Poets & Writers Blogs

Indiana Review Launches Fiction Book Prize

Submissions are currently open for the Don Belton Fiction Reading Period. Sponsored by Indiana Review and Indiana University Press, a prize of $1,000 and publication in the Blue Lights Books series will be given for a story collection, novel, or novella. The editors and Michael Martone will judge.

The editors seek “literary fiction that has an intelligent sense of language, assumes a degree of risk, and has consequence beyond the world of its narrators.” Using the online submission manager, submit an unpublished manuscript of up to 80,000 words with a $25 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to Indiana Review, by May 31. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established this year, the prize honors award-winning fiction writer and teacher Don Belton, who died in 2009. Belton wrote the novel Almost Midnight (Beech Tree Books, 1986) and edited the anthology Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream (Beacon Press, 1995). Listen to poet Ross Gay read his elegy for Belton, “Spoon.”

(Photo: Don Belton)

Upcoming Poetry Deadlines

Poets, consider submitting your poems, chapbooks, and full-length collections to the contests below, which offer prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and publication. The deadline is May 31.

Anhinga Press Anhinga–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry: A prize of $2,000, publication by Anhinga Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner is also invited to participate in a reading tour at select colleges in Florida. Entry fee: $25

Munster Literature Center Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,230) and publication by the Munster Literature Center is given annually for a poetry chapbook. The winner receives accommodations and some travel expenses to give a reading at the Cork International Poetry Festival in February 2019. Entry fee: €25 (approximately $30)

Backwaters Press Backwaters Prize: A prize of $2,500, publication by Backwaters Press, and 30 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Kwame Dawes will judge. Entry fee: $30

Bridport Arts Centre Bridport Prize: A prize of £5,000 (approximately $7,000) and publication in the Bridport Prize anthology is given annually for a poem. A second-place prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,400) and publication is also given. Daljit Nagra will judge. Entry fee: £9 (approximately $13) 

Southern Poetry Review Guy Owen Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $20 

Milkweed Editions Max Ritvo Poetry Prize: A prize of $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions is given annually to a U.S. poet for a debut poetry collection. Entry fee: $25

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

The Winding Roads of Poetry and Art

Mong-Lan, a Fulbright scholar and recipient of a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, has published seven books of poetry, most recently, Dusk Aflame: poems & art (Valiant Press, 2018), and three chapbooks. Her poetry has been awarded the Juniper Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and has been included in anthologies such as the Best American Poetry series. Mong-Lan is also a visual artist, musician, Argentine tango dancer, performer, and educator. She left her native Vietnam one day before the last evacuation of Saigon.

I’m grateful that Poets & Writers has cosponsored me for three events: The Poets in Play poetry reading at the Soup Full Café in Corning, New York; a poetry writing workshop a day later at the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes; and a convivial reading at Wheeler Hill hosted by poet Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing, which published my most recent chapbook, Tone of Water in a Half-Filled Glass. Finally, I taught a workshop for the Watkins Glen Writers Group, and later gave a reading. Through the generosity of Poets & Writers, I was able to promote my seventh book, Dusk Aflame: poems & art, and new chapbook.

This was my first time participating in programs, readings, and workshops in upstate New York. I found everyone to be kind, curious, and inquisitive. My events in Corning, Wheeler Hill, and Watkins Glen have gone remarkably well with lively, attentive audiences. In each of the readings, in addition to reading and performing my poetry, I also performed several tangos and sang, accompanying myself on the guitar. My multimedia performances included recordings of my jazz piano arrangements which played in the background while I recited my poems. Workshop participants were refreshingly open with a willingness to read and experience diverse writers, and a desire to talk about and discuss new ideas and strategies. Some audience members joined me from one event to the other, driving the long, winding roads from town to town.

Without Poets & Writers’ cosponsorship, I would not have been able to make this tour to upstate New York. Thankfully, Michael and Carolyn Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing hosted me in their rustic off-the-grid home on Wheeler Hill during most of my time there. Michael, with his indefatigable energy and generosity, drove me to and from readings and workshops, and introduced me to his friends and colleagues. I’ve met wonderful poets and writers such as Steve Coffman, Mary A. Hood, and Martha Treichler, who studied with Charles Olson all those years ago. I’ve enjoyed sharing my writing, books, art, knowledge, and teaching with this community, and am deeply grateful.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Mong-Lan with her book covers (Credit: Mong-Lan).

