Poets & Writers Blogs

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).

Upcoming Contest Deadlines for Prose Writers

Prose writers! If you have a story, essay, novel, or memoir ready to submit, below are ten writing contests to consider. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and has a deadline of Wednesday, January 31.

Balcones Center for Creative Writing Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,500 is given annually for a book of fiction published during the previous year. Entry fee: $30

Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Black Lawrence Press, and 10 author copies is given annually for a novel. Entry fee: $25

Chattahoochee Review Lamar York Prizes: Two prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Chattahoochee Review are given annually for a short story and an essay. Entry fee: $18

Crazyhorse Literary Prizes: Two prizes of $2,000 each and publication in Crazyhorse are given annually for a short story and an essay. Entry fee: $20

Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,180) and publication in the Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short memoir. Entry fee: $19

Iowa Review Awards: Two prizes of $1,500 each and publication in Iowa Review are given annually for a story and an essay. Entry fee: $20

New Millennium Writings New Millennium Awards: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in New Millennium Writings are given twice yearly for a short story, a work of flash fiction, and a work of creative nonfiction. Entry fee: $20

Ohioana Library Association Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant: A prize of $1,000 is given annually to an Ohio fiction writer or creative nonfiction writer age 30 or under who has not published a book. Writers born in Ohio or who have lived in Ohio for a minimum of five years are eligible. No entry fee.

Winter Anthology Writing Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Winter Anthology is given annually for a group of poems, a story, or an essay. Entry fee: $11

Writers at Work Writing Competition: Two prizes of publication in Quarterly West are given annually for a short story or novel excerpt and an essay or memoir excerpt. The winners also choose to receive either $1,000 or tuition to attend the Writers at Work Conference in Alta, Utah, in June. Writers who have not published a book in the genre in which they are applying are eligible. Entry fee: $20

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.

Teen Writers Find Their Creative Voices

Christine Adler is the president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and former editor of Inkwell. Her articles, essays, poems, and book reviews have appeared in various print and online publications throughout the Northeastern United States and Canada. She has an MFA in Writing from Manhattanville College, and is represented by Ann Leslie Tuttle of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. Adler leads the Teen Creative Writers Workshop at Somers Library in Somers, New York, and is currently at work on her second novel.

The Teen Creative Writers Workshop at Somers Library was created for teens who love to write, those middle and high schoolers who’d tell you writing is their thing. We cover all genres—essays, fiction, fan fiction, poetry, you name it. We wanted to create a safe setting for writers where they can share their work and receive constructive feedback, while learning how to give helpful critiques to each other. We also discuss various genres and how to strengthen important elements in each one.

When a new writer attends the workshop for the first time, we talk briefly about how to give and receive feedback. This way, everyone knows we’re using the same guidelines and have the same goal in mind: to help each other improve. I give the group a prompt and have them write for a few minutes. Each student is then invited to share and read what they’ve just written, or read something they’ve brought with them. I also read what I write from the prompts and solicit feedback from the group.

Every writer knows it can be hard to separate your work from yourself, especially when opening up to criticism. If someone is still shy about reading, I ask them to trade work with another writer in the group and read each other’s work aloud. This gives the students an opportunity to experience reading to a group, and also helps illustrate that the critiques are focused on the writing, and not on the writer.

By far, my most rewarding experience as a teacher has been witnessing the enthusiasm expressed by the students. When we get into a discussion about books, or writing, or characters’ motivations they become so animated. It’s exciting to have them ask if we can meet weekly instead of biweekly, or if we can continue the workshop over the summer. Their interest shows me that they truly value the time spent, and enjoy learning the craft. I know they won’t all go on to become writers, but there was nothing like this for me in high school. If there had been, I might have had the confidence to start my writing career earlier in life. I love that I can be a resource to help these students start sooner if they wish.

Leading a group of young writers has greatly influenced my own art too. One thing I emphasize to the members is that we’re never done learning, in writing or in life. We can always improve. I’m strong at dialogue, but weaker at character development and world-building. Many of the teens write fantasy, and as a result are world-building wizards. I’ve learned a lot about world-building from them, and I often leave the workshop, go home, and dive into my work-in-progress. We share tips and tools with each other, encourage one another to keep writing, and together, we see our work getting better. For a writer, there’s nothing more inspiring.

