Poets & Writers Blogs

The AfroSurreal Writers Workshop on Creative Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Learkana Chong (Credit: Laneè Mecca Woodard).

Upcoming Poetry Contest Deadlines

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

Deadline: February 28

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

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

Deadline: March 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PEN Announces 2018 Award Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Layli Long Soldier, Jenny Zhang, Alexis Okeowo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Prose Deadlines

Prose writers! There’s no time like the present to submit your best short stories, essay collections, and novel manuscripts to the following contests with deadlines of February 28 and March 1. The contests all offer publication and cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Good luck!

Deadline: February 28

Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers: A prize of $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 author copies is given three times a year for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not appeared in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Entry fee: $18

Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,240) and publication in the Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short short story. Sherrie Flick will judge. Entry fee: $17

Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Red Hen Press is given annually for a book of fiction or nonfiction by a woman. Lidia Yuknavitch will judge. Entry fee: $25

Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing: A prize of $10,000 and publication by Restless Books is given in alternating years for a debut book of fiction or nonfiction by a first-generation immigrant. The 2018 prize will be given in fiction. Writers who have not published a book of fiction with a U.S. publisher are eligible. No entry fee.

Deadline: March 1

Mad Creek Books Journal Non/Fiction Collection Prize:  A prize of $1,500 and publication by Mad Creek Books, the trade imprint of Ohio State University Press, is given annually for a collection of short prose. Michelle Herman will judge. Entry fee: $25

Selected Shorts Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize: A prize of $1,000 and tuition for a 10-week writing class through New York City’s Gotham Writers Workshop is given annually for a short story. The winning work will be published in Electric Literature and recorded live at a Selected Shorts performance at Symphony Space in New York City in June. Jess Walter will judge. Entry fee: $25

Hidden River Arts Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Hidden River Press will be given annually for a book of historical fiction. Entry fee: $22

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

 

Wine and $5,000 for a Southern Novel

Submissions are currently open for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. An award of $5,000 is given annually for a debut novel set in the American South published in the previous year. The winner will also be entitled to a complimentary glass of wine each day for a year at Crook’s Corner Café & Bar in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Tayari Jones will judge.

The author may live anywhere, but eligible novels must be set primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, or West Virginia. Self-published books are eligible, but e-books are not.

Authors and publishers may submit two copies of a book (or bound galleys) published between January 1, 2017, and May 15, 2018, with a $35 entry fee by May 15.

The winner of the 2018 prize was Stephen O’Connor for his novel, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings.

Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

Mississippi Noir Night in New Orleans

Tom Andes’s writing has appeared in Witness, Great Jones Street, Guernica, Pulp Modern, Xavier Review, The Best American Mystery Stories 2012 (Mariner Books, 2012), and in numerous other journals in print and online. He lives in New Orleans, where he works as a freelance writer and editor and moonlights as a country singer. He teaches for the New Orleans Writers Workshop, which he cofounded, and hosts a monthly fiction night at Blood Jet Poetry Series, which was founded and is hosted by Megan Burns.

Blood Jet Poetry Series happens weekly in the fall and again in the spring at BJ’s Lounge, a New Orleans bar that’s as close to a Mississippi juke joint as you’re likely to find outside the Delta. Saturday nights, you can dance to Little Freddie King or any one of dozens of other local musical luminaries, but on Wednesdays the space belongs to poetry. (As with many things in New Orleans, a family connection is at work: Bar owner Teal Grue is the son of celebrated New Orleans poet and fiction writer Lee Grue.)

For the last couple years, series founder and host, poet Megan Burns has allowed me to invite readers for a monthly fiction night. Last December, I asked two of the contributors to the Mississippi Noir anthology published by Akashic Books—RaShell R. Smith-Spears and William Boyle—to travel to New Orleans to read.

One of my favorite things about crime fiction is the fact that it never skimps on story. By definition, the stakes are high, and as lofty as the genre’s ambitions can be, the writer is compelled to entertain. Case in point: Smith-Spears’s masterful “Losing Her Religion,” about a Jackson, Mississippi schoolteacher’s affair with a married, white colleague—a story about power, gender, race, and class—happens to be one hell of a page-turner.