Fiction and Nonfiction Contests With May 31 Deadlines

Prose writers, polish up your stories, essays, and full-length manuscripts by May 31! The following contests offer prizes of at least $1,000 and publication.

Bridport Arts Centre Bridport Prize: A prize of £5,000 (approximately $7,000) and publication in the Bridport Prize anthology is given annually for a short story. A second-place prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,400) and an additional prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,400) for a work of flash fiction are also given. Monica Ali will judge. Entry fee: £10 (approximately $14) for fiction and £8 (approximately $11) for flash fiction.

Elixir Press Fiction Award: A prize of $2,000, publication by Elixir Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a short story collection or a novel. Amina Gautier will judge. Entry fee: $40

University of Georgia Press Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by University of Georgia Press is given annually for a collection of short fiction. Lee K. Abbott will judge. Entry fee: $30

Nowhere Magazine Travel Writing Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Nowhere Magazine is given twice yearly for a short story or essay that “possesses a powerful sense of place.” Porter Fox will judge. Entry fee: $20

BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by BOA Editions is given annually for a short story collection. Peter Conners will judge. Entry fee: $25

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

Office Hours Writing Workshop: Poetry as Political Act

Sarah Sala’s debut poetry collection, Devil’s Lake, was a finalist for the 2017 Subito Press Book Prize and her poem “Hydrogen” was featured in the Elements episode of NPR’s hit show Radiolab. She is the series facilitator for Office Hours Poetry Workshop, and coproduces AmpLit Fest with Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson.

Office Hours Poetry Workshop emerged from the deep need for a program that supports and elevates post–MFA writers. The goal: to build a no-fee workshop that accommodates full-time work schedules, childcare needs, and celebrates writers who are POC, LGBTQ+, women-identified, adjunct instructors, and any and all combination. More than anything, I wanted to compensate our writers. The Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops grant became a profound way to do so.

In many ways, publishing has left poetry behind. Some magazines charge fees to submit work, and often can’t afford payment upon publication. I regularly see venues advertise $100 pay for fiction or nonfiction pieces and only $25 for poems. While I recognize this scale is often based on word count, it speaks volumes about the legitimacy of poetry in the modern arena.

June Jordan said that poetry is a political act because it involves truth telling. Very often this means writing through a lens counter to mainstream culture, embodying our power and vulnerabilities on the page, and practicing radical empathy with fellow artists. For this reason, it was an immense pleasure to introduce the Office Hours Spring Showcase fellows at the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division (BGSQD).

With Marco DaSilva’s visionary art installation “My Quaint Struggle” as backdrop, Sanj Nair captivated the audience with works that delved into identity, agency, and womanhood. Marty Correia’s pieces skillfully wrestled with human relationships—queer and familial— then brought forth the magical properties of DaSilva’s golden altar by dubbing them “authority panels.”

Next, Yanyi read his self-described “soft prose poems”—rich and particular renderings of the domestic. Caitlin McDonnell’s lyric narratives confronted the reality of gun violence in America and presented a tapestry of inventive first lines from novels she’s written and/or abandoned. Holly Mitchell’s lush writing strode between epithalamion and coming-of-age in a conservative landscape.

Paco Márquez rounded out the night with sinuous poems from his new chapbook, Portraits in G Minor (Folded Word, 2017), and treated the audience to the Spanish and English versions of a Pablo Neruda poem he recently assisted William O’Daly in translating from Book of Twilight (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), a recent publication of Neruda’s debut book, Crepusculario.

Overall, the evening was overwhelmingly restorative. Here, in New York City, and at the Bureau, we make our home among friends as we seek to change the status quo.

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) Sarah Sala (Credit: Talya Chalef). (middle) Sanj Nair (Credit: Sarah Sala). (bottom) Yanyi (Credit: Sarah Sala).

Inaugural Franz Wright Poetry Prize Open for Submissions

Submissions are currently open for Eyewear Publishing’s inaugural Franz Wright Prize for Poetry. An award of $2,000 and publication by Eyewear will be given annually for a poetry collection. Kaveh Akbar will judge.


The winning collection will be published on March 18, 2019, which would have been Wright’s sixty-sixth birthday. The Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, who was the son of poet James Wright, died in 2015.