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

Photos: (top) Christine Adler (Credit: Alex Lindquist). (bottom) Teen Creative Writers Workshop participants (Credit: Tara Ferretti).

Breaking Down Our Barriers: A Q&A With Jim Daniels, Founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards

Since 1999 the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards program has provided an outlet for young people to express their complex experiences with race and diversity through writing. Based at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, the awards are open annually to high school and college students in the Pittsburgh area or any remote CMU location. Jim Daniels, founder and director of the awards, is of the belief that “the process of writing itself can help young people explore and break down issues of differences in their lives.” In advance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—and the nineteenth annual MLK Day Writing Awards ceremony—on January 15, Poets & Writers spoke with Daniels about the establishment of the program, the importance of providing a platform for young people to discuss issues of diversity, and the impact that the awards have had on young writers’ lives and careers.

How did the MLK Day Writing Awards begin? What goals did you hope to achieve by establishing this program?

In graduate school back in 1980, I took a course from James Baldwin, in which he challenged us to examine our own experience with race more honestly. As a white kid who grew up on the edge of Detroit, I wasn’t up to the challenge, but never forgot it. In 1995 I edited the anthology Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race (Wayne State University Press). Both that anthology and the MLK Day Writing Awards are attempts to respond to Baldwin’s challenge. With Letters to America, I wanted to bring a diverse group of poets together to talk about what so often divides us in this country. When Carnegie Mellon University sought to establish campus-wide events for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I decided to try and do something similar with high school and college students, and the University gave me, and continues to give me, its support. We ask for personal narratives on race—not “Martin Luther King was a great man” or “Racism is bad” essays. Not angry screeds either. One of the key beliefs of the awards is that through telling each other our complex, nuanced stories, and listening to each other’s stories, we can break down some of the barriers between us, break some of the silence. For young people finding their way into the world, this can be particularly difficult and challenging, so we hope to provide a safe space for their voices to be heard.

What is offered as part of the prize? How many winners are selected each year?

The awards are $200, $100, and $50, for first, second, and third place. We also give a number of honorable mentions and select the best entry from each school to be recognized at our awards ceremony. In addition to the cash prizes, students are invited to read their work at the on-campus ceremony on MLK Day, and the entries are published in a chapbook that’s available at the ceremony. We try and extend the reach of the awards beyond the day itself, and winners are often invited to participate in additional readings and discussions in and out of the Pittsburgh community throughout the year. We also visit schools to do workshops to promote writing on race and difference. The list of schools from which students submit continues to grow. Currently we don’t have the resources to expand it to a national competition, but I encourage anyone who might want to start something similar in their community to contact me. Our website also includes videos and chapbooks of previous award winners.

In addition to publishing the annual chapbook of winners’ work, you recently edited the anthology, Challenges to the Dream:  The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2017). What was the impetus to create the anthology and how do you feel it will help accomplish the goals of the program and its future?

I work with a very talented, committed team here at Carnegie Mellon on the awards, and we felt that the fine writing being done over the years should be preserved and made available to a larger audience. We’re hoping the anthology will help accomplish that. These voices deserve to be heard again and again. In addition, these issues are often hard to talk about in the classroom, and we hope the anthology might make that a little easier to do. We also want to reach a national audience with this work and perhaps inspire other communities to get involved. In fact, in conjunction with the publication of the anthology, we produced an online study guide so that teachers anywhere can use the work in the anthology for discussion and writing prompts.

Have you witnessed any unforeseen successes of the awards over the past two decades?

I think that seeing their stories recognized and celebrated has made a difference for some of the winners going forward. When we published the anthology last fall, we hosted a reading to celebrate it at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, and a dozen contributors to the anthology read to an overflow crowd—one former winner brought her three children—and I felt a great sense of community in the room. Many of the contributors from previous years have made social justice issues part of their adult lives and careers. 

When is the next round of submissions and how can students enter their work? 

We open submissions each Fall, and the deadline is usually right before Thanksgiving. Students can enter their work online via Submittable, where they will find complete submission guidelines.

