Poets & Writers Blogs

Whiting Award Winners Announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bittersweet: The Immigrant Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo 1: Tanya Ko Hong. Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher. Photo 2: The Immigrant Stories readers: (front L-R) June C. Kim, So Hyun Chang, Tanya Ko Hong, Julayne Lee, Kuya Paul, and Soo Bok Kim. (back L-R) Duk Kyu Park, Christine Gonzalez, and Hiram Sims. Photo credit: Patrick Hong.

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

National Book Critics Circle Announces Award Winners

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



The winners are:

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

Fiction: LaRose (Harper) by Louise Erdrich

Memoir: Lab Girl (Knopf) by Hope Jahren

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Fiction and Nonfiction Deadlines

Do you have a work of fiction or nonfiction ready to submit? Get this week started by submitting to the following contests—which offer prizes of up to $10,000 and have deadlines within the next two weeks.

Colorado Review Nelligan Prize: A prize of $2,000 and publication in Colorado Review is given annually for a short story. Richard Bausch will judge.
Deadline: March 14
Entry Fee: $17

Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest: A prize of $10,000 is given for an essay. Two $2,500 runner-up prizes will also be awarded. The winning essays will be published in Creative Nonfiction. The theme for the contest is “Dangerous Creations: Real-life Frankenstein Stories.”
Deadline: March 20
Entry Fee: $20

Ruminate William Van Dyke Short Story Prize: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Ruminate is given annually for a short story. 
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20

The Pinch Literary Awards: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in the Pinch are given annually for a short story and an essay. Caitlin Horrocks will judge in fiction and Jill Talbot will judge in nonfiction.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20

James Jones Literary Society First Novel Fellowship: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel. A selection from the winning work will be published in Provincetown Arts. Runners-up will each receive $1,000.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $30

Southampton Review Frank McCourt Memoir Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southampton Review is given annually for a personal essay. 
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $15

Prairie Schooner Book Prize: A prize of $3,000 and publication by University of Nebraska Press is given annually for a short story collection. An editorial board will select finalists; Kwame Dawes will serve as final judge.
Deadline: March 15
Entry Fee: $20

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

The Risk of Discovery Reading Series and the Queens Literary Scene

Micah Zevin is a librarian poet living in Jackson Heights, New York with his wife, a playwright. He works for the Queens Library and has recently published poems in the Best American Poetry Blog, Headlock Press, the Otter, Newtown Literary Journal and Blog, Poetry and Politics, Reality Beach, Jokes Review, Post (Blank), the Tower Journal, and the American Journal of Poetry. Zevin received his MFA in Poetry from the New School in 2014 and is the founder and curator of the Risk of Discovery Reading Series, now at Blue Cups in Woodside, New York.

Shortly after graduating from the New School, I started to think about how I could continue the same sense of community, support, creative energy, and stimulation that I received from my fellow students and professors. I saw a post on Facebook that was searching for someone to host and curate a reading series/open mic at a new comedy and creative venue in Astoria. The idea was to feature a diverse mix of Queens and non-Queens-based writers, and get local writers from my New School MFA connections and on social media to bring another reading series to the often overlooked borough of Queens and its budding literary scene, which happens to be my home and birthplace.

The “Risk” and “Discovery” in the reading series title was inspired by essays on writing by Yusef Komunyakaa, which emphasize the surprise that can come in one’s writing when challenging subjects or ideas are tackled in an unorthodox or imaginative way. At the most recent incarnation of my reading series, I give my attendees a handout with poetry prompts that asks them to write instant poems (the discovery), and then read them aloud (the risk). These poetry prompts have also been an effective way to jumpstart my own writing and bring things out of me from angles and perspectives that wouldn’t have otherwise been extracted or mined. Featured readers, such as Mathew Yeager, Nicole Goodwin, and Ryan Black, have taken the challenge and read their “instant poems” aloud.

Joanna Fuhrman was a featured poet for our February 21 event, and upcoming events include poets Matthew Hupert and Bill Lessard on March 21, and Uche Nduka and Francine Witte on April 18 during poetry month.

Featured poets who are paid an honorarium are thrilled that this reading series has received grants from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, which encourages writers to travel and go on tours to promote their collections. The option to pay featured readers attracts a wide range of writers to my reading series, and it has grown and built a regular audience over the last three years.

