Poets & Writers Blogs

Short Story Essentials: Tapping Into the Power of Scene

Allison Alsup’s short fiction has been published in multiple journals and won multiple awards including those from A Room of Her Own Foundation, New Millennium Writings, Philadelphia Stories, and most recently, the Dana Awards. Her short story “Old Houses” appears in the 2014 O’Henry Prize Stories and has since been included in two textbooks from Bedford/St. Martin’s: Arguing About Literature: A Guide and Reader and Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Alsup received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and is the recipient of artist residencies from the Aspen Writers Foundation and the Jentel Foundation. In 2017, she and several colleagues launched the New Orleans Writers Workshop, through which she currently teaches community-based creative writing workshops.

I’ve taught writing for most of my adult life, but community classes, particularly fiction workshops, occupy a special place in my heart. Unlike college classrooms or graduate programs, community classes cast a wide net, attracting a spectrum of writers of all ages, diverse backgrounds and experience. Suddenly a cross section of people that might not otherwise connect gather around a table with a single common purpose: to transform seething, raw images and words into comprehensible, moving stories. Here the CPA rubs shoulders with the waitress, the civil servant with the entrepreneur, only to find that when it comes to the vagaries of the human heart, they have more in common with one another than they might have otherwise thought.

Thanks to a recent grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program, I had the chance to witness firsthand the tremendous material such community classes can generate, even in a limited amount of time. Short Story Essentials met for three Monday evenings at a local public library in New Orleans. Though the class was aimed at adults, the library was designed for children. Despite low tables and tiny chairs, and thanks to a steady supply of ginger snaps and tea from head librarian Linda Gielac, we managed to tackle a pretty big idea when it comes to crafting story: how to write compelling scenes.

Each week, we talked a bit of shop and about technique, but the bulk of our time was spent in heavily guided exercises that began with pre-writing, specifically with take no prisoner questions centering on character, motivation, conflict, and stakes. Together these answers helped to clarify what can stymy even the most advanced of writers: a scene’s given function in the story’s overall arc. What followed was a sustained writing period that alternated between gentle nudging on my part about juggling details around setting, movement, interiority, backstory, and dialogue, and brief periods of silence during which participants scribbled at record speed.

Great scenes require both conceptual understanding as well as gusto. Between meetings, many writers used their time to their advantage, typing up rough drafts and revising with an eye towards clarifying choices on the page. Sessions were designed to be sequential with each week’s scene building upon the last. As a result, every writer left with a substantial chunk of story, and in some cases, a complete work.

It would be hard for me to exaggerate the importance such a series has on my own writing. I can think of little else that hones my own understanding of scene more than creating, from scratch, an exercise that leads writers from a given premise through its complication to its apex. Nor can I imagine greater inspiration than listening to the plethora of rich storylines that result: a hitherto loyal employee who, due to a chance mistake, ponders a life of embezzlement; a mother who must shatter her teenage daughter’s naïveté about a nefarious uncle; an immigrant cab driver who must confront his past war crimes. Thanks to Poets & Writers, these stories and more are well on their way.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New Orleans is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Allison Alsup (Credit: Allison Alsup). (bottom) Sean Gremillion and Asha Buehler (Credit: Allison Aslup).

Deadline Approaches for Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. An award of $1,000 and publication by the University of Utah Press is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner will also receive an additional $500 in travel and lodging expenses to give a reading at the University of Utah. Kimiko Hahn will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit an unpublishedmanuscript of 64 to 100 pages with a $25 entry fee by April 15. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established in 2003 and sponsored by the University of Utah Press and University of Utah English department, the annual prize is named for the late Agha Shahid Ali, a celebrated poet and former University of Utah professor. Previous winners of the prize include Heather June Gibbons for Her Mouth as Souvenir, Susan McCabe for Descartes’ Nightmare, and Philip Schaefer for Bad Summon.

(Photo: Agha Shahid Ali)

Upcoming Poetry Deadlines

Happy Spring, poets! If you have a single poem or a full-length manuscript ready to submit, consider the following contests with upcoming deadlines, each of which offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Frost Farm Prize: A prize of $1,000 is given annually for a poem written in metrical verse. The winner also receives a scholarship and honorarium to give a reading at the Frost Farm Poetry Conference in Derry, New Hampshire, in June. Melissa Balmain will judge. Entry fee: $6. Deadline: March 30.

