Poets & Writers Blogs

Caitlin Bailey Wins $10,000 Lindquist & Vennum Poetry Prize

Milkweed Editions has announced Caitlin Bailey of Saint Paul as the winner of the 2017 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry for her poetry collection, Solve for Desire. She received $10,000, and her book will be published by Milkweed Editions in November.

Judge Srikanth Reddy selected Bailey’s collection from a pool of more than two hundred manuscripts. Of the winning book Reddy said, “Solve for Desire is the work of a poet who sings, boldly, across the distances between us. ‘I am not afraid of any edge.’”

The finalists were Soham Patel, Patrick Johnson, Paige Riehl, Michael Torres, and Angela Voras-Hills. The winner and finalists were honored at Milkweed Editions’ second annual Poetry Month Party on April 13.

Given annually since 2011 by the Minneapolis-based independent press Milkweed Editions, the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is open to poets living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, or Wisconsin. The prize aims to celebrate the work and advance the careers of American poets living and working in the Upper Midwest. Previous winners include Chris Santiago, Jennifer Willoughby, and Rebecca Dunham. Visit the Milkweed Editions website for more information.

Photo: Caitlin Bailey

Man Booker International Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize was announced yesterday. The annual award is given for a book of fiction translated into English and published during the previous year. The £50,000 prize (approximately $63,900) is split between the writer and translator of the winning book, which will be announced on June 14 in London.

Each of the shortlisted authors and translators will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,280). The finalists are:

Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions) by Mathias Enard (France) and translated by Charlotte Mandell (US)
A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Jonathan Cape) by David Grossman (Israel) and translated by Jessica Cohen (US)
The Unseen (Maclehose) by Roy Jacobsen (Norway) and translated by Don Bartlett (UK) and Don Shaw (UK)
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press) by Dorthe Nors (Denmark) and translated by Misha Hoekstra (US)
Judas (Chatto & Windus) by Amos Oz (Israel) and translated by Nicholas de Lange (UK)
Fever Dream (Oneworld) by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina) and translated by Megan McDowell (US),

“Our shortlist spans the epic and the everyday,” says Nick Barley, the chair of the judging panel. “From fevered dreams to sleepless nights, from remote islands to overwhelming cities, these wonderful novels shine a light on compelling individuals struggling to make sense of their place in a complex world.” The four other judges for the 2017 prize are Daniel Hahn, Elif Shafak, Chika Unigwe, and Helen Mort. The six finalists were selected from a longlist of thirteen, which in turn was selected from 126 submissions.

The prize, which was formerly given biennially for a fiction writer’s body of work, combined last year with the Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize to award a single book of translated fiction. Han Kang and Deborah Smith won the 2016 prize for Smith’s translation from the Korean of Han’s novel The Vegetarian.

Upcoming Deadline: River Styx Poetry Contest

Submissions are currently open for the 2017 River Styx International Poetry Contest. A prize of $1,500 and publication in River Styx is given annually for a single poem. This year’s judge is poet Carl Phillips.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three poems with a $20 entry fee, which includes a subscription to River Styx, by April 30. Paper submissions can be mailed to River Styx Poetry Contest, 3139 A, South Grand Blvd., suite 203, St. Louis, MO 63118. All entries are considered for publication; first-, second-, and third-place winners, as well as honorable mentions, will also be published in the winter 2017 issue of River Styx.

Established in 1975, St. Louis–based literary biennial River Styx publishes international poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and art. The magazine also hosts writing workshops and a monthly reading series in St. Louis and sponsors annual poetry and flash fiction contests. Visit the website for more information.

Jess, Whitehead Win 2017 Pulitzer Prizes

The winners of the 101st annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced today at Columbia University in New York City. Of the twenty-one categories, the prizes in letters are awarded annually for works of literature published in the previous year. Each winner receives $10,000.

