Poets & Writers Blogs

Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

This morning in London, the Man Booker Foundation announced the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes. The annual award is given for a book of fiction written in English and published in the United Kingdom in the previous year. The winner receives £50,000 (approximately $66,400).

The finalists are Paul Beatty of the United States for The Sellout (Oneworld); Deborah Levy of the United Kingdom for Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton); Graeme Macrae Burnet of the United Kingdom for His Bloody Project (Contraband); Ottessa Moshfegh of the United States for Eileen (Jonathan Cape); David Szalay of Canada for All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape); and Madeleine Thien of Canada for Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books).

The judging panel—which includes 2016 judges chair Amanda Foreman, as well as Jon DayAbdulrazak GurnahDavid Harsent, and Olivia Williams—selected the finalists from a longlist of thirteen. Foreman remarked, “The final six reflect the centrality of the novel in modern culture—in its ability to champion the unconventional, to explore the unfamiliar, and to tackle difficult subjects.” Deborah Levy is the only shortlisted author who has previously made the list, in 2012, for her novel Swimming Home.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall on October 25. Each shortlisted author receives £2,500 (approximately $3,300) and a bound edition of their book. 

First launched in 1969, 2016 marks the third year that the Man Booker Prize has been open to writers of any nationality; the prize was previously limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth, and Zimbabwe. Jamaican author Marlon James won the 2015 prize for his novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings.

Clockwise from top left: Graeme Macrae Burnet, Deborah Levy, David Szalay, Madeleine Thien, Paul Beatty, Ottessa Moshfegh 

Young Poets Grow in the South Bronx

Joy Leonard, teaching artist and program director at New Settlement's Program for Girls & Young Women serves adolescent girls in the Southwest Bronx with arts and leadership development classes after school, on weekends, during school breaks, and in the summer. Participants in the program are young women of color, 99 percent from low-income families, often attending underperforming schools. The program strives to connect young women with established artists and educators, who will introduce them to relevant, high-quality materials and guide their development as artists, while also supporting their engagement with social justice issues. In her other life, Leonard is a mother of two boys, an actor, director, and executive producer of the Synaesthetic Theatre Collective.

This spring we were fortunate enough to find (with the help of the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Kamilah Aisha Moon: author, poet, and gifted teacher. Kamilah led a seven-session workshop series titled Drop the Mic for program participants ages fourteen to twenty. Kamilah began each session with a group reading of two or three selections of poetry, linked by themes or similar poetic devices, and then led the group in a conversation about what they noticed, what resonated with them, and how language was used. She would then offer the group a writing prompt for the evening, related to the readings and conversation.

Participants wrote about their names, their perceptions, and evoked places of memory. Inspired by Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” they experimented with writing from the perspective of someone else, in a voice not their own. Kamilah selected relevant pieces from a wide range of poets, with a heavy concentration of women and people of color, but she also kept the young women tuned in with critical discussions of motifs in popular songs, like Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and encouraged them to relate to works that moved them. In response to Nina Simone’s “Blackbird,” one young poet wrote:

Why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t ever gonna fly.

Flying is for the Good, never for the ‘hood.

Us, suspended in the air – you, paying your fare. Ha!

So why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t gonna make it.

All that you can do is get on a plane, so please, face it.

Birds of a feather flock together. You the one getting blown away in the bad weather. Ha!

Kamilah effectively drew them into expressing opinions and considering why poets had chosen the language, rhythms, and images used in each piece. While the group was often loud, raucous, and challenging to channel in conversation—you know, teenagers—once Kamilah explained the prompt for each evening, they settled down to commit themselves to paper with a seriousness and focus that sometimes surprised the program staff. Everyone wanted Kamilah to read their work and provide feedback. They wrote funny, daring, surprising pieces, and over the course of the workshop it was clear they felt comfortable enough to risk expressing themselves in new ways.

The Program for Girls & Young Women is indebted to Poets & Writers, and Bonnie Rose Marcus, in particular, for enabling us to work with Kamilah Aisha Moon, a poet and teacher with the experience and compassionate personality to effectively support, inspire, and challenge our young poets.

For more on the Program for Girls & Young Women, visit their Facebook page. For samples and video clips of the young poets performing work created in the workshop, visit the Drop the Mic 2016 website.

Photo (top): Joy Leonard. Photo credit: Chris Nichols. Photo collage (bottom): Kamilah Aisha Moon and participants. Photo credit: Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Academy of American Poets Announces 2016 Award Winners

The winners of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prizes, which honor poets at various stages in their careers, have been announced. This year the Academy awarded more than $200,000 in prize money to poets including Sharon Olds, Lynn Emanuel, and Natasha Trethewey.