Airlie Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Airlie Press will be given annually for a poetry collection. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

Arts & Letters Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Arts & Letters is given annually for a group of poems. Alfred Corn will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 31.

Florida Review Editors’ Awards: A prize of $1,000 each and publication in Florida Review is given annually for a group of poems. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 31.

Fish Publishing Poetry Prize: A prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,250) and publication in the Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a poem. The winner and 10 runners-up are also invited to give a reading at the West Cork Literary Festival in July. Ellen Bass will judge. Entry fee: $17. Deadline: March 31.

Winning Writers Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication on the Winning Writers website is given annually for a humorous poem. Jendi Reiter will judge. No entry fee. Deadline: April 1.

Gulf Coast Writing Contests: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Gulf Coast is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $23. Deadline: April 1.

Southeast Missouri State University Press Cowles Poetry Book Prize: A prize of $2,000, publication by Southeast Missouri State University Press, and 30 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: April 1.

Zone 3 Press First Book Award for Poetry: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Zone 3 Press is given biennially for a debut poetry collection. Jennifer Givhan will judge. Entry fee: $20

Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,500, publication by Saturnalia Books, and 20 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Natalie Diaz will judge. Entry fee: $30. Deadline: April 1.

Poetry International Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Poetry International is given annually for a poem. Victoria Chang will judge. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: April 1.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

El milagro secreto: Rodrigo Hasbún’s Spanish-Language Workshop in Houston

Brian Beard is a member of Writers in the Schools’ Outreach Committee and an ongoing member of Rodrigo Hasbún’s Spanish-language writing workshops at Literal, Latin American Voices. Beard’s writing appears in Bellevue Literary Review, the New Guard, Poetry East, Quiddity, Red Rock Review, Sixfold, Translation Review, and elsewhere. Beard took part in a P&W–supported Spanish-language workshop, El milagro secreto (The Secret Miracle), also led by Hasbún, at Houston’s Writespace writing center in November of 2017.

When María Quiroga moved from Mexico City to Houston in July 2017, she missed the writers group she’d left behind. She headed to the local library branch, looking for other writers, but couldn’t find any there. So when she learned that celebrated Bolivian author Rodrigo Hasbún, author of Affections (Simon & Schuster, 2017), would be offering a writing workshop in Spanish at Houston’s Writespace writing center, she jumped at the opportunity.

“It was such a warm and inviting community,” Quiroga says of the workshop, which included twelve writers from Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, and the United States.

When Hasbún moved to Houston in 2014, he found that although the city was home to a thriving literary scene and over a million Spanish speakers, writing workshops in Spanish were few and far between. Hasbún began to offer his own workshops to fill the gap.

“Writing is a solitary profession,” Hasbún says in an e-mail. “Sometimes you can get the impression that nobody is interested in the work you’re doing. When you are a writer living in a country where the language and the culture are foreign to you, this effect tends to be heightened. By offering encouragement, camaraderie, and a valuable sense of community, a writing workshop can make all the difference.”

On the first day of the workshop, as part of an exercise to inspire the members of the group to use details to create character, Hasbún showed a short film in which people at the top of a ten-meter diving platform decide, with varying degrees of angst, whether to jump or climb back down the ladder.

The act of writing, Hasbún suggested to the group, is akin to jumping off a diving platform. “When you write,” he says, “you have to throw yourself again and again into the void.”

Week after week, in the sessions that followed, the workshop members responded to the challenge, pushing themselves into new territory as they created short stories which they shared and workshopped with the group.

“In the wake of new political threats to many of our country’s Spanish speakers,” writes Writespace’s founder and director Elizabeth White-Olsen in an e-mail, “I felt it was important that we were doing something, even if it was small, to say to people who move to the United States from other countries, you are welcome here. We appreciate you and want you to find a home here.”

For many of the group members, it was the first time they had come into contact with other Spanish-speaking writers in Houston.

