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Fiction writer Ann Pancake has received the inaugural Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and Community Fellowship. As part of the fellowship, Pancake will spend several weeks in residence at the Ala Kukui retreat in Hana, Hawaii. She will also participate in outreach events and present a public talk on the contemporary writer’s social responsibility at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu.

Sponsored by the Manoa Foundation of Honolulu, the annual fellowship was established by Frank Stewart and Debra Gwartney to honor the seventieth birthday of acclaimed writer and naturalist Barry Lopez, who is the author of fourteen books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the short story collection Outside (Trinity University Press, 2014). The fellowship is given to a writer whose work “contributes to an awareness of the civic and ethical obligation of artists; that helps us understand, through storytelling, that the survival of a human world depends upon a commitment to integrity, empathy, and compassionate reconciliation; and inspires us to take social responsibility for the perils, which we have created ourselves, to the human and non-human world.”

Fellows are nominated and chosen by a committee of editors and writers. This year’s judges were Barry Lopez, Debra Gwartney, Jane Hirshfield, Pico Iyer, and Frank Stewart.

Ann Pancake has written several novels and short story collections, most recently Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley (Counterpoint Press, 2015). She lives in Seattle and teaches at the low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.

Watch Barry Lopez give a keynote address at Poets & Writers Live in Portland, Oregon, last fall.

While some people vow not to make any resolutions for the New Year, others are busy drawing up fresh goals—often involving self-improvement measures such as diet and exercise regimens; reading more; picking up a new language or hobby; or improving a financial situation. For 2016, turn your gaze outward and write a list of three resolutions, each focused on a different person in your life. It may be a close friend or family member, or someone you come into contact with on a daily basis but with whom you are only superficially acquainted—a neighbor, coworker, mail carrier, or coffee-shop barista. Write a trio of short essays in which you imagine what you can add to your encounters with each person in the coming year to invigorate your interactions. Predict how small gestures can potentially propel you into a dynamic new direction.

"A love story can never be about full possession.... Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart," writes Jeffrey Eugenides in his introduction to the anthology My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, From Chekhov to Munro (Harper, 2008). "Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name." Write a short story that gives love a "bad name," first plotting the blossoming and struggle of a relationship in your story arc, and then its ultimate dissolution. What's the primary obstacle for your characters? Are your lovers hindered by geographic distance, opposing political viewpoints, or financial woes? Does the tale involve online dating and mistaken identity? Or is it finally the characters' own emotional histories that provide the biggest conflict? Perhaps at love's peak your characters will catch a hopeful glimpse of "full possession."

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced the finalists for its 2015 awards yesterday. Poets Terrance Hayes and Ada Limón, fiction writers Lauren Groff and Anthony Marra, and nonfiction writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maggie Nelson are among the thirty finalists. The annual awards are given in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, criticism, autobiography, and biography.

The poetry finalists are Ross Gay for Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press), Terrance Hayes for How to Be Drawn (Penguin), Ada Limón for Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions), Sinéad Morrissey for Parallax: And Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and the late Frank Stanford for What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford (Copper Canyon Press).

The fiction finalists are Paul Beatty for The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Lauren Groff for Fates and Furies (Riverhead), Valeria Luiselli for The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press), Anthony Marra for The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth), and Ottessa Moshfegh for Eileen (Penguin Press).

The autobiography finalists are Elizabeth Alexander for The Light of the World (Grand Central Publishing), Vivian Gornick for The Odd Woman and the City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), George Hodgman for Bettyville (Viking), Margo Jefferson for Negroland (Pantheon), and Helen Macdonald for H Is for Hawk (Grove Press).

Other finalists include Ta-Nehisi Coates for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau) and Maggie Nelson for The Argonauts (Graywolf Press) for the criticism prize. Farrar, Straus and Giroux led the field with five of its titles nominated for awards. Small presses with titles up for awards include Graywolf Press, Copper Canyon Press, Coffee House Press, and Milkweed Editions.

The NBCC also announced that Kirstin Valdez Quade is the recipient of the John Leonard Prize for her debut story collection, Night at the Fiestas (Norton). Carlos Lozada, an associate editor and nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and writer Wendell Berry will receive the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

First given in 1975, the National Book Critics Circle awards are nominated and selected by the NBCC board of directors, which is made up of twenty-four critics and editors. The 2014 winners included Claudia Rankine in poetry for Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press), Marilynne Robinson in fiction for Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Roz Chast in autobiography for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury). This year’s winners will be announced on March 17 at the New School in New York City.