Sharon Olds received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award for “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” Olds, seventy-three, is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Stag’s Leap (Knopf), which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Her forthcoming book, Odes, will be published by Knopf on September 20. Previous winners of the Wallace Stevens Award include Joy Harjo (2015), Robert Hass (2014,) and Philip Levine (2013).

The recipient of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Fellowship is former United States poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. The annual prize of $25,000 is given for “distinguished poetic achievement.” The Academy’s Board of Chancellors nominates and selects the winner.

Lynn Emanuel received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her collection The Nerve of It: Poems New and Selected (Pitt Poetry Series). The annual $25,000 prize is given for a poetry collection published in the United States during the previous year. 

The James Laughlin Award went to Mary Hickman’s Rayfish (Omnidawn). The annual $5,000 prize honors a second book of poetry. The winner also receives an all-expenses-paid weeklong residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, as well as distribution of the book to approximately a thousand Academy members. Ellen Bass, Jericho Brown, and Carmen Giménez Smith judged.

For a complete list of winners and more information about the Academy’s awards, visit poets.org.

Established in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the largest nonprofit organization supporting the work of American poets. 

(Photo: Sharon Olds)

An Interview With Oliver Baez Bendorf

Oliver Baez Bendorf is the author of The Spectral Wilderness (Kent State University Press, 2015) and cofounder of the Mount Pleasant Poetry Project. His writing and comics have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, diode, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere, and he holds an MFA and an MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught recent workshops on poetry-comics, visual thinking, watercolor comics, and cartonera books, at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors, 826DC, Rare Book School, the Allied Media Conference, BloomBars, and Mount Holyoke College.

What is your writing critique philosophy?
The closest thing to critique in my workshops is that we listen and look at each other’s work together with close and careful attention. I believe it’s one of the most powerful things we can give one another, especially in these times when focused attention is scarce. So I facilitate that for my students and have come to find that my workshops aren’t complete without enough time built in for this. Drafting dots have become one of my most used supplies for this reason. They are great for sticking drafts up on the wall. I recently led a Poetry Comics Crash Course in my living room and everyone made a single-panel comic, a strip, and a page over the course of the day. After each sprint we hung up everyone’s work on the wall and looked at it, talking about each piece and what we noticed.

The other head of the friendly monster is asking a good question, the kind that comes from looking closely at a piece, noticing what you notice and communicating that. My philosophy is that there is no shortage of critique from our own heads and from other people, and there are plenty of other venues through which writers and artists can seek that kind of critique. So my workshops are less about that. I aim to create the conditions for people to take creative risks, trust their own impulses and intuition, and for us to celebrate those risks together. This, as with almost everything I know about teaching, comes to me from the influence of my own teacher, Lynda Barry, who has said that people always ask her, “How does the good work happen if you don’t tell people what to fix?” and what she says is that she has found that the good work happens anyway. I have found the same. The things that people have written and drawn in my workshops, in such a short amount of time, blow me away.

How does teaching inform your writing and vice versa?
Prepping to teach a workshop involves me taking inventory of what it is that I know and find useful, and how to break that down into communicable and repeatable steps. So it’s pushed me into a level of reflection and metacognition on my own process that is both challenging and incredibly useful. When I get stuck, I try to pay attention to what tools and resources I’ve accumulated for moving through stuckness, so that I can document and share those not only with my students but with my future stuck self. This feedback loop has been very useful for my own creative work. I am inspired by the creativity of my students and the directions they take the exercises—in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of.

What makes your workshops unique?
Almost all of my workshops these days combine writing and drawing. So they’re very interdisciplinary, on purpose. I gear them to both the practicing/published and the beginning/returning. No drawing experience is necessary, and I build in a quick tour through getting over a fear of drawing. I use a lot of worksheets. Often we make a kind of zine or collaborative book together.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
A timer. I learned almost everything I know about teaching from my own teacher Lynda Barry, including the value of setting a timer during a free-write or other exercise, and not letting it go too long. Maybe it is counterintuitive, but I have found that it helps minimize dread, including for myself. If people know that there is a timer running, there’s no time to delay, panic, or even erase—all ways that we talk ourselves out of the good stuff, the risky or weird stuff we want to write and draw. I use a lot of prompts and exercises designed to get ideas down on the page and dig deep into them from new angles. I don’t tear anyone’s work apart.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups (i.e. teens, elders, veterans)?
I’m invested in the imaginations of folks on the margins. Teaching writing and art is a way to prioritize the creativity and world-building of people who are routinely left out of decisions about what they need. For participants, a workshop geared toward a particular group, shared experience, or identity (such as a watercolor comics workshop I recently taught at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors) opens up possibilities by changing the audience and the gaze receiving their work in the workshop setting. It means a poem doesn’t need to be an explainer, it can just be a poem.

