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Think of a work of art—a film, book, painting, or song—that has received significant critical acclaim, but that you cannot stand. That you might, in fact, hate. Write an essay exploring why this work grates against your aesthetic sensibilities. Approach this not as a hatchet job, but an honest, probing examination of the work and why you believe it falls short. Consider what your distaste may reveal about your own sense of art and what the critical praise reveals more generally about our arts culture.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced today that Joy Williams has won the 2016 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. The annual award of $5,000 “recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction.”

One of the most respected contemporary short fiction writers, Joy Williams is the author most recently of The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, published last fall by Knopf. Williams’s short fiction is known for its crisp, elegant prose, dark wit, and ability to seamlessly permute from the real to unsettlingly unfamiliar. Richard Ford, a member of this year’s PEN/Malamud selection committee, said that Williams’s stories are “incandescent, witty, alarming, often hilarious while affecting seeming inadvertence (but not really) in their powerful access to our human condition. She is a stirring writer and has long been deserving of the Malamud Award.”

Williams is the author of five story collections, four novels, and two works of nonfiction. She has received the Rea Award for the Short Story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. 

Williams will receive her award and read from her work at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on December 2.

Now in its twenty-eighth year, the PEN/Malamud Award was established in 1988 to honor the short fiction author Bernard Malamud, who died in 1986. The 2016 selection committee for the award included H. G. Carillo, Richard Ford, and Margaret Talbot. Previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Lorrie Moore, Adam Haslett, George Saunders, and Deborah Eisenberg. 

Kevin Barry's novel Beatlebone (Doubleday, 2015) imagines John Lennon taking a mini pilgrimage to an island he's purchased off the west coast of Ireland. Led by his driver, Cornelius, they jump from one strange encounter to another as they try to avoid the paparazzi and make it to the island. Write a story in which the main character is someone famous in popular culture. Research the character, try to inhabit them far beyond the public persona, and send them on a journey that reveals the person beyond the limelight. 

In During (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), the new collection by National Book Award finalist James Richardson, there are, in addition to many wonderful poems, dozens and dozens of aphorisms (a poetic specialty of his), including gems like, “Maybe what interests me in the mirror is not myself but that person who looks so interested in me.” Try your hand at writing a handful of aphorisms, focusing on the way they use brevity and clarity to find their way into an idea. For inspiration, read more of Richardson’s aphorisms, and some from his favorite aphorist Antonio Porchia.

Christina Fialho is an attorney and cofounder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). In the fall of 2015, she invited P&W­–supported writer Alicia Partnoy to lead a writing workshop at the CIVIC annual retreat, and in this blog she shares about the resulting anthology Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which collects writing and artwork by people in immigration detention, and their family members and allies. Fialho also blogs for the Huffington Post, and her writings have appeared in MSNBC.com, the Washington Timesthe Hill, among other publications. She has produced an award-winning documentary and non-narrated shorts, which have appeared on NPR and in the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico. She has received fellowships from Echoing Green and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Fialho serves on the Board of the ACLU of Southern California.

Call Me Libertad book cover

Twenty years ago on April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, ushering in an era of mass detention and deportation of immigrants. A few months later, the president signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Together, these laws doubled the number of people in U.S. immigration detention from 8,500 each day in 1996 to 16,000 in 1998. The immigration detention system is now a multibillion dollar industry that detains 34,000 people per day and enriches private prison corporations and local governments at taxpayer expense.

Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which I coedited with Alicia Partnoy and Kristina Shull, is the first book to combine the voices of people in immigration detention with their family members and allies to give unprecedented insight into immigration detention. This multilingual book of poetry and art grew out of a writing workshop taught by P&W–supported poet and memoirist Alicia Partnoy for the organization CIVIC. The authors include Sylvester Owino (who spent nine years in detention), Eldaah Arango (whose father was detained and deported), and Katherine Weathers (who visits people in immigration detention).