Clockwise from top left: Hayes (MacArthur Foundation), Limón (Sarah Shatz), Groff (Megan Brown), Nelson (Harry Dodge), Coates (Liz Lynch), Marra

TC Tolbert often identifies as a trans and genderqueer feminist, collaborator, dancer, and poet but really s/he’s just a human in love with humans doing human things. The author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press 2014) and three chapbooks, Tolbert also coedited (with Trace Peterson) the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books 2013). His favorite thing in the world is Compositional Improvisation (which is another way of saying being alive).

The Courting Risk reading series annually presents the work of emerging writers working in multiple modes and art forms—from drama and music to visual art, film, and new media. The particular focus is on work that engages with difficult subject matter, writers who are LGBTIQ, women writers, and writers of color. The series has been proud to showcase many writers in the early stages of brilliant careers, and to present a lively, moving and engaging multi-genre performance for audiences.

Courting Risk Group SelfieDear reader,

My job was to describe the incredible time we had back in April at Casa Libre in Tucson, Arizona. Khadijah Queen was visiting—she had curated a Courting Risk reading and there were six of us sharing the bill. The evening was wonderful. It was well attended and it brought folks to Casa Libre we’d never met before. The readers read new work and experimented with old work. It brought people together in the midst of uncertainty. Fear and joy were shared. In other words, it did exactly what the best poetry events will do. 

I’m failing at my job already because I absolutely suck at narrative. Maybe that’s related to my trans-ness. The body did one thing; the voice did another. We keep changing. I trust it’s not the summary that matters. Let’s begin again. And again. I wrote an essay after that evening. I’d like to share it now. Enacting the principle of Courting Risk.

—TC Tolbert

"The sound of snow letting go/What are mountains"

I remember sitting at Bentley’s with my mom and my girlfriend. It was my mom’s first visit to Tucson. I hadn’t started testosterone yet, but I was wearing a compression shirt and consistently being referred to as “he.” I’m still a little bit suspicious when things are easy or good. I didn’t understand why she no longer seemed angry with me. When I say I want to be a nurse, what I really mean is that I want to live closer to mystery. I think (too much) about security but I don’t actually care about a career. The other day I woke up at 3:00 AM because a jackrabbit landed on me.

For a long time after rolling a friend over to discover that what was supposed to be her face had been replaced by a mess of blood and dirt and swollen skin, I asked every health care provider I could find if the human body is more fragile or more resilient than it seems. Last week, B took his shirt off in the snow and I couldn’t help staring at his little man-belly. A day later, an avalanche covered where we were standing, and we were all sunburnt. Lidia Yuknavitch says: The body is the ultimate container for the disparate. I didn’t know I could love J, K, or B because I thought I knew them already. The only moments that matter to me are when I realize I don’t actually know anything.

I’m a little freaked out about my climbing assessment tomorrow. But academia has felt so sad lately. Which is another way of saying wasteful. I keep buying apples and then eating the meals provided for us here on base. Psychotherapy taught me that I need people. But M says it’s not an “evidence-based practice.” I'm terrified of substituting efficiency for effectiveness. Every time I realize how accustomed I am to approximation, I can’t decide if that’s surrender or despair. Actually, I don’t have to climb anything. I just need to be able to identify good anchors. And I need to manage some risks while avoiding others. And I need to inspire at least a little bit of confidence. And I need to know how to rescue someone on a releasable rappel. TC Tolbert

My mom (hell, my entire family back in Tennessee) is religious. Pentecostal. I’ve spoken in tongues before. The tension over me coming out as queer and then trans had been there for years. She said she’d been praying for God to change me for as long as she could remember. Then she said: I found a new prayer. (All the doctors said the answer is “more resilient.”) She asked God to change her. As it turns out, no amount of insurance will actually keep you safe. I’ll buy it because I tend to follow directions but my only real comfort is this.

Photos (top: left-right): TC Tolbert, Kristen Nelson, Shelly Taylor, Bill Wetzel, Amy Lukau, Khadijah Queen. Photo credit: TC Tolbert; (bottom): TC Tolbert. Photo credit: Mamta Popat

Support for Readings & Workshops events 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.

On February 2, according to popular folklore, a groundhog that emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow signifies six more weeks of winter; if it's cloudy and no shadow is present, spring will arrive early. Other animals, too, are said to exhibit weather-forecasting attributes: sneezing cats, fat rabbits, and howling wolves, for example. Write a poem based on one of these legends, perhaps experimenting with an unexpected point of view, such as having the speaker of the poem be the animal, or an onlooker who is completely unfamiliar with the myth behind it. What textures, sights, and sounds would be unique to the occurrence? Explore the emotional resonances and psychological underpinnings of superstitions and folklore.

“I didn’t want to write a biography…. But I fell in love.” Terese Svoboda writes about her experience working on a biography of poet Lola Ridge in “The Art of Biography: Falling In and Out of Love” in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Who would you choose if your next project was a biography of a historical figure? Write an essay about the personal traits or accomplishments that draw you to this person, and explore the ways in which your fascination with him or her may reveal insights about your own character.

