Poets & Writers Blogs

Lisa McInerney Wins Baileys Prize for Women

Irish author Lisa McInerney has been announced the winner of the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies (John Murray). The annual book award is open to women writers from anywhere in the world writing in English, and carries with it a £30,000 (approximately $43,500) prize.

The finalists were Cynthia Bond’s Ruby, Anne Enright’s The Green Road, Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

The judging panel consisted of five women: novelist Elif Şafak; journalists Naga Munchetty and Laurie Penny; writer and singer Tracey Thorn; and former lawyer and television personality Margaret Mountford, who served as judge chair. The committee selected McInerney’s novel from a hundred fifty entries.

McInerney’s novel tells the tale of how a messy murder affects the lives of “five misfits who live on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society.” At today’s award ceremony in London, Mountford said, “After a passionate discussion around a very strong shortlist, we chose Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humor and skillful storytelling. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner.”

McInerney, thirty-four, began her writing career in 2006 with a personal blog called Arse End of Ireland, in which she documented working-class life in modern Ireland with a unique brand of cynical wit. The blog gained traction, and McInerney has since written for various Irish news and culture, feminist, and entertainment websites. Her short story, “Saturday, Boring,” was published in Faber & Faber’s Town and Country anthology in 2013. She lives in Galway.

Founded in 1996, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was established to recognize “excellence, originality, and accessibility in writing by women throughout the world.” The award is the U.K.’s most prestigious annual prize for a full-length book of fiction written by a woman. Previous winners include Ali Smith, Eimear McBride, Téa Obreht, and Zadie Smith. For more information, visit the prize website

Lambda Literary Awards Announced

Last night, at a ceremony in New York City, the winners of the twenty-eighth annual Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”) were announced. The awards recognize excellence in LGBTQ literature, critical studies, and drama, and are given in twenty-five categories determined by more than ninety judges.
The awards in poetry were given in three categories: The Lesbian Poetry award went to Dawn Lundy Martin for Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life (Nightboat Books); the Gay Poetry award resulted in a tie between Nicholas Wong’s Crevasse (Kaya Press) and Carl Phillips’s Reconnaissance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and the Transgender Poetry prize went to kari edwards’s succubus in my pocket (EOAGH Books).

In fiction, the awards were administered in five categories: The Lesbian Fiction award went to Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta; Hasan Namir won in Gay Fiction for God in Pink (Arsenal Pulp Press); Anna North won the Bisexual Fiction prize for The Life and Death of Sophie Stark (Blue Rider Press); Roz Kaveney took home the Transgender Fiction award for Tiny Piece of Skull: Or, a Lesson in Manners (Team Angelica Publishing); and the LGBT Debut Fiction prize went to Victor Yates for A Love Like Blood (Hillmont Press).

During the reception, poet Eileen Myles was honored with the organization’s Pioneer Award, and nonfiction writer Hilton Als received the Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature.

A complete list of winners in all twenty-five categories, as well as photos of the awards gala, are available on the Lambda Literary website.

Lambda Literary is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to celebrating and advancing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer literature. In addition to the annual Lammy Awards, the foundation administers prizes for emerging and mid-career writers, hosts the Writers Retreat for Emerging Voices, and sponsors the LGBT Writers in Schools program

Union Square Slam: Putting the Unity Back in Community

Cecily Schuler received their MFA in Writing from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Having attended both the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center, Schuler has had their work featured in the Offing, Fairy Tale Review, Wicked Banshee, Ellipsis, and Duende, and anthologized in great weather for MEDIA and Fire Stories: Further Thoughts on Radically Rethinking Mental Illness. Schuler's chapbook, 296, chronicling the author's experience living with multiple mental health diagnoses, is available from Next Left Press. Schuler cofounded and manages Union Square Slam, a weekly poetry open mic/slam in the heart of New York City.

What makes your program(s) unique?
I would say that, while we share components of each, we are not your average open mic, poetry reading, or poetry slam. Union Square Slam (USS) was created to not only serve the local and national slam poetry circuit, but more so to provide a creative space for our local poets and authors to branch out, foster, and showcase their particular talents and interests. We are looking to showcase the broad range of overlapping scenes here in New York City, as well as poetic style and talents from other regions of the country.