For more photos of workshops and comics by Oliver Baez Bendorf, click here.

Photos: (top) Participants of the Poetry Comics Crash Course from August 2016. (middle) Poetry comics drafting tools. (bottom) Bendorf teaching the Poetry Comics Crash Course 2016. Photo credit: Oliver Baez Bendorf.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in DC 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.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers. This program is supported by public funds from the New York City Council, in partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Department for the Aging.

Rona Jaffe Award Winners Announced

The Rona Jaffe Foundation has announced the winners of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards. The annual awards are given to six emerging women writers of exceptional talent; each winner receives $30,000.

This year’s winners are poet Airea D. Matthews; fiction writers Jamey Hatley, Ladee Hubbard, and Asako Serizawa; and nonfiction writers Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas and Danielle Geller. The winners will be honored at a private awards ceremony in New York City on September 15.

Beth McCabe, director of the Writers’ Awards program, stated in a press release, “All of our award winners are writing as exiles to some degree and investigating the historical, political and profoundly personal ramifications of this state of being…. Their work has led them in different directions but each, I believe, is profoundly connected to her sense of place—homeland—and digging deep to come to terms with her personal history through her writing.” 

Established in 1995 by novelist Rona Jaffe (1931–2005), the Writers’ Awards program has since given more than $2 million to women in the early stages of their writing careers. Previous winners include Eula Biss, Rivka Galchen, ZZ Packer, Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Tracy K. Smith.

There is no application process for the awards; the Foundation solicits nominations each year from writers, editors, critics, and other literary professionals, and an anonymous committee selects the winners.

To learn more about the winners and program, visit the Rona Jaffe Foundation website

(Photos, clockwise from top left: Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, Danielle Geller, Ladee HubbardAsako Serizawa, Airea D. Matthews, Jamey Hatley) 

Poetry Is in Fashion!

Caridad De La Luz is considered one of America's leading spoken word poets known as “La Bruja.” She was awarded Comité Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Women Legacy Award in 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for excellence in writing from the Bronx Historical Society in 2013, and honored as a Bronx Living Legend by the Bronx Music Heritage Center. She was presented with a Citation of Merit from the Bronx borough president and named “Top 20 Puerto Rican Women Everyone Should Know.” The New York Times called her "a juggernaut" and she is best known for her captivating performance on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.

On August 19, 2016, I performed as host and master of ceremonies for Bronx Fashion Week for the third time since it began. What was unique about this summer fashion show was that it celebrated young fashionistas, designers, and child models ranging from three years of age to teenagers. The performance on the runway went seamlessly, pun intended, and proud parents sat in the audience beaming with pride. It took place in the center of the Mall at Bay Plaza in the Bronx, allowing shoppers unaware of the event to come and look on from all levels of the mall. They cheered and watched excitedly. It was a lovely sight and for most of the models, it was a first time experience.

I performed a poem I wrote called “The Bronx,” an ode to the borough I love so dearly. Born and raised, I will always reside here. It felt so empowering to share that poem to close the event, leaving the audience with words to ponder and pride to celebrate. The audience walked away knowing that after a lovely event held in our very own community, great events will continue to take place, but what they don’t know is that this event was made possible by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers has funded performances organized by community producers that I’ve been hired to host. With their openness to fund and support me, I have been able to incorporate elements of poetry and spoken word onto the platform of the runway in the fashion world where poetry is rarely, if ever, heard.

So many literary events have taken place over my twenty-year career with the support of Poets & Writers, helping me to reach my community and expand their awareness of what being a contemporary poet and writer really means. My mission is to inspire people to express themselves more openly and poetically, and thankfully, Poets & Writers has been instrumental in that mission.

Poetry has always been a platform where beautiful things emerge, so now it can be said that poetry is in fashion—even on the runway.

Photos: (top) Caridad De La Luz takes the stage. (bottom) Young models walk the runway. Photo credit: Juan Carlos Guevara Peek-A-Pose Studio.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

National Poetry Series Announces Winners

The National Poetry Series has announced the winners of its 2016 Open Competition. Each of the five winning poets will receive $10,000 and publication in 2017 by a participating trade, university, or small press.

