Poets & Writers Blogs

Matwaala Poets and the New York City Polyphony

Usha Akella is the author of six books, and her most recent collection was published by Sahitya Akademi in India. She earned an MSt in Creative Writing from Cambridge University and is the founder of Matwaala, the South Asian Diaspora Poets’ Collective, and the Poetry Caravan series, which brings poetry readings and workshops to women’s shelters, senior homes, educational institutions, and hospitals. She has read her poems at a number of international poetry festivals and was selected as a Creative Ambassador for Austin, Texas in 2015.

Walking toward the Red Room at the KGB Bar in the East Village for a Matwaala poetry reading, Sophie Naz and I spotted a sign with the words “Waste your money” in front of a restaurant and we burst out laughing. It’s these random things that punctuate one’s flowing experience of the tumult of New York City—and I’d say of Matwaala too. Things that are quirky, like little bolts of lightning in our pedestrian life. Like Salman Rushdie sauntering in at the opening of the Matwaala poetry festival at New York University. Like Yogesh Patel’s whale metaphor to capture the angst of immigration or Sophie Naz’s Russian hat, a prominent sartorial prop at the festival. Like the Matwaala mug, which acts as the physical award given to the poet-of-honor with their lines of poetry inscribed on it.

Since its inception, Matwaala has been marked by magic, community, and camaraderie, a festival that was birthed to increase the visibility of South Asian poetry. Realizing its mission could be achieved in New York City, where it broils with academic institutions and cultural ferment, Pramila Venkateswaran, our codirector, and I moved it from Austin, Texas to New York in 2017.

Eleven of us gathered at New York University, Hunter College, Nassau Community College, and the Red Room to read and share our poetry with students, faculty, and audience members. U.K. poets Yogesh Patel, the 2019 poet-of-honor, and Kavita A. Jindal joined us from across the pond. U.S. poets Indran Amirthanayagam, Zilka Joseph, Vikas Menon, Sophia Naz, Ralph Nazareth, Ravi Shankar, Yuyutsu Sharma, Vivek Sharma, and Pramila Venkatewaran visibly moved audiences with poetry textured by the issues of immigration, displacement, politics, identity, family, and experiential moments of life that have no labels.

Back in Austin, what is foremost in my heart is gratitude for so many who believe in softening borders. Kindness has no skin color. Bonnie Rose Marcus and the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Tim Tomlinson and Deedle Tomlinson, and Norman Spencer made so much possible. The universities that hosted us—NYU, Hunter, and NCC—gave South Asian voices a chance to be heard. Live on poetry is what I heard for three days. Your time is now.

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) Pramila Venkateswaran and Usha Akella (Credit: Usha Akella). (bottom) left to right: audience member, Ravi Shankar, Kavita A. Jindal, Salman Rushdie, Yuyutsu Sharma, Indran Amirthanayagam, Yogesh Patel, Zilka Joseph, Usha Akella, and Pramila Venkateswaran (Credit: Usha Akella).

Powers, Gander Win 2019 Pulitzer Prizes

This afternoon the winners of the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced at Columbia University in New York City. The annual $15,000 prizes are given for works of journalism and literature published during the previous year. First awarded in 1917, the Pulitzer Prizes are considered among the most prestigious prizes in American letters.

The award in fiction went to Richard Powers for his novel The Overstory (Norton). The finalists were Rebecca Makkai for The Great Believers (Viking) and Tommy Orange for There There (Knopf).

Forrest Gander won the award in poetry for Be With (New Directions). The finalists were Jos Charles for feeld (Milkweed Editions) and A. E. Stallings for Like (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Jeffrey C. Stewart won the award in biography for The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press). The finalists were Max Boot for The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (Norton) and Caroline Weber for Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Knopf).

The nonfiction award went to Eliza Griswold for Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists were Elizabeth Rush for Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore (Milkweed Editions) and Bernice Yeung for In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers (New Press).

David W. Blight won the award in history of the United States for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster). The finalists were W. Fitzhugh Brundage for Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition (Belknap) and Victoria Johnson for American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Norton).

