Poets & Writers Blogs

End of May Poetry Contest Roundup

Poets! The end of May will arrive before we know it, so it’s time to get those poems, chapbooks, and full-length manuscripts ready to submit. The following contests are open for submissions until May 31, and offer prizes of at least $1,000 and publication.

Crab Orchard Literary Prize: A prize of $1,250 and publication in Crab Orchard Review is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $12

Southern Poetry Review Guy Owen Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $20, which includes a subscription to Southern Poetry Review.

Anhinga Press Anhinga–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry: A prize of $2,000, publication by Anhinga Press, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. The winner is also invited to participate in a reading tour at select colleges in Florida. Eduardo C. Corral will judge. Entry fee $25 ($28 for electronic submissions)

Backwaters Press Backwaters Prize: A prize of $2,500 and publication by Backwaters Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Bob Hicok will judge. Entry fee: $30

Oberlin College Press FIELD Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Oberlin College Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $28, which includes a subscription to FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Joy Harjo Wins Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

The Poetry Foundation has announced Joy Harjo as the recipient of its 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The $100,000 award is given annually to a U.S. poet for lifetime achievement.

Poetry editor Don Share says of Harjo’s poetry, “Her work is a thrilling and necessary antidote to false news, the ephemera of digital celebrity, and other derelictions. It pushes vigorously back against forgetfulness, injustice, and negligence at every level of contemporary life. Her work moves us because it is in the continual motion of bringing forward, with grace but also acuity, our collective story, always in progress.”

The author of ten poetry collections and a memoir, Harjo was born in Tulsa and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Her poetry draws on Native American history and storytelling, as well as feminist and social justice issues. “In a strange sense,” Harjo once commented, “[writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” Her most recent poetry collection is Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton, 2015). 

Harjo’s accolades include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). (Read Harjo’s comments about the life-changing support of an NEA fellowship in the May/June 2017 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.)

Established in 1986, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets, and is also one of the nation’s richest literary prizes. Recent winners include Ed Roberson, Alice Notley, and Nathaniel Mackey. Visit the Poetry Foundation website for more information.

Fiction and Nonfiction Contest Deadlines

The following contests for fiction and creative nonfiction writers are open for submissions until May 15. Whether you have a short story, an essay, or a novel or memoir manuscript ready to submit, these contests offer prizes of $1,000 to $50,000 and publication.

Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest: Two prizes of $2,000 each and publication in Ploughshares are given annually for a short story and an essay of up to 6,000 words. Writers who have not published or self-published a book or chapbook are eligible. Entry Fee: $24 (no entry fee for current subscribers)

Carve Magazine Raymond Carver Short Story Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication in Carve Magazine is given annually for a short story of up to 10,000 words. Entry Fee: $15 ($17 for electronic submissions)

Zone 3 Press Creative Nonfiction Book Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Zone 3 Press is given biennially for a memoir or essay collection of 150 to 300 pages. Janisse Ray will judge. Entry Fee: $25

Del Sol Press First Novel Competition: A prize of $1,500, publication by Del Sol Press, and 20 author copies is given annually for a debut novel of 200 to 450 pages. Hallie Ephron will judge. Entry Fee: $30

St. Francis College Literary Prize: A prize of $50,000 is given biennially for a third, fourth, or fifth published book of fiction. Story collections and novels (including self-published books and English translations) published between June 2015 and May 2017 are eligible. Jeffery Renard Allen, Ellen Litman, and Rene Steinke will judge. There is no entry fee.

Leeway Foundation Transformation Awards: Awards of $15,000 each are given annually to women and transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-nonconforming fiction writers and creative nonfiction writers in the Philadelphia area who have been creating art for social change for five or more years. Writers who have lived for at least two years in Bucks, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, or Philadelphia counties, who are at least 18 years old, and who are not full-time students in a degree-granting arts program are eligible. There is no entry fee. 

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

When Soul and Poetry Meet, A Revue Takes Place

Cynthia Manick is the author of Blue Hallelujahs (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). A Pushcart Prize nominee with an MFA in creative writing from the New School, she has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, Poets House, and the Vermont Studio Center. She serves as East Coast Editor of Jamii Publishing and is founder and curator of the reading series Soul Sister Revue. Her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, Muzzle Magazine, Tidal Basin, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

At the end of 2013, I wanted a change. I had been going to traditional poetry readings for years and they all felt the same—the same writers and their friends, people with an MFA reading with similar graduates, or people with published books. And more troubling, I didn’t see people who looked like me, on stage or in the audience. People of color were hard to find and when I did find them, there was usually only one on stage with a couple of their friends in the audience for support. Fortunately, I’ve never been the kind of person to wait for things to happen, so I created Soul Sister Revue.