The Poets & Writers Literary Events Calendar is the perfect place to post information about the series and upcoming featured writers, and posts can be shared on social media.

Ultimately, running a reading series, despite organizational and logistical challenges, is a rewarding experience because it connects writers and literary enthusiasts with one another, and helps build a network in the borough of Queens and beyond.

Photos: (top) Micah Zevin. Photo credit: Susan Weiman. (middle) Joanna Fuhrman. (bottom) Audience members at the open mic. Photo credit: Micah Zevin.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Rick Bass Wins $20,000 Story Prize

Rick Bass has been named the winner of the thirteenth annual Story Prize for his collection For a Little While (Little, Brown). The award honors an outstanding collection of short fiction published in the United States in the previous year, and comes with a $20,000 purse.



Two runners-up each received $5,000; they were Anna Noyes for Goodnight, Beautiful Women (Grove Press) and Helen Maryles Shankman for They Were Like Family to Me (Scribner). Randa Jarrar received the 2016 Story Prize Spotlight Award for her book Him, Me, Muhammad Ali (Sarabande Books). The Spotlight Award confers $1,000 for a story collection that merits further attention.

Story Prize Director Larry Dark and and prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from among 106 books, representing 72 different publishers or imprints. The final judges were Harold Augenbraum, former executive director of the National Book Foundation; author Sarah Shun-lien Bynum; and Daniel Goldin of Boswell Books in Milwaukee.

“Rick Bass’s gift at conveying the vastness of the American wilderness through a form as compact as the short story is a cause for wonder,” wrote the judges in their statement about the prize. “Again and again in this collection his stories demonstrate the form’s elasticity and expansiveness, its ability to evoke greatness of scale and time using little more than the seemingly modest tools of close observation, clear language, and rich sensory detail.”

Bass, fifty-nine, is the author of thirteen previous works of fiction and sixteen works of nonfiction, and is considered by many in the literary community as “one of the top practitioners of the short story form.” His fiction has appeared in the Atlantic, Esquire, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, among other publications. He has received multiple O. Henry Awards and Pushcart Prizes, and is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and Guggenheim Foundation. His winning book For a Little While includes both new stories and selected stories from five of his previous collections. Bass currently lives in Troy, Montana, and is the writer-in-residence at Montana State University.

Established in 2004, the Story Prize is among the largest prizes given exclusively for short fiction. Previous winners include Edwidge Danticat, Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, Elizabeth McCracken, and Adam Johnson. 

PEN/Faulkner Finalists Announced

Today the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced the five finalists for its 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The $15,000 prize is given annually for a work of fiction published in the United States in the previous year. Four finalists will each receive $5,000.

The finalists are: After Disasters (Little A) by Viet Dinh, LaRose (Harper) by Louise Erdrich, What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Garth Greenwell, Behold the Dreamers (Random House) by Imbolo Mbue, and Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Lee Boudreaux Books) by Sunil Yapa.

All the finalists except for Erdrich are debut novelists. Judges Chris Abani, Chantel Acevedo, and Sigrid Nunez selected the finalists from a pool of approximately five hundred books. The winner will be announced April 4, and the awards ceremony will be held May 6 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Now in its thirty-seventh year, the PEN/Faulkner Award bills itself as the “largest peer-juried award in the country.” For more information about the prize and finalists, visit the PEN/Faulkner Foundation website.

(Photos from left: Viet Dinh, Louise Erdrich, Garth Greenwell, Imbolo Mbue, Sunil Yapa)

Duy Doan Wins Yale Younger Prize

Yale University Press has announced that Duy Doan has won the 2017 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition for his debut collection, We Play a Game. Doan’s book will be published by Yale University Press in April 2018 as the 112th volume in the series. Doan will also receive a fellowship at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut.

“Wide-ranging in subject, Doan’s poems include boxing, tongue twisters, hedgehogs, Billy Holiday, soccer and, hardly least of all, a Vietnamese heritage that butts up against an American upbringing in ways at once comic, estranging, off-kiltering,” says judge Carl Phillips. “Doan negotiates the distance between surviving and thriving, and offers here his own form of meditation on, ultimately, childhood, history, culture—who we are, and how—refusing all along to romanticize any of it.”