Each year the Pulitzer Prizes receive nearly 1,400 submissions for its five book categories. The 2018 winners included poet Frank Bidart, fiction writer Andrew Sean Greer, and nonfiction writer Caroline Fraser.

Read more about Powers’s winning book in “A Talk in the Woods: Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Powers” from the November/December 2018 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: Richard Powers

BOMB’s Biennial Fiction Contest Open for Submissions

Submissions are currently open for BOMB’s Biennial Fiction Contest. The contest winner will receive $1,000 and publication in BOMB’s literary supplement, First Proof. Artist and writer Renee Gladman will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 5,000 words with a $20 entry fee, which includes a yearlong subscription to the magazine. The deadline is May 5. The winner will be announced on July 31, 2019. 

In 2017, Kristen Gleason’s “Mumbai” was chosen as the winning entry by Paul La Farge. Previous winners include Jen GeorgeMichael Baptist, and Karen Walker Thompson

Established in 1981 as a quarterly magazine of conversations and interviews between artists, BOMB is now a “multi-media publishing house that creates, disseminates, and preserves artist-generated content from interviews to artists’ essays to new literature.”

Creative Writing From Queer Resistance

Jack York is a queer fatty from Queens, New York. She writes mostly poetry and creative nonfiction, but is rapidly rediscovering her love of fan fiction. She coproduces Streaks of Lavender, a zine on queer resistance through creative writing and community building. York earned her BA in English from Queens College, and works as an administrative coordinator for the New York Public Library. Find her on Instagram @jackyork_ and @streaksoflavender.

When I entered the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City for the first time in October 2017, I was the largest person in the room. This is typical for most spaces I’m in, but what surprised me is that this time I wasn’t sure if I should shrink or rise to fill my space.

The group was diverse in race, ethnicity, age, gender, size, and ability. We came from various career paths, most having rushed to the museum from work or school. We brought different levels of publishing, of confidence, of practice. Yes, our queerness united us, but more than that was the desire for community, for a place to feel less othered, for folks to intentionally hold space for our thoughts and words, to be with us as we tried to resist rather than acquiesce.

Creative Writing From Queer Resistance is an eight-week workshop conceived and facilitated by Nancy Agabian. Since 2017, it has brought together three cohorts of queer writers to meet in community, read the work of our queer author ancestors, and continue their legacy of resistance through writing. As each workshop ended, there was a strong desire to continue this work, and across cohorts, participants have become friends and accountability partners for their writing.

What began as a simple, “We should make a zine!” has blossomed into Streaks of Lavender, a forthcoming zine produced by workshop alums. Through this zine, we are creating opportunities to build community beyond the safety of the museum’s gallery walls and to turn our words into action.

At the 2019 New York City Feminist Zinefest, we cofacilitated a creative writing workshop for queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks focusing on rage, the theme of our zine’s first issue. Inspired by Nancy’s workshop, we read Sandra Cisneros and Audre Lorde alongside some of our own work, and invited participants to share too. We discussed anger, fear, and how we can find safety in our minds and our beds, sometimes. We laughed, we stretched, we literally screamed at the top of our lungs.

And me? Two years after I first entered the museum, I’m invigorated and ready to start letting go of those initial insecurities, those doubts that hold so many of us back, especially marginalized folks. Each doubt focuses on I, but through this new community of writers, in so many unexpected ways, I have become we.

The launch party for Streaks of Lavender’s first issue will take place on Tuesday, April 30 at 6:30PM at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

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) Jack York (Credit: Jack York). (bottom) Creative Writing From Queer Resistance workshop participants (left to right) bottom row: María José, Nancy Agabian, Priya Nair; top row: Mallory Tyler, Courtney Surmanek, Katrina Ruiz, Jack York, RK Pérez, 鄭伊凌 cheng yi ling (Credit: Al Valentín).