We encourage audience engagement in a number of ways: “If You Feel Something, Say Something.” If someone says something on the mic that moves you, it’s the culture of the show to respond to that movement through snapping/clapping, moans/groans, shouting and talking back. On paper that sounds like a ruckus, but at the show it can be encouraging and empowering. We also offer writing workshops with highly skilled facilitators before the show each week. Sometimes we ask for donations that go towards the facilitator, but more often than not, the workshops are free! All of the organizers are also working artists, and we know how challenging it can be to keep creating while volunteer organizing on top of working a 9-5. These weekly workshops are just another way we hope to generate community-based quality work for our show attendees.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
We inherited a venue and show day/time from another open mic/poetry slam in January 2015. Over time, it became clear that the venue and our show were growing in different directions artistically and aesthetically. In November of the same year, we switched venues to our current home in the Bureau of General Services - Queer Division. It was such a relief in so many ways: not only were we in a venue dedicated solely to literary and visual arts, we could now serve all ages and accommodate folks who use wheelchairs. We have managed to build a steady and returning audience, book and fund our features (thanks P&W!!) and have a successful slam season, culminating in USS sending our very first team to the National Poetry Slam in Decatur (Atlanta), Georgia this August. It was a lot of rigmarole, and yet people have come out of the woodwork to offer us support in countless ways. (Speaking of which, please consider helping USS reach its fundraising goals for the team by donating here.)

How do you find and invite readers?
Part of Union Square Slam’s mission is to amplify voices of the oppressed. We aim to book features who self-identify in one or more of the following: people of color and/or queer/LGBTQIA and/or disabled/alter-abled/neurodiverse and/or poor/working class. We don’t go looking for artists who fit these criteria; rather, we check ourselves against this standard as we are booking. Our organizers have been involved in different aspects of not just the national slam scene, but other literary scenes throughout New York City, so between us, we’ve had a wide range of featured poets this year.

Photo: (top) Cecily Schuler. (bottom) Grand Slam Champ Nkosi Nkululeko. Photo credit: (bottom) Guangpyo David Hong.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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 & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Fund Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Feminist Press and TAYO Launch First Book Prize

The Feminist Press has partnered with TAYO Literary Magazine to launch the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, which will be given for debut books of fiction or nonfiction by women and nonbinary writers of color. The winner will receive $5,000 and a publishing contract with the Feminist Press.

Novels, short story collections, and works of narrative nonfiction are eligible. Women and nonbinary writers of color (or those who self-identify as nonwhite) may submit a complete manuscript of 50,000 to 80,000 words along with a cover letter that includes the following: an author statement, a brief bio, how the book fits with the work and mission of TAYO and the Feminist Press, a list of up to three influential writers, and the manuscript’s word count. The deadline is July 31. Complete guidelines here.

Entries will be read by a group of judges made up of staff, board members, and allies of the Feminist Press and TAYO Literary Magazine. The top five manuscripts will then be sent to final judges Tayari Jones and Ana Castillo, who will select the winning manuscript. The winner will be announced in February 2017.

The new prize was founded in honor of novelist, essayist, journalist, and activist Louise Meriwether, age 93, who published her first novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, in 1970. The book, about the life of a poor black family in the post–Harlem Renaissance era, was one of the first contemporary American novels to feature a young African American girl as the protagonist, and went on to inspire the careers of authors such Jacqueline Woodson and Bridgett M. Davis.

TAYO—a which means “us” or “stand up” in Tagalog—is a magazine dedicated to publishing works of poetry and prose that “slice into the phantasmagoria of the oppressed, marginalized, post-colonized, and diasporic life.”The Feminist Press, founded in 1970 at the City University of New York, is a nonprofit press established to “advance women’s rights and amplify feminist perspectives,” and champion “silenced and marginalized voices in order to support personal transformation and social justice for all people.

Photo: Bridgett M. Davis and Louise Meriwether in 2014. Credit: Muneesh Jain

Griffin Poetry Prize Winners Announced

Poets Norman Dubie and Liz Howard have won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prizes, given annually for books of poetry published in or translated into English in the previous year. They each received $65,000 Canadian (approximately $50,000). Alice Oswald, Tracy K. Smith, and Adam Sol judged.