Duy Doan is the director of the Favorite Poem Project, which celebrates the role of poetry in the lives of Americans. He received his MFA from Boston University, and is a Kundiman fellow. He lives in Boston.

The longest-running poetry prize in the United States, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize is given for a debut poetry collection. Previous winners included Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine, and Robert Hass.

Christen Clifford Talks Experiments & Disorders at Dixon Place

Christen Clifford is a feminist performance artist, writer, and mother. She teaches at the New School and is a curator for the Experiments & Disorders literary series at Dixon Place. Her essay “Mother, Daughter, Moustache,” about gender and aging, was published in the bestselling anthology Women In Clothes and called “a standout essay” by Bookforum. Clifford has been published in Salon, Hyperallergic, the Brooklyn Rail, Smith Magazine, and has work forthcoming in WITCHES. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the New School Writing Program, where she won the Nonfiction Award. She is the recipient of a NYFA Fellowship, a volunteer mentor with Girls Write Now, and lives in Queens and online @cd_clifford.

Dixon Place is one of New York’s oldest art spaces dedicated to creating new work. Since 1986, we have been a nonprofit institution committed to supporting the creative process by presenting original works of theatre, dance, music, puppetry, circus arts, and visual art at all stages of development. We hope to encourage diverse artists of all stripes and callings to take risks, generate new ideas, and consummate new practices.

Experiments & Disorders is Dixon’s longest continuously running literary series; Tom Cole and I have been curating it together for the last seven years. Each year we have six to eight readings, depending on budgets and scheduling. Usually, Experiments & Disorders is the second or third Tuesday of the month. Tom and I are committed to new work—we always find some writers through submissions, and we often like to pair a less experienced writer with a more experienced writer, though that doesn’t always happen. We love to pair works across genres, so that in one evening we might have fiction read by the author and a performance text read by actors, or a poet and an essayist.

I moved to New York in 1989 and I was terrified of Dixon Place, but I’d heard about it. It was in a loft on the Bowery and real artists did crazy art there. As a white Catholic girl from a working class family in Buffalo, I was too scared to go to Dixon Place! Ellie Covan started Dixon out of her apartment and now, thirty-one years later, it’s a gorgeous downstairs theatre fully accessible with an upstairs lounge and bar. At Dixon, I saw the hilarious Reno, lots of dance, Tom Murrin, and experienced the workshops of Taylor Mac. I think it’s kind of funny that I wound up as a curator at Dixon Place. 

It’s a home for experiments. I love all of the new work! Last month, we had Heidi Julavits and Leslie Jamison, and they both read work that they’d never read before. It was such an intimate gift.

Our upcoming events include Alex Borinsky and Marisa Crawford on April 18, Jenny Offill and Hafizah Geter on May 16, and Mary Gaitskill will be reading on July 18.

We are so grateful for the Poets & Writers grants that help support the writers that read at Dixon Place. This support means our writers get more money, and hopefully more respect, which we hope all leads to even more time to write.

I am healed by our poets and writers. That hour in the near dark at a reading, surrounded by language and humans, saves me and gives me hope.

Photos: (top) Christen Clifford. (middle) Candace Williams. (bottom) Celeste Finn and Buzz Slutzky. Photo credit: Christen Clifford.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Windham-Campbell Prize Winners Announced

Yale University has announced the winners of the 2017 Windham-Campbell Prizes for Literature. Administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the annual awards are given to English-language writers from any country for an outstanding body of work or extraordinary promise. This marks the first year the prize, previously given in prose and drama, is also given in poetry; the award money has also increased from $150,000 to $165,000 for each winner.
          

The recipients in poetry are Ali Cobby Eckermann of Australia and Carolyn Forché of the United States; the winners in fiction are André Alexis of Canada and Erna Brodber of Jamaica; the winners in creative nonfiction are Maya Jasanoff of the United States and Ashleigh Young of New Zealand; and the recipients in drama are Marina Carr of Ireland and Ike Holter of the United States.