Deadline Approaches for Spoon River Poetry Review Editors’ Prize

Submissions are currently open for the Spoon River Poetry Review Editors’ Prize Contest. The annual contest awards $1,000 and publication in the journal to a single poem. The winning poet will also be invited to read at the annual Lucia Getsi Reading Series held in Bloomington, Illinois. Two runners-up will also each receive $100.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three previously unpublished poems totaling no more than 10 pages with a $20 entry fee, which includes a yearlong subscription to the review. The deadline is April 15. All entries will be considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The judge, who will write an introduction to the winning poem, will be announced after the winner is selected. Recent judges include G. C. Waldrep, Rachel Zucker, Joshua Corey, Juliana Spahr, David Baker, and C. S. Giscombe. Last year, Li-Young Lee selected Mark Svenvold’s poem “Immigration Algorithm (Application Form D (3) b (1) a)” as the winning entry.

Founded in 1976, Spoon River Poetry Review is housed at Illinois State University and celebrates “a poetics of emplacement: writing that reveals the borders of our comfort zones as sites of connection rather than irreconcilable difference.” Kirstin Hotelling Zona has been editor since 2010.

A Thriving Writing Workshop in San Bernardino

Romaine Washington, MEd., is the author of the poetry collection, Sirens in Her Belly (Jamii Publishing, 2015), and a fellow of the Inland Area Writing Project at the University of California in Riverside and the Watering Hole in South Carolina. She writes about her experience as the workshop facilitator for the San Bernardino Inlandia Writing Workshop sponsored by the Inlandia Institute. The library workshop is one of many free writing workshops organized by the Inlandia Institute in California’s Inland Empire region, and cosponsored by Poets & Writers.

Over a year ago, I began attending the San Bernardino Inlandia Institute workshop located in the cozy Howard M. Rowe Branch Library. Facilitator Allyson Jeffredo shared her vision of creating a workshop steeped in honest conversation and a safe space. We were instructed to discuss the heart of the work which primed us to be receptive to constructive critique. Her mission of guiding us to our best writing selves was the perfect example of an effective workshop leader.

When Allyson moved, I was invited to be the facilitator and inherited a healthy workshop with friendly, patient, and creatively curious people like former social worker Charlotte LeVecque, who taught us about her love of horses in a poem titled “The Jump”:

He takes off
                         not a foot on the ground
My horse and I take wing

Our haiku guru, Cynthia Charlwood Pringle, transported us to a mini-retreat with these lines:

ocean inhales, holds
its breath – pauses – releases
foamy crescent domes

Our workshop participants range in age from mid-twenties to eighties, from college students to retirees. The octogenarian from Germany and the dancer in her twenties who works with at-risk youth have a mutual admiration for each other’s poetry and joie de vivre. The creative process, natural flow in fellowship, and mutual respect makes each meeting memorable.

We’ve had visits from guest presenters like Marilyn Kallet, the poet laureate of Knoxville, Tennessee, whose dynamic presentation focused on “Joy in Everyday Things.” We went on a library scavenger hunt for inspiration and read impromptu lines with Kallet, but we were all most deeply moved when she read from her work.

For our next meeting, we will have guest presenter and local author Isabel Quintero, whose debut novel, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014), won the 2015 Morris Award for Debut YA Fiction. She will speak to us about expressing our authentic voice. I am excited to see how this will impact our writing.

With each meeting I see growth in what is produced and the quality of constructive comments. Having inherited such a wonderful workshop, my mission is to see each person continue to thrive.

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.

Photos: (top) Romaine Washington (Credit: Romaine Washington); (middle) Workshop participants with Romaine Washington (center), guest presenter Marilyn Kallet (left of center), and Inlandia Institute executive director Cati Porter (right of center) (Credit: Romaine Washington); (bottom) San Bernardino Inlandia workshop (Credit: Alex Arteava).

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets Prize Finalists Announced

Catherine Barnett, Dante Micheaux, and Meredith Stricker have been chosen as the finalists for the 2019 Four Quartets Prize. The annual $20,000 prize, sponsored by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and the Poetry Society of America, is given for a “unified and complete sequence of poems” published in the United States in 2018. The winner will be named at a ceremony in New York City on April 30.