 

(Photo: 2017 MLK Writing Award–winners and honorees)

Lambda Literary Announces New Lesbian Nonfiction Prize

Lambda Literary has announced the new Córdova Prize for Lesbian Nonfiction, a $2,500 award that will be given annually to a lesbian-identified nonfiction writer whose ongoing work “captures the depth and complexity of lesbian life, culture, and/or history.” Submissions are now open.

Lesbian-identified writers who have published at least one book of nonfiction are eligible. Submit up to 20 pages from a previously published book and up to 10 pages from an ongoing work by February 23. There is no entry fee.

The award is named for author, activist, and publisher Jeanne Córdova, a prominent figure of the West Coast LGBTQ movement in the 1970s. In addition to contributing to numerous anthologies and news columns, Córdova published a memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love & Revolution, in 2011. She died in 2016 at age sixty-seven.

In addition to the Córdova Prize, submissions are currently open for Lambda’s 2018 Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. Two awards of $1,000 each are given annually to LGBTQ-identified writers who have published at least one but no more than two books of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. The 2017 winners were H. Melt and Victor Yates. Submit up to 10 pages of poetry or up to 20 pages of prose by February 23.

The Lambda Literary Foundation champions the work of LGBTQ writers through its cash awards, writers in schools program, writers retreat, literary festival, and more. Visit the website for more information and complete submission guidelines.

(Photo: Jeanne Córdova Credit: Los Angeles Times)

The Journey

Brian Evans-Jones immigrated to southern Maine from Hampshire, U.K. in 2014. He received his BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Warwick, U.K., and was poet laureate of Hampshire, U.K. from 2013 to 2014. He received his MFA from the University of New Hampshire in 2016. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Outlook Springs, Stoneboat Literary Journal, and the Cafe Review. Evans-Jones is a juried teaching artist in both Maine and New Hampshire, and teaches poetry and creative writing in schools, colleges, and community venues.

You are a poet—or you think you are: perhaps you have never been sure. After all, you don’t have the four or five books to your name that you thought you’d have by now. A couple of competition wins, an award or two, yes, but no book. It seems so complicated, so difficult, this business of getting published. You live in a small town, in a rural state, far away from the publishing centers of America; the editors and poets who throng there seem so far above you.

But you try. You enter awards, send to magazines. The magazines all say no. In April, you get a missed call, a New York number—probably a scam. There is a voicemail, from “Bonnie.” It’s not a scam. You have won Poets & Writers’ Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award—you are going to New York City.

Six months later, you arrive. The buildings are enormous, the streets teeming. You meet Bonnie Rose Marcus, director of Readings & Workshops (East) and the Writers Exchange, tiny and beaming, and go out for dinner with Joan Dempsey, the fiction winner, who fast becomes a good friend. Your nerves are tingling; you almost dread the thought of meeting your first guests tomorrow, these poets who have made it, who have books and books; these editors of famous magazines. What will you ask them, that won’t sound ridiculous? Will they look down on you, will they expect you to know all the poets and trends that you don’t?

Morning comes. Bonnie guides you; the streets seem less alien. The first meeting is with Patricia Carlin, poet and editor. You meet at a coffee shop, get a quiet table in the corner. You’re so nervous, you can’t remember what you said. It doesn’t matter. She’s gracious, interested, friendly. You talk about assembling collections, the benefits and downsides of small presses and regional presses, places to network. She asks if one of your winning poems is available for her magazine, and gives you her card.

Now you feel better. This is going to be okay—maybe even fun. In the next meetings, with agents and other fiction folk, you relax. From the sidelines, you see that all these people—big, important New York City people—are just people: interested in writers, passionate about literature, interested in you.

At dinner, editors from A Public Space, Four Way Books, and Hanging Loose Press discuss magazine life, small press life, poetry. You see that editors simply want their work to be thoughtfully read, the same as you do. Submissions, you realize, can be not a battle, but a communication—maybe even an offering. Someone will like your work—if you take the time to learn what they like first.

The days zoom by. Breakfast with a writer, coffee with an agent, lunch with another writer, tea with a publisher. You grow comfortable with the routine, with the city, with the important New York folk. You meet the president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux and feel entirely at your ease. You love hearing gossip about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Kate Angus tells you eight small presses she thinks would appreciate your aesthetic. The tour of the New Yorker offices is unforgettable.

