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The National Poetry Series (NPS), the Princeton, New Jersey–based nonprofit organization that has helped publish early books by poets such as Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Marie Howe, and Terrance Hayes, may be at risk of closing.

Daniel Halpern, the NPS’s founding director, reports that because the organization has been unable to meet its annual fundraising goal, whether or not it will be able to continue programming into next year is uncertain.

Established in 1978, the National Poetry Series sponsors the publication of five poetry collections by emerging writers each year. The annual NPS literary awards program accepts unsolicited manuscript submissions through its open competition, and a panel of established poets selects five winning books to be published by participating presses. Recent judges have included John Ashbery, Nikky Finney, Campbell McGrath, D. Nurkse, D. A. Powell, Patricia Smith, and Dean Young. The NPS subsidizes the publication of each title, and pays each winning author a stipend of $1,000. Despite the tenuous state of the organization, submissions for the 2014 series are still open and will be accepted until January 1. Complete submission guidelines can be found on the NPS website.

Participating publishers have included those both large and small, including Akashic Books, Coffee House Press, Fence Books, HarperCollins Publishers, Milkweed Editions, Penguin Books, and the University of Georgia Press.

In a letter sent to supporters, Halpern says that a total of $25,000 is needed by the end of December to pay staff salaries and rent. He writes that the organization, which operates on an annual budget of less than $100,000, has been unable for several months to pay either the rent of its office or the salaries of its two employees.

Contributions to support the National Poetry Series can be sent by mail to National Poetry Series, 57 Mountain Avenue, Princeton, NJ 08540. Visit the website for more information.

You are not the same person today that you were five years ago. We all change. Creative nonfiction seeks to explore not only the changes we experience as human beings, but also how those changes impact our relationships with family members, friends, and lovers. Our lives are shaped by joy, disappointment, triumph, and loss. Write about someone you love who has changed due to a particular life event. Examine this individual’s shift in attitude, behavior, and demeanor. Write with humanity.

“I still maintain that the times get precisely the literature that they deserve, and that if the writing of this period is gloomy the gloom is not so much inherent in the literature as in the times.” This quote from author William Styron, who died in 2006 at age eighty-one, addresses the role of tone in fiction. People are the products of their times; they are influenced by the economic, political, and cultural climate that surrounds them. Write five hundred words that bring to life the mood of the society your characters inhabit. A bloody sunset, a tarnished silver fork, or a character’s stoic posture can make vital intangible forces accessible to your readers.

Like snowflakes, every family is unique. From quirky aunts and greedy uncles to gracious moms and despicable cousins, every family is peculiar in some meaningful way. Write a poem about your family. Focus on the people who create the love, the pain, and the dynamics that define your family. Be honest. Be courageous. Be open.

The Stacy Doris Memorial Poetry Award, a new prize established by the San Francisco State University–based Fourteen Hills Press, will be given for a poem with a “truly inventive spirit.” The winner will receive five hundred dollars and publication in Fourteen Hills. The deadline is January 1.

Using the online submission system, poets may submit one poem of up to ten pages in length. The winning poem will be published in the Spring 2014 issue of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review. Students currently enrolled at San Francisco State University are ineligible. All entries will be considered for publication. There is no entry fee.

The award was founded in honor of poet and translator Stacy Doris, who died in 2012 after a battle with cancer, and whose “inventive spirit is legendary,” the Fourteen Hills editors write. “Every book she wrote created a new poetic world with unexpected poetics.” The award will be given for a poem that posseses Doris’s “spirit of creative invention and inventive creation; engaging wit and ingenious playfulness; discovery in construction; and radical appropriations based on classical forms.” Chet Wiener will judge. 

Established in 1994, Fourteen Hills Press publishes two volumes of its literary journal each year, as well as the annual winner of the Michael Rubin Book Award, a first-book prize given each year in alternating genres. General journal submissions of poetry, fiction, and art are open until January 1.

