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Call Me Ishmael is an innovative, multi-platform project founded by Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent, and featured in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Readers can call a phone number, leave a message relaying a story of how a particular book has been life-changing, and visitors to a website can access over a thousand of these recorded stories. Write a personal essay you might want to record about a book that has changed your life in a small or big way. What was it about this book that impacted or inspired you? What was unique about your reading experience that you would wish to pass on to others?

Sometimes the gifts we receive may seem plain or simple at first—another book, bag, pair of pants, or electronic gadget—but end up changing our lives in unexpected ways. Write a short story in which your main character receives a gift that he is unimpressed with, but that turns out to be more than meets the eye. Does using the gift result in a domino effect of unforeseen consequences? Is something surprising revealed about the gift giver?

Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich has said, “I love how humans talk...I love the lone human voice. It is my greatest love and passion.” Write a series of short poems each written in the voice of a distinct first-person speaker using casual spoken language. You might try loosely connecting the poems by having the voices in dialogue with one another, or by using recurring themes or repeated phrases. Emphasize the uniqueness of each voice with different perspectives, speech tics, slang, and tone.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has announced the thirty-seven recipients of its 2016 Creative Writing Fellowships in prose. Each of the fellows will receive twenty-five thousand dollars for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement.

This year’s recipients are:

Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Dean Bakopoulos
Bill Cheng
Diane Cook
Lucy Corin
Michael Croley
Meghan Daum
Peter Ho Davies
Jack Driscoll
Jerry Gabriel
Kaitlyn Greenidge
Rav Grewal-Kök
Paul Harding
Jamey Hatley
Kevin Haworth
Nellie Hermann
Vedran Husić
Laleh Khadivi
R. O. Kwon
Joy Ladin
Éireann Lorsung
Anthony Marra
Monica McFawn
David Philip Mullins
Lenore Myka
Dina Nayeri
Celeste Ng
Téa Obreht
Mehdi Tavana Okasi
Leslie Parry
Joseph Rathgeber
Amy Rowland
Alison Stine
Aaron Thier
Samrat Upadhyay
Melissa Yancy
Mario Alberto Zambrano

The annual grants are given to emerging and established writers and alternate between poetry and prose.

“Since its inception, the creative writing fellowship program has awarded more than forty-five million dollars to a diverse group of more than three thousand writers, many of them emerging writers at the start of their careers,” said Amy Stolls, the NEA’s director of literature programs. “These thirty-seven extraordinary new fellows provide more evidence of the NEA’s track record of discovering and supporting excellent writers.”

A group of twenty-three readers and panelists chose the recipients from 1,763 applications. The 2017 fellowships will be given in poetry; the application deadline is March 9.

 

Poet Barbara March with her husband, Ray A. March, founded the Modoc Forum and Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference ten years ago. She holds a BA in English Literature. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Yemassee, Mudlark, Berkeley Poetry Review, Orion, Denver Quarterly, and other journals and publications. She is a member of the Northern California Book Reviewers and serves on the poetry judging committee for the Northern California Book Awards. March administers Poetry Out Loud in rural counties of northeastern California, publishes an annual student poetry publication, and is an advocate for student poetry in remote communities. She lives in Cedarville, California. 

Barbara MarchWhat makes your programs unique?
Each September writers come to the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference for the clean air and open vistas, for the gold spires of poplar trees, the natural hot springs, the scent of sage on the evening air. The total population of Cedarville, the valley’s largest village, is five hundred. This is not hyperbole. There is no shopping and little Wi-Fi in this corner of northeastern California where the nearest stoplight is hours away.

The Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference strives to create an event unique in its intimacy, camaraderie, and intense focus on craft. Workshop leaders and students share hikes, dinners, and seats around the campfire. William O’Daly, preeminent translator of Pablo Neruda and frequent workshop leader says, “Bar none, the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference can’t be beat for intimacy.”

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
One of the missions of the Modoc Forum, the nonprofit sponsor of the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference, is to share the culture and geography of our corner of the West through literature, the arts, and education. This year’s conference featured field trips conducted by internationally-known geologist Eldridge Moores, who was featured in John McPhee’s seminal book Assembling California (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994). Moores and his wife, Judy, led writers on field trips to sites such as the natural sand stone formation “hoo-doos,” to volcanic “dikes,” to the site of a recent mud volcano. At each location Judy Moores shared her poetry with the group.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted? 
One of our regular conference attendees is poet Sal Martinez, a member of the Pomo tribe. Sal comes from Manchester, California, where he is currently working to restore the native Pomo name to the Garcia River. At our final dinner this year, I asked Sal if he would lead the group in the native “Grass Game,” a traditional gambling game. He went outside the church hall, found sticks and carved them into game pieces, then told everyone to move their chairs into two lines facing each other. Sal demonstrated the game and writers, urban and rural, joined in. 