Poet Norman Dubie won the International Prize for his collection The Quotations of Bone (Copper Canyon Press). Dubie, 71, has published twenty-nine poetry collections and teaches at Arizona State University in Tempe. “The poems in Dubie’s newest collection are deeply oneiric, governed by vigorous leaping energy that brings the intimate into contact with history, and blurs the distinction between what is real because it once happened, and what is real because of the emphatic manner in which it has been felt,” wrote the judges in their citation.

Liz Howard took home the Canadian Prize for her debut collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland & Stewart). “These poems are filled with energy and magic, suspended between competing inheritances, at home in their hyper-modern hybridity,” said the judges. “Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent confronts its legacies with vivid imagery and crackling language, and introduces us to a bold, original poetic voice.”

The finalists for the International Prize were Joy Harjo for Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton), Don Paterson for 40 Sonnets (Faber & Faber), and Rowan Ricardo Phillips for Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists for the Canadian Prize were Per Brask and Patrick Friesen for their translation from the Danish of Ulrikka S. Gernes’s Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books) and Soraya Peerbaye for Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press). Each finalist received a $10,000 honorarium for participating in the Griffin Prize shortlist reading on Wednesday in Toronto.

Established in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize was founded to “serve and encourage excellence in poetry.” Each year the trustees—Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, and David Young—along with Scott Griffin, the founder of the prize, select the judges. This year’s judges read 633 poetry collections from 43 countries.

Previous winners of the International Prize include Michael Longley, Brenda Hillman, Fady Joudah for his translation of Ghassan Zaqtan, and David Harsent. Recent winners of the Canadian Prize include Jane Munro, Anne Carson, David McFadden, and Ken Babstock.

Publishers may submit titles for the 2017 prize. The deadline for books published between January 1 and June 30 is June 30; the deadline for books published from July 1 to December 31 is December 31.

Photos: Dubie (Matt Valentine), Howard (Ralph Kolewe)

 

Upcoming June Contest Deadlines

Planning to submit to writing contests this summer? Here are several contests in poetry and prose with an application deadline of June 15. Each prize offers at least $1,000 and publication.

In poetry, the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award and the University of Akron Press Akron Poetry Prize offer prizes for full-length poetry manuscripts. The winner of the Library of Poetry Book Award receives $1,000, and the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize receives $1,500. Allison Joseph will judge the Akron Poetry Prize.

In prose, the Curt Johnson Prose Awards offer two prizes of $1,500 each and publication in December for a short story and an essay. One runner-up will receive $500. Anthony Marra will judge in fiction and Eula Biss will judge in nonfiction.

Two short fiction contests—the New Rivers Press American Fiction Short Story Award and Rosebud’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award—offer $1,000 for a short story. For the American Fiction Prize, a $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given. The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award gives awards of $100 each to four runners-up. Previous final judges for the American Fiction Short Story Award include Charles Baxter and Ann Beattie; this year’s judge has not been announced. Roderick Clark will judge the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award.

For fiction writers with published books, the Bard Fiction Prize offers $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College for a published book. The prize is open to writers under the age of forty. Alexandra Kleeman won the 2016 prize for her book, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.

Visit the Grants & Awards database and submission calendar for more contests with upcoming deadlines. Complete submission guidelines, including eligibility requirements and entry fees, are available on the contest websites. 

Janine Joseph on Her Homecoming With Undocumented Students

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016) and winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Best New Poets, Best American Experimental Writing, Zócalo Public Square, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were: The Case of Emeline, On This Muddy Water: Voices From the Houston Ship Channel, and From My Mother's Mother. Joseph serves as vice president of the Writers@Work executive board and is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. She blogs about her P&W–supported reading for the Poesía Peligrosa series at the University of California in Riverside.

