Poets & Writers Blogs

Forty-Year-Old Author Is Arabic Booker's Youngest Recipient

Last night in Abu Dhabi, Lebanese author Rabee Jaber was awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, given for the past five years for novels originally written in Arabic. The forty-two-year-old author took the award, also known as the Arabic Booker (it is sponsored by major literary prize underwriter Man Booker), for his historical novel The Druze of Belgrade.

Still unpublished in English, a state that is likely to change shortly if the fate of past honorees' work serves as any indication, Jaber is a well-known author in his native Lebanon. He has published seventeen novels and, in 1992, won the country's Critics Choice Award for his debut, Master of Darkness.

Jaber received fifty thousand U.S. dollars, and each finalist received ten thousand dollars. The shortlisted authors were Jabbour al-Douaihy of Lebanon for The Vagrant, Ezzedine Choukri Fishere of Egypt for Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, Nasser Iraq of Egypt for The Unemployed, Bachir Mefti of Algeria for Toy of Fire, and Habib Selmi of Tunisia for The Women of al-Basatin.

The award was presented at the launch of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The winner and shortlisted authors will appear in conversation tomorrow evening at the festival to discuss risk-taking in Arabic fiction.

Past winners of the Arabic Booker include Saudi novelist Raja Alem (The Doves' Necklace) and Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari (The Arch and the Butterfly), who split the award last year, as well as Egypt's Bahaa Taher (Sunset Oasis) and Youssef Ziedan (Azazel), and Abdo Khal of Saudi Arabia (Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles).

Bill Clegg on Being Both an Agent and an Author

Bill Clegg of the William Morris Endeavor literary agency represents authors such as Mary Jo Bang, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Mark Doty, Rivka Galchen, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Salvatore Scibona, and Rebecca Wolff. But he's an author, too, having published last year the memoir Portrait of an Addict as Young Man and this April the follow-up Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. Both published by Little, Brown, the memoirs delve into Clegg's drug addiction and recovery. We asked Clegg to talk about what led him to become a literary agent, and a writer.

POETS & WRITERS: Your entry into the publishing industry was via the Radcliffe Publishing Seminar, and soon after you landed your first job at an agency. You've remarked on feeling a cultural outsider when you first arrived in New York (and within the rarefied air of the publishing world). But to the casual observer, you were moving quickly and easily among industry giants. Did outsider status fuel your passions and ambition?

BILL CLEGG: It fueled a lot of things.  What looks like ambition from the outside is often just compensating to get by. I was just trying to keep my head above water and along the way found escape and relief in booze and drugs and also, thank god, in the great work of writers I was lucky enough to represent. There were consequences to both modes of coping, some good, some not so good.

P&W: As a young man, you stood at the foot of J. D. Salinger's driveway, hoping he would come out and say hello. Did you aspire to write at an early age? Could you tell us about the romantic notion of a writer's life versus the work of writing? Do the two ever meet?

BC: I was in Paris a few weeks ago having dinner with a friend and her new boyfriend, a political journalist, who made my fixation on Salinger look like a flimsy crush. When I told him about standing at the bottom of the driveway in Cornish he smiled and excused himself from the table. A minute or two later he returned with a large NO TRESPASSING sign from you-know-where. It had fallen, he insisted, but I wasn't so sure. He'd made the trek twice from Paris—as an adult! What is it about Salinger and those books, that book? Funny that this restless, doubting political writer born and raised in France would linger in the same place hoping to connect with—even just be seen by—the same guy. It must have something to do with how he transcribed perfectly something that feels/felt so private and so intense—that ajar teenage feeling, the hesitancy at adolescence's end. Lingering at the end of the driveway is, in a way, a return to that feeling, that innocence. Maybe for some of us who never felt innocent the draw was exaggerated.

Did I think about writing then? In college, yes, and I wrote this terrible little children's story that was in the end a rip-off (I see now) of Holling C. Holling's Paddle to the Sea. I even sent it to an agent—the daughter of a older couple I did gardening work for in the summers in college. I had a fantasy she'd publish it and it'd go on to be a classic or something and I'd somehow be able to avoid the working world, the regular nine-to-five office-scape that I couldn't fathom finding a place in. Seven or eight months after sending her the manuscript she mailed it back without a cover note but scattered with Post-its with notes on them like "Sweet," "Cut," "No." I was crushed and probably as a result I now spend way too much time writing what I hope are thoughtful rejection letters to writers who submit their work to me for representation. Anyway, Salinger provided a fantasy of what that life could be like—away, shielded by woods, supported by the income of a book that would always sell, a few perfect pieces of literature to represent what I meant without messy human interaction to expose the flaws. We never met.

