “I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street. I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material.”

Reading Brooks is not only an exercise in understanding the mastery of writing the ordinary (Black folks in Chicago, the urban landscape writ large, etc.) into extraordinary poetry, but quickly I found that to teach Brooks over the span of her career, as documented in Blacks, is to also teach a Black history course, a Chicago history course.

Then, to charge the poets to do as Brooks did, and look out of their own windows for the poetry of their everyday lives, they included their own poetic historical markers of where and who they are now, especially in the context of gentrification, “urban renewal,” and the general displacement of Black cultural markers, people, histories, and stories.

At the last class there was an overwhelming sadness, but also a triumph. We had been through a literal journey together. At my urging, I asked poets to write about their neighborhood, a place that no longer existed, a place that showed NYC Black History—a mural, a statue, a hanging tree—and to write those things into sonnets, in rhyme, as ballads, as Brooks did in her early years. Together we coined the term “Brooksonian” and looked for moments when she shined the best, and then applied it to our poems that we brought to the table for workshop.

As the weeks progressed, and we marched along the historical timeline from 1945 (A Street in Bronzeville) to 1968 (In the Mecca) and beyond, we watched Brooks’s work open up, and we talked about what it meant to be a poet moved by a historic moment, and what it meant for Brooks to break open, even more, the poetic form. We talked about the uses of poetry, the politics of it, the immediacy and need. That same day a participant brought in a poem that referenced, as Brooks might have (and did for her Chicago Black people), Eleanor Bumpers, who was shot and killed by police in 1984 in the Bronx, as well as the now no longer existing Slave #1 Theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and all I could do was shake my head in awe: We had arrived.

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: (top) DéLana R.A. Dameron (Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths). (bottom) Workshop participants (Credit: DéLana R.A. Dameron).
 

Frontier Poetry Award: One Poem, $5,000

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Frontier Poetry Award, a new prize of $5,000 and publication in Frontier Poetry given annually for a single poem. Ten finalists will each receive $100 and publication. The editors will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit up to four poems of any length with a $20 entry fee by Thursday, November 30. Multiple submissions are allowed. The winners will be announced in February 2018.

Established as an arm of the Masters Review, Frontier Poetry is now its own online publication that aims to provide a quality platform for emerging poets. Tyehimba Jess, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, recently judged Frontier's inaugural Award for New Poets. Visit the website for more information, including recent publications and what the editors look for in submissions.

Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Jesmyn Ward, Frank Bidart Win National Book Awards

The winners of the 2017 National Book Awards were announced this evening in New York City. Jesmyn Ward took home the award in fiction for her novel Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), and Frank Bidart won the award in poetry for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Masha Gessen won in nonfiction for The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead Books), and Robin Benway won in young people’s literature for her novel Far From the Tree (HarperCollins). Each of the winners will receive $10,000.

Actress Cynthia Nixon emceed the ceremony and opened the evening by emphasizing the importance of books. “Books are among the most powerful weapons we have against what has lately felt like a hostile world,” she said. “For some of us books provide a welcome escape or a valuable resource for arming us with indispensable knowledge of history. But it also offers something we so desperately need: broadened perspective…. They cultivate empathy, they inspire action, they make us feel less alone, and they expose us to an experience we couldn’t imagine on our own.”

The winners of the 2017 awards echoed this sentiment. “Writing the poems was how I survived,” said Bidart upon winning the poetry prize. “I hope that the journeys these poems go on will help others survive as well.” In her acceptance speech, Ward addressed the crowd and said, “You looked at me and the people I love and the people I write about…. and you saw your grief, your love, your losses, your regret, your joy, your hope. I am deeply grateful, and I hope to continue this conversation with all of you for all of our days.”

Earlier in the evening, Bill Clinton presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Richard Robinson, the chairman, president, and CEO of Scholastic. “All over this country there are people who are forming new neural networks at the speed of light, stimulated by books that wouldn’t be here if not for [Robinson’s] day job at Scholastic and his commitment to this kind of philanthropic work,” said Clinton.

The foundation also honored Annie Proulx with the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution  to American Letters. Actress Anne Hathaway, who starred in the 2005 film adaptation of Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain,” presented the award to the writer, who is the author of several story collections and novels, most recently Barkskins (Scribner, 2016). The annual $10,000 award is given for lifetime achievement, which Proulx wryly noted in her acceptance speech. “Although this is award is given for lifetime achievement,” she said, “I didn’t start writing until I was fifty-eight.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the literary world’s most prestigious prizes. The 2016 winners included poet Daniel Borzutzky, fiction writer Colson Whitehead, and nonfiction writer Ibram X. Kendi.