Janine Joseph

A 2009 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow, I was invited late last year to “take over” their Instagram account for a whole week so that followers could meet me and get a sense of my "New American" story. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I shared pictures and brief stories about my family’s immigrant beagles, my Lolo Lazarus, and what it was like to live, for the first time, in a landlocked state. As the publication of my debut collection of poetry, Driving Without a License, was (then) just a few months away, I talked also about my experiences as a formerly undocumented American. Through luck or happenstance, a student and the vice president of PODER (Providing Opportunities, Dreams, and Education in Riverside) at my alma mater, University of California in Riverside (UCR), saw my posts and asked if I might be interested in doing a reading for a specially themed Poesía Peligrosa event during their upcoming Immigrant Awareness Week.

I graduated from UCR in the spring of 2005—three years before PODER, which “seeks to provide assistance to undocumented students through mentorship, financial assistance, and community building,” was established, so this invitation and event was an emotional homecoming for me. In short, the partnerships between PODER, Teatro Quinto Sol, and the office of Chicano Student Programs at UCR, coupled with the generous monetary support from Poets & Writers, made it possible for an undocumented student group to bring me in to read about my experiences as an undocumented person. To add to the significance of this event even further: It brought me back to the very school where I had studied creative writing as an undocumented student.

And what a gift the occasion was. Poesía Peligrosa, which was hosted by two current UCR undergraduates, brought together a mix of music, theater, and poetry to the stage. The night began with an interactive performance by UCR's Theater of the Oppressed, followed by my reading from Driving Without a License, and ended with students sharing their own immigration-themed work. The audience, which consisted of current UCR students, alumni, UCR staff, and family members, was lively, attentive, and welcoming. There were also students and their chaperones from a local high school in attendance. Later, I looked around the room from where I sat in the back and imagined that this would have been my community nearly a decade ago, had the organization existed. I was overjoyed and relieved to know that current students had the support and space I had once longed for.

It is my hope that this event sets a personal precedence, particularly in how I plan readings in support of the book, and that I will be able to give back to other undocumented student groups around the country. It is my hope, too, that the students who I had the great privilege of meeting continue to share their stories and continue to complicate our ever-expanding American identities. I am thankful to Poets & Writers for supporting this effort, these events, and writers with immigrant backgrounds like ours.

Photo: Janine Joseph. Photo credit: Jaclyn Heward.

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.

End of May Contest Roundup

As the month of May winds down, the deadlines for several book contests in poetry and fiction are quickly approaching. Each prize compiled below offers at least $1,000 and publication of the winning manuscript.

For fiction writers, the BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize and the University of Georgia Press Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award both offer a prize of $1,000 and publication for a short story collection. Peter Conners will judge the BOA Short Fiction Prize, while Lee K. Abbott will judge the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award. The deadline for both contests is May 31.

Meanwhile, the Elixir Press Fiction Award offers $2,000 and publication for a short story collection or novel. The press’s editors will judge; the deadline is May 31. The annual Gival Press Novel Award offers publication and $3,000 for a novel; the judge is anonymous and the deadline is May 30.

On the poetry side, three contests—the Anhinga Press Anhinga–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry, the Backwaters Press Backwaters Prize, and the Oberlin College Press FIELD Poetry Prize—each offer publication of a full-length poetry manuscript. Evie Shockley will judge the $2,000 Anhinga­–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry; the deadline is May 30. Henri Cole will judge the $2,000 Backwaters Prize, and the editors of Oberlin College Press will judge the $1,000 FIELD Poetry Prize; the deadline for both contests is May 31.

For a look at more writing contests with upcoming deadlines, visit our Grants & Awards database and submission calendar. Full submission details, including eligibility guidelines, manuscript length requirements, and entry fees, are available on the contest websites.

Write! Look! Listen!: UC Merced's Merritt Writing Program Reading Series

Write! Look! Listen! is the creative writing reading series of the Merritt Writing Program (MWP) at the University of California in Merced. Since 2006, Write! Look! Listen! has featured readings and guest workshops with locally and nationally recognized poets, fiction writers, journalists, and nonfiction writers. The series features ethnically and aesthetically diverse readers in order to give students a sense of the full range and vibrancy of contemporary American writing. MWP faculty members organize, publicize, and host readings and workshops that are free and open to students, faculty, staff, and the public. Current principal organizers include: Andrea Mele, Susan Varnot, Dawn Trook, and Callie Kitchen. Contributors to this blog post include: Andrea Mele, Dawn Trook, and Paul Gibbons.