Poets Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Carmen Giménez Smith, and Rosanna Warren judged. “The three finalists for the 2019 Four Quartets Prize represent how the long poem continues to delight, attract, and sustain readers and fellow poets alike into the twenty-first century,” says Phillips. “These poems are daring, expertly crafted, alluring, and infused with a sense of poetic purpose. They rose to the top of an incredibly competitive field of submissions.”

Barnett is nominated for her sequence “Accursed Questions” from her collection Human Hours (Graywolf Press); Micheaux is nominated for his book Circus (Indolent Books); and Stricker is nominated for her chapbook anemochore (Newfound Press). “That the finalist list comprises three different modes of the long poem—the book-length poem, the extended lyric passage, and the chapbook—speaks to the vital diversity of the form,” says Phillips, “for they suggest, rather emphatically, that the American long poem sequence is in good health and in good hands today and going forward into the future.”

Alice Quinn, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America, agrees. “The recent proliferation of chapbook publication in America and of journal publication of sequences of poems has fostered an extraordinary climate for this prize, which is becoming a beacon, holding out hope of significant recognition and reward for achievement in this area of poetic endeavor.”

The London-based T. S. Eliot Foundation and the New York City–based Poetry Society of America established the prize last year on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in America. Clare Reihill, the director of the T. S. Eliot Foundation, says the two organizations launched the award because she “sensed T. S. Eliot’s presence in the land of his birth and early life had somewhat fallen away.” Born in Saint Louis, Eliot spent the majority of his life in the England, where he wrote two of the most important long poems of the twentieth century, The Waste Land and Four Quartets.

Danez Smith won the inaugural prize for their lyric sequence “summer, somewhere” from Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press). 

Photos (left to right): Catherine Barnett, Dante Micheaux, Meredith Stricker

End of March Contest Roundup

As we head into the end of March, consider submitting to these writing contests for poets and prose writers. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and has a deadline of March 31.

Arts & Letters Prizes: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Arts & Letters are given annually for a group of poems, a short story, and an essay. GennaRose Nethercott will judge in poetry, Peter Nichols will judge in fiction, and Pam Houston will judge in nonfiction. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 31.

Bellingham Review Literary Awards: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Bellingham Review are given annually for works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The 49th Parallel Award for Poetry is given for a poem or group of poems; Nickole Brown will judge. The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction is given for a short story; Robin Hemley will judge. The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction is given for an essay; Ira Sukrungruang will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 31.

Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Black Lawrence Press, and 10 author copies is given annually for a collection of poems or short stories. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

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

Elixir Press Antivenom Poetry Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Elixir Press is given annually for a first or second poetry collection. Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis will judge. Entry fee: None. Deadline: March 31.

Fish Publishing Poetry Prize: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,180) and publication in the Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a single poem. The winner is also invited to read at the anthology launch event at the West Cork Literary Festival in July. Billy Collins will judge. Entry fee: $17. Deadline: March 31.

Florida Review Editors’ Awards: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Florida Review are given annually for a group of poems, a short story, and an essay. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

Indiana Review Poetry and Fiction Prizes: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Indiana Review are given annually for a group of poems and a story. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 31.

Lascaux Review Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Lascaux Review is given annually for a single poem. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: March 31.

Narrative Winter Story Contest: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a short story, a short short story, an essay, or an excerpt from a longer work of fiction or creative nonfiction. A second-place prize of $1,000 is also awarded. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $26. Deadline: March 31.

Press 53 Prime Number Magazine Awards: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Prime Number Magazine are given annually for a poem and a short story. Ginger Murchison will judge in poetry and Pinckney Benedict will judge in fiction. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: March 31.

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. Nikki Moustaki will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

Willie Morris Award for Southern Poetry: A prize of $2,500 will be given annually for poem that exudes the American South in spirit, history, landscape, or experience. The winner will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City in October. Susan Kinsolving will judge. Entry fee: None. Deadline: March 31.