 

Access for All

Kenny Fries is the author most recently of In the Province of the Gods (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017), which received the Creative Capital literature grant. His other memoirs include The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory and Body, Remember: A Memoir. His books of poems include In the Gardens of Japan, Desert Walking, and Anesthesia. He is the editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience From the Inside Out, and was a Creative Arts Fellow of the Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, and twice a Fulbright Scholar (Japan and Germany). Fries teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College.

For those of us who live with disabilities, when we think of access we mostly think of physical access: ramps, lifts, and technological aides. But cultural access is just as essential as physical access to an inclusive society.

Cultural access is a two-way street. People with disabilities need to see themselves represented—not stereotypically and as fully human—in our culture. But disabled and nondisabled alike benefit from access to disability culture because the experience enriches all of us.

I recently completed a fifteen-city tour for In the Province of the Gods, a memoir about my time as a disabled foreigner in Japan. Immersing myself in Japanese culture and meeting with artists, disability studies scholars, and atomic bomb survivors, while at the same time coming to terms with my HIV diagnosis, I learn about how Japan views impermanence and mortality.

Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program supported three tour events that increased access to disability culture. I read and was in conversation with writer Susan R. Nussbaum at Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, which is committed to making our society more inclusive of people with disabilities by “removing barriers so people with disabilities can live the future they envision.” Access Living’s Disability Arts & Culture Project is exemplary of the centrality of disability arts and culture to such inclusion.

The audience at Access Living included people with disabilities of different ethnicities and sexualities, Chicago-based artists, as well as students from the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at the University of Illinois, Chicago. A wide-ranging discussion about my writing process for In the Province of the Gods; my intersecting identities of being disabled, gay, and Jewish; and what it means to be considered “other” both in Japan and the United States ended the evening.

At Georgetown University I helped inaugurate a disability studies minor, which draws on course offerings ranging from anthropology to English, to nursing to theology. I read from and talked about In the Province of the Gods both at a packed event open to the public, as well as in the more intimate setting of a freshman seminar titled “Disability, Culture, and the Question of Care.”

I read at the University of Houston’s Medicine and the Arts Series, part of the Honors College’s Medicine & Society Program, which gives pre-health professionals, other students, and the public an opportunity to connect the arts to “the meanings of illness and caregiving.” Programs in narrative medicine and medical humanities are growing across the United States, and it is important that the stories of and by people with disabilities are included to counteract the dominant medical model of disability, which is predicated on eradicating disability either by killing it or curing it. One of the highlights was visiting their Literature and Medicine class, where a student shared his e-mail dialogue with a Buddhist professor about my book’s relationship to the process of shedding the self. 

The dialogues in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Houston are examples of what historian Paul K. Longmore calls our quest for “collective identity.” Longmore writes, “whereas the society-at-large prizes self-sufficiency, independence, functional separateness, and physical autonomy, the disability experience puts forth the values of self-determination, interdependence, personal connection, and human community.” On a month-long book tour, these events stood out as they not only increased access to disability culture, but also the importance of such values during the turbulent times in which we live.

Support for Readings & Workshops in Chicago, Houston, and Washington D.C. 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) Kenny Fries (Credit: Micheal R. Dekker). (bottom) Libbie Rifkin, Teaching Professor at Georgetown University, and audience (Credit: Kenny Fries).

PEN/Dau Short Story Prize Deadline Approaches

Submissions are currently open for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Twelve prizes of $2,000 each and publication in PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2018 (Catapult) are given annually for debut short stories published in the current year.

Using the online submissions manager, editors may submit up to four debut stories published in 2017 of up to 12,000 words each by Friday, November 10. There is no entry fee. Authors may not submit their own stories. Eligible publications include print magazines distributed in the United States, online magazines, and cultural websites.

The PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers aims to help launch the careers of emerging fiction writers. Visit the website for complete guidelines, or e-mail awards@pen.org.

Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Perugia Press Prize for Women Poets

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 Perugia Press Prize, an award of $1,000 and publication by Perugia Press given annually for a first or second poetry collection by a woman.

Women poets, including transgender women and female-identified individuals, who have published no more than one full-length poetry collection in English are eligible. Hybrid forms, including collaborations and manuscripts incorporating visuals, will also be considered. Using the online submission manager, submit a manuscript of 45 to 85 pages along with a $27 entry fee by November 15. Submissions are also accepted via postal mail, at Perugia Press Prize, P.O. Box 60364, Florence, MA 01062.