"Writing about the abuses against us was the only way to let it out, slowly, so slowly. It is still coming out," writes Owino. The suffering that millions of immigrants have experienced in U.S. immigration detention over the last twenty years cannot be justified. This book, published by CIVIC, is an effort to liberate our political imagination so that we may build together a country without immigration detention. Reserve your copy here.

Photo: Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders anthology cover design by Art24 photography and design with art by Marcela Castro.

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.

Submissions are open for the Malahat Review’s 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry, given biennially for a single poem by an emerging poet. The winner will receive $1,000 Canadian and publication in the Malahat Review. Steven Heighton will judge.

Writers who have not yet published a full-length poetry collection are eligible. Submit no more than three poems of up to 60 lines each with a $30 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to the Malahat Review, by May 1. The winner will be announced in July and interviewed for the review’s monthly e-newsletter and website. Submissions can be made via e-mail to horizons@uvic.ca, or by postal mail to University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Stn CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Y2, Canada. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Steven Heighton has written more than ten books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, most recently the story collection The Dead Are More Visible (Knopf, 2012). “Right now the poems that most compel me are the ones that choke me up—poems that could rip the heart out of a wheelbarrow,” says Heighton in an interview with the Malahat Review. “I’m also gravitating toward work that emerges from the nightmind, as I call it—poems born of dreams and hallucinations. Weird, oneiric stuff. By the same token, I’m tired of poems that seem primarily to be auditioning for a collegial constituency, demonstrating the poet’s fluent familiarity with the films, songs, shows, apps, etc. that he or she knows colleagues to be co-immersed in. Intertextuality of that kind can be brilliant and effective, for sure, but only in the context of work emerging from some deeper psychic impulse.”

Recent winners of the prize include Laura Ritland, whose poem “Vincent, in the Dream of Zundert” was chosen by Julie Bruck from almost eight hundred submissions; and Kayla Czaga, whose poem “gertrude stein loves a girl” was chosen by Mary Dalton from more than five hundred submissions.

Established in 1967, the Malahat Review is based at the University of Victoria in Canada. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, and administers several contests each year.

In “Recovering the Classics” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Jonathan Vatner reports on the project by San Francisco companies DailyLit and Creative Action Network, along with other community partners, to revitalize interest in classic novels by creating new, eye-catching cover designs. Choose a classic novel you’ve read in the past with a book cover you find particularly memorable. Write a short essay examining the features that make the design striking, drawing upon the relationship between the artistic style of the cover and the novel’s contents. Does the design resonate with your own aesthetic sensibilities?

If you haven’t heard of it already, a “promposal” is a request for a date to high school prom through a dramatic gesture often involving witty puns and surprise declarations of affection in public, all recorded on camera and shared widely on social media. Write a scene in which a secondary character carries out an elaborate “promposal.” Is it angst-ridden and cringe-worthy, or humorously slapstick? Does the success or failure of the act offer foreshadowing for the atmosphere of the entire story?

Technological and scientific advances have recently enabled surgeons to implant a chip into a human brain that, through a computer, can send signals to the body allowing a person living with paralysis to regain movement. Write a poem reflecting on your own observations about autonomy, the role of technology, and the physical mechanisms of the body. Think of unique ways to describe the inner workings of our minds, muscles, and limbs.

Today in New York City, the Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2016 Pulitzer Prizes. Of the twenty-one categories, the prizes in letters are awarded annually for works of literature published in the previous year by American authors.

The winner in poetry is Peter Balakian for his collection Ozone Journal (University of Chicago), a collection of poems “that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.” The finalists were Diane Seuss for Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf) and Elizabeth Willis for Alive: New and Selected Poems (New York Review Books).

Viet Thanh Nguyen won in fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathizer (Grove), “A layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a “‘man of two minds’—and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.” The finalists were Kelly Link for Get in Trouble: Stories (Random House) and Margaret Verble for Maud’s Line (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 

Prize administrator Mike Pride announced the winners and finalists at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Each winner receives $10,000. A complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories, including journalism, literature, and drama, is available on the Pulitzer Prize website.