P&W: Your agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, hired you as an agent at William Morris Endeavor when you returned to the publishing world, after a year-long recovery from addiction. Is there an analog to an agent having an agent? Is it akin to a surgeon having his appendix out? Is it tempting to be a backseat driver? Is your relationship with Jennifer that of a typical author and agent, or more as peers? Has the experience altered your own client relationships?

BC: There are examples of writers I admire who are also in book publishing and who also have agents—David Ebershoff, Jill Bialosky, Robin Robertson—so I'd seen over the years that it was not only possible but essential. I think all agent-author relationships are pretty subjective. Having Jennifer as my boss as well as my agent has been lucky in that she knows better than anyone what's going on in all areas of my work life. And she has an uncanny ability to metabolize writing—almost instantly—into the most useful, insightful responses. We don't tend to have big discussions about the publishing stuff—we have a kind of short hand of nods and hand signals, "yups" and "nopes" that acknowledge what we both sense is right/better/wrong. There's not a lot of hand-wringing or second-guessing. I trust her completely and so, yes, with her driving I'm happy to be in the backseat. When it's time to go there, I settle in comfortably, do my job as an agent, call my clients.

P&W: Please tell us about working with your editor, Pat Strachan. Did this process provide any insight into your life as an agent? 

BC: Working with Pat has been a great privilege. She is the most sensitive and respectful reader and has an architect's eye with writing. She'll see a chapter or a paragraph or even a chubby sentence and with a few quick strokes suggest a shape that is not only more attractive but one that transmits more effectively—usually with greater economy—whatever it was you were initially and not so elegantly trying to say. 

Bob Flor on Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts' Annual Reading

Bob Flor, co-founder and director of  Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts' on organizing their annual April Reading.

I met Reni Roxas the editor and publisher of “Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul” with Seattle University’s United Filipino Club and their Filipino Alumni Association to develop an April reading. Contributing writers included several local poets and memoir writers. Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts worked with the UFC or their counterpart, the Filipino American Student Association at the University of Washington, since 2008 to host readings featuring Filipino writers.

I’ve learned a lot, and am continuing to learn a lot, in my classes at ACT, so it’s nice to step back into the role of teacher with these annual readings. Responsibilities are parsed out so students have an opportunity to organize and manage an event. They schedule the conference room, plan and implement the marketing, arrange book sales, set-up and secure refreshments. Students emcee and host these readings, usually attracting 40 to 50 people.

The Wednesday, April 18th evening program of poetry, memoir and short story includes:

Welcome, UFC Co-emcees Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison
Remarks by SU Filipino Alumni Association, Mary Galvez
Editor's Remarks, Reni Roxas
Introduction to Selected Readings, Maria Batayola
"The Pretenders" narrated by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose)
"Bridging the Gap Among Filipinos in America" by Greg Castilla
"First Visit to Balogo" by Toni Bajado
"Sambayan" by Jeff Rice
"The Soil of My Roots" by Dorothy Cordova
"Pinoy Heroes" guest reading by Robert Francis Flor
* Q&A Panel *
12-Minute Audience Writing Exercise: "What Homecoming Means to Me" and sharing of written works
Closing Remarks, UFC Co-emcees
Book-signing and refreshments

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm and potential. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers and it’s a pleasure to help bridge the gap of taking their aspirations from dreams to reality. What could be better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers?

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Michael Cirelli Features

P&W–supported presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli, author of Lobster With Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, blogs about his experience as a P&Wsupported poet.

As I began to get a steady hold on the roller coaster that is nonprofit management, while still finding time to engage NYC's rich literary scene, I quickly realized that not only did Urban Word NYC benefit from P&W’s Readings/Workshops program, but I would personally benefit from P&W support.

I was asked to read at the P&Wsupported Parachute Literary Festival in Coney Island. The coolest thing about the reading was that it was held at the New York Aquarium in front of a wall-to-ceiling sized tank of glowing jellyfish! So, while I read poems about robots, the jellyfish floated behind me looking like spaceships. Fitting. It was an incredible event and the venue made it extremely memorablenot to mention The Cyclone roller coaster and Totonno’s Pizza down the block.