P&W-funded Jo Scott-Coe is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Riverside City College in Southern California. Her memoir in essays, Teacher at Point Blank (Aunt Lute), was listed as a “Great Read” by Ms. Magazine. In 2009, she won the NCTE Donald Murray Prize for writing about teaching. Her nonfiction and interviews have appeared in many publications, including Salon, the Los Angeles Times, and Narrative. She is currently at work on a collection of lyric meditations about American public performances of violence since the UT Austin shooting in 1966.

Jo Scott-Coe

During this season of gratitude, it’s important to acknowledge the different kinds of generosity that make writing communities spark and thrive. Experienced writers also learn the generosity that requires us to pay our respects when opportunities come to an end.

This fall, Emeryville-based Memoir Journal published its thirteenth (and final) issue. Its editors not only produced a beautiful publication but also started The (In)Visible Memoirs Project, which gave people from underserved populations in California the chance to bring their stories to life on the page. The goal, in the words of Rachel Reynolds, Program Director, was “to hold space for a multitude of storytellers.”

I had the pleasure of facilitating two project workshops this past fall and spring in Riverside. All across California—in places such as Fresno, Yolo, Modoc, and Banning—workshop leaders set up small communities to mentor and encourage writers who might not have room in their lives to write, whether due to professional detours, geographical isolation, financial hardship, or private demons. Some workshops, like Ruth Nolan’s in Palm Desert, are organized around marginalized topics, such as dealing with suicide.

During its lifespan, the (In)Visible Memoir Project published two fantastic anthologies, I Speak from My Palms and Lionhearted, each over 250 pages, collecting the best submissions from each workshop. The two volumes demonstrate the energy that can emerge from writing that finds its initial home in small gatherings of people—around a table, in a living room, or at a library—where listening is the first gift.

I saw trust emerge, gradually, between participants in my women’s workshop. Women wrote about childhood heroines, their recollections of lost relatives and friends, their apprehensions in parenting and marriage, their perceptions of heritage. Some worked with artifacts and primary documents from their family histories. Each took risks not only in sharing private subject matter, but also experimenting with structures and voices sometimes considered “off limits” for memoir, or for women writing in that genre. After the official conclusion, a core group decided to keep meeting, helping each other move further forward with their stories, poems, and essays. Some are in the middle of books now. One just had a piece published in The Los Angeles Times.

As we say farewell and thank you to Memoir Journal, and as its (In)Visible Memoir Project comes to bittersweet end, it’s also a fitting time to consider how we each can appreciate the energy, financial resources, visible and invisible labor invested in creative spaces that sustain us, for as long as we have them.

We can make our gratitude visible through continued acts of writing and by making room for new voices.

Photo: Jo Scott-Coe. Photo Credit: Wes Kriesel.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-supported poets Modesto “Flako” Jimenez and Annie Bacon will perform in Alphabet Arts’ Puppets & Poets festival December 6 through December 8 at New York’s Bushwick Starr theater. The organization’s volunteer, Nora Brooks, blogs about the festival.

The Folk OperaA puppet car with no driver cruises the Brooklyn streets while the rhythmic baritone of poet Modesto “Flako” Jimenez booms out spoken word images of life in the drug trade. This is not your typical poetry reading or puppet show, and that is what makes Alphabet Arts’ annual Puppets & Poets festival such a bright light for New York City audiences, particularly those with little access to poetry. Dominican-born poet and actor Jimenez, one of two poets awarded a P&W grant to perform in the upcoming festival, gives a lot of credit to the melding of the two art forms: “The puppetry will connect that visual to your writing, and it’ll dance in their brain like no other. It gives them that bridge.”

The festival is directed by poet Amber West, who co-founded the nonprofit multi-genre artist collective Alphabet Arts in 2009. That summer a group of artists came together to build and perform The Simpsons writer Mike Reiss’ children’s book, City of Hamburgers, as a puppet play on her front porch for a neighborhood block party. In 2011, they launched Puppets & Poets to “create and cultivate collaborative hybrid art,” the Alphabet Arts' website explains.