The 2015 winners included poet Gregory Pardlo and fiction writer Anthony Doerr.

Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prizes in 1911, and the first prize was administered in 1917. In celebration of this year’s centennial, the Pulitzer board has partnered with individuals and organizations across the country for its Campfires Initiative, which hosts events with the aim “to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by Pulitzer Prize–winning work.” 

Nominations for the 2017 prizes will open in May.

On March 31, 2016, during the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Los Angeles, Poets & Writers brought together P&W–supported teaching artists Dorothy Randall Gray, Michael Kearns, Mike Sonksen, and Leilani Squire for the panel presentation “Creative Writing for the Underserved: Ideas, Inspiration, Revelation.” Panelists spoke about best practices, what motivates them to do what they do, and how teaching writing to underserved groups has enriched their writing lives. Below are some highlights from the conversation, as compiled by Readings & Workshops (West) director and panel moderator Jamie Asaye FitzGerald.

Classroom Approaches

"I look at longevity as a starting point, and have them write about all of the 'selves' that have gotten them to where they are today."
—Michael Kearns, who works with GLBT seniors

"We spend a lot of time just talking, working through issues, then do a timed writing. I listen and witness. That's a big part of it."
—Leilani Squire, who works with veterans and their family members

"I begin the class with three minutes of silence. I work with teenage identity and bring in poems about that. I've had them read [Paul Laurence] Dunbar's 'We Wear the Mask.' I've even had them make a mask, think about the layers of their identity and list them. I try to show them how poets are always talking to each other and that they are part of the conversation. I also use a little hip-hop, documentaries, current events."
—Mike Sonksen, who works with teens

"Sometimes these populations don't want to feel because it hurts too much. I try to get them to connect with their feelings. Music and visuals help. One reward for doing the writing is letting the kids be DJ and pick out the songs. To get them to open up, be silly, bring a visual, ask an easy question like 'What's your favorite food?' or 'What do you want to eat when you get out of here?'"
—Dorothy Randall Gray, who works with incarcerated youth, women, and the homeless

The Effect on Their Writing Lives

"If I tell them to write deeply, to go for the jugular, how can I not do that myself?"
—Squire

"My stakes are higher. I am deepened by them."
—Kearns

"Not only do I have to deal with the truth; I have to face my own truth. I believe in sticking a pen in my own vein. As they tell their stories, I tell my stories."
—Gray

On Self-Care

"Being in the trenches is taking care of myself. Dealing with horror, pain, and abuse—it's contradictory, but it is comforting that I can hear and be empathetic.... And I have my daughter when I feel overwhelmed."
—Kearns

"You get worn out. Performing poetry and doing freelance writing helps. I keep my writing career active. Then there are the two kids who really get it, there's the e-mail from a kid five years later, and the kid who stays after class to help clean up."
—Sonksen

"Meditation. Adjusting my own beliefs. Compassion is a big part of it, and being as gentle and loving as possible."
—Gray

"I have to walk in centered, whole, and confident or I'll get beat up. I'm a practicing Buddhist. I go to Native American lodges, which helps me gain answers to questions I ask. I cuddle with my dog."
—Squire

Hopes for Their Students

"I hope they find a home in their hearts, where they feel loved and safe."
—Gray

"I hope their voices get louder, not softer; more authentic, more hopeful; more of who they are and not less—because that can often happen as one ages."
—Kearns

"I hope they come to a place of acceptance, understanding; of being listened to, witnessed; to come to some sort of wholeness. My agenda is to promote peace."
—Squire

"I try to give them the tools they need to lift themselves up. Ultimately, I'd like to create lifelong readers and writers. But mainly I use writing as a bridge to help them build identity and future hope."
—Sonksen

We are pleased to be able to support writers who work with underserved groups. For more information about whether your event might qualify for Readings & Workshops support, please see our guidelines or contact us.