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?Grass Game
I owe the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference a huge debt for introducing me to poets and writers who have encouraged me in poetry. Without their support I would not be publishing poems in national journals, including a series of poems about wild horses that were published last year in Mudlark, an electronic journal of poetry and poetics. My work in poetry continues on thanks to not only the workshop leaders who are now my friends and colleagues, but to the hundreds of poets and writers who’ve attended the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference over the past ten years.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Surprise Valley is isolated from the rest of the world, which we refer to as “down below.” The Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference and Modoc Forum have introduced our community to the greater world of literature and writers with activities, such as a photo exhibit inspired by John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, storytelling sessions, and by attending the conference at a “locals only” rate. In addition, the Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference, through the Modoc Forum, administers and sponsors Poetry Out Loud in Modoc County schools each year. A student poetry publication called Early Season comes out each April and there are student poetry slams. The value of literary programs in our community came home to me last spring when a sixth-grade boy, fresh from baseball practice, took the stage at the student poetry slam at the Niles Hotel, flipped open his phone and read William Blake’s “The Tyger.”

Photos: (top) Barbara March, (bottom) Playing the Grass Game at the 2015 Surprise Valley Writers' Conference. Photo credit: Ray A. March.

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

BuzzFeed has announced its four inaugural Emerging Writers Fellows: Chaya Babu, Tomi Obaro, Niela Orr, and Esther Wang. The fellows will each receive twelve thousand dollars, as well as mentorship from BuzzFeed editorial staff over the course of four months.

Chaya Babu is a New York City–based writer whose work focuses on race, migration, gender, and sexuality. She is working on a novel, and was the Asian American Writers’ Workshop 2015 Open City Fellow.

Tomi Obaro is a writer based in Chicago; she is an assistant editor at Chicago Magazine.

Neila Orr is a Philadelphia-based writer who is working on a book about the convergence of black pop culture and visual art.

Esther Wang is a writer based in New York City; she was the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City Creative Nonfiction Fellow in 2013.

The applicants were chosen from more than five hundred applications, said Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture. “With each of these writers their work reintroduces you to what you thought you knew,” Jones told Paper. “When I go back to the work that all of these fellows are doing, that’s part of it—where a writer can point to an aspect of culture that you already recognize and then make a new constellation [out of all this information]. Like even if you’re aware of one of the stars that they’re mentioning, they talk about this, and this, and this, and all of a sudden you’re like “whoa” and your perspective is changed. That to me is the epitome of great culture writing.”

The fellows will begin at the BuzzFeed offices in New York City in January, and will focus on writing personal essays, profiles, and cultural criticism for the media company.

To learn more about the program, read Jones’s Q&A with Cat Richardson in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine

Photos (from left to right): Babu, Obaro, Orr, and Wang

The holiday season often means traveling short or long distances to spend time with family and friends. You might find yourself in a car, bus, train, subway, plane, or perhaps even a combination of several modes of transportation. Write a personal essay about an experience you’ve had while in transit during the holidays. Were there particular memories that surfaced as you looked out a bus window at the passing scenery? Did an unexpectedly funny or fascinating conversation take place with others who happened to be riding with you?

In Antarctica’s winter season, which takes place from late February through September, temperatures can reach one hundred degrees below zero Fahrenheit. There are about four months of complete darkness and the population typically shrinks to approximately one-fifth of its summer population size. Write a short story with the backdrop of an Antarctic winter. What unexpected circumstances might arise by being stuck indoors without sunlight with the same group of people for months in cramped quarters? What thoughts, occurrences, and behavior might be unique to the experience of living in such an extreme environment?

This week, write a pantoum, a modern verse form adapted from traditional Malaysian folk poetry that uses repeated lines throughout a series of quatrains. How does the repetition of words influence the mood or pacing of your poem? Allow the repeated phrases to take on different meanings as the contexts shift throughout the piece. Refer to the Academy of American Poets website for details and examples of pantoums.

Submissions are open for the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. A prize of $10,000 and publication by Restless Books will be given annually for a book of prose by a first-generation resident of the United States. The prize will alternate between fiction and nonfiction; the 2015 prize will be given in fiction.

