Poets & Writers Blogs

Inseminating the Elephant Wins Library of Congress Prize

The Library of Congress announced the winner of its 2010 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, given for a collection published during the past two years. The ten-thousand-dollar prize went to Washington State poet and MacArthur "Genius" fellow Lucia Perillo for her fifth book of poetry, Inseminating the Elephant (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

Perillo is the third woman to be given the honor, along with Louise Glück and Alice Fulton. Among the other past winners of the biennial prize, given since 1990, are Frank Bidart, Bob Hicok, James Merrill, and Franz Wright.

For readers living in Washington, D.C., Perillo will give a free reading on December 13 at the Library of Congress's James Madison Building in celebration of the prize. To hear her read from her winning work now, check out the video below.

Spire Press Book Prize Goes Up to a Grand

Last week, we reported on a poetry chapbook contest that recently increased its prize, and this week, we're highlighting an award for a full-length poetry collection that's made a similar move. Spire Press, founded in New York City in 2002, has recently bumped its annual book prize to one thousand dollars. The winner will also see their collection published by Spire and receive twenty author copies.

Spire counts among its authors Maureen Alsop, Matthew Hittinger, Jennifer MacPherson, Alice Pettway, and Elizabeth Rees, a winner of the aforementioned Codhill Press chapbook contest (she also won Spire's chapbook award in 2007). Last year's book prize winner was Christina Olson for Before I Came Home Naked, which received praise from poets such as Paul Guest, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Katrina Vandenberg.

To submit to this year's contest, send a manuscript of forty-eight to eighty pages with an entry fee of twenty dollars (low-income writers may apply for a waiver) by December 20. Full guidelines are available on the Spire Web site.

Nine Emerging Writers Snag Fifty Grand Award

The winners of this year’s fifty-thousand-dollar Whiting Writers' Awards, given to promising writers nominated by established authors and literary professionals across the United States, were announced last night at a ceremony in New York City. This marks the twenty-fifth year of the prizes, which have bolstered the early careers of luminaries including Jorie Graham, Denis Johnson, Alice McDermott, David Foster Wallace, and C. D. Wright.

The winning poets are Matt Donovan, author of the collection Vellum (Mariner Books, 2007); Jane Springer, author of Dear Blackbird (University of Utah Press, 2007); and L. B. Thompson, whose chapbook is Tendered Notes (Center for Book Arts, 2003). The fiction winners are Michael Dahlie, author of the novel A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living (Norton, 2008); Rattawut Lapcharoensap, author of the short story collection Sightseeing (Grove Press, 2004); and Lydia Peelle, author of the story collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (Harper Perennial, 2009). The nonfiction winners are Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux last February; Amy Leach, whose essay collection about animals, plants, and stars is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2012; and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of the memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free (The Dial Press, 2009).

Six of the winners hold MFAs—from New York University, University of Iowa’s nonfiction program, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and Washington University—and two hold doctorate degrees. Among the magazines that have published multiple winners’ works are Granta, the New Yorker, and Orion. Full biographies on the winners are posted on the Web site of the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, sponsor of the awards.

In the video below, creative nonfiction winner Sayrafiezadeh reveals a dirty little literary secret.

Chapbook Contest Ups Its Prize

Bloomington, New York's Codhill Press, whose "voice was conceived as lying at the intersection between spiritual, literary, and poetic thought," is open for entries to its fifth annual poetry chapbook contest, this year with a prize of one thousand dollars. The winner, selected by Pauline Uchmanowicz, will also receive fifty copies of his or her chapbook, which will be distributed by SUNY Press—another recent development for Codhill.

The competition's finalists will also have their manuscripts considered for publication by the press, "dedicated to making beautifully crafted, carefully edited books." Images of selections from the Codhill catalogue, including 2009 chapbook contest winner Elizabeth Rees's Tilting Gravity, are viewable online.

To enter this year's contest, poets writing in English should send a manuscript of twenty to thirty pages with a twenty-five-dollar entry fee by November 30. Details on what to submit along with your poems are available on the Codhill Press Web site.

Brother and Sister Vie for Canadian Book Award

A few weeks ago the Canadian Writers’ Trust announced the finalists for its Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, which could have induced a bit of sibling rivalry, given two of the names on the five-strong shortlist. But authors Kathleen Winter and her younger brother, Michael, are far from feeling any familial animosity, according to Canada's the Star—in fact, they've mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, splitting the prize of twenty-five thousand Canadian dollars.

"In terms of anything like battle, it’s more of a tag team," Mr. Winter told the Star. "And the other people had better watch out."