The importance of knowing one’s characters is well understood and near axiomatic for fiction writers. However, sometimes we think of this mostly as preparatory work done at the start of a story or novel and not for what it is: an ongoing process. One of the pleasures of writing fiction is seeing the way our characters develop and surprise us as the story evolves and works to make its meaning. For this exercise, pick a character who appears in a story or novel currently in progress. Write a letter to yourself in the voice of that character in which he or she reveals something to you that you didn’t know before. 

This week’s fiction prompt comes from Andrew Malan Milward, author of I Was a Revolutionary (Harper, 2015). Read Milward’s installment of Writers Recommend for more inspiration. 

The finalists for the 2016 Story Prize have been announced. The author of the winning short story collection will receive $20,000, and the two runners-up will receive $5,000. This year, the Story Prize judges selected three finalists from a hundred submissions, representing sixty-four different publishers and imprints. The finalists are:

Charles Baxter is the author of five previous short story collections, and is a winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story. He has also published five novels. He lives in Minneapolis.

Colum McCann is the author of two previous short story collections, as well as six previous novels. He has won the National Book Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, among others. He lives in New York City.

Adam Johnson’s story collection Fortune Smiles won the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction. His novel The Orphan Master’s Son won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the California Book Award. He lives in San Francisco.

Now in its twelfth year, the Story Prize was established in 2004 by Larry Dark and Julie Lindsey to honor collections of short fiction, and to attract more attention to the form. Each year Dark and Lindsey select the finalists, and a panel of authors select the winner. Anthony Doerr, Rita Meade, and Kathryn Schulz will be this year’s final judges. Elizabeth McCracken took last year’s prize for her collection Thunderstruck. The 2016 winner will be announced on Wednesday, March 2, at an award ceremony at the New School in New York City. Visit the Story Prize website for more information.

As forms of creative expression, music and poetry share similarities in the usage of sound and rhythm to generate emotional resonance. Musicians and poets have often expressed their mutual admiration, and even collaborated with each other. Read the poem “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?,” from Tracy K. Smith’s collection Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011), with its many references to David Bowie, or watch an animation of Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart” read by Tom Waits. Then write a poem of your own inspired by the mood or themes of a favorite musician or song.

Joseph Langdon was born and raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He earned his BA in English from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). He has worked as a newspaper reporter, features writer, and columnist. During the 2010 election cycle, he served as a communications director and speechwriter on a U.S. Senate campaign. His work has appeared in the anthology Lost and Found in Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2014) and the handmade zine the Salted Lash. He is currently the assistant director of the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at UNLV and managing editor of Witness.

I was at work when I got a call from Bonnie Rose Marcus at Poets & Writers. This wasn’t really out of the ordinary; I work at a literary institute so I assumed it was an advertising call. It took me a moment to realize she was calling for Joseph Langdon, individual—nay, writer—not Joseph Langdon, office functionary. And she was calling to tell me that I—Joseph Langdon, writer—had won the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. I was speechless. Because I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t submit to anything. Not yet. Not ready. In fact, I’d just been insisting on that point to a friend who was prodding me to send out work. I wondered: Could they have submitted something on my behalf?

And then I noticed the date: April 1. Well, well. I didn’t know who this “Bonnie Rose Marcus” from “Poets & Writers” really was, but this was a bit beyond the pale for an April Fools’ Day joke—and I was just about to say so when it clicked. Of course! I suddenly remembered all about the prize. It was open to Nevada that year only, so I decided to suck it up and submit. Then I blocked it out of my mind. After all, I never figured I might win the thing.

As it turns out, Bonnie is indeed a real person, and a tremendous guide to New York and the publishing world. Each morning, I partook of the Library Hotel breakfast spread (and their glorious espresso machine), joined my compatriot and poet extraordinaire Rosemary Powers, and met Bonnie downstairs. Then I went into duckling mode—pattering after them all over Manhattan. I have some familiarity with New York, but most of the time I had no idea where I was. This is my preferred mode of travel—especially when the destinations are renowned publishing houses and storied agencies: Ecco/Harper Collins, the Wylie Agency, Sterling Lord Literistic. The literary grande dame Gloria Loomis welcomed us into her super awesome, super Manhattan home office. I wish I’d been shameless enough to take photos at every stop. Each office looked like it was in a competition for the most books per square inch. (Hard to call a winner, but Wylie gets bonus points for throwing a framed Andy Warhol wig into the mix.)

