Poets & Writers Blogs

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.

Pride From El Barrio: Verónica Reyes on Bringing Xicana Readings to AWP

Verónica Reyes is the author of Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books, 2013). She is a Chicana feminist jota poet from East Los Angeles. She scripts poetry for her communities: la jotería, Chicanas y Mexicanos. She has received grants and fellowships from residencies, such as the Montalvo Arts Center. Her work has appeared in Calyx, Feminist Studies, North American Review, and the Minnesota Review. Currently, Reyes teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.

firme tejana-clifas

“El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido//La jotería unida jamás sera vencida.” Xicana Power! Jota Power! In the air, I felt it. These fourteen mujeres voices needed to be here. To claim space. Establish our existence. In this society, the written text is valued. La palabra sets the boundaries as what gets recognized and what gets excluded. Chicana writing plays a pivotal role in breaking down puertas. Xicana jota literature must fight through many barriers. Our writings are a necessity.

April 2015
At the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Minneapolis, the frigid air outside planted the yearning for warmth. So many writers were excited to meet old friends. I saw young writers feel at home. This was their community. But then I felt a knot inside me. I scanned the book fair and the hallways. It slapped me. Most of these writers were white.

I looked for poets/writers who mirrored me: a Mexican American butch dyke. Immediately, I understood Latinas/os were just a smudge of color in this mass. And this pissed me off. I was not going to accept: Brown, queer or straight, authors “absent” at this major writers’ event. So I invited Xicana—dykes and straight—writers and proposed three events.

April 1-2, 2016
El Centro’s morning sol draped the sky, the buildings, and the cracked sidewalks with the yawn of light. On Pico and Venice, I stepped off the bus. Breathed in downtown’s morning: warmth, cars, dust. Strolled up Pico to Figueroa, the clatter of skyscrapers’ noise stammered.   
The Los Angeles Convention Center was booming. Strutted up the walkway and saw an old friend, Wanda, my fellow Chicana dyke, the moderator for the Jota panel. Her face, her embrace, her queerness, her cariño, said it all why our presence was necessary.

All the readings were awesome. “Jotas: A Chicana Lesbian Reading by Barrio-Based Writers” event was amazing. The writers—Wanda Alarcón, Verónica Reyes, Claudia Rodríguez, Griselda Suárez—performed their work to a beautiful audience who dared to attend the first session. Alarcón’s framed the importance of Xicana jota literature and today’s plight. They absorbed their words and gave a beautiful embracing applause. Feminist poetry filled the room about East L.A. tacos dorados via Long Beach, chanting of power in the room, and culminating with the hiss of spray paint from a Compton poet. Everything was blaring pride.

Puentes bridges“¡Chicana! Power! A Firme Tejana-Califas Reading.” These writers— Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Anel Flores, Guadalupe García Montaño, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Emmy Pérez—were mesmerizing. Joy was pulsing in the room. García Montaño introduced each writer and the authors empowered the room with stories set in San Antonio, Río Grande Valley, L.A., and la frontera. The lives of immigrants were honored. Cariño for familia bloomed in the room.

“Puentes=Bridges: A Queer-Straight Mujeres Reading” presented Olga García Echeverría, Estella González, liz gonzález, Melinda Palacio, and Karleen Pendleton Jiménez. The audience mirrored puentes. The event was a beautiful roundabout. Each writer introduced the next one. It honored bridges and the support of each other. The readings explored a hotel Juárez, the Inland Empire in the seventies, an East L.A. memoir for her mama, and shared the road to butch pregnancy. Questions flew in to the writers. The room enveloped the love of literature from laughter, to tears, to pride. It was a beautiful culmination.

Photos: (top) firma tejana-califas readers. (bottom) Puetes=Bridges readers. Photo credit: Michael Senado.
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.

Center for Fiction Announces First Novel Prize Longlist

The Center for Fiction has announced its 2016 First Novel Prize longlist. The prize is given annually for a debut novel published in the award year. The winning author receives $10,000, and each shortlisted author receives $1,000. 

The longlisted novels are: The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones (Mariner Books), All Joe Knight by Kevin Morris (Grove Press), Another Place You’ve Never Been by Rebecca Kauffman (Soft Skull Press), As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner (Lee Boudreaux Books), The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter by Kia Corthron (Seven Stories Press), Dodgers by Bill Beverly (Crown), Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson (Harper), The Girls by Emma Cline (Random House), Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright), Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Knopf) How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee (Viking), Hurt People by Cote Smith (FSG Originals), The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni (Counterpoint), The Longest Night by Andria Williams (Random House), The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay (Melville House), The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (Riverhead Books), Shelter by Jung Yun (Picador), Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser (Ecco), Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings by Stephen O’Connor (Viking), Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss (Scout Press), We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin Books), What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Scribner), and Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore (Hogarth).

The shortlist will be announced in September, and the winner will be announced at the Center for Fiction’s annual benefit and awards dinner on Tuesday, December 6, in New York City.