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

Leah Naomi Green Wins Walt Whitman Award

The Academy of American Poets announced today that Li-Young Lee has chosen Leah Naomi Green as the winner of the 2019 Walt Whitman Award for her collection, The More Extravagant Feast. Green will receive $5,000, a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, and publication of her collection by Graywolf Press in April 2020. The Academy will also purchase and distribute thousands of copies of her book to its members.

“This book keeps faithful company with the world and earns its name,” says Lee. “The darkness and suffering of living on earth are assumed in this work, woven throughout the fabric of its lineated perceptions and insights, and yet it is ultimately informed by the deep logic of compassion (is there a deeper human logic?) and enacts the wisdom of desire and fecundity reconciled with knowledge of death and boundedness.”

Green lives in the Shenandoah Mountains where she teaches at Washington and Lee University. The author of the chapbook The Ones We Have (Flying Trout Press, 2012), she has published poems in Tin House, Southern Review, and Pleiades.

Established in 1975, the annual Walt Whitman Award is considered one of the most prestigious first-book contests in poetry. Recent winners of the prize include Emily Skaja for Brute, Jenny Xie for Eye Level, and Mai Der Vang for Afterland.

Whiting Award Winners Announced

At a ceremony tonight in New York City, the Whiting Foundation announced the recipients of its 2019 Whiting Awards. The annual $50,000 awards are given to emerging poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and dramatists on the basis of “early-career achievement and the promise of superior literary work to come.”

The ten winners are poets Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Tyree Daye, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal; fiction writers Hernan Diaz, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Merritt Tierce; nonfiction writers Terese Marie Mailhot and Nadia Owusu; and dramatists Michael R. Jackson and Lauren Yee. Find out more about the winners at the Whiting Foundation website, and read excerpts of their work at the Paris Review.

Since establishing the awards in 1985, the Whiting Foundation has awarded $8 million to 340 emerging writers. Previous winners include poets Terrance Hayes and Jorie Graham and fiction writers Colson Whitehead and Denis Johnson. Last year’s winners included poets Anne Boyer and Tommy Pico, fiction writers Patty Yumi Cottrell and Weike Wang, and nonfiction writer Esmé Weijun Wang.

The annual awards are not open to submissions. A group of writers, professors, editors, agents, critics, booksellers, and other literary professionals nominate writers; a smaller panel of writers, scholars, and editors select the winners. In addition to the Whiting Awards, the Whiting Foundation administers grants to creative nonfiction writers, scholars in the humanities, literary magazines, and people who work “to preserve, document, and disseminate the timeless cultural heritage that is under threat around the world.”

Photos clockwise from top left: Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Tyree Daye, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal; fiction writers Hernan Diaz, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Lauren Yee, Michael R. Jackson, Nadia Owusu, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Merritt Tierce.

Masterpiece of the Day: Write Treatment Workshops

Maryann DeLeo is a filmmaker and writer. She has been attending the Write Treatment Workshops at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York led by Emily Rubin for more than two years.

I was listening to a talk and the speaker said, “Are your days masterpieces? Make every day a masterpiece.” I thought of my days, and my first reaction was, No, my days are not masterpieces. Then I had a flash of Wednesdays at the writing workshop! Those days—they are masterpieces.

And it’s not just for the writing. It’s because of Emily Rubin, who leads the P&W–supported Write Treatment Workshops at Mount Sinai Cancer Centers. A fellow writer, Emily brings her love of literature, art, dance, theater, and music to the class. Her enthusiasm for the arts is evident with her weekly show-and-tell—holding up a catalogue from the latest exhibition she’s seen, or the playbill from a recent theater experience. She bursts into the room at Mount Sinai with so much to tell us about what’s happening in the world. I want to go to everything she tells us about. One student says to her, “You know about everything.”

Then Emily gets down to business: writing. She brings prompts that give us a way in to the writing or not. We can jump off from there, or we can go it alone writing about anything that comes up in our minds.