Tyehimba Jess won the prize in poetry for his collection Olio (Wave Books). The finalists were the late Adrienne Rich for Collected Poems: 1950-2012 (W.W. Norton) and Campbell McGrath for XX (Ecco).

Colson Whitehead won the prize in fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad (Doubleday). The finalists were Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown) and C. E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Hisham Matar won the prize in autobiography for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House). The finalists were Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom (Metropolitan Books) and the late Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (Random House).

Visit the Pulitzer Prize website for a complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories, including general nonfiction, journalism, and drama.

Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prizes in 1911, and the first prize was administered in 1917. The 2016 winners included poet Peter Balakian and fiction writer Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Listen to Tyehimba Jess read an excerpt from Olio, and hear an interview with Colson Whitehead about The Underground Railroad in Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

 

(Photo, from left: Tyehimba Jess, Colson Whitehead)

 

An Evening With Kelly Harris and Rodrigo Toscano at the University of New Orleans

Carolyn Hembree’s debut poetry collection, Skinny, was published by Kore Press in 2012. In 2016, Trio House Books published her second collection, Rigging a Chevy Into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague, winner of the 2015 Trio Award and the 2015 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, jubilat, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. She has received grants and fellowships from PEN, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Southern Arts Federation. An assistant professor at the University of New Orleans, Hembree teaches writing and is the poetry editor of Bayou Magazine.

The University of New Orleans (UNO) English Department and the Creative Writing Workshop, our MFA program, hosts readings and lectures by local and national poets. In recent years, Marilyn Chin, Shara McCallum, Laura Mullen, Marjorie Perloff, Metta Sáma, and Richard Siken have presented their work at UNO. Our poetry readings are held in the Liberal Arts building, Room 197, aka “the Lounge.” Complete with a kitchenette, restrooms, a brick courtyard, filled bookshelves, conference tables, couches, comfy chairs, restrooms, and seven entrances, this communal space serves as a casual dining area, a workshop classroom, and the site of the annual MFA prom. Reflective of the culture of our program and the city, a motto that suits our events might be: Come as you are. Bring what you can. Students and faculty arrange the furniture and contribute homemade food and refreshments.

Last fall, on the evening of October 26, “the Lounge” was packed with forty to fifty attendees. Current Creative Writing Workshop candidate Elle Magnuson introduced New Orleans poet Kelly Harris. One of our city’s most exciting talents, Kelly Harris opened with her cri de coeur, an elegy comprised of the names and lines of “lost black poets”—names and lines Harris variously scatted and sang. She read from loose pages spread across a table—as she later demonstrated during the Q&A—she scored the poem to indicate her vocal inflection. Kelly spent two years studying music to improve upon her poetry and performance skills. Social consciousness characterized the work she shared, particularly poems from Shame on Her, a manuscript on body politics and African American women. Embracing the public role of the poet, Kelly Harris told the audience, “I want to have an audience that’s janitors, poets, everybody—and that comes at a cost.”

Creative Writing Workshop alumnus Spencer Silverthorne then introduced Rodrigo Toscano. A polyphonic poet with an experimental bent, the longtime Brooklyn resident and recent New Orleans transplant gave a memorable performance from his fifth poetry collection, Explosion Rocks Springfield (Fence Books, 2016). Like Harris, Toscano read from a stack of loose pages. A line from a newspaper article, “The Friday evening gas explosion in Springfield leveled a strip club next to a day care,” serves as the title of each of the book’s eighty poems—a title he delivered with varied nuance each time.

As interrogations of language, Toscano’s text and performance compelled us to consider the impact of words written and spoken, private and public. His fine performance emphasized the contrast of appropriated language from industrial reports and newspapers, and with interjections, onomatopoeia, demotic idioms, interjections, and lyric imagery he engaged listeners. He interacted with the audience frequently, even directing us to repeat the refrain of one poem. However, the most effective moments of his performance may have been the counterpoints to the multiple registers of diction as he ruminated about the language, “What is care exactly?”