Last year the festival expanded by partnering with the Bushwick Starr, a theater that TimeOut recently named Best Off-Off Broadway Venue. The Starr is an incubator for experimental work, including hybrids like Puppets & Poets that build roads connecting distant corners of the artistic universe.

“We’re introducing the rich variety and complexity of two of the world’s oldest art forms to diverse audiences,” West said.

Perhaps physical imagery improvised from lyrical storytelling builds a roadmap through the poetry, or maybe the puppetry introduces a lightness that facilitates access to more difficult material.

“The festival last year had some amazing dark poetry, and the only way the audience was able to take it was through puppetry,” Jimenez said. It’s that magic combination of the literary and the popular that gives audiences a new way into the work.

This year’s festival includes artists from New York, Austin, and Philadelphia and features free, interactive family matinees as well as free field trips and “puppet poem” workshops for students at PS 123, a Title 1 elementary school near the theater.

“With P&W’s support, we’re bringing in San Francisco poet and musician Annie Bacon, who wrote a verse musical on a ukulele called The Folk Opera,” West said. “Alphabet Arts is adapting it to the puppet stage, and Annie and her band will perform alongside our puppeteers.”

SpacetansmananagasmAlso featured is Austin performer Zeb L. West’s one-man show, Spacetansmananagasm, blends David Bowie’s verse with an ancient Japanese puppetry form called kugutsu. The festival is supported in part by the Citizens Committee For NYC and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Funding for the artists and the free programs for low-income children and families is also supported by the community through an Indiegogo campaign.

The third annual Puppets & Poets festival includes ticketed evening cabarets for mature audiences and free family-friendly matinees. For more information, visit alphabetarts.org.

Photos: Top: The Folk Opera (credit: Kirsten Kammermeyer). Lower: Spacetansmananagasm (credit: Jeff Moreaux)
Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Writing about life from a child’s perspective is challenging. We remember the feelings, thoughts, and concerns we experienced as children, but as writers of creative nonfiction, we must recreate that world and make it accessible to adult readers. Use Thanksgiving Day as a source of inspiration. Watch how the children in your family interact with one another, the adults, the food, and other holiday activities. Write five hundred words that describe Thanksgiving Day from a child's unique point of view.

Details are critical to character development, especially when describing a character’s face. A glass eye, a crooked nose, or thin lips can convey more meaning than exposition or action. Describe the face of your protagonist, and then describe the face of your antagonist. What qualities do they share? How are they different? Write so that a comparison of the characters’ faces provides both symmetry and juxtaposition that symbolizes the nature of their relationship.

The Fence Books Ottoline Prize—given for a poetry collection by a woman writing in English who has published at least one previous book of poetry—includes a $5,000 cash prize and publication by Fence Books. The deadline is November 30.

Using the online submission system, poets may submit a manuscript of up to eighty pages with a twenty-eight dollar entry fee. All entrants will receive a subscription to Fence Magazine.

Poet Brenda Hillman, whose most recent collection is Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2013) will judge. The winning collection will be published by Fence Books in the spring of 2015.

Established in 2001 as the Motherwell Prize (and later renamed the Alberta Prize), the recently rechristened Ottoline Prize has been awarded to poets such as Harmony Holiday, Chelsey Minnis, Ariana Reines, Sasha Steensen, and Laura Sims.  

Fence Books is a branch of Fence Magazine, a literary journal and nonprofit organization founded in 1998 by editor Rebecca Wolf and affiliated with the University at Albany and the New York State Writers Institute. The press publishes books of poetry, fiction, critical texts, and anthologies, and sponsors three other book prizes for poetry and prose.

It is estimated that 43.4 million Americans will travel fifty or more miles this Thanksgiving weekend. Travel is so often inspiring because it mixes a sensory experience with the opportunity for a prolonged period of contemplation. Write a poem about a recent trip you took. Carefully select your words to evoke the sights and sounds that accompanied the journey of your inner thoughts and feelings.