Each Wednesday she patiently unpacks our stories, one by one. She only looks slightly askance when a writer hems and haws about their “masterpiece” of the day. She wants each of us to stand tall and read with confidence.

I don’t know how she does it but she always finds something in the story that’s good storytelling, good writing. She takes the pages we write in our blue notebooks to heart. “You’re publishing your writing when you read it here,” she says. I breathe that in. If Emily says so, it is so. So we read, we publish, we get to be heard, by our own ears and by a dozen others.

We have created something, and Emily loves it into existence. It’s not that every piece will go on to loftier goals but for those minutes we read, we have Emily’s attention and all the other writers (although there is one writer who groans when he sees all I’ve written telling me, “You’ve written a novel!”). We have managed to get on our conference table soapbox and express who we are this day, this afternoon, these few hours. This is no small gift.

When I was in treatment for my cancer, I spent many afternoons lying on my bed, too weary to get myself up and out. Then I saw a flyer for one of Emily’s workshops. I didn’t go the first time I saw the flyer, but a seed was planted that maybe, someday, I could go. It was something to aspire to. When I get my energy back, I’m going, I told myself.

While still in treatment and fed up with lying about, there was that first Wednesday I got myself to the conference room at West Fifteenth Street. I was a bit shy but as soon as I saw Emily smiling, welcoming me into the room, the jitters went away. I became a regular. I’ve been attending the workshops for more than two years. I’m hooked. When I don’t go, I feel my day is not a masterpiece, something is missing from Wednesday.

I’ve filled many blue notebooks. I’m always startled at what comes out during the hours I’m writing. I didn’t know I thought that. Where did that come from? Some of my notebook writings move on, progress, and expand. And some I file away, to be continued.

I never just fling anything I write on Wednesday away. It’s all for something, even if it’s just for me to reflect on a part of my life I haven’t looked at before. It’s all part of my story.

There’s a quote Emily gave us by Natalie Goldberg that stays with me: “We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.... We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived.”

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: Maryann DeLeo at the 2019 Womens March in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Eileen Kenny).

Silence Out Loud at New Settlement

Camryn Bruno is a nineteen-year-old Queens-born spoken-word poet and model who resided in Trinidad and Tobago but returned to New York in 2018. Currently a sophomore at York College in New York, she is the 2019 New York City Youth Poet Laureate, the 2017 Trinidad and Tobago First Citizens National Poetry Slam Champion, and the 2017 Ms. Tobago Heritage Personality Queen. Bruno is internationally recognized and has performed at various festivals in the Caribbean and is a two-time participant of the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival. Her poems explore social issues that affect youth and she is a passionate advocate for the rights of women, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups.

When I think of workshops, I think of them as discussions around a table a few hours every week until it’s time to showcase what we’ve learned. However, when I was asked to participate in New Settlement’s Silence Out Loud poetry workshop in the Bronx, I knew that the workshop would provide something more than just roundtable discussions. Poet and teacher Roya Marsh is no stranger to me. As the poet-in-residence at Urban Word NYC, she is the one responsible for bringing the female-identifying youths of the Bronx together to take part in these workshops.

Commuting from Queens wasn’t a problem for me on a Thursday afternoon because I knew that I was going to a place where I would feel welcomed and have fun with young women who were just like me—eagerly using the literary arts as a form of healthy therapy, using our pens to effectively express emotions. After ensuring we were all in a safe space, we spoke about our “roses and thorns” for the week.

The compelling stories that were told always led us to engaging conversations. Marsh provided us with weekly writing prompts that we shared at the end of each workshop. One of the prompts that stood out to me was: “What does safety mean to you?” As women, this question was something we all struggled with answering on the first go, but eventually we were able to write down some thoughtful responses.

The Poets & Writers–supported workshop at New Settlement has given me and other young women the opportunity to speak truths about the issues that affect us every day, by providing a safe space for us, and encouraging us to use our voice to stand up for ourselves and create revolutionary noise for all to hear.

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: Camryn Bruno (Credit: Tajae Hinds).