Thanks to Poets & Writers’ consistent support and publicity, event attendance by the university and larger community has doubled. Come as you are. Bring what you can. Care.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New Orleans 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) Carolyn Hembree (Credit: Lynda Woolard). (bottom) Rodrigo Toscano and Kelly Harris (Credit: Mimi Miller).

Imbolo Mbue Wins 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award

Imbolo Mbue has won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers (Random House, 2016). She will receive $15,000, and will be honored at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. on May 6. The annual award is given for a book of fiction published during the previous year.

Behold The Dreamers displays a remarkable confidence impressive for a debut novel,” says Chris Abani, who judged the prize along with Chantel Acevedo and Sigrid Nunez. “Imbolo Mbue has a fine ear for dialogue and the nuance of language. Without ever leaning into sentimentality and yet managing to steer clear of cruelty, she pushes her characters through true difficulties into a believable and redemptive transformation. Behold The Dreamers reveals a writer with a capacious imagination, and the warmth and compassion to craft a career of beautiful and important novels.”

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon, and currently lives in New York City. Mbue was one of the five featured authors in Poets & Writers Magazine’s 2016 roundup of the summer’s best debut fiction; read an excerpt of Behold the Dreamers in “First Fiction 2016” and listen to Mbue read the excerpt in episode eight of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

The finalists for the prize, who each receive $5,000, were Viet Dinh for After Disasters (Little A), Louise Erdrich for LaRose (HarperCollins), Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Sunil Yapa for Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Little, Brown). The finalists were selected from almost five hundred novels and story collections submitted by 143 publishers.

Established in 1981, the PEN/Faulkner Award has also been given to James Hannaham, Karen Joy Fowler, E. L. Doctorow, Ann Patchett, John Updike, and Sherman Alexie, among others.

 

 

HIV WITH: Writing Within an Epidemic

Theodore (ted) Kerr, is a member of the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective. He is a Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based writer, organizer, and artist. His work has appeared in the Advocate, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Lambda Literary, BOMB, the New Inquiry, and many other publications. Kerr received his MA from Union Theological Seminary and is the former programs manager for Visual AIDS. 

In 2015, a group of artists, educators, activists, writers, doulas, and healthcare workers came together for an informal think tank to discuss social, cultural, and political issues that surround HIV/AIDS—which include criminalization, stigma, and ways AIDS history is being remembered and disremembered. From there we formed a collective, and started meeting monthly. What became obvious to us soon in the process was that we, as a group, had to check in with each other to figure out what we knew and felt about HIV. Each of us—whether living with the virus or being deeply impacted by it—had different experiences and awareness of the epidemic. At the same time, doula work had become ever more present in our communities—birth doulas, end of life doulas, abortion doulas, gender doulas—folks who fundamentally hold space for someone during a time of transition. We came to understand that we needed to doula ourselves, that is, to hold space for each other in order to better understand the current reality of the virus, to better consider what contemporary responses to AIDS should look like. To do this, we began with a question: What would an HIV doula do?

Since then, our collective has worked to bring community back to the HIV response and begin a conversation around how to ensure that the state and AIDS nonprofit organizations work for people living with the virus, and not the other way around. We do our work in open meetings and at events. AIDS is a public issue and should be treated as such. Long before the response to HIV became professionalized, before it even had a name, the communities affected by it responded in the streets. They protested, walked each other’s dogs, carried caskets, filed paperwork, saved art, held each other’s hands. In the course of our work, we have been reminded of a fundamental truth about the epidemic: No one gets HIV alone. And so no one should have to deal with it alone. When it comes to the virus, it is always, HIV with. So when the opportunity to work with Poets & Writers came up, we jumped at the chance to use writing as a way to bring together people who were living with HIV, or have been deeply impacted by it.