Poets of any nationality writing in English and at any stage in their careers are eligible for the prize. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 48 to 120 pages with a $15 entry fee by June 6.

London-based Eyewear Publishing aims “to build bridges between cultures and continents and to support authors young and old.” Visit the website for more information.

Listen to Kaveh Akbar, one of the poets included in Poets & Writers’ 2018 Debut Poetry feature, read from his collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf  (Alice James Books, 2017).

(Photo: Franz Wright; Credit: Aaron Skinner)

Upcoming Poetry Deadlines

April showers bring May poetry contests! If you have a single poem or full-length collection ready to submit, check out the following contests with May 15 deadlines, each of which offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

American Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in American Poetry Review is given annually for a poem by a poet under the age of 40. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $15

Breakwater Review Perseroff Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Breakwater Review is given annually for a single poem. Jill McDonough will judge. Entry fee: $10

Georgia Review Loraine Williams Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Georgia Review is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $15

Lynx House Press Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry: A prize of $2,000 and publication by Lynx House Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $28

Ruminate Magazine Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Ruminate Magazine is given annually for a poem. Ilya Kaminsky will judge. Entry fee: $20 

Lost Horse Press Idaho Prize for Poetry: A prize of $1,000, publication by Lost Horse Press, and 20 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection by a U.S. poet. Piotr Florczyk will judge. Entry fee: $28

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

Deadline Approaches for BOMB Poetry Contest

Submissions are currently open for BOMB Magazine’s 2018 Poetry Contest. A prize of $1,000 and publication in BOMB’s literary supplement, First Proof, is given biennially for a group of poems by an emerging writer. Dawn Lundy Martin will judge.


Using the online submission system, submit up to five poems totaling no more than ten pages with a $20 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to BOMB for U.S. entrants, by May 6. The winner will be announced on July 31.

Previous winners of the contest include Marwa Helal, Daniel Poppick, and Steve Dickison. BOMB’s literary prize is given in alternating years for fiction and poetry; the 2019 award will be given in fiction. Visit the website for more information.

(Photo: Dawn Lundy Martin)

A Thirst for the Arts in the Inland Region

For years, Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program has been conducting Literary Roundtable Meetings in California and New York State. The meetings bring together people from all areas of the literary community to share ideas, news, and resources. In California, eight community meetings are held a year. This spring, a meeting was held in California’s Inland Empire region, an area centered around the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino. The guest speaker was Dr. Ernie Garcia of the Garcia Center for the Arts, where the meeting was held, and the cohost was Cati Porter, director of the Inlandia Institute. Porter is a poet, editor, essayist, and arts administrator, and her third poetry collection, The Body at a Loss, is forthcoming next year from CavanKerry Press. She writes about the value of the annual Literary Roundtable Meetings and the recent gathering in San Bernardino, California.

For the past decade, Inlandia Institute has been the Inland Empire regional partner for Poets & Writers’ annual Inland Empire Literary Roundtable Meeting. We have always held the meeting at a local library, but this year thought it would be fun to mix it up and meet at the Garcia Center for the Arts in San Bernardino.

Situated in an urban center, the Garcia Center is an oasis. Opening the front gate is like stepping through a portal: The courtyard is filled with desert-loving flora. Banana trees, heavy with fruit, bend over the walkways. A fountain purrs. The building is a Spanish adobe, once abandoned and now rehabilitated, and home to artist studios and arts organizations, including a second office for Inlandia.

The Garcia Center is named after and run by Dr. Ernie Garcia, our guest speaker for the roundtable that day. I arrive early and can already hear voices as I make my way toward the community library for the meeting. That’s when I find Ernie sitting on a bench in the courtyard with another early arrival. The three of us head into the “library,” a large room stocked, thanks to generous community donations, with books and comfy chairs.

An island of tables has already been set up for our meeting. Soon Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops (West), arrives—and then about a dozen others. Just inside the door is an upright piano, another donation, and Jamie sits and plays for us as we settle in. The table fills up quickly.

We have just begun going around the room introducing ourselves when two more people walk in, then one more, then a couple more again, until nearly every seat is filled including the wing chairs and sofa. Among those present are Timothy Green of Rattle literary magazine, Richard Soos of Cholla Needles Press, Jennifer Kane of Arts Connection, Juan Delgado of California State University in San Bernardino, Cindy Rinne of the San Bernardino Valley Concert Association, Edward Ferrari of PoetrIE, and Nikia Chaney, the Inlandia Literary Laureate.