Revue is such a strange name, but it reminded me of vaudeville acts, Motown singers performing together, and theatrical sketches of the 1960s and 1970s that told a story. Soul music and poetry go hand in hand, and when you add the African American oral tradition of storytelling, a revue takes place. People put down their phones, and focus on readers of all ages, gender, and race, as they tell their story through poetry. The first reading took place in April 2014 with Hettie Jones (author of Drive and How I Became Hettie Jones), Evie Shockley (author of a half-red sea and the new black), JP Howard, and me, with T’ai Freedom Ford as host. I had positive experiences with poetry residencies and workshops, so I asked people I admired and they responded. I also set a precedent of established writers (Hettie and Evie) reading on stage with emerging writers (JP and I). To gain interest and connect the Revue to music, I advertised using remastered covers of Jet, Blues and Soul, and Ebony; a practice that still continues. 

Old-fashioned revues came and went like rent parties or pop-up shows, so Soul Sister follows that trend by performing four times a year, one show per season. Each show asks, “What is soul?” Recent audience member Terrance Hayes (author of Lighthead and How to Be Drawn) yelled out, “James Brown!” Others answered, “a feeling,” “music in the veins,” and “connection to the universe.” The answers lay in all of that and in poetry. Soul Sister has read at the NYC Poetry Festival, the HiFi Bar, and with the help of a Poets & Writers’ grant, it goes back to Cornelia Street Cafè every year.

Readers have included Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Gregory Pardlo, Cathy Linh Che, R. Erica Doyle, Ebony Noelle Golden, Charlene McClure, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Elana Bell, and Kamilah Aisha Moon. Some poets e-mail poems to soulsisterrevue@gmail.com and others I find through readings across the city, small online journals, poet recommendations, and if I see an audience member that connects to the work, I’ll put them on the list. At the end of the night, I tell the audience that their story has yet to be written, so go out and write a poem. I like to believe that the soul helps them listen.

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.

Photo: (left to right) Ed Toney, LeRonn Brooks, Janel Cloyd, Noel Quiñones, Cynthia Manick, Purvi Shah, and Yadira De La Riva at the Fourth Anniversary Show (Credit: Cynthia Manick).

Submissions Open for BOMB Fiction Contest

Submissions are currently open for BOMB Magazine’s 2017 fiction contest. A prize of $1,000 and publication in BOMB’s literary supplement, First Proof, is given in alternating years for a group of poems and a short story. This year’s contest will be given for a short story. Novelist and essayist Paul La Farge will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 5,000 words with a $20 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to BOMB (for U.S. entrants), by May 31.

Previous winners of the fiction contest, whose winning work you can read on the BOMB website, include Jen George, Michael Baptist, Karen Walker Thompson, and Sean Madigan Hoen.

Established in 1981 as a quarterly magazine of conversations and interviews between interdisciplinary artists, BOMB is now a “multi-media publishing house that creates, disseminates, and preserves artist-generated content from interviews to artists’ essays to new literature." E-mail firstproof@bombsite.com or visit the BOMB website for more information. 

Photo: Paul La Farge. Credit: Carol Shadford

Asian American Poets Encounter the South

Tiana Nobile is a Kundiman Fellow and lives in New Orleans. Her poetry has appeared in the CollagistPhantom, Bone Bouquet, TENDE RLOIN, and others. Her chapbook, The Spirit in the Staircase, a collaboration with visual artist Brigid Conroy, is forthcoming in spring 2017.

The history and reality of being Asian American in the South are often rendered invisible when it comes to mainstream discourse. Four Kundiman fellows worked to challenge this erasure by uplifting the voices of Asian American poets in the South through the panel, “Self-Articulation and Solidarity: Asian American Poets Encounter the South,” a hybrid poetry reading and discussion at the New Orleans Poetry Festival on April 21.

