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In his recent New Yorker article on writing and revision, “Draft No. 4” (April 29, 2013), nonfiction writer John McPhee recommends drawing boxes around any word that “does not seem quite right” as well as those “that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.” Then, he writes, consult the dictionary—not the thesaurus—to find better words. While the thesaurus can be useful, McPhee writes, it can also be dangerous, often muddling a word’s meaning. The dictionary, on the other hand, not only offers a host of alternatives but can also spark new inspiration. Revisit an essay that’s ready for a new draft. After circling all words and phrases that could use work, dig deep into the dictionary to see what new words—and what new meaning—may arise.

In celebration of National Short Story Month, the arts and culture website Flavorwire has announced the launch of its first-ever short fiction contest. The winner will receive $500 and publication on the Flavorwire website.

Fiction writers may submit a previously unpublished story of up to five thousand words by e-mail (in the body of a message, not as an attachment) along with a brief author biography and contact information to flavorwirefiction@gmail.com by Friday, May 17. There is no entry fee. 

Flavorwire literary editor Emily Temple will judge, and the winner will be announced on May 24. The winning story and a selection of honorable mentions will be published on the website during the final week of May.

For more information about Flavorwire or the short fiction contest, visit the website—and while you’re there, check out eight fascinating stories behind classic book titles

Choose a minor character from a story or book you’ve read recently and have that character write the author a letter, beginning: “Dear Author, nice try, but here’s what you missed about my life....” Now turn your attention to one of your own stories. Think of a character in a work-in-progress whom you'd like to get to know more deeply. Have the character write you a similar letter: “Dear [your name here], nice try, but here’s what you missed about my life....”
This week’s fiction prompt comes from Aaron Hamburger, author of the story collection The View From Stalin’s Head (Random House, 2004) and the novel Faith for Beginners (Random House, 2005). He currently teaches at the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Pick an iconic figure with a famous weak spot (Superman and kryptonite, Achilles and his heel, Samson and his hair, the Wicked Witch of the West and water). Write a letter from the icon to the weakness or from the weakness to the icon. Is it hate mail? A love poem? A blackmail note? Advice?

Poet and artist Amanda Deutch blogs about P&W–supported Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival, a literary nonprofit she founded in 2009. Parachute hosts a festival in the fall, free writing workshops, and innovative poetry happenings in Coney Island, New York. She is the author of four chapbooks: Gena Rowlands (Sounds Nice), Box of Sky: Skeleton Poems (Dusie Kollektiv 4), Motel Drift, and The Subway Series. She is also the recipient of a 2007 Footpaths to Creativity Fellowship to write in the Azores Archipelago. Deutch lives by the water in Brooklyn, NY, and plays skee-ball in her free time.

“Coney Island, Let me see, let me hear, let me know what is real, let me believe.”

—Muriel Rukeyser

From street signs to carnival talkers, from the Chief hawking fresh clams with a call of, “Hey! Get it! Get it!” to the influx of monarch butterflies in late August, there is poetry in the everyday language that surrounds us. I want people to stop and notice poetry in daily motions. That’s part of my job as a poet. Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival is the manifestation of these desires. Since I was a young poet, I’ve thought of ways to make poetry appealing, accessible and to draw attention to the poetry that is all around us.

I founded Parachute, a community-based literary organization, in 2009 to host a free two-day festival that features an array of local poets and writers. The writers read in front of an ethereal blue floor- to-ceiling tank of jellyfish in the New York Aquarium. Throughout the year, Parachute leads creative writing workshops, curates innovative poetic events, and celebrates Coney Island’s vibrant literary culture through readings, broadsides, workshops, and attention to the luminaries that have been inspired by Coney’s shores—Walt Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser, and Henry Miller, to name a few.

Among the festival’s featured readers have been Coney Island poet Sheila Maldonado, Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, Edwin Torres, and Martin Espada. 2012 marks the first time that the current Brooklyn Poet Laureate has ever read in Coney Island. Parachute’s audience is diverse, comprised mostly of people who live and work in the neighborhood: business owners from Mermaid Avenue, pastors, community board members, local teenagers, ticket takers, Cyclone operators, and poets. Ruth Magwood, who worked in Astroland, comes every year and tells me who her favorite poets are each night. Describing the festival, Ruth said, “It’s gorgeous with the jellyfish. Normally you’d have to go all the way to the city for something like this.”