Suddenly, it’s the end. You’re going home, to your small town, your green and quiet state. Nothing has changed there—but when you sit in your placid town library, New York feels close. You start work on your manuscript. You are a poet. You are ready.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Photos: (top) New York City skyline (Credit: Brian Evans-Jones). (bottom, left to right) R&W fellow Sreshtha Sen, R&W program assistant Ricardo Hernandez, R&W (east) director Bonnie Rose Marcus, 2017 WEX fiction judge Tania James, Joan Dempsey, Brian Evans-Jones, and 2017 WEX poetry judge Cynthia Cruz (Credit: Margarita Corporan).

Upcoming Contest Deadlines in Fiction and Nonfiction

Prose writers: If your 2018 resolutions involve submitting to more contests, you’re in luck! Below is a selection of fiction and nonfiction contests with a deadline of January 15. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Hidden River Arts Sandy Run Novella Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Hidden River Arts will be given annually for a novella. The editors will judge. Entry Fee: $24

Literal Latté K. Margaret Grossman Fiction Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Literal Latté is given annually for a short story. Entry Fee: $10

Breakwater Review Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Breakwater Review is given annually for a story. Joan Wickersham will judge. Entry Fee: $10

Third Coast Fiction Contest: An award of $1,000 each and publication in Third Coast is given annually for a short story. Danielle Evans will judge. Entry Fee: $18

Masters Review Short Story Award for New Writers: A prize of $3,000 and publication in Masters Review is given twice yearly for a short story by a writer who has not published a novel. Writers who have published story collections are eligible. The winning story will also be sent to a participating literary agency. Entry Fee: $20

Moment Magazine–Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Moment Magazine is given annually for a story that relates to Judaism or Jewish culture or history. The editors will judge. Entry Fee: $25

Australian Book Review Calibre Essay Prize: A prize of AUD $5,000 (approximately $3,800) and publication in Australian Book Review is given annually for an essay. A second-place prize of AUD $2,500 (approximately $1,900) is also given. Andrea Goldsmith, Phillipa McGuinness, and Peter Rose will judge. Entry Fee: $25

Ellen Meloy Fund Desert Writers Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually to enable a creative nonfiction writer “whose work reflects the spirit and passions for the desert embodied in Ellen Meloy's writing” to spend creative time in a desert environment. No entry fee.

North Carolina Writers’ Network Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for an essay that “is outside the realm of conventional journalism and has relevance to North Carolinians.” The winning essay will also be considered for publication in Ecotone. Benjamin Rachlin will judge. Entry Fee: $12

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.

Submissions Open for Graywolf Nonfiction Prize

Submissions are open for the 2018 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, given biennially for a nonfiction manuscript-in-progress by a writer not yet established in the genre. The winner will receive $12,000 and will work with the Graywolf editorial team to complete the project for publication.

Writers who reside in the United States are eligible; no prior publication is required. Submissions to the prize may include memoir, essay, biography, and history. Using the online submission system, submit a one-page cover letter, a two- to ten-page overview of the project, and at least 100 pages of the manuscript by January 31. There is no entry fee.

The editors will judge. “The [prize] emphasizes innovation in form, and we want to see projects that test the boundaries of literary nonfiction,” write the editors. “We are less interested in straightforward memoirs.”

Esmé Weijun Wang won the prize in 2016 for The Collected Schizophrenias, an essay collection that addresses the social, historical, medical, and spiritual aspects of schizophrenia. Angela Palm won in 2014 for her book about growing up in a small river town in rural Indiana, Riverine: A Memoir From Anywhere But Here. Margaret Lazarus Dean won in 2012 for Leaving Orbit: Notes From the Last Days of American Spaceflight, and Leslie Jamison won in 2010 for The Empathy Exams.

Founded in 1974, Graywolf Press is considered one of the leading nonprofit literary publishers in the country. The press is “committed to the discovery and energetic publication of contemporary American and international literature.” Visit the website for more information.

End of the Year Contest Deadlines: Fiction and Nonfiction

Fiction and nonfiction writers, with a just over a week left in 2017, consider submitting your best stories, essays, or full-length books to the following contests. Each award offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication, and has a deadline of December 31.