This year’s winners are William Brewer’s I Know Your Kind, selected by Ada Limón, to be published by Milkweed Editions; Sasha Pimentel’s For Want of Water, selected by Gregory Pardlo, to be published by Beacon Press; Jeffrey Schultz’s Civil Twilight, selected by David St. John, to be published by Ecco; Sam Sax’s Madness, selected by Terrance Hayes, to be published by Penguin Books; and Chelsea Dingman’s Thaw, selected by Allison Joseph, to be published by University of Georgia Press. 

The Princeton, New Jersey–based National Poetry Series was established in 1978 to “recognize and promote excellence in contemporary poetry” and to “provide a structural model for collective literary publishing ventures.” Past winners of the annual Open Competition include Joshua Bennett, Hannah Gamble, Terrance Hayes, Douglas Kearney, and Sarah Vap. For submission information, visit the National Poetry Series website

(Photos from left: William Brewer, Sasha Pimentel, Jeffrey Schultz, Sam Sax, Chelsea Dingman)

Poets & Writers' Sixth Annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading

Poets & Writers' sixth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 30, 2016, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Beyond Baroque, the Los Angeles Poet Society, Mixed Remixed Festival, QueerWise, and the Roots and Wings Project came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. Readings & Workshops (West) program associate Brandi Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

Connecting Cultures Readers

This past June, Connecting Cultures marked its sixth year celebrating the Los Angeles literary scene with a diverse group of voices and work. It feels like each year grows in power—with these organizations continuing to cultivate and support writing that’s unique, emerging, and all-around stunning. At the reception before the reading, I witnessed, and gladly participated in, rounds of hugging, handshaking, and wide smiles. We come to these spaces to let ourselves share what makes us human and this reading was no exception.

If only we could replace traffic citations
with love tickets, demanding
that one be more affectionate with their children.
If only there was a love meter you had to feed
every hour, or a
love-station where
the trains are never on time
but nobody cares because they're
all listening to
their love-pods or
updating their status on Lovebook.

Armine Iknadossian, representing literary organization and host for the event, Beyond Baroque, opened the night with the above lines from her poem “United States of Love” from her collection United States of Love and Other Poems. Beyond Baroque serves the Venice and larger West Los Angeles community through a long-standing free workshop series and a generous list of events and readings throughout the year.

The ever-elegant Dorothy Randall Gray brought a walking stick she had rescued and read a poem inspired by it—a kind of found art ekphrastic piece. She represented the Los Angeles Poet Society, an organization a few years old and dedicated to bringing people in the literary community together. The outreach and pure positive energy that project directors Jessica Wilson-Cardenas and Juan Cardenas give to the community is what keeps this organization strong.

Jackson Bliss, first runner-up for the Poets & Writers' 2013 California Writer's Exchange Award in fiction, represented the Mixed Remixed Festival by bowling us over with his moving words: “Siddhartha watched the silent miracle of correspondence unfolding before his eyes and wondered how many countries the postman carried in his hands today, how many miles his envelopes had traveled to inhabit aluminum boxes, where one day they would hibernate forever inside old shoeboxes, spongy minds, and expansive landfills. It seemed like such a waste of language.” The Mixed Remixed Festival is the nation's premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals, through films, books, and performance.

Laura Davila

There isn’t enough room in a small blog post to give you the power from all the voices in attendance. Like from QueerWise, a group of queer, senior spoken-word performers who brought Randy Gravelle and Jen OConnor to the stage, gifting us with stories of being queer in this world from perspectives reaching far back beyond our time of growing acceptance and celebration of queer lives and identities.

The young writer who closed the night, and who had been at this reading two years earlier representing 826LA, was the Roots and Wings Project’s very own Laura Davila, who delivered a poem responding to the part of the world that sees her blindness as a burden. “How brave you are,” she mimicked the voices she heard around her or “I wonder what it’s like to get up in the morning for you,” as if she was somehow missing something. “People reduce me to some pair of ‘broken eyes’ / as if sight is the only way to experience / the world.” Hardly a dry eye stood in applause with the closing of Davila's poem, which capped a reading where every voice, unique and explorative in its own right, gave us something honest and vulnerable and necessary.

Photo (top): Los Angeles Connecting Cultures group. Front (L-R): Jamie Moore, Patricia Zamorano, Brandi M Spaethe. Back (L-R): Heidi Durrow, Joe Levy, Jackson Bliss, Jesse Bliss, Laura Davila, Jen OConnor, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Richard Modiano, Dorothy Randall Gray, Norman Molesko, Jessica Wilson Cardenas. Photo credit: Jamie FitzGerald. Photo (bottom): Laura Davila. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

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.