Mr. Winter was shortlisted for The Death of Donna Whalen (Hamish Hamilton Canada). His sister, five years his senior, was nominated for her first novel, Annabel (House of Anansi Press), which is also up for the Scotiabank Giller Prize of fifty thousand Canadian dollars and the twenty-five-thousand-dollar Governor General’s Award for Fiction.

"I wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t seen Kathleen writing," says Mr. Winter, who published his first book, the story collection Creaking in Their Skins (Quarry Press, 1994), before his sister released her debut collection, boYs (Biblioasis, 2007). "When I was in university, Kathleen was already a writer. I don't know if there was much of a living in it, but she lived and breathed books and writing. She was always sending things out to publishers and magazines."

The other authors up for the Writers' Trust prize are Trevor Cole for Practical Jean (McClelland & Stewart), Emma Donoghue for Room (HarperCollins), and Michael Helm for Cities of Refuge (McClelland & Stewart). Next Wednesday, all of the finalists will give a reading at the International Festival of Authors, and the winner will be announced on November 2 at Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre.

Water, Light, Music, Noise Make Eliot Prize Shortlist

The ten finalists for the T. S. Eliot Prize, a U.K. award worth fifteen thousand pounds, were recently named in what chair of judges Anne Stevenson called an "exceptional year for poetry." Among the titles selected from 123 entries are the second collection from an American Army veteran, three Forward Poetry Prize–nominated books and this year's winner (who is one of two Nobel laureates on the list), and a collection by the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud that includes a poetic sequence informed by family letters.

The shortlisted poets, each of whom will receive one thousand pounds, are below.

Simon Armitage for Seeing Stars (Faber)

Annie Freud for The Mirabelles (Picador)

John Haynes for You (Seren)

Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney for Human Chain (Faber; Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which won the Forward Prize this year

Pascale Petit for What the Water Gave Me (Seren)

Robin Robertson for The Wrecking Light (Picador; forthcoming from Mariner Books), which was a 2010 Forward finalist

Fiona Sampson for Rough Music (Carcanet Press), also a 2010 Forward finalist

Brian Turner for Phantom Noise (Bloodaxe, Alice James Books)

Nobel laureate Derek Walcott for White Egrets (Faber; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Sam Willetts for New Light for the Old Dark (Jonathan Cape)

The winner will be named on January 24 after a reading by the finalists at London's Royal Festival Hall on the previous day.

In the video below, Petit reads from What the Water Gave Me, inspired by the life of artist Frida Kahlo.

Miami Herald Holds Basketball Poetry Contest, With a "Royal" Subject

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost a star player this year to the sultry climes of Miami, and the Florida city's largest newspaper is looking for a poetic way to usher in the Heat's new signee. Until this Friday at 6 PM, the Miami Herald is running its one-off LeBron James poetry contest to "welcome (or not)" King James to the court.

"Are you so happy (or depressed) that LeBron James has arrived in Miami that you can't find the words?" the Herald asks, offering as a reward for those elusive words the opportunity for the winner to read his or her poem on WLRN Miami Herald News, as well as two tickets to a Miami Heat game. The King's bard will also receive passes to the finale event of O, Miami: A Contemporary Poetry Festival, which will occur for the first time next April.

Submit any number of poems via the online form, each piece being no more than six lines, in honor of James's new jersey number, in any style or form. The director of the new poetry festival, P. Scott Cunningham, will choose six finalists who will be announced on October 26 on WLRN Miami Herald News and online, on the day of the season's opening game.

For a taste of the possibilities of sport and glory in verse, check out NBC Miami's LeBron James poem picks from a couple of esteemed basketball blogs. And for a more dramatic rendering of James's poetry in motion, see the video below.

The Forest for the Trees

This month literary agent Betsy Lerner's revised edition of The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers was published by Riverhead Books. Originally published ten years ago, the updated guide includes information about electronic etiquette, book promotion via social media platforms, and the current publishing economy. Lerner, who began her career as an editor, is a partner in the Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency in New York City. Lerner answers questions from writers on her blog betsylerner.wordpress.com.

U.S. and Canada Book Awards Name the Year's Standouts

Yesterday afternoon the National Book Foundation announced the contenders for the National Book Awards, among them several titles published by small publishing outfits such as Coffee House Press, Four Way Books, and Copper Canyon Press. The lists of honorees in poetry and fiction are below; the finalists in young people's literature and nonfiction (a category that includes rocker-poet Patti Smith for her memoir Just Kids) are posted on the NBF Web site.