Established in 2013 by Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell, the Windham-Campbell Prizes highlight outstanding literary accomplishment and allow writers to focus on their work without financial concerns. The prizes are open to writers from anywhere in the world at all stages of their careers.

There is no application process for the prize; the awards are made by a group of nominators, a three-member jury in each category, and a nine-member selection committee. Past recipients include Hilton Als, Teju Cole, and Geoff Dyer.

The prizes will be conferred at an international literary festival at Yale in September. My Struggle author Karl Ove Knausgård will deliver a keynote address on the theme of “Why I Write.” All festival events are free and open to the public.

Visit the Windham-Campbell prize website for more information about the festival and this year’s prize-winners.

(Photos clockwise from top left: André Alexis, Erna Brodber, Marina Carr, Ashleigh Young, Carolyn Forché, Maya Jasanoff, Ike Holter, Ali Cobby Eckermann)

Upcoming Poetry Deadlines

Poets: Tomorrow marks a new month, which means a new set of contests with March deadlines await your verses. Whether you’re looking to submit a single poem or a full-length collection, the following contests offer awards of at least $1,000 and publication. The deadlines range from March 7 to March 17.

For opportunities to submit one or a few poems, the Pinch, the Belligham Review, and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation each confer $1,000 for a single poem (or a group of poems for the Bellingham Review). For the Bellingham Review and the Pinch, submit up to three poems with a $20 entry fee by March 15. For the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, submit up to three poems with a $10 entry fee by March 15.

Finishing up a chapbook? The Tupelo Press Snowbound Chapbook Award offers $1,000, publication, and a book launch. Lawrence Raab will judge. Submit a manuscript of 20 to 36 pages with a $25 entry fee by March 15.

U.S. poets who have published at least one book of poetry are eligible for the Persea Books Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award. A prize of $1,000, publication, and up to $1,000 for travel expenses and promotional activities is given for a poetry collection. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of at least 40 pages with a $30 entry fee by March 7.

Open to both emerging and established poets living in the United States, the Beyond Baroque Books Pacific Coast Poetry Series confers a prize of $2,000 and publication. Submit a manuscript of 48 to 70 pages with a $5 entry fee by March 15.

Another contest for full-length manuscripts is the Word Works Washington Prize, which offers an award of $1,500 and publication to a U.S. or Canadian poet. Submit a manuscript of 48 to 80 pages with a $25 entry fee by March 15.

Prairie Schooner’s Poetry Book Prize offers $3,000 and publication by University of Nebraska Press for a full-length collection. Kwame Dawes will judge. Submit a poetry manuscript of at least 50 pages with a $25 entry fee by March 15.

Emerging black poets of African descent are eligible for Cave Canem Foundation’s Poetry Prize, which grants $1,000 and publication by University of Pittsburgh Press for a first book of poetry. Vievee Francis will judge. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 48 to 75 pages with a $20 entry fee by March 17

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and visit our Grants & Awards Database and Submission Calendar for more poetry and prose contests with upcoming deadlines.

Poets & Writers’ Seventh Annual Workshop Leaders Retreat in Los Angeles

Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of Poets & Writers’ California Office and Readings & Workshops (West) program, blogs about Poets & Writers’ seventh annual Workshop Leaders Retreat for writers who teach creative writing to underserved groups, held this past January at 826LA in Echo Park in Los Angeles.

At first we were scattered, sitting at separate tables. Then we joined together in a circle.

Frank Escamilla WLR LA 2017

The first writers to take their places were Sarah Rafael Garcia and Marilynn Montaño of Barrio Writers, a nonprofit reading and writing program that empowers teens through creative writing. Garcia and Montaño rented a car and drove from Santa Ana to Los Angeles, about an hour drive. Both have been recipients of Readings & Workshops (R&W) grants for their work with Santa Ana’s youth.

The next person to join the circle was Oshea Luja of Still Waters, a poet and teacher supported by the R&W program for facilitating creative writing workshops with elders via the organization EngAGE.

Soon to join our circle, all the way from Riverside, was Angela Peñaredondo, who took part in the R&W program’s Intergenerational Workshop Exchange as a workshop facilitator for veterans and their family members at the Filipino American Service Group.