BuzzFeed Opens Second Round of Fellowship Applications

In 2015, BuzzFeed launched its Emerging Writers Fellowship program with a mission to “diversify the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” The annual fellowships, run by BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, Saeed Jones, are given to four nonfiction writers and include a $12,000 stipend and career mentorship from BuzzFeed’s editorial staff. The fellows spend four months in BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City or Los Angeles and focus on writing personal essays, criticism, and cultural news.

After the success of the first class of fellows—more than six hundred writers applied—Jones is looking ahead to the next round of fellows, who will begin in January 2017. With applications opening today—the deadline is October 1—Jones speaks with Poets & Writers Magazine about the program’s first year, his goals for its second year, and tips for applicants.

Do you feel like your initial goals for the program were accomplished in its inaugural year?

I’m proud of everything we accomplished with the fellowship’s first class and what we learned from one another throughout the process. The fellows had a joyfully rigorous four months of work while also getting to sit down with writers like Rembert Browne and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, as well as agents and editors. The fellows are well on their way to what I hope are the next steps in brilliant, sustainable careers. That said, it’s just not in my nature to be satisfied for long. I want to introduce the next class of fellows to even more industry mentors and have more roundtable discussions about what the writer’s life looks like. And, more generally, I’m so eager to apply everything I learned from the first class. We have so much work to do. The urgency is almost overwhelming. Our lives, as literary citizens, depend on artists being empowered to illuminate culture.

How would you describe your experience working with the inaugural fellows?

It was a thrill to work with writers I’m confident I will be reading for the rest of my life. Each morning I walked into the newsroom and saw Esther Wang, Chaya Babu, Niela Orr, and Tomi Obaro sitting at their desks was another morning that I was reminded that transformative change is still possible. Investing in diversity and emerging voices doesn’t just have to be a conversation on panels and roundtables; it can be a reality. Publishing their work was surprisingly emotional because I knew that each essay and reported story was, in effect, an experience in watching a writer’s career evolve before my eyes. Also, it meant a great deal to see how eager my colleagues at BuzzFeed News were to meet the fellows themselves, take them out for coffee, read their work, and give them advice. I’m excited we get to do this again in January.

What will be different about the program in its second year?

Being based in the newsroom, getting face time with other writers and editors, comes with so many benefits—last year our fellows sat just a few feet away from Pulitzer Prize–winning editor and journalist Mark Schoofs, for example. BuzzFeed has a great office culture and it’s important for our fellows to be able to take advantage of its atmosphere. That said, not everyone lives in New York City. Weird, right? Stranger still is the lingering idea that the only way a writer can make it is by packing up all of her belongings and moving to Brooklyn. Fortunately, our brilliant deputy culture editor, Karolina Waclawiak, is based in Los Angeles, so this will be the first year that fellows will have the option of being based in either our New York City headquarters or in our Los Angeles office. Whichever coast they land on, all four fellows will work very closely with Karolina and me. Everyone wins!

Do you have any advice for applicants?

In short, the application is intended to give candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves as writers and advocate for the work they’ve already done. Strong applicants need to make a case for why they need mentorship, time, financial support, and a sustained editorial relationship in order to take an ambitious step forward in their career. Listen, I get it. There isn’t a writer among us who wouldn’t benefit from having more time and money on their hands. That said, I’m drawn to candidates who are able to thoughtfully explain why this fellowship is an investment in a future that could create meaningful change. Another bit of advice: The first test of any application is whether or not the candidate actually followed the directions. This is a minimum expectation, but it also illuminates how a writer will respond and act upon editorial feedback. All editors are different, of course, but I doubt many of us enjoy repeating ourselves.

Approximately how many original pieces will each fellow write during the four-month period?

We don’t have a quota. The emphasis is on giving the fellows as many opportunities as possible, and the editorial support necessary, to put their best work in front of BuzzFeed’s audience. We also encourage the fellows to pursue various modes of writing, especially styles that may be new for them and will push them out of their comfort zone. A writer with a strong reporting background should, of course, seize upon cultural reporting stories but expect to brainstorm and write essays driven by personal narrative or cultural criticism as well. I think versatility is an important aspect of a sustainable career. And I’d encourage applicants to read work from the first fellowship class in order to get a sense of that range.

In addition to the establishing the fellowship program, you launched READER, a literary vertical on BuzzFeed, in March. How will the new fellows’ work intersect with READER?