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the 2015 prize for The Sympathizer (Grove Press), which also went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Previous winners of the First Novel Prize include Marisha Pessl, Junot Díaz, Hannah Tinti, Ben Fountain, and Tiphanie Yanique.

Publishers may submit books to be considered for the prize; submissions for the 2017 prize will open in January.

Listen to Yaa Gyasi read an excerpt from her novel, Homegoing, which is included in the Poets & Writers Magazine 2016 First Fiction roundup.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive Support and Encouragement

Vern Miller has authored many stories and articles. He holds advanced degrees in German Language and Literature, as well as an MBA degree, and has taught at two major universities. Now he is combining his enthusiasm for literature with his interest in business to publish the Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Fifth Wednesday Books, Inc., publishes a nationally recognized print magazine, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and the online literary magazine, FWJ Plus. In addition to the magazines, we organize and participate in literary events in many venues. Our mission is to be a bridge between the creative artist and a diverse and receptive audience, to make good poetry and prose a part of the daily lives of more people. We are an all-volunteer organization with highly qualified, very energetic, and intensely loyal editors and interns, who produce more than four hundred pages of poetry, fiction, essays, black and white photography, book reviews, and interviews each year. We began as a print literary magazine, and have expanded our programs and activities to include presentations in Chicago, New York, and other locations, as an essential part of our pursuit of excellence.

Five years ago we decided to do everything we could to bring even more poetry to people in Chicago through events featuring poets from around the country, music, and book signings and receptions. We needed partners. We asked for support. Support arrived. We are grateful to the Poetry Foundation for the donation of their much sought after space for our programs for the past five years.

We needed more. We asked. Poets & Writers came through like champions. We have received critical support in the form of grants to assist with reading fees, without which we could not offer national writers to our audiences in Chicago. Here are some highlights:

In 2013, Poets & Writers helped us bring Marge Piercy and Ira Wood to our Chicago audience. (More than a hundred people braved a torrent of rain and wind.)

In 2014, Poets & Writers again provided critical support for a very successful program featuring three Illinois poets: Michael Anania, Elise Paschen, and Jeffery Renard Allen. (Almost a hundred people came for readings, music, and reception, despite the typical rainy weather in Chicago.)

In 2015, Poets & Writers came through again when we asked for help in presenting a program of African American poets including Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Roger Reeves, and others. (More than a hundred people filled the seats, even as I fretted about our lack of sufficient publicity.)

Photos: (top) Ira Wood, Marge Piercy, and Andrea Witzke Slot. (bottom) Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Calvin Forbes, Roger Reeves, and Kelly Norman Ellis. Photo credit: Fifth Wednesday Books.

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.

Deadline Approaches for BOAAT Chapbook Prize

Submissions are currently open for the BOAAT Press Chapbook Prize, awarded annually for a poetry chapbook. The prize includes $1,000 and publication of the winning chapbook in both a printed and handmade edition. Between one and four finalists will also each receive publication of their chapbooks as PDF digital downloads on BOAAT’s website and a $50 honorarium. 

BOAAT’s editorial team will select a longlist of twenty-five chapbooks, and award-winning poet Richard Siken will choose the winner. Siken is the author most recently of War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon, 2015), as well as the collection Crush (Yale University Press, 2005), which won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize.

Using the online submission manager, submit a manuscript of 15 to 30 pages of poetry along with a $17 entry fee by July 15. The winner and finalists will be announced by October. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Previous winners of the chapbook prize include Jess Feldman, Brenda Iijima, and Rebecca Farivar.

Watch a video below detailing the creation of BOAAT Press’s handmade book designs.

South African Writer Wins 2016 Caine Prize

South African writer Lidudumalingani has won the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing for his story “Memories We Lost.” He received £10,000 (approximately $12,900) and has been offered a monthlong residence at Georgetown University as the writer-in-residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics. The annual award, now in its seventeenth year, is given for a short story published in English and written by an African writer.

“The winning story explores a difficult subject—how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia. This is a troubling piece, depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape,” said judge Delia Jarrett-Macauley. “Multi-layered and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.” In addition to Jarrett-Macauley, the 2016 judges were Adjoa Andoh, Robert J. Patterson, and Mary Watson.

The shortlist for the prize included Abdul Adan of Somalia and Kenya for “The Lifebloom Gift,” Lesley Nneka Arimah of Nigeria for “What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky,” Tope Folarin of Nigeria for “Genesis,” and Bongani Kona of Zimbabwe for “At Your Requiem.” They each received £500 (approximately $650), and all of their stories, along with Lidudumalingani’s, can be read at the Caine Prize website.

Established in 2000, the Caine Prize was launched to “encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally.” The deadline for the 2017 prize is January 31, 2017; publishers may submit six copies of a story between 3,000 and 10,000 words published in English by an African writer. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Previous winners of the prize include Zambian writer Namwali Serpell, Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor, and Nigerian writers Tope Folarin and Rotimi Babatunde.

Listen to Lidudumalingani read his winning story, “Memories We Lost.”