What makes your organization and its program unique?
Andrea Mele: The Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced includes composition courses, Writing in the Disciplines courses, and Writing Minor courses in Professional and Creative Writing. MWP faculty created the Write! Look! Listen! Series, as well as our undergraduate Creative Writing Conference and Collaboratorium, both of which are supported by the Writing Program, UC Merced’s Center for Humanities, and Poets & Writers’ grants.

Merritt Writing ProgramWrite! Look! Listen! invites regionally-based writers of national acclaim to campus for readings and workshops. These readings and workshops are free and open to the public, and are well attended by students, faculty, and staff. WLL strives to bring writers of diverse genres and backgrounds who reflect the diversity of our own campus, and who will connect with students on both subject and craft levels. Attendees and participants often comment on the ways in which they can relate to the authors’ experiences, and how this motivates their own writing, confidence, and commitment to their craft. Recent guests include David Mas Masumoto, Steven Church, David Campos, Paula Treick DeBoard, Lawson Inada, and the Hmong American Writers Circle.

UC Merced’s Creative Writing Conference and Collaboratorium is a day-long event, which includes morning workshops, and afternoon participant and keynote readings. Students and faculty from UC Merced and nearby Merced and Modesto colleges come together for a day of collaboration—in teaching creative writing, composing it, revising, and sharing. The event generates excitement and inspiration pedagogically and creatively, and additionally reflects the Merritt Writing Program’s commitment to community engagement and diversity of educational and artistic experience. Keynote readers highlight the region’s diversity of authors and genres. Past readers include Lee Herrick (Fresno’s Poet Laureate), Soul Vang, Rachel Starnes, and Carole Firstman.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Dawn Trook: Whenever we bring the Hmong American Writers Circle to UC Merced, I feel very moved. These readings always bring out a diverse and large crowd, and it's exciting to celebrate a community whose native language didn't have a written form, so they are claiming their voices in new (and beautiful) ways. 

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Trook: When Peter Orner connected to our students in his Q&A as if he was talking to a group of writers, talking to them like equals. It really empowered them and made them feel like they were a part of a writing community.

How do you cultivate an audience?
Trook: Facebook and word of mouth seem to be the best ways. Writing program faculty promote events in their classes, and publicize events on news and social media platforms.

Merritt ParticipantsHow has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
Paul Gibbons: Coteaching for the Collaboratorium has taught me all over again how to take advantage of teachable moments and how to include students. Because you’re not teaching alone, the sessions can resemble the best panel discussions—where people are all trying to understand and engage in a dialectic that benefits everyone in the room. And then the panel dissolves to one focused discussion among us, writer to writer instead of teacher to students. We use that energy to write and revise and share. At the end of the day, these sessions make me want to write more and teach better—that’s the lift from the teaching in the Collaboratorium, the momentum you get for both writing and teaching.

Trook: In a town isolated from big cities, it's kept me connected to the larger writing community. It's always great to be able to support a writer's work by bringing them to speak and read.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Trook: Opening students to a variety of styles, experiences, and cultural perspectives beyond the scope of our creative writing faculty is invaluable.

Mele: The Creative Writing Conference and Collaboratorium brings together students from Central Valley colleges and universities. We value our institutional relationships, and work to create a larger sense of community by hosting students and faculty from around the valley. We hope to invite more universities to participate in future conferences.

Photo (top): David "Mas" Masumoto. Photo credit: Andrea Mele.  
Photo (bottom): Fall Faculty Reading (left to right) Andrea Mele, Erik Habecker, Tom Hothem, Orisa Santiago Morrice, Yu-Han Chao, unknown, and Brigitte Bowers. Photo credit: Paul Gibbon.

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.

Northwestern University Launches Translation Prize

Northwestern University Press (NUP) and the university’s Global Humanities Initiative have launched the $5,000 Global Humanities Translation Prize for a translation-in-progress of a non-Western literary or scholarly text. Northwestern University Press will publish the winning manuscript.