READER is BuzzFeed’s home for original poetry, short fiction, essays—both personal and reported—as well as comics. It’s also where we feature the work from the fellows, so we get to see excellent work from emerging writers published alongside the work by writers like Mark Doty, Eileen Myles, Solmaz Sharif, Helen Oyeyemi, among others. Just as BuzzFeed is known for a range of content, BuzzFeed READER is designed to feature a great range of literary work. And the fellows—excellent as they are—absolutely have a home amidst that work.

Can you speak a bit to how both READER and the fellowship program help accomplish your goals of broadening cultural coverage and diversifying publishing?

My main goal is to use BuzzFeed’s tremendous platform to highlight excellent writing that matters. Valuing diversity—in terms of identity, style, and range of coverage—is just one part of being an editor in pursuit of that excellence; it’s doing my job. Waiting until there’s a body bleeding in the street and then hurriedly reaching out to black poets for their work is not excellence. It’s panic. So, our strategy is to focus on cultivating a dynamic readership, masthead, and pipeline of writers. All three components are essential. I want the work I’m doing as an editor to outlive me, so to speak, so that means the decisions my team acts upon are driven by our desire to make substantive changes with sustainable impact.

Photo: Saeed Jones Credit: BuzzFeed / Jon Premos

David Campos on the California Rural Libraries Tour

David Campos is a CantoMundo fellow, the author of Furious Dusk (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), and winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Luna Luna, Prairie Schooner, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and many others. Campos received an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California in Riverside in 2013 and his BA from California State University in Fresno in 2010. Currently, he lives in Fresno and teaches English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. As a part of Poets & Writers' Rural Libraries Tour project with California Center for the Book, Campos taught workshops at the Kings County Library, Tracy Branch Library, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in California's Central Valley.

David Campos I drove down Highway 99 and took the 43, a two-lane highway, watching developments turn into vineyards, orchards, and the expansive agricultural land California’s Central Valley is known for. A tourist might be entranced with the plant life, but I couldn’t help but think of the houses, the sheds, the men, women, and children covered in the ninety-degree heat. The town of fifty-three thousand was quiet when I drove in on a Saturday morning where the Kings County Library in Hanford was still closed. They opened early for the workshop I was to give; I entered the space and prepped, greeting each of the twelve attendees trickling in.

And I knew not a lot of writers trickle into a small town’s library to give workshops and readings. In a town that lacks access to writers, poets, and artists in their area that can mentor, shape, or inspire the future in their medium, my presence was appreciated, and I accepted the responsibility of giving everything I could in the short amount of time we had together.

The Hanford Branch library group that had signed up for the workshop brought it. We worked on creating one single poem based on a tangible object that they held dear. A high schooler, accompanied by her mom and another family member, blew me away with her final draft. So much so that I told her if I was an editor, I’d publish it. I suggested she submit to places. Each one of the participants worked through their drafts diligently and with purpose. I felt honored to have worked with them. 

Then up the 99 I went to visit the Tracy Branch Library to give another workshop. While we drafted a poem, we mostly talked about where to write from, the sources we think could be used and those that they hadn’t thought about.

Lastly, the wonderful group of middle schoolers at Voices Academies engaged in bilingual poetry. Their workshop was focused on names—names given, names earned, names of things they’re associated with. They wrote lists, and then on a large piece of butcher paper, they combined their work in both Spanish and English.

I walked away from each of these sacred learning places thinking about the responsibility we have as artists and writers—at least those with the means to travel—to visit those smaller “markets.” It’s too easy to become complacent in our larger cities, and larger markets, to only read at universities or bookstores. I know I’m guilty of this, but I know the poetic spirit doesn't just exist near the meccas of literature. It lives in Hanford. It lives in Tracy. It lives in the young and bright minds at Voices Academies. The literary landscape of the future needs us. Go there. Find the voices eager and ready to change the world.

Photo: David Campos.

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.

RHINO Writes: Poetry Workshops at the Evanston Public Library

Virginia Bell is the author of the poetry collection, From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press 2012). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for both the Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by the Chattahoochee Review, and the Center for Women Writers’ Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work is forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Cider Press Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cloudbank, CALYX, Poet Lore, Pebble Lake Review, Wicked Alice, and other journals and anthologies. Bell is a senior editor at RHINO Poetry, and an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University. This fall, she is joining the faculty in the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Chicago High School for the Arts. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and was the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency in 2015.

On June 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM, in a meeting room at the Evanston Public Library, poet Nate Marshall asked the thirteen poetry workshop participants to share their favorite words. The answers ranged from the minimalist “tin” to the Portuguese word for tenderness, “ternura,” and the vernacular “thing-a-ma-gig.” Marshall then spoke persuasively about the possibilities of using one’s own vernacular traditions, one’s own “slang,” in the production of a liberating poetic practice.