Fifteen other writers—who collectively teach creative writing to the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, at-risk youth; veterans; elders; LGBTQ populations; the homeless and formerly homeless; and immigrants—soon took their places.

We gathered in the workshop space at 826LA in Echo Park for Poets & Writers’ Workshop Leaders Retreat, an annual half-day retreat where teaching artists share resources, best practices, and writing prompts, and write and break bread together. This past January marked our seventh retreat in Los Angeles. Last fall, we held our first retreat for teaching artists in the Bay Area.

In addition to expanding and solidifying the reach of the R&W program, these retreats enable us to further our support of teaching artists who work with underserved groups, to give them the opportunity to network with one another and strengthen their practices, and to honor them both as teachers and writers by spending time writing to each others’ prompts. “It can be isolating as a contractor and writer, so it is impactful to make such contact and connection with others doing similar work. It can inform my practice in a multitude of ways and offer personal support for this challenging work,” wrote one attendee.

This year’s retreat was enriched by a presentation from charismatic teaching artist Frank Escamilla, who works with at-risk youth and is outreach coordinator for Street Poets Inc. Escamilla linked his experiences growing up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights with his current teaching practice. He recounted how having to share a room with five others taught him early about “being in community” and described how he could count the number of gangs he had to walk through to get to school. As a youth he felt called to start his own gang to gather people together, to protect each other. Later, he realized that his gifts could be used in better ways, which led him to become a poet, performer, and teaching artist—one who initiates young people into the healing practice of writing.

Escamilla shared with his fellow teaching artists some of the techniques he uses to reach this vulnerable population. He addressed questions like: How do you create a safe space within ten minutes? How do we search for the gift within these wounds? How do you deal with silence? How do you offer criticism? Attendees devoured Escamilla’s pearls of wisdom, asked questions, and shared their own methods. We talked about the Native American practice of Council in workshops, African traditions, and how words “can be like bullets or they can be like seeds.” We sat together and wrote from a prompt taken from Audre Lorde: “What do you need to say? [List as many things as necessary],” and shared our responses.

To close and release the circle, P&W program associate Brandi Spaethe read from an exquisite corpse written by the group during the retreat:

Our children will witness the power of our voice, and carry it on
Under their arms they will carry the future like origami, sharpening their tongues
Every breath a fire becoming movement

WLR LA 2017 Group

The Workshop Leaders Retreat is made possible by support from the California Arts Council, a state agency. We would like to thank 826LA for consistently giving this retreat a home and all the teaching artists past and present who have participated.

Photo 1: Frank Escamilla of Street Poets Inc. Photo 2: Attendees of the seventh annual Los Angeles Workshop Leaders Retreat (front, L-R): Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, Dorothy Randall Gray, Marilynn Montaño, Alejandra Castillo, T Sarmina, Jessica Wilson, Leilani Squire, Sarah Rafael García; (middle) Angela Thomson-Brenchley; (back, L-R) Angela Peñaredondo, liz gonzalez, Steven Reigns, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, A.K. Toney, Oshea Luja, Jesse Bliss, Frank Escamilla, Kristi Toney, and Juan Cardenas. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

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

PEN Announces Literary Award Winners

PEN America has announced the winners of its annual literary awards. The 2017 awards will confer more than $300,000 to poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, translators, and playwrights.

Here are a few of this year’s winners:

Natalie Scenters-Zapico won the $5,000 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry for her poetry collection The Verging Cities (Colorado State University). Camille Dungy, Ada Limón, and Patrick Phillips judged.

Helen Oyeyemi won the $5,000 PEN Open Book Award for her story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead). Ishmael Beah, Major Jackson, and Bich Minh Nguyen judged.

Matthew Desmond won the $10,000 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown). Emily Anthes, Amy Ellis Nutt, Robin Marantz Henig, and Emma Marris judged.

Aleksandar Hemon won the $10,000 PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History for How Did You Get Here?: Tales of Displacement. Gaiutra Bahadur, Helen Epstein, and Dan Kennedy judged.

Simon Armitage won the $3,000 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for his translation from the Middle English of the Pearl Poet’s Pearl: A New Verse Translation (Liveright). Jennifer Grotz, Kyoo Lee, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips judged.