Writers who were born in another country and have relocated to the United States, as well as American-born residents whose parents were born in another country are eligible. Writers who have not published a full-length book of fiction with a U.S. publisher are eligible. Using the online submission system, submit a fiction manuscript of at least 45,000 words with a curriculum vitae by December 31. There is no entry fee.

The winners will be announced in May 2016. Restless Books will also publish the work of five finalists as a digital chapbook. Maaza Mengiste, Javier Molea, and Ilan Stavans will judge.

“We are looking for extraordinary unpublished submissions from emerging writers of sharp, culture-straddling writing that addresses American identity in a global age,” said Restless Books publisher Ilan Stavans, who is an immigrant from Mexico and an expert on Latino literature. “In novels, short stories, memoirs, and works of journalism, immigrants have shown us what resilience and family devotion we’re capable of, and have expanded our sense of what it means to be American. In these times of intense xenophobia, it is more important than ever that these stories reach the broadest possible audience.”

Established in 2013, the Brooklyn, New York–based Restless Books is committed to publishing international literature that “reflects the restlessness of our multiform lives.” Recent and forthcoming titles include Alfred MacAdam’s translation from the Spanish of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s novel Where the Bird Sings Best, Tim Wilkinson’s translation from the Hungarian of Györgo Spiró’s novel Captivity, and Githa Hariharan’s essay collection Almost Home: Finding a Place in the World From Kashmir to New York.

Jynne Dilling Martin’s poetry has appeared in Grantathe New York Review of Booksthe Believer, Slate, Ploughsharesthe Boston Review, and on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, among other places. Her nonfiction has appeared in Glamour, Food & Wine, and the Antarctic Sun. She was a Yaddo fellow and the National Science Foundation’s 2013 Antarctica Writer in Residence. Martin lives in New York City and is the associate publisher of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She is the author of the poetry collection, We Mammals in Hospitable Times, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in February 2015.

What do you do to get inspired? I read peculiar ephemera, old journals, and catalogues. The series on deaths in U.S. national parks is up next on my list!

What are your reading dos? I’m a big fan of readings that are short on reading and long on conversation. Anyone who has attended a David Mitchell reading knows already that the most delightful parts are the very long digressions, jokes, and personal revelations that he inserts at random while reading to you. It feels like you’re having a slumber party with a very dear friend. I aspire to that level of connection, surprise, and warmth.

…and your reading don’ts?  Don’t arrive drunk. Don’t arrive sober either. Don’t forget to bring your book, it’s not fun watching people awkwardly read off of their phone, and seems to happen more and more often. Don’t apologize. Don’t turn as bright red as I do. And don’t forget to thank everyone, like the Roerich Museum and Poets & Writers and your introducer by name, who offered this lovely opportunity.

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been part of? I’m honored to have read jointly with Phil Klay at one of the first readings he ever gave, when his story “Redeployment” was in a 2011 issue of Granta, alongside one of my poems. He blew me, and all of BookCourt, out of the water. I feel lucky that I got to know his work so early, and it’s been a joy to watch him find such an enormous readership in the years since.

How does giving a reading inform your writing and vice versa? Writing is such a solitary act, so the few readings I do each year constitute the rare times I am forced out of my shell and into direct engagement with readers about my poems. It’s so meaningful to find that there is a thoughtful, receptive, interested readership for poetry out there.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community? To engage with literature is an enormously empathic act, the act of inhabiting the emotional landscape and values of another; and right now, it feels more urgent than ever to have our horizons broadened, and to better understand each other on this planet. I am so grateful for institutions like Poets & Writers that nurture and sustain a community of expression, connection, and literary community.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on: A month of lattes from Hungry Ghost.

Photo: Jynne Dilling Martin. Photo Credit: Adrian Kinloch

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 Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Sometimes the food we disliked as children—spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, raw fish, dark chocolate—we end up finding a taste for later in life. Or we end up getting tired or bored eating the same family dishes over and over, only to discover that, years later, we want to re-create them ourselves when we are in search of feel-good comfort food. Think of a specific dish or food that you used to hate but now love, or vice versa, and write a short essay about how your perceptions of it evolved over time. Describe the physical location, the atmosphere, and the people that you associate with the food, and how those elements might have changed. What do you remember about your emotional state when you ate this dish long ago? What aspects of this specific food induce your sense of nostalgia? How might your change in taste reflect other aspects of your life that have also been transformed?