P&W-funded Kamilah Aisha Moon currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of She Has a Name (Four Way Books). A recipient of fellowships to the Prague Summer Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Vermont Studio Center, Moon's work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including the Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou’wester, Oxford American, Lumina, Callaloo, Villanelles, Gathering Ground, and the Ringing Ear. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College-CUNY, Drew University, and Adelphi University. Moon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Kamilah Aisha Moon author photoWe arrive here as ourselves; any mother will tell you this is true. Before words, before autonomy, before this world has any real focus in our infant eyes, we make ourselves known. It’s a miracle we spend our whole lives celebrating, losing and recovering, lamenting, rejecting, and embracing.

Before the hazings on playgrounds, high school dramas souped up on hormones, and before the lenses of race, class, sex, and orientation can trap us into lesser versions of ourselves, we seek, experiment, and feel our way along in the safety of good homes, if we are fortunate.

I certainly was. Poet Stephen Dunn has a line in his poem “Tiger Face” that reads “Good parents are blessings/ whoever they are.” Mine paid such close attention to me, and now tell stories from those early years. One of their favorites is about when I was two years old, getting into things and exploring around the house. I was finally tall enough to open the door to a narrow hallway closet, a utility closet that stored various tools and household supplies. On the back wall hung a huge papier-mâché African mask that my father made.

My parents watched as I stared up at this fierce, imposing mask, and then I screamed and ran down the hallway. They proceeded to watch as I—again and again—opened the same closet door, screamed, and ran down the hallway every day that week. Each day, I would stare a little longer before I screamed and ran. Until the final day, instead of screaming or running, I walked in and touched the mask.

So much of one’s character and spirit can be revealed in the smallest of gestures, gleaned from our choices. This scenario has played out in my life again and again, a hallmark of the way I’ve moved through experience after experience thus far. The decisions to move from city to city, building from the ground up in strange towns and new jobs, with someone and alone. The willingness to try and often fail at new things and travel solo abroad. The decision to put my writing first and leave a good career to move to New York for graduate school, despite considerable odds.

I just turned forty in September. The year leading up to it was filled with angst and anxiety as I reflected on the challenges and losses of the last five years in particular. I experienced existential ruminations and real fatigue that threatened to paralyze everything just as some goals I've worked toward for many years were beginning to come to fruition. Then a voice of reason deep inside of me asked, "Where is that fluid girl who let fear propel rather than imprison her?"

I forced myself to remember what has been exceptional and good in my life. I turned to the practices that have always seen me through the tough times: reading and writing. As a line in Sharon Olds' poem “Material Ode” advises, I had to choose “to love only where loved!” and leave institutions, relationships, and spaces where this love wasn't happening. I had to recall, for myself, what I wrote in an email to a younger friend who was in a confusing, whirlwind moment in her life: You'll rarely feel sure or completely comfortable with most endeavors. If you do, interrogate why because that's how growth feels—off-kilter and magic, all at once. Losing your breath and getting it back, over and over again.

This world has so many ways of assaulting the body, mind, and spirit. Indignities that make it easy to forget the unique force you are and the love you come from, leaving you unrecognizable to yourself. Ask your loved ones—your beloved mirrors—to remind you regularly of your highest, most resourceful, intuitive self. Do the same for them in return. And yes, bravely write it all down the best way you possibly can.

Success in writing and life is as much about what you let go of as it is about what you gain. Let go of others' false verdicts of who you are and who you are meant to be. Let go of doubts and negative projections. Let go of past mistakes. Face those fears that loom large, and touch them (perhaps screaming through tears, and with small, shaking hands) to take away their power.

Photo: Kamilah Aisha Moon. Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

P&W-sponsored writer Chiwan Choi is the author of Abductions and The Flood, among other works, and the founder of Writ Large Press. In October, he performed at Riverside Community College in Riverside, California. We asked him to blog about his visit.