River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in River Styx is given annually for a short short story. Entry fee: $10

Boulevard Short Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Boulevard is given annually for a short story by a writer who has not published a nationally distributed book. Entry fee: $16

Tampa Review Danahy Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Tampa Review is given annually for a short story. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20

Press 53 Award for Short Fiction: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Press 53 is given annually for a story collection. Kevin Morgan Watson will judge. Entry fee: $30

Ashland Creek Press Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction that focuses on the environment, animal protection, ecology, or wildlife. The winner also receives a four-week residency at PLAYA, a writers retreat located on the edge of the Great Basin near Summer Lake, Oregon. Unpublished manuscripts and books published in the past five years are eligible. Jonathan Balcombe will judge. Entry fee: $18

Lascaux Review Prize in Fiction: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a novel published in the previous two years. Entry fee: $20

Livingston Press Tartt Fiction Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by Livingston Press, and 100 author copies is given annually for a first collection of short stories by a U.S. citizen. Fiction writers who have not published a short story collection are eligible. Entry fee: $20

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.

Foundation of Contemporary Arts Announces New $40,000 Poetry Award

The Foundation of Contemporary Arts (FCA) has announced the new C. D. Wright Award for Poetry, an annual prize of $40,000 given to a poet over the age of fifty whose work “exemplifies Wright’s vibrant lyricism, seriousness, and striking originality."

The award, made possible through a $1 million gift from artists Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Shear, honors the memory of C. D. Wright, who died in 2016 at age sixty-seven. Wright received an FCA Grant in 1999, and went on to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Academy of American Poets Lenore Marshall Prize, among other accolades.

Of the prize, Wright’s husband, the poet Forrest Gander, said, “I’ve known that she was of signal importance to poets around the world—the first tribute/memorial organized for C. D. was in Stockholm—but the fact of this award coming from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, an advocate for all arts, that means the most to me.”

The C. D. Wright Award will be administered through the FCA’s nomination-based Grants to Artists program, which provides unrestricted cash awards to individuals in all artistic disciplines. Experimental poet Lisa Robertson will be the recipient of the inaugural award. Poets Tonya Foster and Peter Gizzi, the 2018 poetry advisors to FCA’s selection process, noted, “[Robertson’s] poems are compelling reads and never stint on intellection. They please as they muse and weave various affective philosophical speech acts.”

Founded in 1963 by artists Jasper Johns and John Cage, the Foundation of Contemporary Arts’ mission is to “encourage, sponsor, and promote innovative work in the arts” through its seven annual grant programs for individuals, groups, and organizations. Visit the website for more information.

Spunky Spirits Take the Stage at the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam

J. Sarah Gonzales is CEO of the national social justice consulting company, TruthSarita, LLC, which supports building collective power to dismantle inequity. She also serves as codirector of Spoken Futures, Inc., developing programs to create space for youth to address issues such as the school-to-prison pipeline, LGBTQ rights, and migrant justice through spoken word poetry. Gonzales is a published poet and currently works with the Cultural Centers at the University of Arizona.

Spoken Futures, a youth organization based in Tucson, Arizona, hosted the season kickoff of the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam (TYPS) on August 19, 2017, which featured P&W­–supported poet Bobby Wilson. Wilson’s work is heavily influenced by his Dakota heritage, and his spunky spirit and deep cultural roots resonated with the high school-aged youth. He led a writing workshop with about ten youths, moving them through the anxiety of writing and performing. By the end, all overcame their fears and signed up to compete in the poetry slam.

Held monthly at Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea, youths from all over Southern Arizona come to listen, support, write, and perform in this incredibly welcoming environment. The slam is organized and hosted by TYPS coordinator Eva Sierra, a former youth participant who has joined the Spoken Futures staff.

There were about sixty people in attendance and judges were picked from the audience at random. Over the course of two hours, each young person got up to the mic and read poems about issues present in their everyday lives. Nathan spoke about growing up in foster care and group homes. Yasmin shared: “My childhood home now a construction site for stores, but what they don’t know, is that it was the house that built me.”