In all, twenty-five people coming from as far and wide as Sun City, Rancho Cucamonga, Barstow, Ontario, Wrightwood, Forest Falls, Joshua Tree, Yucaipa, Moreno Valley, Redlands, and Riverside. There is such thirst for this kind of support for artists and writers in Inlandia that folks were willing to drive great distances just to connect.

Dr. Garcia—aka Ernie, aka Neto Esquelito—gives us an oral history of the Garcia Center, and then reads from his book, Growing Up Aleluya, about religious intolerance in the barrio of South Colton, California.

When Ernie finishes, I pull out a pair of scissors.

Ernie, Nikia, and I push back our chairs and walk to a trio of bookshelves behind me, a red ribbon draped across. Ernie cuts the ribbon. The sign beneath reads: Inlandia Poetry Library Donated By Inlandia Literary Laureate Nikia Chaney.

Nikia found herself with more books than bookshelves after serving as a judge for this year’s Kate and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, so she decided to donate them as part of her laureateship to form the Inlandia Poetry Library at the Garcia Center. More than four hundred poetry books are now free to the public to check out, on the honor system, when the center is open.

Writing is about connecting. It’s not, as they say, always a solitary act. Community is the well we drink from after the long journey inward. What Poets & Writers does is create someplace for us to come back to—for exchange of ideas and connection with other writers—something that, in the Inlandia region, is hard to come by.

Support for this event and 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.

Photos: (top) Dr. Ernie Garcia, Cati Porter, and Nikia Chaney (Credit: Cindy Rinne). (bottom) Inland Empire group (Credit: Jamie FitzGerald).

Courtney Zoffness Wins £30,000 Short Story Award

American writer Courtney Zoffness has won the 2018 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for her story “Peanuts Aren’t Nuts.” The annual award of £30,000 (approximately $41,300) is the world’s richest prize for a single short story written in English.

The winning story will be published in Britain’s Sunday Times on Sunday, April 29, and can also be found on the award website.

The finalists for the prize, who each received £1,000 (approximately, $1,380), were Allegra Goodman for “F.A.Q.s,” Victor Lodato for “Herman Melville, Volume 11,” Miranda July for “The Metal Bowl,” Molly McCloskey for “Life on Earth,” and Curtis Sittenfeld for “Do-Over.”

Tessa Hadley, Petina Gappah, Sebastian Faulks, Mark Lawson, and Andrew Holgate judged. Of Zoffness’s story, Faulks said: “It was a high-tariff endeavor, exactly brought off. And at its heart it had that precious thing that underlies the best fiction. It’s not just about giving a voice to the overlooked; it is about valuing the inner world above the outer —dramatically reminding us that this quiet place is where lives are shaped.”

Zoffness lives in Brooklyn, New York, and directs the creative writing program at Drew University in New Jersey. She is currently writing her first novel, which is based on the winning story. 

Established in 2010 by Lord Matthew Evans of EFG International banking group and Cathy Galvin of the Sunday Times, a weekly newspaper published in Britain since 1822, the annual prize is open to writers across the world and aims to promote and celebrate the excellence of the modern short story.

Zoffness is only the second woman to win the award, after Yiyun Li won in 2015. Other past winners include Bret Anthony Johnston, Jonathan Tel, and Junot Díaz. Visit the website for more information.

(Photo: Courtney Zoffness)

Upcoming Fiction and Nonfiction Deadlines

Prose writers, if you have a short story, essay, novel, or book of nonfiction ready to submit, consider the following contests with deadlines of April 30 and May 1, each offering a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Red Hen Press Nonfiction Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Red Hen Press is given annually for an essay collection, memoir, or book of narrative nonfiction. Florencia Ramirez will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: April 30

Winning Writers Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction and Essay Contest: Two prizes of $2,000 each and publication on the Winning Writers website are given annually for a short story and an essay. Dennis Norris II will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: April 30

Nimrod International Journal Literary Award: A prize of $2,000 and publication in Nimrod International Journal is given annually for a work of short fiction. A runner-up prize of $1,000 and publication is also given. The winner and runner-up also receive transportation and lodging to attend an awards ceremony and writing conference in Tulsa in October. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: April 30