Lammy Finalists Announced

Lambda Literary has announced the finalists for the thirty-first Lambda Literary Awards. Established in 1989, the annual awards—also known as the “Lammys”—recognize and honor books published during the previous year by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writers. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on June 3 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Special awards will also be given to recognize writers who “have left an indelible mark on LGBTQ literature.”

“In the ongoing work of LGBTQ equality, literature plays a distinct and powerful role—offering roadmaps for loving, fighting, and thriving,” says Sue Landers, executive director of Lambda Literary. “We are thrilled to announce [this year’s] finalists, which reflect our community’s vast and continually evolving brilliance.”

This year Lambda Literary will give out awards in twenty-four categories, including a new award for Bisexual Poetry. Other categories include fiction, mystery, horror, memoir/biography, drama, anthologies, and LGBTQ Studies, A panel of more than sixty judges selected the finalists from a group of over a thousand books. Visit the website for the complete list of finalists.

Winners last year included Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf Press) for Lesbian Fiction, CAConrad’s While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books) for Gay Poetry, and C. Riley Snorton’s Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (University of Minnesota Press) for Transgender Nonfiction.

Based in Los Angeles, the Lambda Literary Foundation has been a resource for LGBTQ writers since 1987. With a mission to “nurture and advocate for LGBTQ writers,” the organization hosts an annual writing retreat and literary festival, publishes an online magazine, and runs educational programs, among other initiatives.

Read more about the organization in Jonathan Vatner’s article “Lambda Literary Looks to the Future” from the September/October 2018 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Pen Parentis and the Power of the Literary Salon

Curator and cohost of the Pen Parentis Literary Salons, Christina Chiu is the author of Troublemaker and Other Saints (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001), which was nominated for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award, won the 2002 Asian American Literary Award in fiction, and was chosen for Alternate Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Tin House, the New Guard, Washington Square Review, Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World (Penguin Books, 2004), and many others. Chiu received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She is currently working on short stories and a memoir.

The mission of Pen Parentis is to provide critical resources for working writers to help them stay on creative track after starting a family. The salon reading series is a crucial part of this mission. Not only does it give our authors a platform, but it connects them with a community. Writing can be isolating without a community, and it can be challenging to stay connected when one becomes a parent.

Aside from the salons, Pen Parentis has a weekly meet-up every Friday morning. Often, first time authors come, love what we do, return to future salons, then decide to become title members. I curate the series by theme and authors choose which salon resonate with them and their work. There are three, sometimes four, authors at each event. Very often, these clusters form tight bonds; they become lasting and meaningful friendships, ones in which authors can support and help one another.

For the March 2018 Immigrant/Immigration salon, we featured authors Susan Muaddi Darraj, Marguerite Bouvard, and Sarah Gambito. I spoke with Marguerite recently, and she mentioned how fond she was of her fellow readers. She had just finished reading Susan’s short story collection A Curious Land: Stories From Home (University of Massachusetts Press, 2015). “The book was superb and I bought copies for friends,” Marguerite said. “It gives a wonderful new perspective on Palestine and women. The author is truly gifted.”

Pen Parentis builds a family, and like with any family, it’s important to be as inclusive as possible. One of our core values is inclusion, and we strive for this in every possible way. We showcase a balance of men and women, people of color, gender nonconformity, and various family situations, while still maintaining an effortless grouping based on a theme that does not single out but rather includes these usual outliers into the general conversation, leading to a much richer dialogue for all.

The support from Poets & Writers has been a major part of the salon’s growth. Not only does it lend credibility to what we do, but it makes it possible to offer authors an honorarium. This helps to transform a regional reading series into a nationally-recognized literary organization. I have been able to offer something toward transportation and lodging for authors located outside of the metropolitan area, and more importantly, something rare in the literary world—acknowledgement. Authors are often expected to read for free, but the honorarium lets them know that their time and work is appreciated and valued. The success of the Pen Parentis salon is furthered by the support of Poets & Writers. Thank you!

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: Christina Chiu (Credit: Aslan Chalom).