Chiwan ChoiI've been fortunate to read my work at great venues in numerous places over the years, from Los Angeles to New York. I was able to meet wonderful and inspiring people like Caitlin Myer and her Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, the amazing and selfless Mike Geffner and his Inspired Word events all over New York, and everybody whom I've ever met in Seattle.

But I have to say, the two places that have been my favorites so far have been two city colleges that are overshadowed by their more famous UC counterparts. One was the writing class at Berkeley City College that used to be taught by a fantastic young writer and teacher named Alexandra Kostoulas. The other, my absolute favorite, is Riverside City College and a group that calls itself The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club, a student club at RCC, with Jo Scott-Coe, one of the best essayists writing today, as advisor. The group has invited me out three times now, most recently on October 2 of this year.

It was a great crowd. Around fifty to sixty people, I think. They were completely engaged. They were completely generous.

"I won't be reading tonight," I announced. "Let's talk." They didn't mind. Which was great because it gave us more time to talk and get to know each other.

It was a beautiful experience. The asked me questions about writing, about publishing, about my love life, about race, about The Walking Dead. About everything. I tried to answer every question as honestly as possible.

Visiting Riverside Community College.The event was emceed by Michael H. Winn. I was greeted in the parking lot by Tina Holden Burroughs. All wonderful people who were kind to me just because they liked what I do. I first got to know The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club through Jazzy Bird and Brennan Gonering. A young writer named Samuel James Finch gave me two of his fantastic chapbooks, The Pepper Tree Conspectus, which featured a little opening story called "Monkey Brains," about a guy who liked to whip out his testicles, and The Pain Body. A student named Amanda Graves blew me away with her writing. I even launched my next book project.

The fact is that for a writer like me, a community like The Stay Classy Creative Writing Club is imperative for my creative survival. They take care of me with love and financial support--much more than famous and established bookstores. Without support from the ground level, it is difficult for any writer to continue.

I came home happy, humbled, and wanting to contact each person there that night through Facebook (or something) and go out for drinks. I wanted to thank them for reminding me that art is about personal connections, and that art is about engaging in a long-term relationships that work both ways.

Photos: Top: Chiwan Choi (credit: Chiwan Choi). Bottom: Visiting Riverside Community College (credit: Jo Scott-Coe).
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Keys are a sad part of life. They remind us that the world is untrustworthy and unsafe, and that locks are needed to protect our loved ones and possessions from humanity’s less appealing inclinations. But keys are also filled with memories: a first apartment, a new car, access to a home no longer occupied by a friend. Choose a key from your keychain, or perhaps one abandoned in the back of a kitchen drawer, and write six hundreds about it. Begin with a detailed description of the key and segue into broader, more meaningful thoughts.

Last night at a ceremony in New York City, James McBride received the National Book Award for his novel The Good Lord Bird, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, this past August.

Victoria Will/Associated Press

A surprised McBride took the stage and said that he had not prepared a speech, as he hadn’t planned on winning. Considered the underdog of the shortlist, he beat out finalists Rachel Kushner, for her novel The Flamethrowers; Jhumpa Lahiri, for her novel The Lowland; Thomas Pynchon, for his novel Bleeding Edge; and George Saunders, for his short story collection Tenth of December. Charles Baxter, Gish Jen, Charles McGrath, Rick Simonson, and René Steinke judged.

McBride, the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir The Color of Water and the novels Miracle at St. Anna and Song Yet Sung, said he wrote his latest novel, about the journey of a young slave in the 1850s, amidst the death of his mother and the dissolution of his marriage.

The poetry award went to Mary Szybist for her collection Incarnadine, published by Graywolf Press. George Packer won in nonfiction for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The award in young people’s literature went to Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck.

Maya Angelou received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, a prize that was presented by Toni Morrison. E. L. Doctorow received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. 

The winners of the National Book Award each received $10,000. The awards are given annually by the National Book Foundation for works of literature published in the previous year.

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