The sponsors hope the prize will help promote important texts in non-Western traditions and languages, humanistic scholarship in infrequently translated languages, and underrepresented and experimental literary voices. “The press’s partnership with the Global Humanities Initiative is part of our long tradition of bringing exceptional translations of important works to an English-speaking audience,” said NUP director Jane Bunker. “We expect that this award will bring a renewed measure of academic prestige to the craft of translation itself.”

The prize is one of the few awards in the United States that offers book publication of a translation-in-progress. “Most prizes are for works that are already published, leaving the onus on translators to fund themselves until the work is done and then with no firm path to a publisher,” says JD Wilson, NUP’s director of marketing and sales. “We’re extremely proud to be partnering with a program that will fund translation in process.”

Translators may submit up to 25 pages of the proposed translation along with the corresponding original text; a proposal that describes or summarizes the work to be translated; a curriculum vitae; a timeline for completion; contact information for three references; the rights status of the previously published work; and a list of any competing editions from other publishers. Submissions must be sent via e-mail to ghi@northwestern.edu by August 1. The winner will be expected to complete the manuscript nine months after the prize is awarded. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established in 1893, Northwestern University Press is dedicated to publishing works of “scholarly and cultural value,” and has a long history of publishing translations of scholarly work, poetry, fiction, and drama. The Global Humanities Initiative, which was founded in Fall 2015, is committed to bringing much-needed attention to the “rich humanistic traditions of the non-West, but also to the relevance of those traditions for global development and public policy.”

A selection of translations published by Northwestern University Press.

Han Kang Wins Man Booker International Prize

South Korean author Han Kang has won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel The Vegetarian. The £50,000 prize, announced on Monday at a ceremony in London, will be split between the author and her translator, Deborah Smith. This is the first year that the prize was given for a single work of fiction, and was open to writers of any language whose books have been translated into English.

Han Kang beat out an impressive and diverse shortlist for the prize, which included Italian author Elena Ferrante for The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final volume of her Neapolitan Novels; José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola for A General Theory of Oblivion, which was written in Portuguese; Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk for A Strangeness in My Mind; Robert Seethaler of Austria for A Whole Life; and Yan Lianke of China for The Four Books.

The Vegetarian, Han’s first book to be translated into English, is a dark novel about a woman who stops eating meat and wants to become a tree. From the Man Booker International website: “Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.”

Han Kang is the author of two novels, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, both published in the UK by Portobello Books, in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Han was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at age ten. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. She currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.

British translator Deborah Smith began studying Korean in 2010. Her other translations include Kang’s second book, Human Acts, and Bae Suah’s The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul. Smith recently founded Tilted Axis Press, a nonprofit publishing house focused on translations from Asia and Africa.

The Man Booker International Prize was created in 2005 to highlight “one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.” Until this year, the award was given biennially to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or available widely in translation. The prize is now awarded annually for a single work of fiction, translated from any language into English and published in the UK.

Photo: Deborah Smith (left) and Han Kang (right) at the Man Booker International Prize ceremony in London. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Seventh Annual Poets & Writers' Connecting Cultures Reading in New York City

Jyothi Natarajan is an editor and writer based in New York City who has worked in publishing and journalism for the past ten years. She is now managing editor at the Asian American Writers' Workshop, where she edits the Margins and runs a fellowship for emerging writers. As someone invested in the intersection of writing, social justice, and education, she helps run IndyKids, a social justice-oriented newspaper written by youth ages nine to thirteen. 

The Poets & Writers' seventh annual Connecting Cultures Reading took place on April 27, 2016, before a generous audience at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Jack Arts, Inc., Kundiman/Adhikaar, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Union Square Slam, and Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon gathered to celebrate the diverse literary communities of New York City and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program.

When K Sloan, a singer-songwriter hailing from Detroit, opened the reading with a song, the audience fell into a stunned silence—her voice was just that powerful. "Down, down, down, bring it down," began the lyrics to "Ancestor Song," which Sloan wrote as part of Jack Arts, Inc.’s writing workshop Creating Dangerously. “I wrote these lyrics in response to a prompt asking us, ‘What would it look like to walk with your ancestors? What would you say to her?'” said Sloan. 