Established in 1997, Perugia Press seeks to support and promote women’s voices in print. Visit the website to learn more about the press, and for complete contest guidelines.

Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

November 1 Contest Deadlines: Fiction and Nonfiction

Have a short story, essay, or fiction manuscript ready to submit? Don’t miss out on these prose contests offering prizes of at least $1,000 and publication—all with a deadline of November 1.

Reed Magazine Gabriele Rico Challenge in Creative Nonfiction: A prize of $1,333 and publication in Reed Magazine is given annually for an essay. Entry fee: $15

Reed Magazine John Steinbeck Fiction Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Reed Magazine is given annually for a short story. Entry fee: $15

Briar Cliff Review Writing Contests: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Briar Cliff Review are given annually for a short story and an essay. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20

Madison Review Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Madison Review is given annually for a short story. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $10

Fiction Collective Two Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication by Fiction Collective Two is given annually for a short story collection, novella, novella collection, or novel. U.S. writers who have not previously published a book with Fiction Collective Two are eligible. Noy Holland 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.

John Fox and Project Avary: Helping Teens Heal Through Poetry

John Fox is the author of Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making (TarcherPerigee, 1997) and Finding What You Didn’t Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making (TarcherPerigee, 1995), and his work is featured in the PBS documentary Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine. In 2005, he founded the Institute for Poetic Medicine and his chapbook, The Only Gift to Bring (Seasonings Press, 2015), is available through the institute. Fox blogs about his experience leading writing workshops for Project Avary, an organization in San Rafael, California offering long-term support, resources, guidance, and training for children with incarcerated parents.  

In the spring of 2016, Zach Whelan of Project Avary called the office of the Institute for Poetic Medicine to ask if I was available to bring poetry to the teens they served. This residency would occur during a mid-June, two-week summer camp.

Zach and I spoke for over an hour. I was impressed with three things: 1. The seasoned care the Project Avary staff holds for teens with a parent or parents in prison. 2. The solid and proven program Project Avary has built, which includes a commitment of ten years to a child from the age of eight through their teen years. 3. Zach’s openness to not only poetry writing, but my focus on poetry-as-healer.

By the end of our talk and in subsequent meetings, we agreed to collaborate in an ongoing, mutual process that would bring poetry into the lives of Avary participants.

I would learn about the acute challenges faced by these teens—their sense of loss and abandonment, the societal stigma attached to having a parent in prison, as well as their capacity for resilience and how much they could teach us. I needed to learn and understand that reality to better know what my optimum role could be in joining this team. This process helped me in the selection of relevant poems that could serve as catalysts for writing.

In turn, Avary would learn from me how poetry can make a direct impact on the teens and their ability to dive into their issues of concern. Through the durable capacity of a poem, using the tools of poem-making, and by the natural strength of a supportive community, we could create a safe and generative way to explore and express. This mutual, encompassing collaboration becomes particularly important because the time to nurture and tend to their creative voices does not end with our limited time together—it actually begins!

What I can report to you is that Project Avary has incorporated poetry writing workshops into the core of their curriculum.

The conclusion of my two-year summer camp residency (with forty new campers joining each year) included a two-hour evening program where all participants shared their poems (also songs, skits, magic tricks, etc.) with the entire community. Avary calls this “The Untalent Show” with the emphasis on making it an open invitation to everyone—especially those who might feel they have nothing worthy to offer.

When a poem was read, there was a palpable quieting of a mostly young and happily raucous group at summer camp, which included dozens of young counselors and other staff. The people listening were less “audience” and more like family member, sensitive to their brothers and sisters, and cheering them on.

But what about the poetry? With their permission, I’m able to share some of the poetry by these young Project Avary participants.

LOVE

I didn’t want love.
Love is like dead tissue that won’t fall off.
I thought i didn’t need Love
but everyone wanted Love.
Did i need love.
What was the point of Love.
Did i want Love, did i need Love.
Would love make me happy.
The truth was i wanted love.
But would love want me.

—Monique Cook, age 13

UNTITLED

She was pure in a world not ready for her.
A rose born without thorns.
A body of water with no ripples.
A mirror with no cracks.
She was content in every sense of the word.
But she was born in a world with no intention
of keeping her that way.

—Malayah, age 16

TO ANGER

As you grip my mind
& sway my heart
spark dark flames
in the night of day
you keep notorious thoughts
tenaciously raising
barriers, levels
depleting every second
every month, every hour
contemplating my next act,
my next task & past actions;
forgetting present endeavors,
forgetting my loving nature,
forgetting the roots of my life,
forgetting me.

—Joseph Gladney, age 18

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, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: John Fox (Credit: Valerie Knight).