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

The shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize was announced yesterday, and includes Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and pseudonymous Italian fiction writer Elena Ferrante. The prize is given annually for a work of fiction translated into English and published during the previous year. The £50,000 prize is split between the author and translator.

This year’s shortlist includes José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola for A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker), translated by Daniel Hahn; Elena Ferrante of Italy for The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), translated by Ann Goldstein; Han Kang of South Korea for The Vegetarian (Portobello Books), translated by Deborah Smith; Orhan Pamuk of Turkey for A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber), translated by Ekin Oklap; Robert Seethaler of Austria for A Whole Life (Picador), translated by Charlotte Collins; and Yan Lianke of China for The Four Books (Chatto & Windus), translated by Carlos Rojas.

“In first-class translations that showcase that unique and precious art, these six books tell unforgettable stories from China and Angola, Austria and Turkey, Italy and South Korea,” says chair of judges Boyd Tonkin. “In setting, they range from a Mao-era re-education camp and a remote Alpine valley to the modern tumult and transformation of cities such as Naples and Istanbul. In form, the titles stretch from a delicate mosaic of linked lives in post-colonial Africa to a mesmerizing fable of domestic abuse and revolt in booming east Asia. Our selection shows that the finest books in translation extend the boundaries not just of our world—but of the art of fiction itself.

Tonkin—along with judges Tahmima Anam, David Bellos, Daniel Medin, and Ruth Padel—selected the finalists from a longlist of thirteen books, which in turn was culled from a group of 155. This year the prize combined with the Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize, and marks the first time the award has been given annually for a single work of fiction in translation. The prize was previously awarded to a fiction writer for a body of work.

The winner will be announced at an event in London on May 16. Previous winners of the prize include László Krasznahorkai, Lydia Davis, Philip Roth, and Alice Munro.

Image courtesy of the Guardian.

To celebrate the presentation of the Paris Review’s lifetime achievement award to Lydia Davis, her twenty-word story, “Spring Spleen,” was printed on the label of bottles of mouthwash. Write a few very short pieces of creative nonfiction totaling no more than twenty words that could each fit onto a small bottle label. Taking a cue from Davis’s story, incorporate elements of both nature and social behavior.

Skywriting is often used for advertising or special occasions, such as a birthday or a marriage proposal. A small plane expels smoke as it flies in a specific pattern resulting in words that appear to be formed out of clouds for the world below. Write a short story in which two characters in two different locations glimpse a mysterious message written in the sky. How will the message bring your characters together? 

Last night in New York City, the PEN American Center honored the recipients of the 2016 PEN Literary Awards. A selection of winners were announced in February; the winners of the following five awards were announced live at the ceremony.

Mia Alvar won the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for her story collection, In the Country (Knopf). Helon Habila, Elizabeth McCracken, Edie Meidav, and Jess Row judged. “It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth, work singing with the grace of a thousand doomed lifetimes compressed into stories both luminous and empathic, populated by memorable characters facing such keenly felt challenges,” the judges wrote.

Ta-Nehisi Coates took home the $10,000 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for Art of the Essay for his critically acclaimed epistolary memoir, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau).

The PEN Open Book Award went to Rick Barot for his third poetry collection, Chord (Sarabande Books).

Lauren Redniss won the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future (Random House).

Jean Guerrero received the inaugural PEN/FUSION emerging writers prize for her manuscript “Crux.” The $10,000 prize was established in 2015 to recognize an unpublished nonfiction manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five.

Meanwhile, novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison was honored with the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

This year, PEN will confer approximately $200,000 in awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes to writers and translators. Visit PEN’s website for a complete list of the 2016 Literary Award–winners.

(Photo: Mia Alvar, Credit: Deborah Lopez)

Watch a video of the awards ceremony below:

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