Glimmer Train Press Fiction Open: A prize of $3,000, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 10 copies of the prize issue is given twice yearly for a short story. A $1,000 second-place prize is also given. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $21. Deadline: April 30

Glimmer Train Press Very Short Fiction Award: A prize of $2,000, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 10 copies of the prize issue is given three times a year for a very short story. Entry fee: $16. Deadline: April 30

Southwest Review David Nathan Meyerson Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southwest Review is given annually for a short story by a writer who has not published a full-length book of fiction. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: May 1

Leapfrog Press Fiction Award: A prize of $1,150 and publication by Leapfrog Press is given annually for a short story collection, a novel, or a novella. Marie-Helene Bertino and the Leapfrog editors will judge. Entry fee: $33. Deadline: May 1

Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grants: Up to six grants of $40,000 each are given annually for creative nonfiction works-in-progress to enable writers to complete their books. Creative nonfiction writers under contract with a publisher and at least two years into their contract are eligible. There is no entry fee. Deadline: May 1

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

BOAAT Press Poetry Contests

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 BOAAT Press Chapbook and Book Prizes. Two awards of $1,000 each, publication by BOAAT Press, and 50 author copies are given annually for a poetry chapbook and a full-length poetry collection. The deadline for both contests is April 30.

The Chapbook Prize is given to an emerging or established poet. Using the online submission manager, submit a manuscript of 15 to 30 pages of poetry with a $17 entry fee. Camille Rankine will judge. The Book Prize is given for a debut poetry collection. Using the online submission manager, submit a manuscript of 48 to 75 pages of poetry with a $25 entry fee. Nick Flynn will judge.

BOAAT Press is an independent poetry publisher based in Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to administering its annual prizes, the press publishes the bimonthly online journal BOAAT

Alfredo Aguilar won the 2017 Chapbook Prize for What Happens on Earth, selected by Natalie Diaz. Jessica Field won the 2017 Book Prize for Redwork, selected by Dean Young. Visit the BOAAT website for more information, and check out our Grants & Awards Database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

(Photos: Camille Rankine, Nick Flynn)

Frank Bidart and Andrew Sean Greer Win 2018 Pulitzer Prizes

Today at Columbia University in New York City, the winners of the 102nd annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced. Seven prizes in letters are awarded annually for works of literature published in the previous year. Each winner receives $15,000.  

Frank Bidart won the prize in poetry for Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965–2016 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists were Evie Shockley’s semiautomatic (Wesleyan University Press) and Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly Books).

Andrew Sean Greer won the prize in fiction for his novel Less (Lee Boudreaux Books). The finalists were Elif Baufman’s The Idiot (Penguin Press) and Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance (Coffee House Press).

Caroline Fraser won the prize in biography for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books). The finalists were John A. Farrell’s Richard Nixon: The Life (Doubleday) and the Kay Redfield Jamison’s Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character (Knopf)

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

Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prizes in 1911, and the first prize was awarded in 1917. The 2017 winners included poet Tyehimba Jess and fiction writer Colson Whitehead.

Read an interview with Frank Bidart from the May/June 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and listen to an excerpt of Andrew Sean Greer’s third novel, The Story of a Marriage.

(Photo: Frank Bidart; Credit: Webb Chappell)

Taylor Mali on Page Meets Stage

A four-time National Poetry Slam champion, Taylor Mali is one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam and is the author of two collections of poetry and a book of essays, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012). He is the founding curator of Page Meets Stage, a monthly poetry series in New York City that pairs two poets to perform a conversation through their work.

How did Page Meets Stage begin? What was your inspiration?
The inspiration for the series actually started with Billy Collins. I’ve been a fan of his work for years and now consider him a mentor. In the early 1990s, I used to write him a fan letter every couple months or so, and every letter ended with an invitation for him to come read at a poetry slam series that I used to help curate at the Bowery Poetry Club. In 2005, after a decade of these letters, he finally agreed, and he had a wonderful time. I suggested that we arrange another reading with just the two of us and call it “Page vs. Stage.” He liked the idea, and somewhere along the way in planning the format for the night, we decided that it would be interesting if we went back and forth, poem for poem, perhaps having a conversation through our work.