My trajectory crossed paths with another amazing P&Wsupported reading, The Inspired Word series. What made this event special, aside from it being a great weekly open mic and feature, was that I was reading as a contributor to Best American Poetry 2011. My former professor and friend, poet David Lehman, hosted the reading and it was an honor to read with esteemed poets.

Being in NYC, the circles seem to get smaller and smaller. What once seemed like a dream, slowly became a reality that always seemed to be connected to P&W. I couldn’t have imagined ten years ago that one day I’d be part of a P&Wsupported reading for Best American Poetry...

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: Syreeta McFadden.

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 Friends of Poets & Writers.

Millhauser's We Others Triumphs at Story Prize

Last night Steven Millhauser took the Story Prize, the annual award celebrating a short story collection published in the previous year, at a ceremony in New York City. Following readings by the author, who began his career as a novelist (a Pulitzer Prize–winning one, at that), and his fellow finalists, Don DeLillo and Edith Pearlman, Millhauser's We Others (Knopf) was announced as the selection for this year's twenty-thousand-dollar award.

Millhauser, who admits influences ranging from Dr. Seuss's And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street to makers, inventors, and craftsman (including those ne'er-do-wells of his youth who revealed their secret, and unmatched, talents in woodshop), was recognized for his skill at pushing the boundaries of the imaginative process. As prize director Larry Dark noted in his onstage interview with the author, one uniting feature of Millhauser's oeuvre is the "escalation of efforts" exemplified in stories such as "Snowmen," which the author presented last night. Millhauser followed the story with a reading of a "thingamajig," which he asked the audience to regard as such, avoiding classifying the two-minute lyric romp as a "poem" or "story."

Both DeLillo, shortlisted for The Angel Esmeralda (Scribner), and Pearlman, a finalist for Binocular Vision (Lookout Books), took home five thousand dollars each. The judges for this year's award were author Sherman Alexie, translator Breon Mitchell, and Louise Steinman of the Los Angeles Public Library.

After the prizes were presented (and the authors swamped with readers seeking autographs), the evening wound down with a party for the finalists, an intimate celebration in a Greenwich Village restaurant befitting the tiny beauty of, as DeLillo put it, "the classic American form."

The Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther Program Speaks Peace

Marge Pellegrino, author, teaching artist, and project manager for The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther project, blogs about P&W–supported programs with refugee families.

When the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center asked me if our families would write poems in response to drawings by Vietnamese children for their upcoming Speak Peace exhibit, I jumped at the chance. Our participants are as young as five and as old as sixty. They’re from Bhutan, Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nepal, and Somalia. Many carry private memories of armed conflict, some the scarcity they experienced in refugee camps. Others still witness a family member's haunting nighttime battles with post-traumatic stress disorder. We had never come this close to addressing their backgrounds directly.

With a grant from Poets & Writers we were able to bring Christopher Mcllroy to work with us and meet the challenge that would allow our refugee families to speak up for peace—and for those brave enough—to talk back to war. McIlroy recently published Here I Am a Writer, stories and poems by Native American students in the Arts Reach Program in Tucson. Mcllroy knows how to inspire. He was willing to coach our volunteers, which included artists, retired social workers, a psychologist, a graphic designer, students, and writers, so they would feel confident in working on poems one-on-one with our clients. He worked with a variety of approaches to address this difficult topic and invited the volunteers to put pen to paper to create their own poems before they started to work with our families.

With this foundation in place, we were ready to get to work with the participants. This was the first time some of our newer clients ever wrote a poem. We invited one of our participants from Ethiopia to choose one of the Vietnamese student’s images and express his response in music. Others wrote poems, then broke their poems apart and put the words back together again in a new order. After three writing sessions we were ready to rehearse. Oh, the poetry! But, also the drama and song!

The resulting performance was, for some, the first time they ever spoke before a group, and certainly the first time they saw themselves on television, when the local public television station’s Arizona Illustrated covered our Speak Peace event. After each workshop and reading, each person was applauded and validated. And, in that space where they wrote and spoke peace, they were, for a time, at peace.

Photo: Tilahun Liben  Credit: Aspen Green

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Debut Poet: Michael Cirelli

P&W–supported poet Michael Cirelli, author of Lobster With Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, remembers his debut book launch in 2008.