“I was surprised and delighted,” Quiroga says, “to find that the voices of the other writers, although they were in Spanish, were completely distinct from the voices of the writers I had become accustomed to in Mexico. Their life experiences, cultural contexts, and literary backgrounds were so varied that, encountering their stories, I felt as if I were discovering my language for the first time.”

In addition to being hosted and sponsored by Writespace and cosponsored by Poets & Writers, Hasbún’s workshop was also cosponsored by Arte Público Press and Tintero Projects.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston 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.

Photo: Rodrigo Hasbún (Credit: Sergio Bastani).

Whiting Foundation Announces 2018 Award Winners

The Whiting Foundation announced the ten recipients of its $50,000 awards at a ceremony tonight in New York City. The annual awards are given to emerging writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama.

The winners are Rickey Laurentiis and Tommy Pico in poetry; Anne Boyer in poetry and nonfiction; Patty Yumi Cottrell, Brontez Purnell, and Weike Wang in fiction; Esmé Weijun Wang in nonfiction; and Nathan Alan Davis, Hansol Jung, and Antoinette Nwandu in drama.

“Year on year, we’re astounded by the fresh ways Whiting winners challenge form and stretch the capabilities of language, while scrutinizing what’s most urgent in the culture,” says Courtney Hodell, the Whiting Foundation’s director of writers’ programs. “The award is intended to give them the freedom to keep experimenting and growing.”

Established in 1985, the Whiting Awards have given more than $7.5 million to 330 writers since its inception. Previous winners include poets Tracy K. Smith and Jorie Graham, fiction writers Deborah Eisenberg and Denis Johnson, nonfiction writers Mary Karr and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and playwright Tony Kushner.

Photos clockwise from top left: Rickey Laurentiis, Tommy Pico, Anne Boyer, Patty Yumi Cottrell, Brontez Purnell, Antoinette Nwandu, Hansol Jung, Nathan Alan Davis, Esmé Weijun Wang, and Weike Wang.

Deadline Approaches for Open-Genre Book Prize

Submissions are currently open for the 2018 Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) Book Contest. A prize of $1,000 and publication by Les Figues Press will be given annually for a book of poetry or prose that “exceeds genre conventions.” Poet Simone White will judge.

Accepted entries include poetry collections, novellas, novels, story collections, essays, hybrid works, and translations. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of 64 to 250 pages with a $25 entry fee (which includes a book of choice from the Les Figues catalogue) by April 1.

An imprint of the Los Angeles Review of Books’s LARB Books, Les Figues Press publishes feminist poetry, prose, visual art, and translation. Previous winners of the NOS award include Mariko Nagai for Irradiated Cities and Adam Tipps Weinstein for Some Versions of the Ice. Visit the Les Figues website for more information.

Women Take Home All Six National Book Critics Circle Awards

Last night in New York City the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards (NBCC) were announced. The winners in all six categories were women, including Layli Long Soldier in poetry for her collection, WHEREAS (Graywolf), Joan Silber in fiction for her novel Improvement (Counterpoint), and Xiaolu Guo in autobiography for her memoir, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove).

The poetry finalists were Nuar Alsadir’s Fourth Person Singular (Oxford University Press), James Longenbach’s Earthling (W.W. Norton), Frank Ormsby’s The Darkness of Snow (Wake Forest University Press), and Ana Ristović’s Directions for Use, translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref (Zephyr Press).

The finalists in fiction were Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Riverhead), Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Knopf), and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner).

The finalists in autobiography were Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir (Abrams), Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Harper), Henry Marsh’s Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins), and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Girl From the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia, translated from the Russian by Anna Summers (Penguin).

Additionally, fiction writer Carmen Maria Machado won the John Leonard Prize for her story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf); fiction writer and critic Charles Finch received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing; and creative nonfiction writer John McPhee received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which are among the most prestigious prizes for literature, are given annually for books published in the previous year. A board of twenty-four working magazine and newspaper critics and editors nominates and selects the winners each year. Visit the NBCC website for a complete list of winners and finalists.