The grants we receive from Poets & Writers are instrumental in helping us pay writers to lead workshops during the festival. These funds, along with other grants enable us to invite amazing New York poets and writers to read and lead workshops in an underserved neighborhood. We believe it is important to pay writers, both established and emerging, for their work and want to continue to do this in a field where this is not always the “norm.” Through grants such as the one from P&W, we are able to keep the Parachute Festival and its writing workshops free so that anyone who would like to can attend. It is very important to us that this continue to be accessible and welcoming to people who live in the community. Coney Island has arts and culture for those who come and visit, but not so many opportunities for those who live there. This festival is designed with the neighborhood as well as greater New York in mind.

Henry Miller wrote about Coney Island, "everything glitters…” Parachute illustrates Coney Island’s vital glittering landscape with poetry and all the poetic voices that have found solace and delight here—from Walt Whitman, America’s bard, to Woody Guthrie, and more recently, Bernadette Mayer. Coney Island has a not-so-hidden literary landscape that’s been traveled by many of our great American writers. I want to showcase that through landscape and create a space where living poets, fiction writers, and artists can come down, eat some clams, and read their words about Coney Island. Hopefully, sometime soon we’ll put their words together in a book, and you can read that book while sitting on the boardwalk. Meanwhile, “Hey! Get It! Get It!”

Photo: (Top) Amanda Deutch. (Bottom) Tina Chang reading in front of the jellyfish at the Coney Island Aquarium. Credit: Amanda Deutch.

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 Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Bauhan Publishing is currently accepting submissions for its third annual May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize. An award of one thousand dollars, publication, and one hundred author copies is given for a poetry collection.

Poets may submit a previously unpublished manuscript of fifty to eighty pages, written in English, with a $25 entry fee by June 30. Submissions are accepted by postal mail or via the online submission system. Jeff Friedman will judge. 

The prize, first given in 2011, is named in honor of the late American poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton. Originally open only to first collections, the prize is now also open to poets with previously published books. Rebecca Givens Rolland won the 2011 prize for her collection The Wreck of Birds; Nils Michals won the 2012 prize for Come Down to Earth.

Founded in 1959, the Peterborough–based Bauhan Publishing is an independent press that publishes books with a New England regional focus, including poetry collections and nonfiction works on the topics of history, art, and nature. General submissions are considered year-round. 

In April P&W-supported writer Sabrina Chap led a creative nonfiction workshop and gave a reading at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle. Chap is a playwright, spoken word artist, songwriter, and editor. Her collection Cliterature: 18 Interviews With Women* Writers is distributed by Microcosm Press. Her plays, including Perhaps Merely Quiet, have been performed in New York, Chicago, Paris, and England. Project director Sophia Iannicelli writes about Chap’s visit to Seattle.

Sabrina ChapI have spent much of the last week with Sabrina Chap. I organized two events while she was in Seattle, and I enjoyed the conversations in between as much as the workshop and lecture. Sabrina is very open and encouraging when it comes to difficult subjects. She makes it suddenly okay to talk about topics such as grief and self-destruction that our society says are shameful. Her book Live Through This—a collection of essays, stories, and photos by women who’ve used art to process abuse, incest, madness, depression, and self-destruction—makes you want to open up to her.

Sabrina uses this openness to her advantage when she is teaching. During the writing workshop, the participants ended up sharing intimate details of their lives and psyches with people who had been strangers only minutes before. They shared so much, and felt so safe doing so, they decided to create a writing support group in order to continue the bonds they had developed in those two short hours. I'm still glowing from an email I received the next day:

“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for bringing in Sabrina. She’s amazing. I feel guilty for having not paid more for it. Her writing exercises were so well thought out and effective. Not only did I get writing skills out of it, but life skills. Wow!!! So much more than I expected. Thank you!!!!!”

While the participant didn’t expound on which "life skills” she left  the workshop with, I hope it was in some way related to cultivating openness. Fostering the ability to be vulnerable brings so many wonderful things in life, most notably the chance to connect with people in a deep way. Sabrina offers a way to view our self-destructive acts as something to be worked with and transformed into a positive force. Merely speaking about these difficult and often shamed activities or proclivities brings an amazing opportunity to evaluate them while reducing their power over us—ultimately making them work for us rather than letting them consume us.

Photo: Sabrina Chap. Credit: Jolene Siana.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Think about your life in relation to the seasons. What is your favorite season and why? During which season were you born? How did you feel as a child about each season? Have significant events happened during one season over the others? How do you see the world around you change at the start of each season? Use these musings to fuel an essay about one or all of the seasons. 