The finalists in poetry, judged by Rae Armantrout, Cornelius Eady, Linda Gregerson, Jeffrey McDaniel, Brenda Shaughnessy are:
The Eternal City
(Princeton University Press) by Kathleen Graber
Lighthead (Viking Penguin) by Terrance Hayes
By the Numbers (Copper Canyon Press) by James Richardson
One with Others (Copper Canyon Press) by C. D. Wright
Ignatz (Four Way Books) by Monica Youn 

The finalists in fiction, judged by Andrei Codrescu, Samuel R. Delany, Sabina Murray, Joanna Scott, Carolyn See are:
Parrot and Olivier in America
(Knopf) by Peter Carey
Lord of Misrule (McPherson) by Jaimy Gordon
Great House (Norton) by Nicole Krauss
So Much for That (Harper) by Lionel Shriver
I Hotel (Coffee House Press) by Karen Tei Yamashita

The National Book Award winners, who will be named on November 17, will each be awarded ten thousand dollars. Runners-up will receive one thousand dollars apiece.

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north have made public the shortlists for their own national book prize, the Governor General's Literary Award to recognize Canadian literature in English and French. Among the English-language finalists are poet Daryl Hine (&: A Serial Poem, Fitzhenry and Whiteside), former editor of Poetry magazine; fiction writer and Booker Prize finalist Emma Donoghue (Room, HarperCollins); and memoirist Ian Brown (Boy in the Moon, Random House Canada), who received the Trillium Book Award, the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction, and British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Nonfiction this year.

The full lists, including the honorees in French-to-English translation, are posted on the award Web site. The winners, who will be revealed on November 16 in Montreal, will receive twenty-five thousand Canadian dollars (worth roughly the same amount in U.S. currency).

Third Nomination's a Charm for This Year's Booker Winner

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which carries a purse of fifty thousand pounds (approximately $79,200), was announced last night at a ceremony in London. Coming from behind his shortlisted counterparts, at least in terms of where betters placed his book, London author Howard Jacobson took the award for his "comic novel" The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury), which was released today in the United States.

The prize, which Salon's Laura Miller calls "the best literary award," typically promotes a worldwide rise in sales. Last year's winner, Hilary Mantel, has seen rights to her winning book, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), sold in thirty-seven countries, and its sales climb to over a half a million copies in the United Kingdom alone.

This is the first Booker for Jacobson, who was longlisted for the prize twice before in 2006 for Kalooki Nights (Jonathan Cape) and in 2002 for Who's Sorry Now (Jonathan Cape). His novel The Mighty Walzer (Jonathan Cape) won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing in 2000.

This year's judging panel includes former U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion, Financial Times literary editor Rosie Blau, Royal Opera House creative director Deborah Bull, journalist Tom Sutcliffe, and critic Frances Wilson.

In the video below, Jacobson and a group of reviewers discuss his winning book, which the author has described as his darkest.

Ploughshares Editor Wins Nebraska Book Award

The Nebraska Center for the Book has announced the winners of its 2010 book awards. Debut author Dwaine Spieker won the poetry award for his collection Garden of Stars, published by All Along Press, a cooperative letterpress workshop in Saint Louis. Fiction writer and Ploughshares  editor   Ladette Randolph, who teaches at Boston's Emerson College, won in fiction for her first novel, A Sandhills Ballad (University of New Mexico Press).

The authors will be honored, along with winners in nonfiction, anthology, and design, on November 6. Also receiving recognition will be twenty-year-old poetry magazine Plainsongs, published at Hastings College, which won this year's Jane Geske Award, given to an organization that supports literacy in Nebraska.

Nominations for the awards are accepted in the spring. The 2010 deadline for book awards entries was July 1, and for the Geske Award, July 15.

Vargas Llosa Takes Nobel, Heaney Wins Prize for First Work After Stroke

Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this morning, the first time in twenty-eight years that the award has been given to a South American writer. (Gabriel García Márquez received the prize in 1982.) The Swedish Academy recognized Vargas Llosa for "his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." Following the award announcement, the Guardian named five must-read Vargas Llosa novels; the Paris Review and Christian Science Monitor also have posted interviews with the author from their archives.

In other awards news, the Forward Arts Foundation in London named Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney winner of this year's ten-thousand-pound Forward Prize (approximately $15,877). The poet was honored with the United Kingdom's most lucrative poetry award for his collection Human Chain (Faber and Faber), the first collection published after the Heaney's 2006 stroke. This is the first Forward Prize for the seventy-one-year-old poet, who has been shortlisted twice for his collections District and Circle (Faber and Faber, 2006) and The Spirit Level (Faber and Faber, 1996).