(Photos from left: Layli Long Soldier, Joan Silber, Xiaolu Guo)

Deadline Approaches for Chautauqua’s New Prose Prize

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Chautauqua Janus Prize. An award of $2,500 and publication in Chautauqua will be given annually for a short story or essay by an emerging writer. The winner will also be invited to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, New York, this summer. Kazim Ali will judge.

Named for the Roman god Janus, who looks to both future and past, the new prize honors writing “with a command of craft that renovates our understandings of both” and seeks formally inventive works “that upset and reorder literary conventions, historical narratives, and readers’ imaginations.”

Using the online submission system, submit up to 15,000 words of fiction or nonfiction with a $20 entry fee by March 31. Writers who have not yet published a full-length collection are eligible. Stories and essays must either be unpublished, forthcoming this year, or published no earlier than April 2017.

The Chautauqua Institution sponsors interdisciplinary art and educational programs, events, awards, and residencies throughout the year. In addition to the Janus Prize, the institution awards the annual Chautauqua Prize and Editors Prize for writers. Visit the website for more information.

Photo: Kazim Ali (Credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones)

Upcoming Fiction and Nonfiction Deadlines

Fiction and creative nonfiction writers, polish up your stories, novels, and essays! The deadlines are approaching for the following contests, each of which offers a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Fourth Genre is given annually for an essay. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 20.

New South Writing Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in New South is given annually for a story or essay. Alissa Nutting will judge. Entry fee: $15 (includes a one-year subscription). Deadline: March 21.

Enizagam Literary Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Enizagam is given annually for a short story. Rachel Khong will judge. Entry fee: $20. Deadline: March 23.

Cleveland State University Poetry Center Essay Collection Competition: A prize of $1,000 and publication by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center is given annually for an essay collection. Brian Blanchfield will judge. Entry fee: $28. Deadline: March 31.

Bosque Press Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in bosque is given annually for a short story or a novel excerpt by a writer over the age of 40. Timothy Schaffert will judge. Entry fee: $22. Deadline: March 31.

Lascaux Review Flash Fiction Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Lascaux Review is given annually for a work of flash fiction. Entry fee: $10. Deadline: March 31.

Narrative Winter Story Contest: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a short story, a short short story, an essay, or an excerpt from a longer work of fiction or creative nonfiction. A second-place prize of $1,000 is also awarded. Entry fee: $26. Deadline: March 31.

Gemini Magazine Short Story Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Gemini Magazine is given annually for a short story. Entry fee: $7. Deadline: March 31.

Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Prose Prize: A prize valued at $1,600 will be given annually to a fiction writer to attend a weeklong seminar at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Summer Conference in June. Robert James Russell will judge. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: March 31.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Ekphrazein ARAS: A Hub for Interdisciplinary Dialogue

Miriam Atkin is a poet and critic based in New York whose work has been largely concerned with the possibilities of poetry as a medium in conversation with avant-garde film, music, and dance. She teaches literature and creative writing at the City University of New York and is curator of the Ekphrazein reading series at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. Her poetry chapbook, Fours, was published by the Kaf Collective in 2017. Over the last decade she has written essays, reviews, and poems for various magazines online and in print.

Interdisciplinary practice has been a major concern of my work ever since I moved to New York in 2008 to immerse myself in its creative scenes as a first step toward writing about art professionally. I began attending events at a range of venues like Judson Memorial Church, Roulette, Poets House, the Stone, e-flux, and White Columns. I was surprised to find that I was one of few regulars at these spaces who were not practitioners in the medium at hand. I had spent my twenties in Rust Belt cities where the relatively small number of people in the arts necessitated that we all went to all the events. Despite our differing creative vocations, we were generally hungry for the kind of thinking and conversation that art-making provokes and we knew that our diverse aesthetic languages shared enough between them to be mutually understandable. But now, in New York, I found an art world that was firmly ghettoized.