Write a story in which a minor incident occurs—the main character is bitten by a cat, loses her keys, gets a flat tire, accidently breaks something—that symbolizes something larger. Use the incident and how the character deals with it to both move the plot forward and explore a larger significance.  

Choose a favorite or compelling line from another writer's poem, and write your own line with same number of stressed syllables and same vowel sounds. Use this line as the start of a new poem.

P&W–supported poet Joseph O. Legaspi blogs about his path as a poet. He cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves Asian American poetry. The author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and the forthcoming chapbook Subways (Thrush Press), he works at Columbia University.

Why poetry? I’m asked frequently, which brings me to ask myself the same question. I imagine the typical inquisitor thinks poetry as gilded, arcane, highfalutin'. As it is, it has taken me years to be comfortable saying that I’m a poet. To this day there’s still a tiny level of discomfort, uttering the—what? title, character, state of being? What does it mean to be a poet? Poetry is not a career nor is it employment that pay the bills. It's not a marker of identity like gender or nationality. What is it that you do? Americans love to ask. I write poems. But not all the time. Not the same amount of hours as my day job, and my other jobs.

True, I can justify my being a poet. I hold an advanced degree from a reputable creative writing program in a literary city. My poems continue to be published in journals. I even managed to publish a small book, which has brought me immense joy. I’ve taught. I cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit to cultivate and foster poetry, my proudest achievement. And I am still utterly surprised when I get paid for a reading, as I have been paid five times by Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops Program in the past five years. This makes me a poet, yes?

Then, am I poet enough?

I know I’m not leading the ideal poet life (I suspect only a handful of us do.): all-consuming devotion to the craft, incessant hunger, obsessive writing. Full disclosure: I shortchange poetry. I heed her call, but she doesn’t come knocking every day. Instead, I’m out on Broadway or at a bar or at a restaurant with friends. On weekend mornings my feline tendency is to curl up with my husband with NPR on the background and brunch on the horizon. I compartmentalize my life as most of us do, juggling daily responsibilities. Hats off to poet friends with children, who are most generous and hardworking and yes, still manage to crank out poems. (How do y’all do it?).

In my younger days, I struggled while grasping at the idealized, singular version of the poet. I was frustrated for not “making it work.” I felt I was “falling behind” or falling by the wayside. In time, however, a realization seeped in—I was not the ingénue anymore—and that made me agonize some more. Then, I was fine. Truly. I learned that there is no singular way. I vowed to be more forgiving and patient with myself. A part-time poet is not a bad thing.

I personally do not need poetry to survive, but I am better for its presence in my life. Yes, I still possess the romantic notions; I hold poets in high regard. I feel poets lead examined lives, able to dig deeper. Ultimately, what I love is poetry’s liminality. I love how it envelops a space like that between earth and the moon. Poetry is both marginalized and transcendent. Borne of sounds, rhythms, spark, and the bang of language in creation, it is root of all literature. I continue to tinker with poems, stringing words like light in search of meaning, to get at a truth.

Photo: Joseph O. Legaspi. Credit: Emmy Cateral.

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 Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Last week, the first annual Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction was awarded to Don DeLillo, the author of sixteen novels, including White Noise (Viking, 1985), Libra (Viking, 1988), and Underworld (Scribner, 1997) and, most recently, the short story collection The Angel Esmeralda (Scribner, 2011). 

DeLillo, 76, was nominated by a panel of prize-winning authors and literary critics, and will receive the award at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in September. Among a lifetime of literary accolades, DeLillo has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize—for Mao II (Viking, 1991) and Underworld—received a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award for White Noise, and was a finalist for last year’s Story Prize. In addition to his full-length works, DeLillo has also penned a number of plays, screenplays, short stories, and essays. 

“Like Dostoyevsky, Don DeLillo probes deeply into the sociopolitical and moral life of his country,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in the April 25 announcement. “Over a long and important career, he has inspired his readers with the diversity of his themes and the virtuosity of his prose.”

In a statement, DeLillo—a first generation Italian American born and raised in the Bronx—said, “When I received news of this award, my first thoughts were of my mother and father, who came to this country the hard way, as young people confronting a new language and culture. In a significant sense, the Library of Congress Prize is the culmination of their efforts and a tribute to their memory.”

The new prize is inspired by the Creative Achievement Award for fiction, previously given by the Library to Herman Wouk in 2008, John Grisham in 2009, Isabel Allende in 2010, Toni Morrison in 2011, and Philip Roth in 2012. The Prize for American Fiction will, according to the announcement, be given annually "to honor an American writer whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but for its originality of thought and imagination. The award seeks to commend strong, unique, enduring voices that—throughout long, consistently accomplished careers—have told us something about the American experience.”