Wilson, a new transplant to Tucson, but a friend of many years to local organizers, also performed a set halfway through the slam. He roped in the audience with poems about his indigenous heritage, trauma from colonization, and dreaming our dreams. In his opening piece, he spoke about the national anthem: “I will not stand, I will not kneel. There are needles in our knees given to our grandparents by good God-fearing men and the women they own.” Wilson is raw, honest, and a kind person. He stayed late to talk to youth, and supported our work with his time and energy.

As youths learn to write about the inequities shaping their futures, we become more firmly dedicated to finding ways to keep this space funded and running. The TYPS kickoff was a huge success thanks to all our supporters! We are extremely excited for all the youth poets and featured poets we have lined up for the 2017-2018 season. Thank you to Poets & Writers, Bentley’s, and all our loving families and community who come together to support youth voice in southern Arizona. Read more about Spoken Futures, Inc. and the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam at spokenfutures.org.

Support for Readings & Workshops in Tucson 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) J. Sarah Gonzales (Credit: Diana Toj). (bottom) Bobby Wilson (Credit: Hannah Manuelito).

December Poetry Deadlines

Poets—as 2017 comes to a close, why not end the year with a bang and submit to a poetry contest? Below is a list of contests for single poems, chapbooks, and full-length collections with deadlines during the second half of December. Each contest offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication. Happy Submitting!

Deadline: December 20

String Poet Poetry Competition: A prize of $1,000 and publication in String Poet is given annually for a poem. The winner also receives an original music composition by a professional composer inspired by the winning poem, which will be performed at the Awards Ceremony in Spring 2018. Micheal O’Siadhail will judge. Entry fee: $18

Deadline: December 22

Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowships: Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication by the Poetry Society of America are given annually for poetry chapbooks by poets who have not published a full-length collection. Two fellowships are given to poets ages 30 and under, and two fellowships are given to poets of any age. Entry fee: $12

Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Memorial Award: A prize of $2,500 and publication of a poem on the Poetry Society of America website is given annually to a poet over 40 who has published no more than one book. Entry fee: $15

Deadline: December 30

New Issues Poetry & Prose Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by New Issues Poetry & Prose is given annually for a first poetry collection. The winner will also receive an honorarium of $500 and travel expenses to give a reading at Western Michigan University in Spring 2018. Poets who have not published a poetry collection of more than 48 pages are eligible. Cathy Park Hong will judge. Entry fee: $25

Deadline: December 31

The Moth Poetry Prize: A prize of €10,000 (approximately $12,000) and publication in the Moth is given annually for a poem. Three runner-up prizes of €1,000 (approximately $1,200) each are also given. The winners will also be invited to read at an awards ceremony in Dublin in Spring 2018. Daljit Nagra will judge. Entry fee: $13

Tampa Review Prize for Poetry: A prize of $2,000 and publication by University of Tampa Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $25

Tupelo Press Dorset Prize: A prize of $3,000 and publication by Tupelo Press is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner also receives a weeklong residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Entry fee: $30

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.

If you’re ready to submit right now, check out these contests with deadlines TODAY (12/15/17).

Submissions Open for $10,000 Story Collection Prize

The deadline is approaching for the inaugural Hub City Press C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize. An award of $10,000 and publication by Hub City Press will be given annually for a debut story collection by an author living in the Southern United States. Acclaimed short fiction writer Lee K. Abbott will judge. The winning collection will be published in Spring 2019.

Writers currently residing in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, or West Virginia who have not published a full-length book are eligible. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 140 to 220 pages, including at least six stories, with a $25 entry fee by January 1, 2018. Stories should not exceed 15,000 words each. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Of the new prize, Hub City Press founder and publisher Betsy Teter says, “We are thrilled to announce one of the most substantial short story prizes in North America and to honor C. Michael Curtis, who has been a great friend to Hub City Press over the years.” Established in 1995 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Hub City Press is “committed to well-crafted and high-quality works by new and established authors from the American South.” C. Michael Curtis has been an editor of the Atlantic since 1963 and currently resides in Spartanburg.

An Industry of Writers and Our Greatest Freedom: A Snapshot From the New York Literary Scene

Winner of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction from Poets & Writers, and one of the “5 More Over 50” debut authors in the November/December 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Joan Dempsey is the author of the novel, This Is How It Begins (She Writes Press, October 2017). She received an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and was the recipient of a significant research grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her writing has been published in the Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora, and Plenitude Magazine, and aired on National Public Radio. 