We ate at the Algonquin Hotel with folks from W.W. Norton and Riverhead Books. We met editors from incredible journals like Tin House and the Paris Review. We toured the lovely Poets House and looked out over the Hudson. I can’t name everyone we got to meet, but let me put it to you this way: We brunched with Jonathan Galassi. We are that cool. And we owe it all to everyone who was so generous with their time and attention, to Bonnie and the great folks at Poets & Writers, and to Maureen Egen, whom we joined for a fantastic meal.

The capstone was a reading at the beautiful McNally Jackson bookstore, where Rosemary and I had the honor of being introduced by the contest judges, Aracelis Girmay and Marie Myung-Ok Lee. The novelist Will Chancellor was cool enough to drop by as well, and give me valuable feedback on my work. (You should totally pick up Will’s A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall if you have an interest in any of the following: Homer, conceptual art, lit theory, water polo.)

It’s easy to have a cynical view of the New York publishing world: an image of literary imprints subsumed and assimilated by the Big Houses, of editors and agents co-opted by the need to move units. Instead, we met book lovers. Readers and writers who want nothing more than to find the next great book and to help bring it into being. It seems to be a warmer world than you might expect. I hope to find a little place in it. If I don’t, I’ll always have this amazing experience; if I do, I’ll owe a great deal to it.

Photos: (top) Joseph Langdon, (middle) Will Chancellor, Joseph Langdon, (bottom) Aracelis Girmay, Rosemary Powers, Mary Myung-Ok Lee, Joseph Langdon. Photo credit: Margarita Corporan.

This award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors, and retired Deputy Chairman and Publisher of Hachette Book Group, USA.

Banded Woolly Bear caterpillars that live in the Arctic have such short feeding periods that they cycle through several years of freezing solid in the winter where their bodies produce a natural antifreeze substance that thaws in the spring. They feed in the summer and then emerge as moths. Write an essay in which you examine your own basic seasonal rituals, such as winter reading or spring cleaning. How do they relate to your survival skills? Have your habits adapted to fit your needs and goals?

The popular saying “you can’t go home again” refers to the difficulty of matching a confrontation of one’s childhood and home as an adult with the version that exists in nostalgia-tinged memories. This week, write a scene in which your main character has attempted to “go home again” and is in for a rude awakening. What expectations and memories did she have before arriving home? Do the shortcomings of home reveal something about her personality and identity?

Tamar Samuel-Siegel is the programs and outreach manager at the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes in Corning, New York. She received her BA in Creative Writing from SUNY Purchase in 2004 and has since worked and studied abroad, developed and delivered storytelling and ESL programming as an AmeriCorps service member, and, in addition to other public arts programming, carried out two poetry collaborative projects in her current position. Both were funded, and therefore made possible, by Poets & Writers.

As though it were a regular potluck arranged among intimates—that is how we begin to think of this new series of poetry readings called POETS in PLAY. In our rural community where a poetry reading might bring participants from an hour down the road, a reading is not a reading alone but, as my friend and fellow poet Mary sweetly names it, a gathering, a place for community.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, our second reader in the series, Bart White, arrives in town from Rochester, about two and a half hours from Corning. He brings his own camera. After Bart reads, he takes a first row seat for the inspired open mic that follows. A featured element of the series, the inspired open mic asks readers to respond to a prompt provided by the poet. As readers speak in some way to Bart's line, "I want it back, morning with miles to walk..." the room draws more closely around us.

We are, in fact, gathered: gathered by the images spoken to us by the featured poet, gathered by the resonance of his prompt line, gathered in sharing the ways in which experience and language marry in the unique cadences of our voices. But once the second portion of the evening closes, nearly every person in the room showing up to the mic a poet, Bart gathers us once more in a way that I have never seen a poet do at any other reading I have attended. He gathers us—familiars and strangers—for a family photo.

Each poetry reading—even those bound within a series—has its own timbre. Some poets tell stories, as Bart did, from a place of such emotional immediacy that the room builds a silence on which the emotion may ebb. Others present cerebral motifs, revealing the chaotic turning mechanics of their thoughts—a production that leads to the simplest of surprises—a familiar feeling, a reflection of such precise incisiveness it cauterizes as it cuts.

What excites me, however, about this particular series POETS in PLAY is that the inspired open mic asks both the featured poet and the audience to take a step closer to one another—not only to hear one another’s lines, but to meaningfully, to intentionally, interpret them as related.

Here we are: stepping in.

For more on POETS in PLAY, visit the website.

Photo: Group shot at Bart White reading. Photo credit: Beth Bentley.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

The end of the year is often accompanied by the practice of looking back at the previous twelve months and drawing up “Best of” lists: best moments, best books, best songs. As the new year kicks off, browse through some 2015 lists and jot down words, phrases, and notes about the themes in popular songs and books. Then write a poem that encapsulates the spirit of the music and literature recognized in 2015.

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