In many of Shakespeare's comedies, twists and turns in the story arc are caused by cases of mistaken identity. For example, in Twelfth Night, a young shipwrecked woman dresses up and pretends to be a young man in order to get a job; in As You Like It, the daughter of a duke disguises herself as a poor shepherdess; and in Measure for Measure, a duke impersonates a friar in order to spy and play tricks. Write a short story that starts with a scene in which your main character interacts with another character while in disguise. What does your character hope to gain by taking on this new persona? How must the character transform—both physically and emotionally? What are the limitations or pitfalls of the disguise? Conversely, are there doors that might now be open to this new identity that were closed before?

Kathy Wilson’s background includes many years in the theater both as an actor and teacher. She attended Marymount Manhattan College, earning a degree in Communication Arts, and has taught numerous writing courses at MMC for both Continuing Education and the Center for Learning and Living. Active in the P&W-supported writing workshop at the Goddard Riverside Community Center for over a decade, she published a chapbook, and has read many of her essays for the Poets & Writers annual Intergenerational Reading events held at Barnes and Noble in Union Square. The International Library of Poetry’s 2007 collection published one of her poems “Congito Ergo Sum: I Think Therefore I Am” and her memoir, Out of the Rabbit Hole, was published by Fulton Books in September 2015. Wilson has lived on the Upper West Side in New York City all of her adult life.

Writing had always been a dream put on the back burner. It wasn’t until I was downsized from my full-time job in 2001 that I was able to join the senior writing workshop, funded by Poets & Writers, at the Goddard Riverside Community Center. Finally, I could focus on writing, in what was a noncompetitive and supportive atmosphere. I could write openly with trust and develop my own voice.

The seed of my memoir began with a writing prompt, given in class by our talented and intuitive teacher Veronica Golos: “Write about your earliest secret.’’ I wrote about the guilt I remembered having at three years old when I threatened to drown my beloved toy bear “Poochie” because he would not speak to me. My mother told me he would, if I was a good girl. “Poochie,” was selected to be read at the workshop’s annual reading, after which it was submitted and chosen for the Poets & Writers’ Intergenerational anthology Where I’m From. I became aware that I had a real gift for storytelling and I had quite a story to tell.

Elena Alexander, an accomplished poet, became our second instructor at the Goddard Riverside Community Center. Her dedication and talent guided our group through publishing our own individual chapbooks. This generated even more motivation for me to continue writing my memoir, written from a child's point of view, about how she survives an environment of alcoholism and violence.

When my memoir, Out of the Rabbit Hole, was completed I wondered, now what? At my age I did not want to go the agent route with months or years of submitting to literary agents. I began researching various self-publishers with much hesitation, many were trying to “sell’’ their company, plus reviews from authors that used them were very mixed. Through Poets & Writers, I was recommended to Deborah Englander, experienced editor and writer, and contributor to the Savvy Self-Publisher, a column on self-publishing in Poets & Writers Magazine. Deborah was informative and very clear about what I should expect when choosing a publisher and helped me to firm up my commitment to self-publishing. Armed with her expert advice and through more research, I chose Fulton Books. A tremendous feeling of accomplishment surged through me when I held my book for the first time. As a senior, it no longer seems the winter of my life, but a new beginning, I am an author!

I am excited and take great pride in the positive response I have received about Out of the Rabbit Hole. One review states: “Beautifully written, poignant, sensitive, and with attention to detail, it evokes the sight, smells and sounds of the 1940s and 1950s.”

Currently, I am still a member of the Goddard Riverside writing workshop, where I continue to develop my writing skills, and where I have made many close friendships over the years. It is an inspiring and multitalented group.

Writing is no longer on the back burner. It’s time to start another book, in this newly acquired springtime of my life.

Photos: (Top) Kathy Wilson. Photo Credit: Christina Freudenthal, (Bottom) Goddard Riverside Writing Class. Photo Credit: Walter Grutchfield

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 Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Muggle, Heffalump, Chortle, Chintzy. From Sir Thomas More (utopia) to Robert A. Heinlein (grok) to J. K. Rowling (quidditch), writers throughout history have created new words to describe the invented worlds in their books. Sometimes these neologisms are names of made-up places, feelings, or actions, but sometimes the meaning is more mysterious and ambiguous. Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" appears in the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as part of a dream. Although it is full of nonsense words, the poem itself follows conventional syntax and structures. Invent your own word and designate it as the name of a newly imagined place or feeling. Write a poem inspired by this new word, combining vivid imagery and specific sounds and rhythms, with familiar elements, to evoke the sensations of a completely new and invented—or inverted—universe.

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