The reading was a great success, in part I suspect, because of the unique format, which the audience loved. Since then, we’ve had several different pairings of poets, always with one representing a more performative style of poetry and the other, more literary. Currently, I work with Mahogany L. Browne, April Ranger, and MaryCae to produce the show once a month and we are still at the Bowery Poetry Club!

What have the challenges been to sustaining such a long-running program?
Promotion has always been the issue. There’s always something good to watch on TV, and people seem happy these days to sit in a comfy chair for a few hours with only their smart phones (I know because I’ve been that person). It’s an awful feeling when you craft a spectacular pairing—with two poets who don’t know each other but whose work blends together in just the right way—and then only two people show up for the show! We’ve had some wonderful pairings that were so poorly attended that I’ve been tempted to call it quits.

Has your mission or your vision for the organization changed over the years? What’s most important for you right now?
In the beginning, I was probably on a mission to garner more respect for spoken word poets. I wanted to show the world that spoken word poets are just as concerned with craft as the next poet; but they understand that how you read a poem is also important. In the thirteen years we’ve been around, the line between page and stage has been bent in some places and blurred in others. There are former slam poets who are finalists for the National Book Award like Danez Smith, university professors such as Patricia Smith and Jeff McDaniel, and even Pulitzer Prize winners and Guggenheim fellows such as Tyehimba Jess.

Furthermore, we’ve had about six poets who have done both sides of the pairing, stage the first time and page the second. So these days, we don’t care quite so much about labels. We just try to craft a great night for people to hear great poetry.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a curator and organizer?
There have been a lot of great pairings and some fantastic ones coming up as well, but a couple of moments have stuck with me. I got to share the stage with Galway Kinnell before he died. Back then we also traded poems during readings so Galway read one of my poems, and I performed his poem “The Waking” from memory, which takes five minutes to recite and is probably the longest poem I’ve ever memorized.

I’d also been trying to get my friend Saul Williams to participate for years, and I finally got him to agree in 2014. I asked what his dream pairing would be, and he said, “Without a doubt, Carolyn Forché.” As luck would have it, I had just taken a workshop with Carolyn, so I was able to set it up. That’s a pairing I would never have concocted on my own, but it remains one of my favorites.

What’s next for the series?
I am hesitant to even mention this because it’s still months away, but two of my favorite poets, Ocean Vuong and Sharon Olds, are scheduled to read together on Sunday, October 28, which will be very exciting.

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) Billy Collins and Taylor Mali in 2005 for the inaugural reading of the series (Credit: Taylor Mali). (middle) Clint Smith and Elizabeth Acevedo (Credit: Taylor Mali). (bottom) Saul Williams and Carolyn Forché (Credit: Taylor Mali).

 

Danez Smith Wins Inaugural Four Quartets Prize

Poet Danez Smith has won the inaugural Four Quartets Prize for “summer, somewhere,” a sequence of poems from the collection Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Sponsored by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and Poetry Society of America, the new $20,000 award is given annually for a unified and complete sequence of poems published in the United States in the previous two years. Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl judged.

The finalists, who each received $1,000, were Geoffrey G. O’Brien for “Experience in Groups” from Experience in Groups (Wave Books, 2018), and Kathleen Peirce for Vault: a poem (New Michigan Press, 2017).

Actor Jeremy Irons announced the winner this afternoon at a ceremony at the National Arts Club in New York City. Of Smith’s work, the judges said: “‘Do you know what it’s like to live / on land who loves you back?’ In “summer, somewhere,” Danez Smith imagines just such a land for the black boys who have died by violence in our time: the violence of vigilantism, of police brutality, of stigmatized poverty and illness, of despair. From a bitter landscape, this unblinking sequence manages to wrest a celebration of black lives, fusing metaphor and emotion in a transformative whole.”

Don’t Call Us Dead, Smith’s second collection, was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award. Smith’s first collection, [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award. Smith has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation.

The Poetry Society of America, based in New York City, is dedicated to promoting poetry in American culture. The T. S. Eliot Foundation, based in London, is dedicated to celebrating poetry, literacy, and “all things Eliot.” The inaugural Four Quartets Prize celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of the U.S. publication of Eliot’s Four Quartets.

(Photo: Danez Smith; Credit: David Hong)