Joining K Sloan on stage was Sara Abdullah, an indigenous Arab/Iranian/Pin@y mestiza queer Muslima living the diasporic hustle, whose stunning poems were also generated from the Creating Dangerously workshop.

An experimental, performance-based writing workshop for women of color led by a rotating cadre of instructors including Virginia Grise and Kyla Searle, Creating Dangerously received support from Poets & Writers’ Readings and Workshops program, which has provided fees to writers who lead workshops that serve underrepresented audiences since Poets & Writers was founded in 1970. The Connecting Cultures Reading brought together writers who had participated in five such workshops. This year’s reading marked the first time Poets & Writers has featured work from multilingual workshops, bringing writers together with translators to help share immigrants’ stories, like Babita Chhetri.

Chhetri grew up in Darjeeling, India and had been doing childcare and housework for a family in Singapore for nearly a year when she decided she needed to escape from her employer’s exploitation and abuse. Underpaid and overworked, Chhetri did something most workers wouldn't have the strength or courage to do: She ran away from her employer. She had accompanied the family on a summer holiday in New York City and at the crack of dawn, Chhetri crept out of the building they were staying in, forced to leave her flip-flops behind.

"I felt everyone's eyes on me: here was a scared woman in wet pajamas, barefoot, carrying a small bag in her hand. Where could she be going?” Chhetri, who has been in the United States for the past nine years, read on stage from a letter she wrote in Nepali addressed to her daughter and son in Darjeeling. The audience was in tears. Her story was one of ten that were told through letters as part of a workshop called A Letter Home, organized by Kundiman and Adhikaar and led by writers Meera Nair and Muna Gurung.

Through the workshop, Nepali and Tibetan women expressed their experiences as domestic workers, immigrants, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Dolly Sharma joined Chhetri on stage to read her own letter, while the audience followed along with English translation printouts, all the while dabbing their eyes with tissues.

The night shifted from Nepali to Spanish when Adriana Mora, from Aguascalientes, México, and María Guaillazaca, who moved to New York from Ecuador nine years ago, read before the packed audience. Both women participated in a writing program organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance in which they wrote in Spanish, responding to the idea of home—whether it was where they feel at home, other people’s homes, or the experience of working in someone’s home.

Other highlights from the evening included poet Sam Rush, who began writing poems after developing progressive hearing loss. Rush, who has been a part of Union Square Slam’s writing workshops, read poems that played with their realization of how many words each word could be, leaving the crowd dizzy with the emotional heft of their wordplay. Also a part of Union Square Slam, poet, screenwriter, and essayist Taylor Steele stepped on stage and immediately moved the mic aside. Her slam poems filled the room and left goose bumps in their wake.

Closing the evening were two writers from the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS): Amber Atiya and Jacqueline Johnson. WWBPS, which is now celebrating its fifth anniversary, offers women writers of all levels space to create and share poetic work.

By the end of the evening the room felt much smaller. The stories and words shared so courageously gave even the audience members the strength to say hello to strangers, and share words with the writers who had moved them to tears.

Photo: (top) Readers from the Seventh Annual Poets & Writers' Connecting Cultures Reading. (middle) Dolly Sharma and Babita Chhetri. (bottom) Sam Rush. Photo credit: Alycia Kravitz.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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 & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Fund Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Ed Roberson Wins Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

The Poetry Foundation announced today that Ed Roberson has won the 2016 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual award of $100,000 honors the outstanding lifetime achievement of a living U.S. poet.

“In both language and in life (his studies have taken him to Alaska, South America, Africa and Bermuda), Ed Roberson is an explorer,” says Poetry magazine editor Don Share. “Working at a healthy remove from the precincts of professional critics and tastemakers, but admired deeply by them, Roberson’s ten books of poetry take readers, as they have taken the poet himself, to every corner of the vivid labyrinth of life.”

Based in Chicago, Roberson has written several poetry collections, most recently To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press, 2010). His experimental poetry is influenced by visual art, spirituals and the blues, as well as his extensive travels: Roberson has climbed mountains in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, explored the upper Amazon jungle, and motorcycled across the United States, amongst many other travels. He has received the Lila Wallace Writers’ Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Award, and the 2016 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly and sponsored by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, the Ruth Lilly Prize is one of the most prestigious American poetry awards and among the largest literary honors for English language works. Adrienne Rich won the inaugural award, and recent winners have included Alice Notley, Nathaniel Mackey, and Marie Ponsot.