During Smith-Spears’s twenty-minute slot, BJ’s was so quiet you could hear people breathing. When her time was up halfway through the story, a few seconds of silence followed before someone said: “I want to hear the rest of that.”

Boyle read from his forthcoming novel, The Lonely Witness (Pegasus Books, 2018). Like its predecessor, Gravesend (Broken River Books, 2013), a small press crime novel that belongs on a shelf next to those by giants of the genre such as Elmore Leonard, its multi-generational drama plays out across a changing urban landscape, the Gravesend neighborhood of Boyle’s native Brooklyn (he now lives in Oxford, Mississippi).

Blood Jet attracts a coterie of regulars. Though some—including my recently retired parents—come to listen, many read at the open mic that follows the featured readers. We had a good crowd for a rainy Wednesday in December, with the holidays fast upon us. We heard poems, a chapter from a thriller, and rock and roll.

At a time when our culture seems to put so little value on art and the things it encourages in us—empathy, tolerance, and a willingness to immerse ourselves in someone else’s experience—it feels significant to come together in a way that’s so profoundly local, and in a place where everybody listens generously. Altogether, it’s a bracing reminder of what can happen when twenty or thirty people who care about writing—about anything—gather in a room.

In crime fiction, as in New Orleans, setting is everything. Thanks to BJ’s for making a magical space available to us, and to the Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program for helping bring our readers to town. Every time I come to Blood Jet, I walk away invigorated, challenged, and a little more alive.

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) Rashell R. Smith-Spears (Credit: Chauncey Spears). (bottom) William Boyle (Credit: Kate Farrell Boyle).

Upcoming Poetry Deadline: Hippocrates Prize

Submissions are currently open for the Hippocrates Prize Open International Award. A prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,400) and publication in the Hippocrates Prize anthology and on the Hippocrates Initiative website is given annually for a poem on a medical theme. An additional prize of £1,000 is given for a poem on a medical theme by a health professional.

Using the online submission system, submit a poem of up to 50 lines with a £7 (approximately $10) entry fee by February 14. The judges will announce the winner at the 2018 International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine. Poet Mark Doty, multi-genre writer and medical practitioner Peter Goldsworthy, and poet Carol Rumens will judge. 

Established in 2009, the Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry and Medicine also sponsors an annual award for young poets and publishes books of poetry through Hippocrates Press, including Comfort Measures by author and doctor Rafael Campo. The organization also hosts the Hippocrates Society for Poetry and Medicine, an international forum of readings, workshops, and other programming to discuss the relationship between poetry and medicine. Visit the website for the contest entry form and complete guidelines.

Now Open: Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant

Submissions are now open for the third annual Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant. Individual awards of $40,000 are given to up to eight 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. Writers of color are particularly encouraged to apply. Accepted book categories include history, cultural or political reportage, biography, memoir, the sciences, philosophy, criticism, food writing, travel writing, and personal essays, among others.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three chapters of a manuscript-in-progress, the original book proposal, a signed and dated contract, a statement of progress, a résumé, a letter of reference from the publisher, and two additional letters of reference by May 2. A panel of four anonymous judges will select the winners from a list of fifteen finalists; the grantees will be announced in the fall.

Established in 2015, the Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant provides support for multiyear book projects that require large amounts of research. The Whiting Foundation created the grant to “foster original, ambitious projects that bring writing to the highest possible standard.”

Previous recipients include Sarah M. Broom for The Yellow House, forthcoming from Grove Press; Pacifique Irankunda for The Times of Stories, forthcoming from Random House; and Julie Phillips for The Baby on the Fire Escape, forthcoming from W.W. Norton. Visit the website for a full list of previous grantees and complete application guidelines.