In 2008, the crown jewel of P&W support came to me personally. The organization was gracious enough to sponsor my book release party at the Grand Café in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (since closed). The Grand was one of those magical Brooklyn places where you could run into dozens of writers, musicians, and artists. I could have breakfast with Meshell Ndegeocello and lunch with Toshi Reagon all in the same day.

Just a few weeks ago I ran into the woman who used to own the café and reminisced on what an amazing night it was, one of the best in my life. Not only was my first collection released, Lobster With Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but my guest readers included the longtime P&Wsupported poets Patricia Smith and Willie Perdomo, and the afterparty was deejayed by DJ Reborn (a popular teaching artist at Urban Word NYC). It was truly a memorable night and I was so grateful for P&W's support!

A few months after the book launch, the “debut poets” issue of Poets & Writers Magazine arrived to my Brooklyn home. I had made the debut poets list—I was in the magazine that I’d been reading for more than ten years!

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: NIKE staff.

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 Friends of Poets & Writers.

Charis Books and More: Keeping Doors Open for 38 Years

Elizabeth Anderson is the program director at P&W–supported Charis Books and More and Charis Circle, a unique for-profit independent feminist bookstore and 501(c)(3) social justice literary nonprofit hybrid located in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also a writing coach and fiction writer at work on her first novel, "Paradise Park."

What makes your reading series unique?
Charis Books is turning thirty-eight this year. With bookstores continuously closing, we will be the oldest feminist bookstore in North America and the primary LGBT-focused bookstore in Atlanta. Our events have always reflected the old feminist axiom, "the personal is political." We believe that fiction has the power to change the world and that reading can be a revolutionary act. We maintain a deep investment in helping to center voices traditionally at the literary margins.

What recent program have you been especially proud of?
The P&Wsponsored evening with Sassafras Lowrey, editor of Kicked Out, an anthology of work by homeless LGBTQ youth. Sassafras shared her own story of homelessness and talked about receiving one teen's story via text message because the kid didn't have access to traditional modes of journalistic communication. Sassafras opted to publish it in the book with a standard English translation. That anecdote spoke to me about the value of telling our story despite the obstacles.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
The life of a bookseller is a crazy one. We hear more confessions than priests and doctors. People share. A LOT. Folks come to a reading about how to turn a front lawn into a food producing garden and end up talking about their grandmas who, as it turns out, were from the same small town. By the end of the night, you have complete strangers hugging and smiling and trading recipes and crying over long dead people. That is the wonder of a reading at Charis.

How do you cultivate an audience?
It's about relationships. It's about remembering people's names and tastes. I call people on the phone. I invite people personally via e-mail and on Facebook. If someone buys an author's book, I remember. If that author is slated to read at our store six months later, I make sure to remind the customer. If the independent bookstore is to survive, it will be because of relationships.

How has literary presenting informed your own life?
It has made me a better writing coach: I can tell you exactly the moment at which you will begin to bore your audience (seventeen minutes, don't ever read for more than seventeen minutes straight, I don't care if you sound like James Earl Jones and are the best looking person on the planet, people will start to glaze).

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
All writers and readers have the potential to be activists if they choose. Bookstores are gathering grounds. They are the places to come and recharge your batteries or lick your wounds or rebuild after a hard political battle. At Charis, we fight to keep the doors open for our community because we believe there is a kind of grace in the act of gathering around stories no other space in our culture can provide.

Photo: Elizabeth Anderson.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

Five Young Literary Lions Contend for 2012 Prize

The New York Public Library has announced the five finalists for its twelfth annual Young Lions Fiction Award, given to an emerging writer for a work published in in the previous year. The winner of the honor, which carries a prize of ten thousand dollars, will be announced on May 14.

The 2012 finalists are Teju Cole for Open City (Random House), Benjamin Hale for The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve), Ben Lerner for Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press), Karen Russell for Swamplandia! (Knopf), and Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury). Salvage the Bones, Ward's second novel after her breakout, Where the Line Bleeds (Agate Publishing, 2008), won the National Book Award in fiction last fall. Cole's debut was a finalist for this year's National Book Critics Circle Award.

Recent winners of the NYPL's top honor for emerging writers are Adam Levin for The Instructions (McSweeney's Books, 2010), Wells Tower for Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), and Salvatore Scibona for The End (Graywolf Press, 2008). The award is an program of the library's Young Lions, a group of donors in their twenties and thirties.