Thus, it was when I encountered the cross-disciplinary, multigenerational, and broadly humanist scope of the program at the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), I knew I had discovered a site for heterogeneous intellectual exchange that was rare in the city. I learned about the space—which is located at the C. G. Jung Center in East Midtown in New York City—after reading in the first installation of Ekphrazein, a series of events featuring artists in various mediums presenting work in response to a central thematic archetype. The theme of the inaugural event, which happened in late 2013, was the sun archetype. In accordance with the format for the reading, I chose an image related to the sun from ARAS’s collection, which served as a visual counterpoint for my writing. I loved the conversation between text and image that Ekphrazein facilitated, and the cross-disciplinary nature of the work I saw presented there was reiterated in the heterogeneity of the audience, which included psychologists, historians, anthropologists, and so on.

I have since become the curator of Ekphrazein, and on February 16, we hosted our sixth reading held in the Jung Center’s first floor event space, with support from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. The thematic focus of the night was ashes, and each artist performed against a projection of their chosen ash image. The program began with multimedia artist Akeema-Zane reading poetry while accompanied by harpist Elsz. Poet Geoffrey Olsen was second on the bill, which concluded with a performance of improvised music and dance featuring Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Devin Brahja Waldman (saxophone), Megumi Eda (dance), and Yoshiko Chuma (dance). The presentations ranged between painstaking poetic craft and the playful abandon of free jazz, with each set activating a charged intimacy between artist and audience. Afterwards we all went up to ARAS for a candlelit wine reception, where I observed the enthusiasm with which audience members approached performers to engage in conversation about the night. It was energizing to see new acquaintances made and new doors opened to potential creative fusions across disciplines. I look forward to seeing what works and alliances this uncategorizable series will galvanize in the future.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Miriam Atkins (Credit: Rijard Bergeron). (bottom) Poet Akeema-Zane and harpist Elsz (Credit: Jamie Thomas). 

Deadline Approaches for Frontier Poetry Chapbook Contest

Submissions are currently open for the Frontier Poetry Chapbook Contest. A prize of $2,000 and digital publication by Frontier Poetry is given annually for a poetry chapbook by an emerging writer.

Using the online submission system, submit an original manuscript of 10 to 30 pages with a $20 entry fee by March 15. Poets with more than two published full-length collections are ineligible.

The judges are looking for poems that “express both traditional excellence in craft and a willing fearlessness in content and form.” Poets previously published in Frontier include Tiana Clark, Chelsea Dingman, and Momtaza Mehri.

Visit the contest website for complete guidelines, and check out our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Yale Announces Recipients of Windham-Campbell Prizes

Yale University has announced the eight recipients of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prizes. The winners, who will each receive $165,000 to honor their literary achievement or promise, are poets Lorna Goodison of Jamaica and Cathy Park Hong of the United States; fiction writers John Keene of the United States and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi of Uganda and the United Kingdom; nonfiction writers Sarah Bakewell and Olivia Laing, both of the United Kingdom; and playwrights Lucas Hnath and Suzan-Lori Parks, both of the United States.

Established in 2013 by writer Donald Windham in memory of his partner, Sandy M. Campbell, the annual awards are administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and are given to English-language writers from any country to allow them to focus on their work without financial concerns. Fifty-one writers from fourteen countries have received the prize since its inception.

The winners are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. Previous winners include poets Carolyn Forché and Ali Cobby Eckermann, fiction writers C. E. Morgan and Teju Cole, and nonfiction writers Maya Jasanoff and Hilton Als.

This year’s awards will be conferred at the Windham-Campbell Festival, held from September 12 to September 14 on the Yale University campus.

(Photos clockwise from top left: Lorna Goodison, Cathy Park Hong, John Keene, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lucas Hnath, Olivia Laing, Sarah Bakewell)

Finalists Announced for Inaugural $35,000 Book Prize

The finalists for the first annual Aspen Words Literary Prize have been announced. The $35,000 award will be given for a book of fiction published in the previous year that “illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.” The winner will also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the 2018 Aspen Words Summer Benefit in Aspen, Colorado, as a featured speaker and guest of honor.

The finalists are What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Riverhead Books) by Lesley Nneka Arimah, What We Lose (Viking) by Zinzi Clemmons, Exit West (Riverhead Books) by Mohsin Hamid, Mad Country (Soho Press) by Samrat Upadhyay, and Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner) by Jesmyn Ward.