With the support of Poets & Writers, we created a five-part workshop series titled HIV WITH. For each session, a different theme—trauma, spirituality, public health, language, witnessing—and its relation to HIV would be explored under the guidance of a writer and a cofacilitator. For the second workshop of the series, poet and educator Timothy DuWhite and dancer and healer iele paloumpis came together to explore HIV through the interconnected systems of the mind, body, soul, and government. After delivering a powerful presentation on how the state often fails and targets people of color when it comes to HIV, the facilitators assigned writing prompts that had us respond to the ideas presented. iele invited us to get up from our seats, and—based on writing we had done in the room—use our bodies to express a journey we have had with HIV. As a writer, I was moved by this exercise. By the end of the workshop, I felt compelled to write more, buoyed by the shared experience of cracking spines, tears, hugs, comfort eating, and putting proverbial pen to paper. 

So much of writing is about being vulnerable on the page, alone, and then sending it out into the world. So much about HIV is about our bodies, risk, and judgement. Support from Poets & Writers has enabled the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective to build communal spaces where we can work to reduce the harm of HIV, transform the pain and stigma surrounding it, and be active participants in ensuring it metamorphosizes into health and resilience, through written word. As we continue to uncover what the response to HIV is and needs to be, we are reminded by opportunities like this workshop series that we need each other, that we have each other, and writing can be a way of healing.

Photo: (top) Theodore Kerr (credit: William Johnson). (bottom) HIV WITH altar (credit: Theodore Kerr).

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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Finalists for $10,000 Lindquist & Vennum Prize Announced

Milkweed Editions has announced the finalists for the 2017 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. The annual award is given for a poetry collection by a writer residing in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, or South Dakota. The winner receives $10,000 and publication by Milkweed.

The six finalists are The Account of Worms by Angela Voras-Hills, Gatekeeper by Patrick Johnson, Homeboys With Slipped Halos by Michael Torres, Solve for Desire by Caitlin Bailey, To Afar From Afar by Soham Patel, and Wait by Paige Riehl.

The Milkweed editors selected the finalists from a pool of more than two hundred manuscripts; the final judge is poet Srikanth Reddy, who will announce the winner April 19. Visit the Milkweed Editions website to learn more about the finalists.

Cosponsored by the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation and Milkweed Editions, the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry was established in 2011 with the goal of “supporting outstanding poets from the upper Midwest and bringing their work to the national stage.” Previous winners include Chris Santiago, Jennifer Willoughby, Michael Bazzett, Rebecca Dunham, and Patricia Kirkpatrick.

Milkweed Editions is a Minneapolis-based independent publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Patrick Johnson, Soham Patel, Paige Riehl, Angela Voras-Hills, Michael Torres, Caitlyn Bailey. 

Jenny Xie Wins Walt Whitman Award

Poet Jenny Xie has won the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, the nation’s largest prize for a debut poetry collection. Xie’s manuscript, Eye Level, will be published by Graywolf Press in 2018.

In addition to publication, Xie will receive $5,000 and a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranierei Center in Umbria, Italy, and will also be featured on the Academy’s website, poets.org, and in its print periodical, American Poets.

United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera selected Xie as this year’s winner. About Eye Level, Herrara writes: “‘Between Hanoi and Sapa’ this collection begins and continues with its ‘frugal mouth’ that ‘spends the only foreign words it owns.’ This knowing ‘travels’ in a spiral-shaped wisdom. We go places; we enter multiple terrains of seeing; we cross cultural borders of time, voices, locations—of consciousness. Then—we notice we are in a trembling stillness with all beings and all things. Jenny Xie’s Eye Level is a timely collection of beauty, clarity, and expansive humanity.”

Jenny Xie holds degrees from Princeton University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program, and has received fellowships from Kundiman, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Poets & Writers. She is the author of the chapbook Nowhere to Arrive, which won the 2016 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, and her poems are published or forthcoming in the New Republic, Tin House, Narrative, and elsewhere. Born in Hefei, China, and raised in New Jersey, Xie lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches at New York University.