Within the vast terrain that constitutes the South, we all hail from distinct locations—Ching-In Chen from Houston, Kimberly Alidio from Austin, Vidhu Aggarwal from Orlando, and I’m from New Orleans—and our experiences and histories within these places vary greatly. This panel was not an attempt to seek or define a singular narrative; rather, we discussed the diversity of experience and our personal relationships with the South, whether that be as newcomers, natives, or transplants. While our various participations range, they include actively acknowledging and illuminating the deep, complex histories of Asian American existence in southern communities as teachers and standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement as activists through Asians 4 Black Lives. During the panel we shared poems and engaged in a critical dialogue in order to call attention to the fact that yes, we are here, we have been here, and we aren’t going anywhere.

Below, the panelists share their thoughts on the experience.

“Our panel was a map across Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Maryland. It stitched many Asian American Souths: rural and urban, spectacular and invisible. It is intimate and curious. How we commute between communities in a politically diverse South. How we return again and again to crisis encounters in responses to street harassers and scammers profiting from gentrification schemes. How childhoods in the South birth postcolonial futures. How technologies can translate and transmit the migrant condition. Our panel pushed against various narrows and traps. We don’t claim space for permanent, historical settlements atop indigenous land. We refuse to compete with Black communities for civic attention and resources in the South. This is difficult and collaborative work. Thanks to Poets & Writers for making this glimpse of possibility possible.”
—Kimberly Alidio, author of After projects the resound (Black Radish, 2016)

“For Ching-In and I, the New Orleans Poetry Festival was the third iteration of the ‘Self-Articulation’ panel. For me it felt different speaking in New Orleans, where I grew up, learned to ride a bike, worked in street fairs, and where Tiana Nobile has lived for the last ten years. Kimberley Alido read/spoke brilliantly of the Texas landscape. Tiana read from her manuscript The Spirit in the Staircase, ‘l’esprit d’escalier,’ the French term for the perfect comeback, arriving woefully too late, after the fact. We’ve all had our share of jibes, insults on the street, and the impossibility of ready answers. Ching-In asked me about comebacks I might have up my sleeve, and I blanked. A comeback to what? My instinct was to invite folks in the room to hurl insults at me, so I could test my wits in real time! But I couldn’t even do that. I was too slow! The conversation moved on: to the freeze response. Or whether or not our works were a type of response. But would that always put our work/ourselves in a defensive/offensive posture? In argument? We could have talked more, and did over drinks and crawfish at Tiana’s. It was okay to be slow, to take our time, to meet up again and again and figure it out.”
—Vidhu Aggarwal, author of The Trouble With Humpadori (The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, 2016)

“It’s rare to be seen and allowed space to reflect upon where you live, where you spend time, what you are burning to say and ask. While living in the South, I have felt between spaces, between binaries, between stories. One of the challenges about making sense of our experiences living in the South is that they are so varied and feel singular. Though our experiences living/working in Baltimore; Austin, Houston, and Huntsville in Texas; Orlando, Florida; and New Orleans were varied, to talk, eat, laugh, and poem with other Kundiman South poets at the New Orleans Poetry Festival was to recognize and make sense of each other, to put story to our questions, dialogues, and encounters, to practice generosity with each other and with those we live in community.”
—Ching-In Chen, author of recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017)

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.

Photo: Kimberly Alidio, Ching-In Chen, Vidhu Aggarwal, and Tiana Nobile (Credit: Cathy Linh Che).

T. Geronimo Johnson Wins New $50,000 Literary Prize

Fiction writer T. Geronimo Johnson has won the Simpson Family Literary Project’s inaugural literary prize. He will receive $50,000 and a brief residency at the Lafayette Library and the University of California in Berkeley. He will also make a number of public appearances and give a public reading in the San Francisco Bay Area. The annual award is given to a midcareer fiction writer to encourage and support forthcoming work.

Johnson, whose 2015 novel, Welcome to Braggsville, was longlisted for the National Book Award, plans to use the $50,000 prize to support his forthcoming novel,which the author says “explores the convergence of Afro-futurism; global AI; the economic imperatives that amplify cultural differences; corporate religion (in all manifestations); and tech inequity. The question behind this novel is the same question that animates my previous work: How do we learn to care about people who are not like us?  I’m thrilled by the opportunity to complete this journey without interruption.”The Simpson Family Literary Prize is cosponsored by the Lafayette Library & Learning Center Foundation in Lafayette, California, and the English Department at the University of California in Berkeley. An anonymous jury selects the winner; there is no application process.