The Forward's Felix Dennis Prize for a debut collection went to Hilary Menos, an organic farmer and mother of four sons, for Berg (Seren Books). She received five thousand pounds ($7,938). Julia Copus, who is also a radio dramatist, won the one-thousand-pound prize ($1,587) for a single poem for "An Easy Passage."

In Spain, late Canary Island poet Jose Maria Millares Sall was awarded the country's national poetry prize for his final collection, Cuadernos 2000–2009 (Notebooks 2000–2009). His niece commented to the Latin American Herald Tribune that the Culture Ministry's awarding of the twenty-thousand-euro prize ($27,858) to her uncle, who died one year ago, was “a very great act of poetic justice."

In the video below, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, reveals the 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Carve's Story Contest Deadline Extended

Carve Magazine, an online outpost for fiction, returned last month from a yearlong hiatus with an announcement of its eleventh annual Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. The winning story will be published in Carve, and its author will receive one thousand dollars.

In an effort to ensure at least a forty-five day entry period (the contest opened on September 7), the deadline has recently been extended from October 15 to October 31. Stories of up to five thousand words each can be mailed (with a fifteen dollar fee) or submitted via Submishmash (for seventeen dollars). The editors say that they may deliver comments on entries made electronically, a feature enabled by the online submission system. Complete guidelines for how to enter are available on the Carve Web site.

Past prize judges include short story writers Ben Fountain and Cristina Henríquez and magazine founder Melvin Sterne. Selecting this year's winner is Carve editor Matthew Limpede. "We look for fiction that is captivating and full of emotional honesty, that speaks to the human condition," Limpede says. "We want to be left with a lasting feeling at the end of the story. This is usually achieved when the writer is in full control of the craft of the story."

For more upcoming deadlines, visit our Submission Calendar.

Literary Agent Georges Borchardt

Legendary agent Georges Borchardt, whose list includes authors such as poets John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Rafael Campo, and Philip Schultz; fiction writers T. C. Boyle, Robert Coover, David Guterson, Charles Johnson,Ian McEwan, Claire Messud, and Susan Minot; and nonfiction writers Anne Applebaum, Stanley Crouch, Susan Jacoby, Tracy Kidder offers advice to writers that has been informed by over fifty years in the business in this interview with editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler published last fall in Poets & Writers Magazine. And in this Poets & Writers video exclusive with Ferrari-Adler, Borchardt talks about changes in the publishing industry and the importance of independent presses. Check them out!

NBF Celebrates Five Promising Fiction Writers

For the fifth year, the National Book Foundation has named its Five Under Thirty-Five honorees, a group of young novelists and short fiction writers selected for recognition by former National Book Award (NBA) winners and finalists. This year's list, dominated by women, includes expats from the former Yugoslavia and the Virgin Islands, two recipients of the Rona Jaffe Writers' Award for emerging women writers, an O. Henry Prize winner, and two small press authors.

Iowa Writers' Workshop alumna and Rona Jaffe Writers' Award–winner Sarah Braunstein was selected by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, an NBA fiction finalist for Madeleine Is Sleeping (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004). Braunstein's debut novel, The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, is forthcoming from Norton in 2011.

Grace Krilanovich, whose first novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, was published by Two Dollar Radio in September, was chosen by Scott Spencer, an NBA fiction finalist for his novels A Ship Made of Paper (Ecco, 2003) and Endless Love (Knopf, 1979).

Téa Obreht, a New York State author (by way of the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, and Egypt) who has already seen her fiction published in the New Yorker and the Atlantic, was chosen by Colum McCann, last year's NBA winner for Let the Great World Spin (Random House, 2009). Obreht's first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, is forthcoming from Random House in 2011.

Rona Jaffe Writers' Award–winner and Drew University professor Tiphanie Yanique, born in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, was selected by Jayne Anne Phillips, a finalist for Lark and Termite (Knopf, 2009). Yanique's debut novella and story collection, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, was published by Graywolf Press last March.

O. Henry Prize–winner Paul Yoon was selected by Kate Walbert, an NBA finalist for Our Kind, a novel in stories (Scribner, 2004). Yoon's first story collection, Once the Shore, published by Sarabande in 2009, won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares.

The five will read from their books at a party at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, New York, on November 15. The event, hosted by Rosanne Cash and featuring Love Is a Mix Tape author Rob Sheffield as deejay, commences the National Book Awards Week celebrations leading up to the announcement of this year's prizes on November 17.

The video below is the book trailer for Krilanovich's debut, which follows a band of "vampire junkies" through a nineties-era Pacific Northwest.