Established in 1975, the Walt Whitman Award is designed to encourage the work of emerging poets. Previous recipients include Suji Kwock KimEric PankeyMatt Rasmussen, Alberto Ríos, and Mai Der Vang, whose book, Afterland, will be published by Graywolf next month.

Upcoming Deadline: Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant

Applications are currently open for the Whiting Foundation’s second annual Creative Nonfiction Grant. Individual awards of $40,000 are given to up to six writers in the process of completing a book of creative nonfiction.

Creative nonfiction writers currently under contract with a U.S. publisher and at least two years into their contract are eligible to apply. Using the online submission system, submit up to three chapters of a manuscript-in-progress, a signed and dated contract, a progress statement, a letter of reference from the publisher, and two additional letters of reference by May 1. A panel of five anonymous judges will select the winners; the grantees will be announced in the fall. For complete guidelines and eligibility requirements, visit the website or e-mail nonfiction@whiting.org.

Established in 2015, the Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant provides support for multiyear book projects that require large amounts of research. The grant’s chief objective is to “foster original, ambitious projects that bring writing to the highest possible standard.” The inaugural grantees were Deborah Baker, Sarah M. Broom, Timothy N. Golden, Joshua Roebke, Sarah Elizabeth Ruden, and John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Poet Laureate Work: Connecting People to Poetry

Elline Lipkin is the author of The Errant Thread, chosen by Eavan Boland for the Kore Press First Book Award, and Girls’ Studies (Seal Press, 2009). She is the current poet laureate of Altadena, a research affiliate with UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women, and teaches poetry for Writing Workshops Los Angeles. She blogs about a recent P&W–supported writing workshop with Suzanne Lummis at the Altadena Public Library in Altadena, California.

New to Altadena, and still new as its poet laureate, this past fall I tried to think about what programming would best serve this community—an unincorporated area in Los Angeles County, nestled in the San Gabriel foothills and blending into the borders of Pasadena. I decided a poetry workshop in February would be just the thing to build community and generate interest in poetry in advance of National Poetry Month and other planned literary events. Who might come in to teach enthusiastic poets who write for the joy of expression, the desire to play with words, and the chance to connect with community, I wondered.

Then, as a volunteer with WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based organization that teaches creative writing to teenage girls, I had the pleasure of witnessing Suzanne Lummis lead a poetry workshop. She was brash, funny, direct, and engaging—all the components that make a great teacher. I knew she would be the perfect person to teach a community workshop at the Altadena Public Library.

The workshop was set up in the Altadena Library community room, which they assured me would be large enough. When I arrived at 12:15 PM to set up for the workshop’s 1:00 PM start, there were already people sitting at the tables. By 12:40 PM someone suggested we look for more chairs and ideally, more tables. By the time the workshop started at 1:05 PM, people were standing in the doorway as I scrambled to make more handouts and the staff set up rows of folding chairs. Close to seventy people crammed into the room.

As I’d hoped, Suzanne again was brash, funny, direct, and engaging. She wedged her way between the closely positioned tables and made certain to talk to people at every corner, all while keeping a current of excitement in the air as she called on participants to respond.

Suzanne’s first exercise was to copy down the phrase, “The judge ran down my list of offenses....” The crowd fell silent, and after a scant eight minutes was ready to share.  Suzanne offered on-the-spot critique: “Always stay a step ahead of the reader—don’t go where you think the reader wants you to go.” She emphasized making lines vivid and rich with specificity and moving away from the prosaic.

For another writing exercise, she asked for suggestions she recorded on a whiteboard—names of flavors, fragrances, flowers, and movie stars. The whiteboard was covered with sensory suggestions—chaparral, night-blooming angel’s trumpet, ginger, sassafras, peppermint, and licorice. Helen Mirren, Idris Elba, Barbara Stanwyck, and Marlon Brando mixed in their own column. The assignment was to pick something from each category and “let the words lead you.” “Don’t be literal” was another key piece of advice, alongside, “Keep your writing connected to the sensory and palpable.”