Jon Sands on Workshops at Bailey House

Jon Sands is the author of The New Clean (Write Bloody Publishing, 2011), as well as the cohost of The Poetry Gods podcast. His work has been published widely, and anthologized in The Best American Poetry. He is a youth mentor at Urban Word NYC, and teaches creative writing for adults at Bailey House in East Harlem, New York. Sands is a recent MFA graduate in fiction from Brooklyn College, where his work won the Himan Brown Award for short stories. He has represented New York City multiple times at the National Poetry Slam, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

How did your work at Bailey House begin? What drew you there?
I teach workshops at Urban Word NYC, where, in 2009, I met the son of then Bailey House CEO, the late Gina Quattrochi. She was an absolute force, and spent her whole adult life fighting for the rights of people with HIV/AIDS, specifically those who were homeless or housing insecure. She ran this huge agency providing on the ground services to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Gina and I got coffee, and she told me, “There are so many stories under our roof that aren’t getting told.” She knew she wanted poetry—specifically its capacity to humanize, break down barriers, and build communities—to be fully integrated into Bailey House culture. That kind of agency-wide strategic and financial buy in to the arts, in the public health world, is not to be taken for granted. She was a real visionary.

What has been the key to sustaining such a long-running program?
Consistency. It’s important that an organization is down for the long haul of a program. Clients have to be able to count on the fact that it’s every week, at the same time, no matter what. But then, most importantly, it has to involve a worthwhile product. Every week there’s a new prompt, new game plan, unless we have a guest, and this is one of the major keys: we’ve been blessed at this point to have had an unreal line-up of readers, Pulitzer Prize winners, poetry slam champions, MacArthur geniuses; it’s important that our authors see that the work they’re creating at Bailey House is connected to a larger movement. I remember when Willie Perdomo visited to read poems and answer questions, and there was this woman in the client waiting area with a great smile, but she was shy and kind of new to the space. I asked her if she wanted to join, and she said she wasn’t a writer, and didn’t read poetry. I promised she’d like it, and told her she wouldn’t have to say anything, and she kind of half smiled and rigidly agreed. Five years later, she’s been there almost every week, and she’s filled four notebooks with important, impressive work. It really becomes about how you coax people into the door, because you never know whose life it’s going to change.

Are there any techniques you employ to encourage shy or reluctant writers to open up?
I try to bring in poems that demonstrate both vulnerability and craftsmanship. I make it clear that our number one goal is not to “figure out” what the author means, our goal is to find as many ways as possible to look at what’s happening. I think some people have been preconditioned to think poetry is not for them because they don’t “get it” in the way they assume it’s meant to be “gotten.” I teach that we have to trust what it is we do “get,” and once we do that—once we allow our own personal narratives to be at play in how we understand a poem—then the conversation can go to some interesting places; the poem becomes a tool through which we process our own lives. So, you become a more seasoned reader, a more empathetic person, hopefully, but also the author is pushing you to partake in the telling, to write your own brave and urgent work. I also think a lot of readers are genuinely surprised to find out how many poems out there really speak to them. I feel like we’re in a golden age of poetry, and it’s ready-made for the masses, we just have to carve out the space for poetry to find readers.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher? As an artist?
Every year, we publish in-house books of the best poems from the program, and there’s always this agency-wide release party. The clients invite family and community members, but also the staff gets this entirely new way of seeing the people they serve. Stigma is an important buzzword, the stigma of HIV, or injection drug use, or homelessness; but it has such limitations. Many of the clients, long before they walk through that door, have learned not to define themselves by the often difficult situations they’ve been placed in. But it’s undeniable that writer, artist, storyteller, these are positive labels that put value on, not just the story, but the storyteller. Art humanizes the self to the self. That’s important, culture shifting work, and it’s a testament to how creativity challenges the human spirit. That’s certainly been true in my life, and to be able to witness that in the lives of students, in thousands of minuscule ways, and to witness the way in which personal growth, in the presence of others, is the binding glue of community, it’s one of the most significant joys in my life.

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) Jon Sands (Credit: Jonathan Weiskopf). (bottom) Bailey House workshop participants (Credit: Jon Sands).