At the Poetry Foundation website, listen to an audio recording of Ed Roberson discussing his work.

Photo credit: Anya Schultz for the Daily Californian.

Deadline Approaches for Little Bird Writing Contest

Submissions are currently open for the Little Bird Writing Prize,  given each spring for a short story. The winner will receive an award of $1,000 and publication in the annual short fiction anthology Little Bird Stories. A first and second runner-up will each receive $250, as well as publication in the anthology. Writer Lisa Moore will judge.
A bonus prize of free admission to contest founder Sarah Selecky’s Story Intensive, an online creating writing class featuring guest lectures from Margaret Atwood and George Saunders, will also be awarded to one entrant, chosen at random.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 2,500 words and a $25 application fee, which includes a subscription to Little Bird Stories, by May 27. The story must incorporate one of the daily writing prompts or “story dares” featured on the contest website. For example, the 2015 winning story, “Paradise,” by Neil Smith, used this prompt: “Write a scene that uses layers and layers of clichés intentionally.”

Now in its sixth year, the Little Bird Story Contest was founded by fiction writer and writing instructor Sarah Selecky to support “innovative and emerging fiction writers.” In addition to daily writing prompts and the Story Intensive, Selecky also offers an online fiction workshop, revision tutorials, and homework for writers. She publishes Little Bird Stories each year; a percentage of each subscription goes to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. For more information, visit the website or e-mail Selecky at support@sarahselecky.com.

Finding Our Voice After War

Mario Bonifacio writes short fiction. He served for ten years in the U.S. Army, both active and reserve, as a field artillery and cavalry officer, including a combat deployment to Iraq. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and has participated in the Voices From War writing workshop since 2014.

Back when war was a concept that only existed to me in history books or on the news, I wrote for myself—well, for myself and for the strangers who were out there, faceless, and felt things similar to me, even if they never read my work.

I chose active duty in the U.S. Army in 2003 and my writing slowed. Being trained for war, training a platoon for war and, eventually, war itself, all pulled my thoughts outward; reflections that could have once filled notebooks now remained on Texas shooting ranges and ambling desert roads in Iraq. The external world I’d chosen was dangerous and not to be taken lightly, but as I'd learn in the years that followed, so was ignoring the internal conflict that inevitably followed many of us home.

When I returned home from war, I focused on my professional reintegration, which was far from easy but a welcome distraction and enough to convince myself that I was happy—that to be walking and breathing was all I needed to be happy. To be anything but seemed a crime against the memory of those unlucky enough to have not made it back. But I knew enough to understand my happiness was worthy of distrust, like the way you feel when entering a rush hour subway car with what seems like too many available seats.

I joined the Voices From War workshop, sponsored by Poets & Writers, at first, to remain connected to other veterans, not yet convinced I wanted to write about my time serving or the issues I, and veteran friends, faced while readjusting. I obviously knew there was writing out there about the Iraq War, in addition to movies and other media, but I passively avoided it. The world beyond the military offered no shortage of lessons to learn, so why use my limited facilities to hear others speak about something I had already experienced firsthand? Much of it was pretty terrible anyway—inaccurate and exaggerated.

It was the other participants in Voices From War who convinced me that this wasn't a problem to be avoided, but rather one to be solved—a problem that would persist until we rose up to tell our version of the story. After all, no one but us had the memories to draw upon, to become the voices from the war in Iraq.

After completing my first few works and participating in my first readings, both in conjunction with the workshop, I was able for the first time to see those faceless readers I'd once imagined—people who might never have heard a war story directly from the source, people who feel they don't have a voice, and people I served alongside who, for many reasons, cannot tell their own stories.

In the most literal sense, our story doesn't exist unless we write it down. And I very much want our stories to exist.

Photos: (top) Mario Bonifacio. Photo credit: Christina Garofalo. (bottom) Voices From War workshop participants. Photo credit: Kara Frye Krauze.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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 & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Fund Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.