Joe Di Prisco, the Literary Project’s founder and prize chair, established the foundation in 2012 with a mission to foster and build creative writing communities in the Bay Area through collaboration between libraries and university-affiliated creative writing programs. In addition to the literary prize, the Simpson Family Literary Project sponsors community outreach programs, including creative writing classes for high school students and incarcerated youth in diverse communities in California, as well as an annual writer-in-residence program at the Lafayette Library & Learning Center.

Di Prisco says he is excited about the continued growth of the project and selecting Johnson as the winner of its inaugural prize: “The Simpson Family Literary Project is thrilled to share Johnson and his brilliant work with students, readers, writers, teachers, professors, and librarians across generations.”

(Photo: T. Geronimo Johnson; Credit: Sandra Dyas)

End of April Poetry Deadlines

With just a few days left in April, end National Poetry Month on a high note by submitting to the following poetry contests and fellowships—offering prizes of $1,000 to $25,800—all with a deadline of April 30.

Arcadia Dead Bison Editors’ Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Arcadia is given annually for a group of poems. Entry Fee: $25

Ashland Poetry Press Richard Snyder Publication Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Ashland Poetry Press, and 50 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Entry fee: $25 ($27 for electronic submissions)

Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Marsh Hawk Press is given annually for a poetry collection. Meena Alexander will judge. Entry fee: $25

Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships: Five fellowships of $25,800 each are given annually to young poets. Writers who are U.S. residents or citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 as of April 30 are eligible. No entry fee.

Redivider Beacon Street Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Redivider is given annually for a poem. Entry fee: $20

Tupelo Press Berkshire Prize: A prize of $3,000 and publication by Tupelo Press is given annually for a first or second poetry collection. Entry fee: $28

University of Pittsburgh Press Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize: A prize of $5,000 and publication by University of Pittsburgh Press is given annually for a debut poetry collection. Entry fee: $25

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Terry Moore on the Show Poetry Series in Sacramento

Terry Moore, aka T-Mo, is the longtime host and workshop facilitator of the Show Poetry Series, sponsored by the Center for Fathers and Families, in Sacramento, California. Among his accomplishments include numerous Best Spoken Word Poet awards, a Best Live Performer award, and a BMA Image award. He has appeared on Showtime at the Apollo and BET, and shared the stage with the Temptations, Maya Angelou, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Dr. Cornel West, WAR, and many others.

I have the honor and privilege of being chosen by the Center for Fathers and Families (CFF) as the featured workshop facilitator and event host for the Show Poetry Series. The CFF offers programs and services that lead to family growth, enrichment, and empowerment. The Show has been around for sixteen years and support from Poets & Writers has played a huge part in its success. It draws all ages (from five years old to sixty years old) and nationalities, and is a beautiful thing for our community.

At each workshop, participants arrive and gather for a social period to get to know each other. They are encouraged to meditate in order to bring out thoughts from deep within. Once they feel motivated, all participants write a story that they best remember, that excites them, or means the most to them. Their writing is shared with the entire group and encouragement is always expressed, especially from the more experienced poets.

Those who feel comfortable are invited to share their work at the mic and receive feedback. Once they receive 100 percent positive feedback either at that time or in a future workshop, they are invited to perform their work at the main poetry event.

The exciting part is that half of the participants are first timers, who were drawn to the workshops and events as audience members. Their families are amazed and our community watches the birth of some great artists.

In addition to the workshop and event, we have created a local Access TV show to highlight the poets and give them the opportunity to see themselves perform and enhance their skills.

Being part of the Show has given me a place to share and test out work that has developed me into an award-winning poet. I’m inspired by the unity, teamwork, and positive atmosphere it provides for our community. I feel blessed to be a part of this movement.

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.

Photo: Terry Moore (Credit: J.M. Images Photography).

Caitlin Bailey Wins $10,000 Lindquist & Vennum Poetry Prize

Milkweed Editions has announced Caitlin Bailey of Saint Paul as the winner of the 2017 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry for her poetry collection, Solve for Desire. She received $10,000, and her book will be published by Milkweed Editions in November.

Judge Srikanth Reddy selected Bailey’s collection from a pool of more than two hundred manuscripts. Of the winning book Reddy said, “Solve for Desire is the work of a poet who sings, boldly, across the distances between us. ‘I am not afraid of any edge.’”

The finalists were Soham Patel, Patrick Johnson, Paige Riehl, Michael Torres, and Angela Voras-Hills. The winner and finalists were honored at Milkweed Editions’ second annual Poetry Month Party on April 13.