There was barely time to share before the hour and a half was up. A crowd surrounded Suzanne as the event ended. I watched them pour out of the room, buzzing with ideas for their poems, sharing lines and thoughts about the exercises, clearly hungry for the connection poetry brings. I knew I had found the right person for this community, and I was thrilled.

Photo: Elline Lipkin (credit: Sylvia Gunde).

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

 

Winners of Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Announced

The Cleveland Foundation has announced the winners of the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Awards, given annually for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in the previous year that “confront racism and examine diversity.” The winners will be honored at a ceremony in Cleveland on September 7.

The winners are Tyehimba Jess in poetry for Olio (Wave Books), Margot Lee Shetterly in nonfiction for Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (William Morrow), and Peter Ho Davies and Karan Mahajan in fiction for The Fortunes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and The Association of Small Bombs (Penguin), respectively. Isabel Allende received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Jess, Shetterly, and Allende will each receive $10,000; Davies and Mahajan will split the $10,000 fiction prize.

“The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., who chairs the jury. “This year, we honor a breakthrough history of black women mathematicians powering NASA, a riveting novel of the Asian American experience, a mesmerizing, poetic exploration of forgotten black musical performance and a spellbinding story of violence and its consequences. All is capped by the lifetime achievement of Isabel Allende, an unparalleled writer and philanthropist.” Gates, along with Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, Steven Pinker, and Simon Schama, judged the prize.

Established in 1935, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards have honored 236 writers, including Nobel laureates Gunnar Myrdal, Nadine Gordimer, Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, and Derek Walcott.

Whiting Award Winners Announced

Tonight at a ceremony in New York City, the Whiting Foundation announced the winners of the 2017 Whiting Awards. Among the largest monetary prizes given to emerging writers, the annual awards are given in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Each winner receives $50,000.

This year’s winners are Simone White and Phillip B. Williams in poetry; Kaitlyn Greenidge, Tony Tulathimutte, Jen Beagin, and Lisa Halliday in fiction; Francisco Cantú in nonfiction; and Clare Barron, Clarence Coo, and James Ijames in drama.

Visit the Whiting Foundation website to read more about the awardees. Excerpts from the latest work of each winner are available at the Paris Review.

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards aim to “identify exceptional new writers who have yet to make their mark in the literary culture.” More than $7 million has been awarded to 320 emerging writers since the award’s inception. “The prize offers the gift of radical freedom to writers with the talent and imagination to match it,” said Courtney Hodell, the foundation’s director of writers’ programs.

Previous winners have included Tracy K. Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jorie Graham, Elif Batuman, Alice Sola Kim, and Ocean Vuong.

The award is not open to submissions; an anonymous group of writers, editors, agents, critics, professors, booksellers, and other literary professionals are selected by the Whiting Foundation each year to nominate writers and serve as judges for the awards. Visit the Whiting Foundation website for more information.

Top row, from left: Phillip B. Williams, Simone White. Middle row: Tony Tulathimutte, Lisa Halliday, Clare Barron, Kaitlyn Greenidge. Bottom row: Francisco Cantú, Jen Beagin, James Ijames, Clarence Coo. 

Bittersweet: The Immigrant Stories

Tanya Ko Hong explores both cultural and personal experiences with her writing, and seeks to bridge the gap between first-generation Korean immigrants and their Korean American children through her bilingual works. She has been published in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Two Hawks Quarterly, Portside, Cultural Weekly, Korea Times, and Korea Central Daily News. She has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles, and is the author of four books, including Mother to Myself (Prunsasang Press, 2015). 