As the author of Wild Hundreds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) and editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015), Marshall described his own fascination with the word “finna,” as in “I’m finna go to the store,” a word that might translate as “fixing to” or “going to,” but that also carries the connotations of planning, intention, and agency. He then read one of his own poems that includes the word “finna.”

In the ensuing discussion, participants explored the difference between avoiding cliché or tired language on the one hand, and the personal and political energy derived from a contextually powerful deployment of vernacular words and phrases. There was also discussion of the idea that all humans, at any given time and place, practice and invent vernacular language, not just so-called “standard” language; in other words, emerging and changing vernacular traditions are a fundamental expression of human poetic creativity.

After this presentation and discussion, Marshall facilitated the peer critique of participants’ poems. Each participant circulated a poem, read it aloud, and then listened to the constructive feedback. Marshall led the group in a spirit of collaboration, with warmth, enthusiasm, and respect for diverse aesthetic practice, and wise suggestions for revision.

Indeed, RHINO has a long tradition of hosting poetry workshops in the spirit of collaboration. Founded in Evanston, Illinois in 1976 as a grassroots poetry workshop, RHINO began to publish an annual journal in 1978 to support the poetry community in Illinois. Since then, RHINO has become a nationally and internationally recognized journal of literature, publishing poems, flash fiction, and translations by new, emerging, and established writers. As an independent, all volunteer organization, RHINO continues to maintain an active local community presence, primarily through two programs: free monthly workshops led by accomplished poets and RHINO Reads!, a monthly reading series.

Other recent workshop leaders include Keith Leonard on “The Contemporary Ode,” Aricka Foreman on “Facing It: Memory, Melancholia and Waking,” and Cecilia Pinto on “Creating the World in Words: Poetry as Genesis.” Workshops are free and open to the public, and held on or near the fourth Sunday of the month, ten months a year.

Funding from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program has made this program a success! All the workshops are well attended and well received. Several adult participants are “regulars” who return month after month, while others may be attending the first poetry workshop of their lives. RHINO welcomes experienced and novice poets alike. In Dean Young’s terms, we like to encourage “the art of recklessness,” but in a supportive and informative environment. To find out about upcoming workshops and readings, how to host a RHINO reading in your area, how to donate to RHINO, and how to submit to the RHINO Poetry, please visit our website!

Photos: (top) Virginia Bell. (bottom) Nate Marshall with workshop participants.  Photo credit: Virginia Bell

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago 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

Submissions Open for Radar Coniston Prize

Submissions are open for Radar Poetry’s Coniston Prize, given annually for a group of poems by a female poet. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in Radar. Gabrielle Calvocoressi will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit three to six poems of any length with a $15 entry fee by September 1. The Radar editorial staff suggests that the poems should be “intentionally cohesive in some way, whether connected by subject matter, theme, voice, style, or imagery.” Ten finalists will be published along with the winner in the October issue of Radar. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Gabrielle Calvocoressi has published two poetry collections, Apocalyptic Swing Poems and The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, both with Persea Books. Her third collection, Rocket Fantastic, is forthcoming. The senior poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Calvocoressi teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College and at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Published quarterly, Radar is an online poetry journal focused on the “interplay between poetry and visual media.” Edited by Rachel Marie Patterson and Dara-Lyn Shrager, each issue of the journal pairs poetry with artwork.

Alexandra Lytton Regalado won last year’s prize, which was judged by Lynn Emanuel. Flower Conroy was selected for the 2014 prize by Mary Biddinger.

Photo: Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Longlist Announced for 2016 Man Booker Prize

This morning, the longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced. The annual award of £50,000 (approximately $66,000) is given for a work of fiction originally written in English and published in the United Kingdom by a writer of any nationality.

The thirteen longlisted books are:

The Sellout (Oneworld) by Paul Beatty (U.S.); The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker) by J.M. Coetzee (South Africa, Australia); Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape) by A.L. Kennedy (U.K.); Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton) by Deborah Levy (U.K.); His Bloody Project (Contraband) by Graeme Macrae Burnet (U.K.); The North Water (Scribner) by Ian McGuire (U.K.); Hystopia (Faber & Faber) by David Means (U.S.); The Many (Salt) by Wyl Menmuir (U.K.); Eileen (Jonathan Cape) by Ottessa Moshfegh (U.S.); Work Like Any Other (Scribner) by Virginia Reeves (U.S.); My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking) by Elizabeth Strout (U.S.); All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape) by David Szalay (Canada, U.K.); and Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books) by Madeleine Thien (Canada).