Deadline Approaches for Short Story Book Prize

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 Blue Lights Book Prize. An award of $2,000 and publication by Indiana University Press will be given for a collection of short fiction.

The winner will also receive travel expenses to read at the 2019 Blue Light Reading in Bloomington, Indiana. Short story writer and novelist Samrat Upadhyay will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 35,000 to 45,000 words with a $20 entry fee by February 9.

Cosponsored by Indiana Review and Indiana University Press, the Blue Lights Book Prize is given in alternating years for a collection of poetry or a collection of short fiction. The 2017 winner in poetry was Jennifer Givhan for her collection, Girl With Death Mask, selected by Ross Gay; the 2016 winner in fiction was Andrea Lewis for her collection, What My Last Man Did, selected by Michael Martone.

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

BuzzFeed Announces 2018 Emerging Writer Fellows

BuzzFeed has announced the recipients of its 2018 BuzzFeed Emerging Writer Fellowships. They are Min Li Chan, Sandi Rankaduwa, and Adriana Widdoes.

The three nonfiction writers will each receive a stipend of $14,000 and career mentorship from BuzzFeed News’s senior editorial staff. Beginning in March, the fellows will spend four months at BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City and will focus on writing cultural reportage, personal essays, and criticism for BuzzFeed Reader.

Min Li Chan is an essayist and technologist based in San Francisco and Detroit. She is deeply invested in the essay’s possibilities for expansive inquiry and productive provocation. Her recent essay for the Point interrogates the moral contradictions of being a tech worker amidst Silicon Valley’s profound socioeconomic inequality.

Sandi Rankaduwa is a Sri Lankan–Canadian writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in the Believer, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. Most recently, she wrote a piece for BuzzFeed Reader on the symbolic implications of Meghan Markle’s upcoming marriage.

Adriana Widdoes of Los Angeles is a writer and coeditor of Which Witch L.A., an indie publishing project that produces female-centered projects exploring narrative through research, image, and text-based works. You can read an excerpt of Widdoes’s recent essay “Marshmallow Mayonnaise,” which was published on the Los Angeles Review of Books vertical Voluble.

BuzzFeed’s editorial staff selected this year’s fellows from a pool of more than four hundred applicants. Launched in 2015, the fellowship’s mission is to expand the media landscape and empower emerging writers, particularly those who are “traditionally locked out” of media opportunities. Read an interview with Karolina Waclawiak, BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, about the program’s growth over the past few years.

(Photos from left: Min Li Chan, Sandi Rankaduwa, Adriana Widdoes)

Upcoming Poetry Deadlines

Poets, do you have a group of poems or a full-length collection ready to submit? Consider the following six contests, which are open for submissions until January 31. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award: A prize of $3,000, publication by Red Hen Press, and a four-week residency at the PLAYA writers retreat in Summer Lake, Oregon, is given annually for a poetry collection. Richard Blanco will judge. Entry fee: $25

Lascaux Review Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry: A prize of $1,000 will be given annually for a poetry collection published during the previous two years. Entry fee: $25

Autumn House Press Rising Writer Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Autumn House Press will be given annually for a debut poetry collection by a writer age 33 or younger. Richard Siken will judge. Entry fee: $25

Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award: A prize of $1,200, publication by Main Street Rag, and 50 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. The editors and previous winners will judge. Entry: $25

Writers at Work Writing Competition: A prize of publication in Quarterly West is given annually for a group of poems. The winner can also choose to receive either $1,000 or tuition to attend the Writers at Work Conference in Alta, Utah, in June. Entry fee: $20

Winter Anthology Writing Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Winter Anthology is given annually for a group of poems. Dan Beachy-Quick will judge. Entry fee: $11

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

Short Fiction Prize Open for Submissions

Submissions are currently open for the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize. An award of €1,000 (approximately $1,220), a weeklong residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, and a consultation with literary agent Adriann Ranta Zurhellen of Foundry Literary + Media, will be given for a short story.