Writing for Myself and With Others: My Experience With the AWA Method

Brad Buchanan is professor emeritus of English at Sacramento State University. His poetry, fiction, and scholarly articles have appeared in nearly two hundred journals, and he is the author of two collections of poetry: The Miracle Shirker (Poets Corner Press, 2005) and Swimming the Mirror: Poems for My Daughter (Roan Press, 2008), as well as two academic books. His third book of poetry, The Scars, Aligned (A Cancer Narrative), is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He cofacilitates a P&W–supported writing workshop run through the University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in February 2015, and underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016, which involved temporary vision loss and a slow recovery. He is currently in remission.

I didn’t know how badly I needed to be part of an Amherst Writers & Artists-method writing workshop until I’d begun cofacilitating one myself.

Before I explored the possibility of creating a workshop intended for people who were, like me, dealing with issues related to illness, disability, and recovery, I had never heard of the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method. When I approached Terri Wolf, program manager at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and my current cofacilitator, about doing something for people who needed a place to write about their challenges, she introduced me to the basic principles of AWA: you give only positive feedback, ask no questions of the writer, treat the piece of writing as if it were fiction, and generally create a safe space for writers to say whatever is on their mind. Facilitators give prompts, but leave writers free to ignore them if there’s something else that needs to get written that day. (More details about this method and its genesis are contained in Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others, which explains the rationale and protocols for the method she pioneered with lower-income women in Amherst, Massachusetts.)

Perhaps most importantly for me, the AWA method stipulates that facilitators write and share their work with the rest of the group. Knowing that I would, if nothing else, have a new piece of writing to show for my two-hour workshop sessions was incentive enough for me to come to the first sessions with a sense of pleasurable, if nervous, anticipation.

As it turned out, things went very smoothly. The truth was, I had really just been the catalyst for a revival of an AWA-style writing group that had begun more than ten years ago, but had fractured and eventually dissolved as people’s day jobs took their toll. Many of the new group’s participants were veteran writers and hardy workshoppers, and had mastered the finer points of workshop etiquette that I tended to forget (don’t address the writer as “you,” for instance).

I wrote happily and easily with the group, rather surprised at the way everyone seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere Terri and I had created. I didn’t worry much about what I was writing; my first workshop poem, for instance, was about my cat, Amaryllis—a fine creature, and even in her way an emotional support animal for me, but not exactly literary dynamite.

It took me three workshop sessions to unclench enough to start writing about my complicated, dammed-up feelings concerning my stem cell transplant. The writing prompt that triggered the first real breakthrough for me was a simple one: My cofacilitator asked us all to recall experiences in our lives as if looking through a photo album, and to select one mental photograph that meant something to us, and then write.

I had no trouble at all choosing mine: It was an actual photograph that showed me and my brother James in street clothes and football helmets. The poem begins by describing the scene. Then, the focus shifts to my brother, who is in front of me, evidently acting as my faithful blocker (hence the poem’s title “Pass Protection”):

he is my gargoyle
and gatekeeper
giving me time to look around

The more I wrote, the more I realized what the photograph really meant for me: My brother was acting as my protector, just as he would, much later, as my stem cell donor.

I couldn’t read this little allegory of sibling interdependence aloud without getting choked up. At the time, I was more than a bit embarrassed; after all, I was supposed to be the facilitator, not the weeper-in-chief. Yet as I reflected on what had been happening in the workshop’s earlier meetings, I realized that someone had shed tears during each session, and that by “losing it,” as they say, I was actually simply paying my overdue entrance fee into the collective.

As I write this, a few weeks later, I can’t think of anyone who is still coming to the group who hasn’t displayed the same visible and audible emotions in front of people they would, in any other context, consider strangers. Within the safe, shared, egalitarian space we had established, people could let go of their shame and inhibitions, if only briefly. I no longer need to rely on mere intellectual approval of the AWA method; I have seen proof of its effectiveness and have benefited from it myself, both as a writer and as a recovering cancer patient.

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: Brad Buchanan (Credit: Brad Buchanan).