The judges—Amanda Foreman, Jon Day, Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Harsent, and Olivia Williams—selected this year’s finalists from 155 books published between October 1, 2015, and September 30, 2016. Foreman, the 2016 chair, said of this year’s finalists, “From the historical to the contemporary, the satirical to the polemical, the novels in this list come from both established writers and new voices. The writing is uniformly fresh, energetic and important. It is a long list to be relished.” The list includes four debut novels and one former double winner, J. M. Coetzee, who received the prize in 1983 for Life & Times of Michael K, and again in 1999 for Disgrace.

The shortlist of six finalists will be announced on Tuesday, September 13, at a press conference in London. Each shortlisted author receives £2,500. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, October 25, at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall.

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious English-language prizes for literary fiction. Previous winners include Salman Rushdie, Iris Murdoch, Hilary Mantel, and Marlon James, whose 2015 winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, has sold over 315,000 copies in the U.K. and commonwealth to date, and is translated in twenty languages. 

Women's Stories From the Margins

Estevan Azcona, PhD, is director of MECA Presents, the arts and residency program at Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) in Houston, Texas. A former curator for the National Performance Network's Performing Americas Program, he has also served on grant panels for organizations including the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture. Azcona is an ethnomusicologist by training and also serves as Music Director for MECA's AfterSchool Arts program. Below, he blogs about a P&W–supported reading that took place on April 7, 2016.

MECA Reading

Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) is a Latino-based multicultural, multidisciplinary arts organization that has been serving low-income communities in Houston, Texas for almost forty years. Beginning in a local parish church to give "at risk" or "inner city'' neighborhood kids music, dance, and art classes after school and during the summer, MECA has since watched the inner loop of Houston change as gentrification played its part in the Sixth Ward neighborhood where the organization has always been located, as well as throughout the central part of the city, where it is becoming increasingly expensive to live. Instead of coming from down the block, or a mile or so away, families now bring their kids—some of them driving thirty minutes plus one way—to MECA from throughout the metropolitan area.

For some time now, Poets & Writers has been a welcome source of support for writers to come and read their work and give workshops to the kids, the families, and the public. Houston's first poet laureate, Gwendolyn Zepeda, is a MECA alumna from the Sixth Ward and has many times been central to bringing creative writing workshops to our students, with help from P&W, as have other local writers. As a predominantly performance and visual arts organization, this support has been critical in bringing letters into our programming.

In April of this year, we had the opportunity to present three Latina writers, each approaching their craft in different ways: local writer Jasminne Mendez is a powerhouse performance poet; Sarah Rafael García is a talented memoirist and youth writing advocate with her project, Barrio Writers; and Isabel Quintero is a gifted fiction writer who has recently garnered a lot of attention. We were lucky to have writer and poet, Edyka Chilomé, from Dallas, come to Houston to serve as emcee for the public reading.

When the authors came to us to do a project together, we were especially excited as the work of each of the writers eloquently addresses the experience of growing up and/or being Latina. While all youth from marginalized communities are challenged to have the opportunities other groups take for granted, at MECA we are not unaware of the obstacles for young women of color, and here was a great project to open the door for young Latinas to the work of these authors. Though we were concerned with turnout, as we do not often present writers, we had an audience of at least forty ready to hear the words and stories of this group of women, including a dozen or so youth who participated in the joint writing workshop. Virtually everyone stayed after the public reading to speak with the authors, buy books, and chat amongst themselves. And the sign was clear to MECA, do this again!

Photo: Jasminne Mendez. Photo credit: Pin Lim.

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.

PEN Launches $75,000 Book Award

Yesterday, the New York City–based PEN American Center announced its new PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, an annual prize honoring a book in any genre that has “broken new ground and signals strong potential for lasting influence.” The winner will receive $75,000.

Funded by oral historian Jean Stein, the award will be the largest prize conferred by PEN, and one of the richest literary prizes in the United States. PEN America president Andrew Solomon says the award will “focus global attention on remarkable books that propel experimentation, wit, strength, and the expression of wisdom.” An anonymous judging panel will nominate candidates for the prize internally; there is no application process.

In addition to the book prize, Stein will also fund a $10,000 oral history grant. The award will support “the completion of a literary work of nonfiction that uses oral history to illuminate an event, individual, place, or movement.”

The inaugural winners of both prizes will be announced at the annual PEN Literary Awards Ceremony in February 2017.

Stein has authored numerous works of nonfiction and conducted interviews with prominent American cultural figures, including William Faulkner and Robert F. Kennedy. Stein’s most recent book is West of Eden: An American Place, a profile of five prominent Los Angeles families.