Given annually since 2011 by the Minneapolis-based independent press Milkweed Editions, the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is open to poets living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, or Wisconsin. The prize aims to celebrate the work and advance the careers of American poets living and working in the Upper Midwest. Previous winners include Chris Santiago, Jennifer Willoughby, and Rebecca Dunham. Visit the Milkweed Editions website for more information.

Photo: Caitlin Bailey

Man Booker International Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize was announced yesterday. The annual award is given for a book of fiction translated into English and published during the previous year. The £50,000 prize (approximately $63,900) is split between the writer and translator of the winning book, which will be announced on June 14 in London.

Each of the shortlisted authors and translators will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,280). The finalists are:

Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions) by Mathias Enard (France) and translated by Charlotte Mandell (US)
A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Jonathan Cape) by David Grossman (Israel) and translated by Jessica Cohen (US)
The Unseen (Maclehose) by Roy Jacobsen (Norway) and translated by Don Bartlett (UK) and Don Shaw (UK)
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press) by Dorthe Nors (Denmark) and translated by Misha Hoekstra (US)
Judas (Chatto & Windus) by Amos Oz (Israel) and translated by Nicholas de Lange (UK)
Fever Dream (Oneworld) by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina) and translated by Megan McDowell (US),

“Our shortlist spans the epic and the everyday,” says Nick Barley, the chair of the judging panel. “From fevered dreams to sleepless nights, from remote islands to overwhelming cities, these wonderful novels shine a light on compelling individuals struggling to make sense of their place in a complex world.” The four other judges for the 2017 prize are Daniel Hahn, Elif Shafak, Chika Unigwe, and Helen Mort. The six finalists were selected from a longlist of thirteen, which in turn was selected from 126 submissions.

The prize, which was formerly given biennially for a fiction writer’s body of work, combined last year with the Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize to award a single book of translated fiction. Han Kang and Deborah Smith won the 2016 prize for Smith’s translation from the Korean of Han’s novel The Vegetarian.

Upcoming Deadline: River Styx Poetry Contest

Submissions are currently open for the 2017 River Styx International Poetry Contest. A prize of $1,500 and publication in River Styx is given annually for a single poem. This year’s judge is poet Carl Phillips.

Using the online submission system, submit up to three poems with a $20 entry fee, which includes a subscription to River Styx, by April 30. Paper submissions can be mailed to River Styx Poetry Contest, 3139 A, South Grand Blvd., suite 203, St. Louis, MO 63118. All entries are considered for publication; first-, second-, and third-place winners, as well as honorable mentions, will also be published in the winter 2017 issue of River Styx.

Established in 1975, St. Louis–based literary biennial River Styx publishes international poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and art. The magazine also hosts writing workshops and a monthly reading series in St. Louis and sponsors annual poetry and flash fiction contests. Visit the website for more information.

Jess, Whitehead Win 2017 Pulitzer Prizes

The winners of the 101st annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced today at Columbia University in New York City. Of the twenty-one categories, the prizes in letters are awarded annually for works of literature published in the previous year. Each winner receives $10,000.

Tyehimba Jess won the prize in poetry for his collection Olio (Wave Books). The finalists were the late Adrienne Rich for Collected Poems: 1950-2012 (W.W. Norton) and Campbell McGrath for XX (Ecco).

Colson Whitehead won the prize in fiction for his novel The Underground Railroad (Doubleday). The finalists were Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown) and C. E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Hisham Matar won the prize in autobiography for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House). The finalists were Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom (Metropolitan Books) and the late Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (Random House).

Visit the Pulitzer Prize website for a complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories, including general nonfiction, journalism, and drama.

Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prizes in 1911, and the first prize was administered in 1917. The 2016 winners included poet Peter Balakian and fiction writer Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Listen to Tyehimba Jess read an excerpt from Olio, and hear an interview with Colson Whitehead about The Underground Railroad in Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

 

(Photo, from left: Tyehimba Jess, Colson Whitehead)

 

An Evening With Kelly Harris and Rodrigo Toscano at the University of New Orleans

Carolyn Hembree’s debut poetry collection, Skinny, was published by Kore Press in 2012. In 2016, Trio House Books published her second collection, Rigging a Chevy Into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague, winner of the 2015 Trio Award and the 2015 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, jubilat, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. She has received grants and fellowships from PEN, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and the Southern Arts Federation. An assistant professor at the University of New Orleans, Hembree teaches writing and is the poetry editor of Bayou Magazine.