Judges Stephen L. Carter, Jessica Fullerton, Phil Klay, Alondra Nelson, and Akhil Sharma selected the finalists from twenty semi-finalists. The winner will be announced on April 10 at an awards ceremony at the Morgan Library in New York City. Visit the Aspen Words website for more information.

(Photos from left: Moshin Hamid, Samrat Upadhyay, Zinzi Clemmons, Jesmyn Ward, Lesley Nneka Arimah)

Tim Fredrick on Newtown Literary and the Queens Lit Scene

Tim Fredrick is the author of the short story collection, We Regret to Inform You (Ingram, 2012). His stories have been published in Burningword, Pif Magazine, Wilde Magazine, and Hamilton Stone Review. He is the founding editor and executive director of Newtown Literary, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting writers from and living in the Queens borough of New York City.

How did Newtown Literary begin? What prompted you to launch it?
I began Newtown Literary in 2012 after getting to know several writers in Queens and attending various literary events there. Something was definitely bubbling up at the time, and I was reading and hearing incredible work. Unfortunately, not much of that work was being associated with Queens; authors usually said they were from “New York City” in their bios. I decided that it was time for a written record of the work being produced in Queens and for “So-and-so is from Queens” to be a badge of honor in an author’s bio. The borough has a long history of the literary arts and some of the best literature being produced now is from writers living in Queens or who grew up there.

The literary events scene in Queens is going strong. What’s next?
One of the great things about the literary scene here in Queens is that it is grassroots. The people who organize reading series, events, literary journals, small presses, and so on are everyday writers who want to contribute to the community. So, in the larger literary scene, it’s hard to know what’s next. For Newtown Literary, we are going to continue with our journal and with our free classes and professional development program. Our focus lately has been on removing barriers to participation. Our free writing classes program—which offers twice-a-month, one-off, free writing classes taught by established Queens writers, such as Scott Cheshire, Jill Eisenstadt, Joseph O. Legaspi, and Min Jin Lee—was born out of a desire to make high-quality creative writing instruction available to everyone, no matter their income. We will continue in this vein.

In addition to being a literary organizer, you’re also a creative writer. What’s it like wearing two hats, so to speak?
It’s not easy! I often have to choose between my commitment to Newtown Literary—and by proxy, other writers—and my commitment to my own writing. I wish I could say that I chose my own writing more often, but it’s “easier” for me to choose my work at Newtown Literary because it doesn’t challenge me as much as writing does. Running a small nonprofit is so much easier than writing a novel!

Is there any advice you’d offer to creative writers who want to participate in the “behind the scenes” of literary organizing?
Do it. Reach out to people in charge and say, “Hey, I’d like to get involved.” At least at Newtown Literary, it’s that easy.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your work with Newtown Literary?
What I value most about Newtown Literary is our community—it’s not competitive and there are no hard feelings when one person succeeds. While working on the organization takes time away from my own writing, the friends and colleagues I’ve made working here are constantly asking me, “How’s your writing?” and if I respond, “Well...” I know I need to get to work. Some of my closest friends—the ones I go to when I need to talk or vent or celebrate—come from the organization, as well.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Tim Fredrick (Credit: Tim Fredrick). (middle) Writer’s Block class led by Scott Cheshire (Credit: Newtown Literary). (bottom) Get Published panel (Credit: Newtown Literary).

Poetry Chapbook Contest Offers Cash and a Residency in Slovenia

Submissions are currently open for Verse’s Tomaž Šalamun Prize, given annually for a chapbook of original poetry or poetry in translation. The prize includes $500, publication by Factory Hollow Press, and a monthlong residency at the Tomaž Šalamun Center for Poetry in Ljubljana, Slovenia, valued at approximately $1,500. Anaïs Duplan will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a poetry manuscript of 20 to 28 pages with a $15 ($10 for current students) by March 15.

The residency will be held from May 20 to June 20, 2019. The resident will be provided with private lodging in an apartment with a full kitchen and bath, but is responsible for her own meals and travel expenses. Visit the Verse website for more information.

Photo: Bookshelf at the Tomaž Šalamun Center for Poetry featuring a photo of the author