In the video below, finalist Teju Cole presents "a sneak peak" into his nascent nonfiction project at Franklin Park bar in Brooklyn, New York.

Michael Cirelli Keeps It Real

P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli, executive director of Urban Word NYC and author of Lobster with Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, blogs about Willie Perdomo's teaching style.

Last week I wrote about my journey from Poets & Writers Magazine subscriber to P&W-supported presenter of literary events. I reflected on the “power of Perdomo’s pedagogy,” which compels forty teens to cram into a small office space on a beautiful spring day to write poems. Here's why they write after a long school day...

Working with various teachers, I've come to understand what makes good teachers great. The best teachers “keep it real” with their students and, even more importantly, with themselves. Willie Perdomo is a master of this. He knows what he brings to the table, and by being an active listener, is able to identify the interests, needs, joys, and pains of his students. He meets his students where they are, then helps facilitate their growth. But how do we meet a student where they are, if we don’t acknowledge where we are? Even the “downest” teacher needs to acknowledge the inherent power dynamic of student/teacher.

I’ve seen countless teachers give up because they take things personally or feel alienated by their students. So, really, the best educators find the intersection between themselves and their students, accounting for all of the privileges, challenges, and ignorance that s/he may have. To do this takes constant research, an awareness of your students, and an awareness of your power/privilege. Breaking down these hierarchies, and creating educational experiences that address these experiences, not only ignites a dedication to learning in students, but also provides the platform for teachers to become more human. Willie Perdomo’s P&W-supported workshops at Urban Word NYC embody it all.

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: Syreeta McFadden.

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 Friends of Poets & Writers.

Women Writers Dominate Literary NBCC Awards

The winners of this year's National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night in New York City. Among the winners was Edith Pearlman, whose fourth collection of stories, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books), had also been nominated for the National Book Award last year, and went on to win the PEN/Malamud Award.

In poetry, Laura Kasischke won for her collection Space, In Chains (Copper Canyon Press), which recently received the first Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. Mira Bartók won in autobiography for her memoir, The Memory Palace (Free Press).

Awards were also given in criticism, to Geoff Dyer for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press); in biography, to John Lewis Gaddis for George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Press); and in general nonfiction, to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf).

Awards were also given to reviewer Kathryn Schulz, who received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and Roberts B. Silvers of the New York Review of Books, who won this year's Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the video below, Pearlman reads from her winning collection.

Sarah Browning Splits This Rock

Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock and DC Poets Against the War, blogs about the P&W–supported Split This Rock Festival in Washington, D.C.

What is a poet to do? The world seems to be exploding around us: The earth is warming at an alarming rate; the right wing attacking the basic human rights of women, LGBT people, and people of color; the rich trying to buy elections; and so many Americans and others around the world suffering from poverty, violence, and repression. How do we keep on writing our poems, telling our stories, perfecting our craft, as this madness rages around us? Split This Rock will offer answers to such questions for the more than 500 poets of all ages who will converge in Washington, D.C., this month to join with others in wrestling these questions to the ground and speak out for another world.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 22 to 25, will be the third Festival of Poems of Provocation & Witness that we've presented with Poets & Writers' support. The funds from Poets & Writers are helping us bring five of the most visionary voices of our time to the D.C. stage: Sherwin Bitsui, Douglas Kearney, Rachel McKibbens, Jose Padua, and Minnie Bruce Pratt. Other stellar citizen-poets include Homero Aridjis, Kathy Engel, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Roberts, Sonia Sanchez, Venus Thrash, and Alice Walker. And, as this will be the tenth anniversary of June Jordan's death, the festival will celebrate and honor the life and legacy of this poet-essayist-activist and teacher.

Panels presented during the festival will address the ways in which “poets (like June Jordan) have been at the forefront of many liberation struggles in the Americas and how poetry has sustained others in their pursuit of social justice.”

White poets who write about race will invite attendees to think about the legacy of slavery and genocide in our country and the ways this history plays out today. Educators will consider strategies for teaching the great diversity of American poetry. And, poets who are organizers for environmental justice will ask, “Who will speak for the river?”

At Split This Rock, we encourage participants to have the difficult discussions they might not have elsewhere and to step outside their self-identified group(s) to attend a reading, workshop, or discussion that might be new to them.  We must talk to one another and read one another's work—across our differences—if we are to figure our way out of the many messes we find ourselves in as a nation.