The University of New Orleans (UNO) English Department and the Creative Writing Workshop, our MFA program, hosts readings and lectures by local and national poets. In recent years, Marilyn Chin, Shara McCallum, Laura Mullen, Marjorie Perloff, Metta Sáma, and Richard Siken have presented their work at UNO. Our poetry readings are held in the Liberal Arts building, Room 197, aka “the Lounge.” Complete with a kitchenette, restrooms, a brick courtyard, filled bookshelves, conference tables, couches, comfy chairs, restrooms, and seven entrances, this communal space serves as a casual dining area, a workshop classroom, and the site of the annual MFA prom. Reflective of the culture of our program and the city, a motto that suits our events might be: Come as you are. Bring what you can. Students and faculty arrange the furniture and contribute homemade food and refreshments.

Last fall, on the evening of October 26, “the Lounge” was packed with forty to fifty attendees. Current Creative Writing Workshop candidate Elle Magnuson introduced New Orleans poet Kelly Harris. One of our city’s most exciting talents, Kelly Harris opened with her cri de coeur, an elegy comprised of the names and lines of “lost black poets”—names and lines Harris variously scatted and sang. She read from loose pages spread across a table—as she later demonstrated during the Q&A—she scored the poem to indicate her vocal inflection. Kelly spent two years studying music to improve upon her poetry and performance skills. Social consciousness characterized the work she shared, particularly poems from Shame on Her, a manuscript on body politics and African American women. Embracing the public role of the poet, Kelly Harris told the audience, “I want to have an audience that’s janitors, poets, everybody—and that comes at a cost.”

Creative Writing Workshop alumnus Spencer Silverthorne then introduced Rodrigo Toscano. A polyphonic poet with an experimental bent, the longtime Brooklyn resident and recent New Orleans transplant gave a memorable performance from his fifth poetry collection, Explosion Rocks Springfield (Fence Books, 2016). Like Harris, Toscano read from a stack of loose pages. A line from a newspaper article, “The Friday evening gas explosion in Springfield leveled a strip club next to a day care,” serves as the title of each of the book’s eighty poems—a title he delivered with varied nuance each time.

As interrogations of language, Toscano’s text and performance compelled us to consider the impact of words written and spoken, private and public. His fine performance emphasized the contrast of appropriated language from industrial reports and newspapers, and with interjections, onomatopoeia, demotic idioms, interjections, and lyric imagery he engaged listeners. He interacted with the audience frequently, even directing us to repeat the refrain of one poem. However, the most effective moments of his performance may have been the counterpoints to the multiple registers of diction as he ruminated about the language, “What is care exactly?”

Thanks to Poets & Writers’ consistent support and publicity, event attendance by the university and larger community has doubled. Come as you are. Bring what you can. Care.

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) Carolyn Hembree (Credit: Lynda Woolard). (bottom) Rodrigo Toscano and Kelly Harris (Credit: Mimi Miller).

Imbolo Mbue Wins 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award

Imbolo Mbue has won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers (Random House, 2016). She will receive $15,000, and will be honored at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. on May 6. The annual award is given for a book of fiction published during the previous year.

Behold The Dreamers displays a remarkable confidence impressive for a debut novel,” says Chris Abani, who judged the prize along with Chantel Acevedo and Sigrid Nunez. “Imbolo Mbue has a fine ear for dialogue and the nuance of language. Without ever leaning into sentimentality and yet managing to steer clear of cruelty, she pushes her characters through true difficulties into a believable and redemptive transformation. Behold The Dreamers reveals a writer with a capacious imagination, and the warmth and compassion to craft a career of beautiful and important novels.”

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon, and currently lives in New York City. Mbue was one of the five featured authors in Poets & Writers Magazine’s 2016 roundup of the summer’s best debut fiction; read an excerpt of Behold the Dreamers in “First Fiction 2016” and listen to Mbue read the excerpt in episode eight of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

The finalists for the prize, who each receive $5,000, were Viet Dinh for After Disasters (Little A), Louise Erdrich for LaRose (HarperCollins), Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Sunil Yapa for Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Little, Brown). The finalists were selected from almost five hundred novels and story collections submitted by 143 publishers.

Established in 1981, the PEN/Faulkner Award has also been given to James Hannaham, Karen Joy Fowler, E. L. Doctorow, Ann Patchett, John Updike, and Sherman Alexie, among others.