DeLillo, who often admits that his long career took some time to get started, is currently at work on a novel. 

The (In)Visible Memoirs Project runs no-cost, community-based writing workshops throughout the state of California, with the aim of creating a literary landscape that pushes back on dominant literary discourse’s exclusionary practices. Between January and April, writer P&W-supported writer Ruth Nolan taught an (In)Visible Memoirs workshop at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. Project director Rachel Reynolds writes about the workshop.

Ruth Nolan and workshop participantsThe thing about invisibility is that there are real risks to refusing its cloak. Invisibility counts on these risks for its effective deployment. Anyone who has found their space at the periphery—which is more of us than not—knows how terrifying it can be to push back the curtain and demand to be counted. As the person at the helm of programming for the (In)Visible Memoirs Project, I am constantly awed by how many people—instructors, participants, and community sponsors alike—are ready to let their stories ring out.

According to the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), nearly 40,000 people took their own lives in 2010. In the same year, the AFSP identified nearly 460,000 attempted suicides. Tallied together, roughly half a million people navigated suicide directly in 2010. The lives of countless others were impacted too, as friends and family of those directly involved struggled to walk this terrain.

When professor Ruth Nolan responded to my call for new (In)Visible Memoirs Project workshops this past fall, she wrote, “All too often, suicide survivors become victims, too, of social prejudices and judgments, and having experienced this myself, I have come to realize there is a huge need to give suicide survivors a safe and productive space to write, identify, and heal.” We leapt at the chance to support her in her goal of providing the first-ever workshop for people who live in the Palm Desert region and have lived with the impact of suicide.

Ruth Nolan is a force. A professor at College of the Desert in Palm Springs, she teaches writing and literature in addition to advising the college literary magazine. She is a widely published poet and prose writer, and an editor to boot. Armed with both personal experience and the chops required to deftly usher writers into a carefully crafted safe space, we knew she would provide a transformative experience for her workshop participants. What we could never have predicted, though, was just how far she’d take them or how essential the space she held was.

Meeting with seven participants—who spanned a forty-year age range and various social and ethnic identities—Ruth discovered that many of them had either wanted or been invited to speak at public suicide awareness events in the region but then felt their story was too dark, or worse, been asked not to share it. Immediately, Ruth made space for sharing these stories a workshop priority. What began as a shedding of silence within the confines of workshop meetings gained momentum and bloomed into multiple readings at public events. As I write this today, Ruth and members of her workshop have just finished recording some of their work for radio broadcast. From silence to center stage in the course of a twenty-hour workshop—Ruth and her workshop participants are writers of the fiercest sort. 

Photo: From left: Darlene Arciga, Tim Johnson, Kimberly Martinez, and Ruth Nolan. Credit: Ruth Nolan.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

We’ve all heard the adage “Show, don’t tell.” But in his latest book, To Show and Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction (Free Press, 2013), Phillip Lopate argues that the personal essay is perhaps the one form in which it’s not only permissible, but necessary, to do a little telling. “We must rely on the subjective voice of the first-person narrator to guide us, and if that voice never explains, summarizes, interprets, or provides a larger sociological or historical context for the material, we are in big trouble.” With Lopate’s advice in mind, choose a subject for an essay that you’d like to write. Then make a list of the particular kinds of “telling” you’ll need to do in terms of providing background, research, context, and personal experience. Use this list to guide the writing of a first draft.

Submissions are currently open for Black Balloon Publishing’s inaugural Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize, an award of $5,000 and a book deal with Black Balloon given for a fiction manuscript. The deadline is May 6. 

Previously unpublished novels and short story collections of at least 50,000 words are eligible. Fiction writers may submit an excerpt of no more than 4,000 words via Submittable by May 6. Those who are selected to move on to the second round of judging will have one week after being notified to submit their final manuscript. Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but entrants must notify Black Balloon if a manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere. Short story collections containing previously published stories are eligible. There is no entry fee.
 


According to the Black Balloon editors, “we champion the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable. We are battle-worn enemies of boredom and we’re looking for books that defy the rules, bend reality, twist preconceptions, and imagine the unimaginable.”

An independent press based in New York City, Black Balloon accepts submissions of literary fiction, nonfiction, and memoir year-round through its online submission form. The press also produces the Airship, a digital daily that features emerging writers from across the country. 

The book prize is named for Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, a one-eyed and one-armed British naval commander made famous for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars—a man, the Black Balloon editors write, “who defied convention at every turn.” 

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