The winner and two runners-up will also receive publication in 3:AM Magazine, Structo Magazine, and A Women’s Thing, and will be invited to participate in events at the Desperate Literature Bookstore in Madrid, Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and the Rizoma Film Festival in Madrid in June. The dates of the events will be announced at a later date. Travel and lodging expenses are not included.

Using the online submission system, submit an unpublished story of up to 2,000 words with a €20 entry fee (€10 for each additional entry) by February 14. 3:AM editors Hestia Peppe and Eley Williams and Structo editor Euan Monaghan will judge.

Established by the Desperate Literature Bookstore in Madrid, the prize aims to celebrate “not just the best of brief fiction, but the continued growth of an Anglophone literary community in Madrid.” Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

West Seattle’s WordsWest Literary Series

WordsWest Literary Series is curated by poets Katy E. Ellis and Susan Rich, and novelist Harold Taw. All three live in Seattle, where they came together over their parched need for a reading series in their community of West Seattle. Ellis is the author of three chapbooks: Night Watch (winner of the Floating Bridge Press 2017 Chapbook Competition), Urban Animal Expeditions (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). Below, she writes about the inventive format of the WordsWest Literary Series and how it played out at an event last fall with P&W–supported writers Robert Flor and Roberto Ascalon.

WordsWest Literary Series—now in its fourth year of programming—was honored to celebrate Filipino American History Month by welcoming two outstanding local writers of Filipino descent, Robert (Bob) Flor and Roberto Ascalon, to the stage. As cocurator Harold Taw mentioned in his introduction, both writers are “Uncle Bobs” in a culture that gives great respect to the words and lessons of previous generations, and that acknowledges the importance of family and really good food!

One of the unique things about WordsWest is its trademark “braided” reading format, where writers take turns reading in short intervals. Both audience and readers get to experience a sense of spontaneous collaboration on stage. (It’s a “living anthology” of words unfolding in a never-to-be-duplicated fashion right before your eyes!) So, Flor and Ascalon traded off reading their poetry in five-minute segments, weaving their poems together with fascinating connections of common history that branched into current themes of what it means to be “home and away” in this country.

Roberto Ascalon was a stunning reader. The audience was on pins and needles as he took us into a Filipino fish market full of magical sensory images and strong characters. His love poem moved us with its unique form that didn’t quite rhyme, but felt like a song in its turning back and repetitions, and gorgeous images of seeds and growing. Bob Flor read from his chapbook Alaskero Memories (Carayan Press, 2016) about life in Alaskan canneries in the 1950s and 1960s. It is invaluable to have someone like Flor share his past experiences not only as a Filipino American with current ties to the Philippines, but as an older gentleman with an eye for details that only a poet can put down on paper. In one touching moment on stage, when the writers first traded turns at the mic, Ascalon acknowledged Flor’s age and life experience, and noted how honored he was to be reading with a Filipino elder. It was a lovely, intimate exchange between writers, between their poems. 

Another unique part of a WordsWest Literary event is the West Seattle Favorite Poem Project, wherein we invite a member of the West Seattle community to share a favorite poem and tell us why it’s a favorite (think Robert Pinsky, U.S. poet laureate 1997–2000). On October 18, we heard a favorite poem from Alexis Acciana of Reading Partners, an awesome organization that connects volunteers with kids who struggle with reading. Acciana gave us a lively, lovely reading of Billy Collins’s poem “On Turning Ten.” The favorite poem portion of WordsWest has been a great way for people who don’t usually connect with poetry to get involved in the literary arts (and to promote their local business or to raise awareness of their cause).

Our WordsWest “braided reading” format, our dedication to inviting writers of diverse experience and cultural background, the cozy, one-of-a-kind coffeehouse atmosphere at C&P Coffee Company, community participation, and an audience now reliant on monthly literary nourishment has made WordsWest an ongoing success!

Support for Readings & Workshops in Seattle 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) Roberto Ascalon and Robert Flor (Credit: Donna Miscolta). (bottom) Two “Uncle Bobs” reading (Credit: Donna Miscolta).