On a chilly January evening, the Korean language reverberated through the Poet’s Garden at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California for the “Bittersweet: The Immigrant Stories” event. In all the mainstream poetry readings I’ve attended, the voices of these first-generation immigrants have been absent. Many immigrants want to express themselves but cannot due to language, social, and cultural barriers. In the Korean writer circles, the few who give voice to the immigrant experience aren’t even confident that their stories are worthy of translation or performance in English. Without translation, these original stories are in danger of dying out with the immigrant generation. I want to prevent that. As Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Since there didn’t seem to be an event celebrating the works of immigrants, I knew I had to do it. Why should my fellow immigrant artists feel invisible, voiceless, and unworthy? This evening was the realization of my dream to celebrate their works with a multicultural audience. Light evening breezes tossed the overhead string of lights as eleven artists shared immigrant experiences of Korean, Mexican, Filipino, and other cultures. Korean poets read selections as originally written, and then American poets read the translations.

Heard in English for the first time, “Sugarcane Arirang” by So Hyun Chang, recounted the first Korean Americans’ long days in the sugar fields of Hawaii. In Korean, the refrain of “Arirang” conveyed the rhythm of life in the fields and longing for home. The translation spoke of the raw and emotional experience. It was not a coincidence that the event date coincided with the one hundred and fourteenth anniversary of the first documented Korean immigrant’s arrival in Hawaii. The bittersweet aspect of the evening was the truth of the immigrant experiences and generational differences, which had been kept in silence for so long.

At the end of the evening, I read “American Dream” in both Korean and English, which ends with the question, “Who am I to you, America?”

The chill of the night was replaced by the warmth of friendship as we physically huddled together to conserve heat. The audience included writers who seldom venture outside of the Korean community, let alone to a Los Angeles venue like Beyond Baroque. The shared laughter and tears began to dismantle the barriers, borders, and fences of race, language, culture, gender, and age that often keep us divided.

On April 29, 2017, I will cohost an event at Beyond Baroque to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, an upheaval shared by Angelinos across cultural lines but seldom discussed today. As with “Bittersweet,” my goal is to bring voices to the shared pain and anguish of our neighboring communities. Let us express and listen to each other. We have suffered in silence too long.

As a poet, I learned to break the silence and have the courage to speak out. My work carries me forward. 

I thank all the participants; my cohost Julayne Lee; and the artists So Hyun Chang, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Christine Gonzalez, liz gonzales, June C. Kim, Soo Bok Kim, Duk Kyu Park, Kuya Paul, and Hiram Sims for making “Bittersweet” such a special night.

Special thanks to Beyond Baroque and their director, Richard Modiano.

Photo one: Tanya Ko Hong (credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher). Photo two: The Immigrant Stories readers: (front, left to right) June C. Kim, So Hyun Chang, Tanya Ko Hong, Julayne Lee, Kuya Paul, and Soo Bok Kim. (back, left to right) Duk Kyu Park, Christine Gonzalez, and Hiram Sims (credit: Patrick Hong).

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners

The winners of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. The annual awards are given for books of poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, biography, and criticism published in the United States in the previous year.



The winners are:

Poetry: House of Lords and Commons: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Ishion Hutchinson

Fiction: LaRose (Harper) by Louise Erdrich

Memoir: Lab Girl (Knopf) by Hope Jahren

General Nonfiction: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown) by Matthew Desmond

Biography: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright) by Ruth Franklin

Criticism: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury) by Carol Anderson

The award-winners were announced last night at a ceremony in New York City, during which the NBCC also honored the winners of three more prizes: Yaa Gyasi received the John Leonard Prize for her debut novel, Homegoing; Margaret Atwood received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award; and Michelle Dean received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

The NBCC also announced the inaugural recipients of its Emerging Critics Fellowship, a new program that “aspires to identify, nurture, and support the development of the next generation of critics.” The fellows are Taylor Brorby, Paul W. Gleason, Zachary Graham, Yalie Saweeda Kamara, Summer McDonald, Ismail Muhamad, and Heather Scott Partington.

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle is comprised of seven hundred working critics and book review editors throughout the country, and has administered its awards since 1975. The prizes honor “the best books published in the past year in the United States,” and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry.