Poets & Writers Blogs

Vievee Francis Wins Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award

Claremont Graduate University has announced the winners for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. One of the richest prizes for poetry in the United States, the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award is given annually to a midcareer poet for a book published in the previous year. The $10,000 Kate Tufts Award is given for a debut poetry collection.

Vievee Francis, a poet “known for her explorations of racial identity, modernist poetics, and feminist legacies,” received the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Award for her collection Forest Primeval (Northwestern). The book employs an “anti-pastoral” approach to examine the violence and transcendence of nature and survival.

The Kingsley Tufts finalists were Tyehimba Jess’s Olio (Wave), Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed), Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books), and Patrick Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian (Persea).

Philip B. Williams received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for his collection, Thief in the Interior (Alice James), a book that presents a “perilous journey through a violent landscape in which race separates many from the American dream.” Williams is also featured in Poets & Writers Magazine’s twelfth annual roundup of debut poets.

The Kate Tufts finalists were Derrick Austin’s Trouble the Water (BOA), Rickey Laurentiis’s Boy With Thorn (University of Pittsburgh), Jordan Rice’s Constellarium (Orison), and Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon).

The judges for both prizes were Don Share, Elena Karina Byrne, Terrance Hayes, Meghan O’Rourke, and Brian Kim Stefans. Poetry magazine editor Don Share, this year’s judge committee chair, said Francis’s Forest Primeval is “an intense work, dark…Dantean…dreamlike in its visions…. Francis is reclaiming modernist and feminist legacies of poetry, and it takes great courage to do that.” 

In addition to Forest Primeval, which also won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, Francis is the author of two previous poetry collections, Blue-Tail Fly (Wayne State University Press, 2006) and Horse in the Dark (Northwestern University Press, 2012). She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a Kresge Artist Fellowship. She is currently an associate professor of English at Dartmouth College and an associate editor for Callaloo.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tufts Poetry Awards, which honor the memory of poet Kingsley Tufts. Previous winners of the Kingsley Tufts Award include Ross Gay, D. A. Powell, and Linda Gregerson. Past recipients of the Kate Tufts Award include Danez Smith, Yona Harvey, and Lucia Perillo. Francis and Williams will be honored at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles on April 20.

Deadline Approaches for Zócalo Public Square Poetry Prize

The deadline approaches for the sixth annual Zócalo Public Square Poetry Prize, given for a poem that evokes a connection to place. The winner will receive $500 and publication on the Zócalo Public Square website.

Submit up to three poems of any length via e-mail to poetry@zocalopublicsquare.org by Friday, February 3. There is no entry fee. The editors will judge. “Place may be interpreted by the poet as a place of historical, cultural, political, or personal importance,” write the editors. “It may be a literal, imaginary, or metaphorical landscape.” Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The winner will be announced in March. In 2016, 443 poets entered the prize. Interviews with recent winners and their winning poems can be read on the Zócalo website. Recent winners include Matt Phillips for his poem “Crossing Coronado Bridge” about the bridge that connects San Diego to Coronado Island; Gillian Wegener for her poem about a small town, “The Old Mill Café;” and Amy Glynn for her poem “Shoreline.”

Established in 2003, Zócalo Public Square publishes news, essays, and creative writing. The journal is based in Los Angeles.

New American Poetry Prize Open for Submissions

The deadline approaches for the 2017 New American Poetry Prize, given annually for a poetry collection. The winner receives $1,000 and publication by New American Press. Jesse Lee Kercheval will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages with a $22.50 entry fee by January 31. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of fifteen books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her most recent book is the poetry collection Extranjera/Stranger (Editorial Yaugarú, 2015), written in both Spanish and English. Kercheval is also a translator, and specializes in Uruguayan poetry. She teaches in the University of Wisconsin’s MFA Program, and spends part of each year in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Previous winners of the New American Poetry Prize include Christopher Cokinos for The Underneath, Brittney Scott for The Derelict Daughter, and Arne Weingart for Levitation for Agnostics. New American Press publishes three to five full-length books each year, including the winners of its annual poetry and fiction prizes. The press also publishes the literary journal MAYDAY Magazine, and recently released two anthologies of poetry and fiction by Midwestern writers.

Deadline Approaches for Autumn House Press Contest

Submissions are open for the 2017 Autumn House Press Rising Writer Contest, given annually for a debut poetry collection by a poet who is thirty-three years old or younger. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication by Autumn House Press. Ada Limón will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a poetry manuscript of 50 to 80 pages with a $25 entry fee by Tuesday, January 31. All entries will be considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Ada Limón is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Her first collection, Lucky Wreck, was published by Autumn House Press in 2006 as the winner of the press’s poetry prize.

Established in 1998, Pittsburgh-based Autumn House Press publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The press has published authors such as poets Danusha Laméris, Ed Ochester, Martha Rhodes, and Gerald Stern; fiction writers Sarah Gerkensmeyer and Matthew Pitt; and nonfiction writers Jill Kandel and Sheryl St. Germain.

Teens, Truth, and Poetry

Ana Ramana has published three books of poetry and two novels, most recently her semi-autobiographical novel, Girl on Fire: An Uncommon Love Story (Wild Rose Press, 2016). She received an award from the Academy of American Poets and is the recipient of a William Stafford Fellowship. Originally from Ireland, she now lives in Mount Shasta, California, where she has been leading P&W–supported creative writing workshops for high school students.

In the winter of 2016, my life changed. With a generous grant from Poets & Writers, our local mountain town library sent me into our high schools, singing the praises of poetry. I visited classes in public and charter schools, sharing with students my love of poetry and how it saved my life. I read poems and invited them to join me for weekly sessions to write poems together. An overwhelming number of students signed up and a dedicated, talented, inspiring group met with me for several hours each week.

I have taught creative writing for over twenty years and can honestly say that my time with these high school students has been one of my absolute favorites. These teens were bright and blossoming into adulthood with great courage and openheartedness, yet each had endured difficulties that both humbled and inspired me. From brain cancer in childhood to escaping a cult to returning to the familiarity of an abusive stepfather, these young writers have looked headlong into some of life’s toughest hardships. Each one of them wrote about these obstacles with passion and ferocity.

Last spring, these poets gave a reading of their work at the library. The room was hushed as they read. The audience alternated between tears and laughter. In one assignment, I asked each poet to choose a song that they felt most represented their life and personality. One young man shared a song called, “I Have Made Mistakes.” He stood in front of the large audience and shared how he has learned that it’s not important that mistakes are made, but that we learn from them. This level of maturity was present, time and again, in each student.

Over the months, more young writers joined us, adding their diverse personalities, attitudes, and backgrounds. We’ve been busy compiling a collection of poems from these workshops, complete with photos, which will be published soon. And we will give another reading, this time, from our very own books. It continues to be a true pleasure—and a constant humbling—to serve as their literary midwife.

Photo: Ana Ramana. Photo credit: Michael Veys.

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.

Finalists Announced for 2017 PEN Awards

PEN America announced on Wednesday the finalists for the 2017 PEN Awards. The annual awards are given for books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation published in the previous year. This year PEN America will award nearly $315,000 to writers, including the inaugural $75,000 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, given for a “book of extraordinary originality and lasting influence.”

The finalists are:

PEN/Jean Stein Book Award: A prize of $75,000 given annually to recognize a book-length work in any genre for its originality, merit, and impact.

Known and Strange Things (Random House) by Teju Cole   
Olio (Wave Books) by Tyehimba Jess
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House), Hisham Matar
Dark Money (Doubleday) by Jane Mayer
The Underground Railroad (Doubleday) by Colson Whitehead

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction: A prize of $25,000 given annually to an author whose debut work—a first novel or collection of short stories published in the previous year—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise of a second work of literary fiction.

Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky) by Rion Amilcar Scott
We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout Books) by Clare Beams
The Mothers (Riverhead Books) by Brit Bennett
Homegoing (Knopf) by Yaa Gyasi
Hurt People (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Cote Smith

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a book of essays published in the previous year that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.

The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood (Graywolf Press) by Belle Boggs
Known and Strange Things (Random House) by Teju Cole
A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and The Mind (Simon & Schuster) by Siri Hustvedt
The Girls in My Town (University of New Mexico Press) by Angela Morales
Becoming Earth (Red Hen Press) by Eva Saulitis

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction: A prize of $10,000 is given biennially to an author of a distinguished book of general nonfiction published in the previous two years, possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown) by Matthew Desmond
The Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (Norton) by Patrick Phillips
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsbury Press) by Sam Quinones
Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books) by Laura Secor
Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship (Doubleday), Anjan Sundaram

PEN Open Book Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in the previous year.

The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Petina Gappah
The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books) by Jamaal May
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead Books) by Helen Oyeyemi
Look (Graywolf Press) by Solmaz Sharif
Blackacre (Graywolf Press) by Monica Youn

Visit the website for a complete list of finalists, including those for the PEN Awards in biography, translation, poetry in translation, and literary sports writing. The winners of the 2017 awards will be announced on February 22 in New York City.

Established in 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored hundreds of writers including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Richard Blanco, Katherine Boo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cynthia Ozick, Marilynne Robinson, and Claudia Rankine.

 

Poetry in Many Languages: Ganbaro!

Robin Lampman is a published poet and an educator with thirty-five years of experience teaching in universities, high schools, and elementary schools. She received a master’s degree in Bilingual Education and has taught literature in two languages in public schools in New Mexico, Texas, and New York, as well as at the University of Monterrey in Mexico and the American School of Madrid in Spain. Lampman published a volume of poetry by eighth graders in Harlem, which was made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts’ NEA Big Read grant. For the last several years she has been teaching writing classes for the Noble Maritime Collection including adult classes on poetic forms and food literature. Cooking the Books, an anthology which includes recipes, poetry, essays, and memories relived by her students is available at the Noble Maritime Museum. Lampman is the literary chairperson for the Staten Island Creative Community and organizes their Second Sunday Spoken Word events, and publishes the Staten Island Creative Community Journal of Literature and Art.

As a poet and educator who has been teaching literature and promoting poetry at schools and museums in New York and New Mexico, as well as in Mexico and Spain, I have always been on the lookout for ways to give poets a voice. Several years ago, I began serving as the Literary Chairperson for the Staten Island Creative Community and organizing Second Sunday Spoken Word events in Staten Island, New York.

In June of 2015, the event was attended by ten poets, and we were each other’s audience. In February 2016, we received the first of four Readings & Workshops grants. Since then we have been able to fund a poet who once lived in Staten Island but now lives in Manhattan, a poet who writes in both English and Spanish, and a poet who writes in both Japanese and English. Our audience as well as our pool of writers has grown.

We have hosted readings at the Makers Space, the Hub, the St. George Day Festival, and the National Lighthouse Museum. We will be reading at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition in the spring. But to fully understand the impact that Poets & Writers has had on us, you must let me describe our last event to you.

On the eighth of January, the day after the first snowstorm of 2017, Second Sunday Spoken Word was scheduled to present “Poetry in Many Languages.” Though the snow had subsided, the streets were still white and the temperature was frigid. We wondered who would brave the streets to read a poem. We wondered if anyone would come out in the cold to listen to poetry, much less poetry read bilingually.

At 2:00 PM the gallery was empty. We shoveled the sidewalk and salted the ramp. An hour later, the gallery was full. Marilyn Kiss read in Spanish, Kevyn Fairchild in Hungarian, Malachi McCormick in Irish, Dominic Ambrose in Italian, Lorenzo Hail in French, and Lingping Chen, who had come in on the ferry, read in Chinese.

Henry Van Campen, recipient of the R&W grant for this event, read from his new book, Internal Externals, in both Japanese and English. Hiroki Otani concluded the event singing original lyrics in Japanese. We all sang along. “Ganbaro,” we sang. “Hello, goodbye, and take courage.”

Who braves the storm to read a poem? Who braves the storm to hear poetry in many languages? It is a testament not only to the strength that support from Poets & Writers has given Second Sunday Spoken Word in Staten Island, but to the strength inherent in the diversity of New York City. It is a testament to the power of poetry.

Photo: (top) Robin Lampman at the National Lighthouse Museum. Photo credit: Michael McQueeny. (middle) Malachi McCormick recites his poems in Irish. (bottom) Lingping Chen reading in Chinese. Photo credit: Robin Lampman.

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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Finalists for Story Prize Announced

The finalists for the 2016 Story Prize have been announced. The annual prize is given for a story collection published in the previous year. The winner receives $20,000 and the finalists each receive $5,000.

The finalists for this year’s prize are Rick Bass for For a Little While (Little, Brown), Anna Noyes for Goodnight, Beautiful Women (Grove Press), and Helen Maryles Shankman for They Were Like Family to Me (Scribner). Prize founders Larry Dark and Julie Lindsey selected the finalists from 106 submissions; Harold Augenbraum, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and Daniel Goldin will choose the winner.

“These three books stood out from a large and varied field, each offering skillful storytelling, beautifully detailed language, and a whole greater than its parts,” said Dark. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on March 8.

Established in 2004, the Story Prize is one of the largest prizes given for a story collection. Recent winners include George Saunders for Tenth of December, Elizabeth McCracken for Thunderstruck, and Adam Johnson for Fortune Smiles.

2016 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Winner in Poetry: Key to New York City

Kimo Armitage is the author of over twenty children's books, and his first novel, The Healers, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in April 2016. He is currently looking for a publisher for his first collection of poetry, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

My writing group tells me to submit to the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry. I am hesitant. I am not ready for New York City and my inner voice tells me that I might never be ready.

Luckily, my writing group is there for me. We meet monthly and workshop our work. After I receive positive feedback for the poems, I decide to listen to them and send in my collection of poems. These poems are inspired by the traumatic and joyous histories of people in the Pacific who have been affected by colonization, nuclear weapon detonation, immigration, foreign military occupation, and other events. Hawaiʻi is another world compared to New York City and I do not know how I—a Hawaiian, Chinese, Maori, English, and Portuguese Pacific Islander raised by my mother’s parents—will be received. My worry is that my voice and my stories will be dismissed. I am shocked when I am told that I have won.

Now, I am in New York City. I am excited and terrified. I have just arrived on the red-eye into JFK. Alicia Upano, a fabulous writer and the WEX winner for fiction, arrived the day before and we are meeting for brunch at a famous NYC dim sum eatery. She is also from Hawaiʻi and we are friends. My first task is to drop my luggage off at the hotel—included in an all-expenses-paid trip to the city to meet with agents, authors, publishers, and others in the literary community, as well as the opportunity to participate at a one-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming.

I hail a cab to get into the city. My suitcase is filled with gifts for the people that I will meet. There are boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and aromatic coffee from Hawaiʻi. I have also brought along copies of my completed poetry manuscript, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

Alicia meets me at the hotel. We cab to Chinatown and eat an amazing lunch. We sightsee before heading back to the hotel for our initial meeting with Bonnie Rose Marcus and Wo Chan, who work in the Readings & Workshops (East) department at Poets & Writers.

The week is an amazing mix of meetings, information, and being genuinely starstruck. We discuss literature and topics in Uptown offices, trendy restaurants, private homes, and modest workspaces. Each person listens and offers advice. These resonated with me:

Send your poetry out to different publishers. It will get your name and work out until you find the right publisher.

You have to write. Period.

Storyline is just as important as character (and vice versa).

There is a difference between writing and editing. You need both.

There is no single path. All writers have their own journey.

It is the last advice that cinches it for me. The New York literary scene is intimidating and frustrating and worthwhile at the same time. I am beyond grateful for being chosen to see how it works. But the greatest takeaway for me is that there is no right way to get here. Never pass up an opportunity; it might be the key that lets you in.

Photos (top): Kimo Armitage, (middle) Kimo Armitage and Sarah Gambito, Kimo Armitage and Alicia Upano. Photo credit: Alycia Kravitz. Photo (bottom, left to right): Kimo Armitage, Maureen Egen, Marie Brown, Alicia Upano, Bonnie Rose Marcus, Elliot Figman. Photo credit: Anonymous.

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

 

An Interview With Jennifer Patterson

Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses words, threads, and plants to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices From Within the Anti-Violence Movement (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016), facilitates trauma-focused writing and embroidery workshops, and has had writing published in places like OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, the Establishment, HandJob, and the Feminist Wire. She is also the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press, which has their first issue out this month. A queer and trans affirming, trauma-informed herbalist, Patterson offers sliding scale care as a practitioner with the Breathe Network as well as through her own practice Corpus Ritual Apothecary. Recently, she finished a graduate program with a thesis focused on translating embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative nonfiction. You can find out more at ofthebody.net.

What makes your workshops unique?
The workshops I offer are multi-dimensional. They’re grounded in writing through, with and about trauma (however people define that for themselves), and in reading other people’s writing about trauma and violence. There’s a somatic approach so we attend to the wisdom in our bodies that we sometimes forget, which might look like lying on the ground and breathing deeply. We hold space for each other in a way that feels really loving, expansive, and honestly, these days, it feels necessary and transformative. I’ve offered them in LGBTQ centers, at harm reduction clinics, in veterans hospitals, and universities. We’re living in a burning world and a lot of us have always felt that singe so it helps to unpack it on the page and turn it into something. I mean, trauma is always on the page but centering it in this way, I think, gives people permission to do the work they have been wanting and needing to do.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
First, I thank people for showing up. Showing up is the hardest part especially when you’re inviting people to show up and write about their hardest experiences. I try to let go of demands and expectations and I let people know that they never have to share out loud if they don’t want to. (And actually, more times than not, most, if not all people share out loud.) We build a shared altar. I bring a freshly brewed herbal tea to calm nervousness and support the heart. I remind everyone that wherever they are and whatever comes out of the pen, for that moment, is just right. There’s plenty of time for editing—these workshops are for digging inside and generating.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
Mostly just hearing from people that they felt more connected to their writing practice and, in turn, to themselves. That they feel heard and understood. That they felt something in their body soften or move around just a little.

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I recently finished a thesis (and soon to be manuscript) on trauma, somatic writing and embroidery—using stitch as a metaphor for making and remaking the wound—and it was incredibly difficult work so I’ve been taking a little breather. Some weeks the only time I write is in the workshop, which feels a bit funny to admit. But I also get to remember how writing supports me feeling more in my own life, more alive.

As someone who has been digging into my own history of trauma as well as collective trauma for years, it feels nice to be connected to other people doing similar work. As a younger writer, I felt so ashamed about the directions my writing took, particularly in wanting to write about violence I had experienced, so I feel really alive when I get to shape these spaces and invite other writers into them. I’m also just incredibly inspired by the quality of writing that I get to experience in these workshops literally every week. I get to remember how many incredible writers there are out there just looking for a room to write in.

Photo: Jennifer Patterson (top). Class materials (bottom). Photo credit: Jennifer Patterson.

 

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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Finalists for Tufts Poetry Awards Announced

Claremont Graduate University has announced the finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Both awards are given for poetry collections published in the previous year; the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award is given to a midcareer poet and the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award is given for a debut poetry collection.

The finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award are Vievee Francis for Forest Primeval (Northwestern University Press), Tyehimba Jess for Olio (Wave Books), Ada Limón for Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions), Jamaal May for The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books), and Patrick Rosal for Brooklyn Antediluvian (Persea Books).

The finalists for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award are Derrick Austin for Trouble the Water (BOA Editions), Rickey Laurentiis for Boy With Thorn (University of Pittsburgh Press), Jordan Rice for Constellarium (Orison Books), Ocean Vuong for Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press), and Phillip B. Williams for Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books).

“Poetry has the power to remind us of what is truly significant, worthy, and lasting in our culture,” said Lori Anne Ferrell, the director of the Tufts Poetry Awards. “This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards at Claremont Graduate University, and once again we honor the careers of talented poets, both new and midcareer, who are finalists for these distinguished awards. Their voices—diverse, compassionate, challenging—represent America at its best.”

The judges for both prizes are Don Share, Elena Karina Byrne, Terrance Hayes, Meghan O’Rourke, and Brian Kim Stefans. The winners will be announced in February and honored at a ceremony in April in Los Angeles.

Established in the early 1990s, the Tufts Poetry Awards honor the memory of Kingsley Tufts. Recent winners of the Kingsley Tufts Award include Ross Gay, Angie Estes, and Afaa Michael Weaver. Recent winners of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award include Danez Smith, Brandon Som, and Yona Harvey.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Francis, Jess, Limón, Rosal, May.

Deadline Approaches for Bayou Magazine Contests

Submissions are open for the annual Bayou Magazine Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry and James Knudsen Prize for Fiction. The winners will each receive $1,000 and publication in Bayou Magazine. The deadline is January 1.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three poems for the Kay Murphy Prize or a story or novel excerpt of up to 7,500 words for the James Knudsen Prize by January 1. The entry fee is $20, which includes a one-year subscription to Bayou Magazine. All entries will be considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Myung Mi Kim will judge the Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry. Kim has written several poetry collections, most recently Penury (Omnidawn Publishing, 2009).

Anne Raeff will judge the James Knudsen Prize for Fiction. Raeff has published a novel, Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia (MacAdam/Cage, 2002), and most recently the story collection The Jungle Around Us (University of Georgia Press, 2016). Read Raeff’s interview with Bayou Magazine in which she talks about her work as a teacher, as well as how her writing reckons with family history and the effects of war and violence on individual lives.

Recent winners of the Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry include Seann Weir for “Plans to Disembark,” Marco Maisto for “The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Transmissions Aggregator,” and Madeline Vardell for “Nude to Pink.” Recent winners of the James Knudsen Prize for Fiction include Barrett Bowlin for “Hands Like Birds on Strings,” Michael Chin for “Practical Men,” and Michael Gerhard Martin for “Shit Weasel Is Late for Class.”

Established in 2002, Bayou Magazine is housed at the University of New Orleans and published twice a year. The magazine publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Photos: Myung Mi Kim, Anne Raeff

World Beat Center’s Kwanzaa Festival in Balboa Park

Johnnierenee Nia Nelson is an award-winning author of five books of Kwanzaa poetry and two other volumes of poetry to promote social change. She serves as the San Diego County Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools, and teaches for San Diego's acclaimed Border Voices Poetry Program. She was the featured poet in the fifth annual El Cajon Friendship Festival with her creation of “A Taste of Kwanzaa” and a featured guest on KPBS’s “These Days” and “The Lounge.” Nelson also performed at San Diego City College in collaboration with Urban Bush Women and at the grand opening of San Diego’s new state-of-the-art Central Library.

Johnnierenee Nelson“Light the candles
beat the drums
pour the libation
for Kwanzaa comes

Bring forth the poet
let her speak
the message of Kwanzaa
the knowledge we seek.”

For the past several years, thanks to support from Poets & Writers, I have been the featured poet at the World Beat Center's annual Kwanzaa festival held in beautiful Balboa Park—the crown jewel of San Diego. Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of community, culture, and kin, which begins December 26 and ends January 1. Kwanzaa, created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, is based on the year-end “first fruits” harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years. It is a family-focused observance steeped in African tradition and replete with rituals such as “drum call,” “ancestral roll call,” and a candle-lighting ceremony using seven candles (three red, three green, and one black), which represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa including pouring of libation and karamu (our feast consisting of African, African American, and Caribbean cuisine). Kwanzaa was explicitly designed to reaffirm and restore our rich African heritage.

Armed with a museum-quality kalimba, one of the many, many African names for what is known in America as a thumb piano, I (aka the Kwanzaa Poet) get to express with the resonating rhythm of this musical instrument the pride and the love I have for this progressive and uplifting holiday as a hush falls upon an audience awed by its chimes and my hypnotic chants and murmurings. Simply put, I love Kwanzaa. It has so much meaning and significance; so much to offer. I love its symbols, rituals, principles, and emphasis upon family. I love its history; the fact that it was created during the black nationalist movement of the 1960s as an act of cultural self-determination.

This year marks the fiftieth birthday of Kwanzaa and for several nights I get to perform such poems as “People in Me,” “Black Gold,” “Kwanzaa Is Rich,” “How I Rejoice,” and “Going the Distance”—poems found in the five volumes of poetry that I created in tribute to this revered commemoration.

The Kwanzaa festival is welcoming. All people are invited to “Come to the Kwanzaa table”—a table laden with fruits and vegetables (representing the fruits of our labor), African artifacts, and other symbols of Kwanzaa, such as the unity cup and the bendera (our flag also in the Pan-African colors of black, red, and green). The beauty and genius of Kwanzaa is in its centerpiece—its seven core principles (the Nguzo Saba), which begins with unity and ends with faith—values sorely needed in today’s climate of divisiveness and turmoil.

Kwanzaa celebrants are encouraged to don traditional West African and reggae attire, which creates a flurry of bright and bold colors, and vibrant geometric designs characteristic of the mud cloth, kente and Kuba cloth, and reggae fashions that friends and family members adorn. Elaborate and elongated African head wraps, as well as leather sandals typify the garments that guests wear. The plethora of sights and sounds associated with this colorful occasion along with the smells of healthy African and Caribbean vegetarian foods served at the World Beat Center’s karamu exemplify community-building and networking at its best.

Last year's festival attracted more than eight hundred celebrants. Each night's program begins with a drum call, a rendition of the African American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and a prayer delivered in Twi, the ancestral language of the Akan people in West Africa. In addition to my poetry performances, this festival incorporates stilt dancing, drumming, singing, storytelling, live music, traditional African dancing, and capoeira (a martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music). Cultural fufu for all!

“How I rejoice in the blackness of Kwanzaa
midnight black like Mother Africa
ebony black like.........”

Photo: Johnnierenee Nelson.  Photo credit: Ben Nelson.

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.

NEA Announces Creative Writing Fellowships

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the thirty-seven recipients of its 2017 Creative Writing Fellowships in poetry. Each of the fellows will receive $25,000 for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement. The annual grants are given to emerging and established writers and alternate between poetry and prose.

The recipients, who hail from nineteen different states, are:

Hadara Bar-Nadav
Michael Bazzett
Josh Bell
Joshua Bennett
Emma Bolden
Jesús Ignacio Castillo
Darin Ciccotelli
Diana Marie Delgado
Jose Hernandez Diaz
Melanie Figg
Jennifer Elise Foerster
Landon Godfrey
Amorak Huey
James Kimbrell
Ruth Ellen Kocher
Edgar Kunz
Nick Lantz
Nancy Chen Long
Chris Martin
David Tomas Martinez
Ted Mathys
Matt Morton
Angel Nafis
Hieu Minh Nguyen
Kathryn Nuernberger
Morgan Parker
Emmy Perez
Hai-Dang Phan
Camille Rankine
Lauren Russell
Danez Smith
Patricia Smith
Monica Sok
Melissa Stein
Corey Van Landingham
Jeanann Verlee
Hope Wabuke

“The NEA has an excellent record of supporting writers who have gone on to have impressive literary careers,” said NEA Director of Literature Amy Stolls. “With their talent and diverse backgrounds, this year’s Creative Writing Fellows will add to our country’s rich literary history.” The fellows were selected from a pool of more than eighteen hundred applications.

The 2018 fellowships will be given to prose writers; the application deadline is March 8.

 

PEN Announces Literary Awards Longlists

PEN America has announced the longlists for its 2017 PEN America Literary Awards in fiction, creative nonfiction, and translation. Each year PEN awards more than $150,000 to writers of poetry, fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama.

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000)

The semifinalists are The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood (Graywolf) by Belle Boggs; Known and Strange Things (Random House) by Teju Cole; Against Everything (Pantheon) by Mark Greif; A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind (Simon & Schuster) by Siri Hustvedt; The Girls in My Town (University of New Mexico Press) by Angela Morales; Soul at the White Heat (Ecco) by Joyce Carol Oates; Becoming Earth (Red Hen) by Eva Saulitis; Ethics in the Real World (Princeton University Press) by Peter Singer; Far and Away: Reporting From the Brink of Change (Scribner) by Andrew Solomon; and Hungry Heart (Atria) by Jennifer Weiner.

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000)

The semifinalists are Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky) by Rion Amilcar Scott; We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout) by Clare Beams; The Mothers (Riverhead) by Brit Bennett; The Wangs vs. the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jade Chang; When Watched (Penguin) by Leopoldine Core; Hide (Bloomsbury) by Matthew Griffin; Homegoing (Knopf) by Yaa Gyasi; Tuesday Nights in 1980 (Gallery) by Molly PrentissHurt People (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Cote Smith; and Wreck and Order (Hogarth/Crown Publishing) by Hannah Tennant-Moore

PEN Open Book Award for a book in any genre by a writer of color ($5,000)

The semifinalists are Blackass (Graywolf) by A. Igoni Barrett; Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt (Tim Duggan) by Yasmine El Rashidi; The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Petina Gappah; The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James) by Jamaal May; Behold the Dreamers (Random House) by Imbolo Mbue; What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead) by Helen Oyeyemi; Look (Graywolf) by Solmaz Sharif; Problems (Coffee House) by Jade Sharma; Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press) by  Safiya Sinclair; and Blackacre (Graywolf) by Monica Youn.

The finalists in several categories will be announced on January 18, and the winners will be announced February 22. The debut fiction and essay awards, as well as the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the PEN/Nabokov Award, will be announced live at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on March 27 in New York City.


For the complete list of semifinalists, including those in the categories of poetry and prose in translation, visit the PEN America website.