On a crisp, clear October morning, the three of us hustled down Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, not wanting to be late for our meeting with Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at the New Yorker. We hurried past chain-link fences, shrouded to obscure what remains undone in the wake of 9/11. We waved away hawkers who propositioned us with memorial tours. We tried not to think about going up thirty-eight stories in the One World Trade Center building.

I was in Manhattan as the winner for fiction of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, which includes an all-expenses-paid whirlwind tour of the New York literary scene. Brian Evans-Jones, the winner for poetry and a fellow Maine resident, kept pace beside me. Both of us trotted along after Bonnie Rose Marcus, director of Readings & Workshops (East) and the Writers Exchange, who kept us on schedule as we rushed from one meeting to the next.

By the end of our six days, we’d gathered with nearly thirty people working in the literary world. The meeting with Treisman came on our second morning, but in hindsight it feels like the culminating event because it so well personifies the collective spirit of the week.   

The guard in front of the revolving doors at One World Trade Center tried to shoo us down the block, assuming we were there for the 9/11 tour. We stated our purpose and were suddenly inside the cavernous lobby, the ceiling an impossibly high sixty-five-feet overhead. Other guards scrutinized our IDs, photographed us, carefully searched our bags, and ushered us through the metal detectors. We made nervous small talk, each of us keenly aware that we were heading up into the sky that used to house the twin towers.

The New Yorker offices are as lovely as you might imagine: walls lined with framed cartoons and magazine covers, books and papers everywhere, the distinctive Irvin typeface gracing the signs that indicate who inhabits each office. Walls of glass abound, maximizing the sweeping views out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and all the way uptown to the Empire State Building.

In Treisman’s office, she encouraged us to step right up to the window to get the full view; it was impossible not to think about those who had jumped. Far below, the twin reflecting pools occupy the footprints of the original towers. We talked about editing Alice Munro, the significance of fiction, and the gravity of fact-based journalism during the Trump era. “It’s no secret that we’re not fans of Trump,” Treisman said fiercely. I felt a similar fierceness—an urgency—in each of our meetings, an undercurrent of purpose that writers in gentler times are spared.

As we toured the New Yorker offices, a few people glanced up and smiled, but most were assiduously tending to their work. The quiet buzz of dedicated, brilliant, and creative industry I felt in that office was echoed in every other meeting that week. It filled me with a sense not of comfort, exactly, but of certitude. Literary artists continue to use words as writers have always used words: to speak truth to power, to inspire and bear witness, to exercise our greatest freedom. I am proud to be among them.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Photos: (top) Joan Dempsey and Brian Evans-Jones at the New Yorker offices (Credit: Bonnie Rose Marcus). (bottom) Joan Dempsey and Brian Evans-Jones with judges for the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award Tania James and Cynthia Cruz (Credit: Margarita Corporan).

Submissions Open for New $20,000 Poetry Prize

Submissions are open for the Four Quartets Prize, sponsored by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and Poetry Society of America. Launched in November, the prize is given for a sequence of poems published in the United States in the past two years. The winner will receive $20,000.

Established in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the U.S. publication of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, the prize will be judged by Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl. The prize is “first and foremost a celebration of the multi-part poem,” such as Eliot’s Four Quartets, Gwendolyn Brooks’s A Street in Bronzeville, and John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs.

Submissions are open until December 22. Authors, publishers, and agents may submit four copies of at least fourteen pages of a poetic sequence published in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 or 2017. Sequences published across multiple publications are eligible. There is no entry fee. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

The shortlist for the prize will be announced in New York City on April 12 at an event featuring actor Jeremy Irons at the 92nd Street Y. Three shortlisted finalists will each receive $1,000. The winner will be announced the following day.

The Poetry Society of America, based in New York City, is dedicated to promoting the place of poetry in American culture. The T. S. Eliot Foundation, based in London, is dedicated to celebrating poetry, literacy, and “all things Eliot.” The foundation also administers the annual £25,000 T. S. Eliot Prize, given for the best new poetry collection published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.