Friday, March 23, at 4:30 PM, we’ll head to the Supreme Court to use our art form—poetry—to demand that the very rich stop hijacking our national conversation. Money is not speech, the poets will declare in a group poem, created spontaneously on the spot. Poetry is speech!  Please join us!

Photo: Sarah Browning.  Credit: Jill Brazel.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C., 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.

Small Presses Dominate Believer Book Prize Shortlist

The Believer, the monthly whose mission, in part, is to "focus on writers and books we like," has named its finalists for the 2011 Believer Book Award for fiction. Of the five books selected by the magazine's editors as the "strongest and most underappreciated of the year," four are published by small, independent presses.

The shortlisted titles are Jesse Ball's third novel, The Curfew (Vintage), which the Believer's editors describe as "a tortuous snake of a story" that winds up resembling "an ouroboros swallowing its own tail"; Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt (New Directions), a novel "preoccupied with the question of what genius looks like"; Lars Iyer's novel debut, Spurious (Melville House), whose pleasures are evocative of Beckett; Widow (Bellevue Literary Press), the first short story collection from novelist Michelle Latiolais, whose "narrators navigate familiar landscapes rendered nearly impassable by grief"; and Ben Lerner, who has previously published three poetry collections, for his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press).

The winner of the Believer Book Award will be announced in the May 2012 issue. Readers' nominations for best books of 2011 will appear alongside prize announcement.

In the video below, the Center for Fiction and n+1 magazine present a dramatic reading from DeWitt's shortlisted third novel (the second segment of the two-part reading is here).

Michael Cirelli's Urban Word

For the month of March, P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli blogs about his history with the Readings/Workshops program. Cirelli is the executive director of Urban Word NYC, a literary arts organization for teens, and author of Lobster with Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation.

When I began taking my writing seriously, realizing I wouldn’t be a professional hockey player, I replaced my subscription to Sports Illustrated, with Poets & Writers Magazine. That was in 1999, when I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University, beating (pun intended) the pulp out of my poems, trying to find a voice of my own (and maybe even cross paths with all things good that I saw in the magazine). I moved to New York City in 2003 to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the New School, and found a small part-time position at a fairly new organization for teen poets, Urban Word NYC. Within 6 months, the founder of the organization decided to pursue her PhD full and left me with the reigns. “The reigns” in the nonprofit field ultimately boils down to finding money to do the necessary work.

For the sake of Urban Word NYC, the good work was creating safe, uncensored, and relevant spaces for teens to explore their powerful and unique voices. To create those spaces we needed great poet/educators to facilitate the work. To that end, I had gotten a little closer to the organization whose magazine landed on my Oakland doorstep over a decade ago. For years now, the Readings/Workshops program has supported Urban Word’s effort to have esteemed Harlem poet, Willie Perdomo, lead his popular workshop series (designed especially for us), Word to Everything I Love. This is not just any poet, his workshop breathes the type of radical truth-telling that his own poetry is known for.

Willie’s workshop has been a staple in our organization’s workshop series in both the fall and spring semesters, and is perennially our most attended, with upwards of forty students crammed into our space to write poetry after school. It’s remarkable math when you think of the circumstances: forty students in a cramped space come to write after being in school all day long! This is a testament to the power of Perdomo’s pedagogy, and the work of the young poets from the workshops is always representative of the innovatively powerful voices of New York City teens. Further, many of these young poets celebrate their work each spring at Barnes and Noble bookstore, as part of Poets & Writers annual intergenerational reading, Connecting Generations. I went from reading about poet/educators in Poets & Writers Magazine to P&W-supported writers leading programs for my organization!

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: NIKE staff.

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 Friends of Poets & Writers.

Shenandoah Introduces Bigger Short Short Prize

Shenandoah, the literary journal published by Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, has doubled the prize purse for its second annual short short story contest—which still has no entry fee. The Bevel Summers Prize, which received over two hundred submissions in its inaugural year, now offers a five-hundred-dollar award, and the winner will also see her miniature fiction published in Shenandoah.

The judge will be fiction writer Chris Galaver, an assistant professor at Washington and Lee. Galaver is the author of the novel-in-stories School for Tricksters, published last month by Southern Methodist University Press.

Writers may submit up to three stories of no more than one thousand words each by March 31. The winner will be announced in June. For complete guidelines, visit the magazine's prize page online.