Tess Lewis won the $3,000 PEN Translation Prize for her translation from the German of Maja Haderlap’s novel Angel of Oblivion (Archipelago). Mara Faye Lethem, Jeremy Tiang, Elizabeth Lowe, Annie Tucker, and Dennis Washburn judged.

For a complete list of winners, visit the PEN website.

Winners of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay will be announced live at the PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony on March 27 at the New School in New York City. Actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi will host this year’s ceremony.

Mall of America Launches Writer-in-Residence Contest

In celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, Mall of America has launched a writer-in-residence contest. One U.S. poet, fiction writer, or creative nonfiction writer will spend five days in the Bloomington, Minnesota, mall, “deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.” The winner will receive a $2,500 honorarium, lodging for four nights in a hotel attached to the mall, and a $400 gift card for meals.

            

The mall’s goal for the contest is to “come away…with an evocative story about Mall of America that represents the contemporary guest experience after twenty-five years of evolution as a leading retail and entertainment establishment.” To apply, submit a pitch of up to 150 words describing how you would approach the project by March 10. “Would it be a personal story? A blow-by-blow account of your experiences? The Mall as seen through the eyes of a first-time tourist or a regular guest?” Twenty-five semifinalists will then be selected to expand on their pitches in an essay of 500 to 800 words. The winner will be selected by a group of “experienced writers and journalists.” Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Located fifteen minutes from downtown Minneapolis–St. Paul, the Mall of America is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, boasting 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and the nation’s largest indoor theme park.

Andrea Fingerson on Workshops With the Inlandia Institute

Andrea Fingerson is a writer and a teacher. She is currently in her tenth year of teaching for the Moreno Valley Unified School District. In 2014 she earned an MFA in Fiction from California State University, San Bernardino. She has written two novels, both of the Young Adult persuasion, and both inspired by her work as a teacher. Her current project is also inspired by her teaching career, but instead of focusing on the lives of students, is concerned with the challenges that teachers face. Fingerson can be found at her blog, in her classroom in Moreno Valley, and leading the Corona workshop for the Inlandia Institute.

What makes your workshops unique?
I’ve had the pleasure of working as a workshop leader for Inlandia over the past two and a half years. The mission of the Inlandia Institute is to recognize, support, and expand all forms of literary activity through community programs in Inland Southern California, and by the publication of books by writers who live or work in and/or write about Inland Southern California, thereby deepening people’s awareness, understanding, and appreciation for this unique, complex and creatively vibrant region.

One of my favorite parts about being a workshop leader is the opportunity to work with new writers, whether they are youth writers or adults, who have come to appreciate the joy that comes from the writing life. My latest workshop started fresh in January, and it was invigorating to see a new group of writers and to expand my community of colleagues. 

I strive to make my workshop a place where writers of all abilities, experience, and genres feel welcome. I love learning from them as I strive to share my knowledge and experience.

What’s the strangest question you’ve received from a student?
I am of the philosophy that there are no bad questions, but I have had some students show interest in publication earlier than I would recommend. Publication can be a long and arduous path, but it is worth it.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
It’s always the small things that are the most rewarding. A quiet student who finally feels comfortable enough to share their work out loud with the group. A youth writer whose work continues to progress as they learn the standard formatting for fiction that will allow their wonderfully creative stories to come to life. A new writer whose work is accepted for publication. And, most importantly, someone who is able to complete a project they’ve struggled with for months or longer.
   
What effect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
For me, the greatest benefit of working with Inlandia, and leading these workshops, comes from being an active participant in the writing community. Writing can be an isolating process. I find such workshops and local readings to be invigorating both personally and professionally.

What is the craziest thing that’s happened in one of your workshops?
I always chuckle when I think of the poor mother who brought her middle-school-age daughter, and writer, to the meeting right around Banned Books Week. The conversation included a few references (references only) to some of the more explicit reasons people want to ban books. I never saw the poor woman again, or her daughter, which is unfortunate because such topics rarely come up. My workshops are usually child-friendly.

I also had one sweet writer who always brought her dog to workshops with her. He was a cute little thing, and I always had to spend a few minutes with him, and his owner, after the workshop was over for the night.

Photo: Andrea Fingerson. Photo credit: Jace Martin

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