Poets & Writers Blogs

Collin Kelley: Guided by Voices

Collin KelleyP&W-SPONSORED PRESENTER: Collin Kelley

Poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, and curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, blogs about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored presenter of literary events.

I’ve had the honor of organizing and co-hosting the annual Voices Carry reading in Atlanta for the past seven years. The reading began at the request of my friend, the late Chante Whitley-Head, in 2004 as part of the Atlanta Festival of the Book. Nearly two hundred people crowded into the rotunda of the Jimmy Carter Library to hear Cherryl Floyd-Miller, M. Ayodele Heath, Alice Lovelace, Tania Rochelle, Ralph Tejeda-Wilson, Kodac Harrison, the late John Stone, and my partner in crime, Cecilia Woloch.

There was an electricity in the room that September night; one of those readings where every poet is performing their best work, the audience is enrapt awaiting the next line, and there are murmurs and gasps when a poet has found just the right combination of words to elicit uncontained emotion. Those transcendent kinds of readings are rare.

Voices Carry was supposed to be a one-off event. There was no money to keep it going, Cecilia was moving back to Los Angeles, and Chante was stepping away from the festival after being diagnosed with cancer. But everywhere I went for months afterwards, people kept asking when the next Voices Carry reading was going to be held. Even from LA, Cecilia was game to put together another reading and to fly back to Atlanta to assist and read.

Poetry Atlanta saved Voices Carry. A twenty-five-year-old nonprofit organization, Poetry Atlanta’s mission is to promote the local poetry scene as well as produce the award-winning Atlanta Review. I was asked to sit on Poetry Atlanta’s advisory board and suggest projects. The first project I brought to the table was Voices Carry. There was a little money in the coffers, but where would the rest come from? Enter Poets & Writers’ Readings/Workshops program.

We were able pay honoraria to poets (who included Jon Goode, Dan Veach, Beth Gylys, Eric Nelson and Sharan Strange), which freed up funds for us to rent the Carter Center space again! The 2005 reading was held on September 11th and it was a double whammy of remembering the terrorist attacks and the still unfolding horror of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath on the Gulf Coast. It was an emotional evening.

Cecilia and I are already talking about the 2011 edition of Voices Carry. My applications will be in the mail to P&W soon. And, as always, we’ll remember our friend Chante, who put us on this road in the first place.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

May Sarton Centennial Celebrated With Poetry Prize

New Hampshire outfit Bauhan Publishing has launched a first book prize in honor of the late May Sarton. The winning poetry collection will be published in 2012 in celebration of Sarton's one hundredth birthday, and will appear in conjunction with a reissue of her collection As Does New Hampshire, originally published in by Bauhan 1967.

State poet laureate W. E. Butts, author of Sunday Evening at the Stardust Café (First World Library) and Movies in a Small Town (Mellen Poetry Press), will judge. The winner will receive one thousand dollars as well as one hundred copies of the published book.

Book manuscripts, which should be accompanied by a twenty-five-dollar entry fee, are due on June 30. Full guidelines are available on the Bauhan Web site.

A feminist, advocate for social justice, and contemporary of writers such as Virginia Woolf and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Sarton authored more than fifty books of poetry, fiction, and memoir. In the video below, Sarton reads her poem "My Sisters, O My Sisters."

Kay Ryan, Jennifer Egan Take Pulitzers

The Pulitzer Prizes in letters have been announced, with two women writers snagging literary honors. U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, praised for her "witty, rebellious and yet tender" verse, won for her collection The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press). The winner in fiction, Jennifer Egan was honored for the "big-hearted curiosity" of her novel A Visit From the Goon Squad (Knopf), which also recently won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The finalists in poetry are Maurice Manning for The Common Man (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Jean Valentine for Break the Glass (Copper Canyon Press). Jonathan Dee and Chang-rae Lee received citations in fiction, for The Privileges (Random House) and The Surrendered (Riverhead Books), respectively.

Also of note, writer and doctor Siddhartha Mukherjee won the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for his "biography" of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (Scribner), "an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behavior."

In the video below, Egan discusses her novel on PBS NewsHour.

Delia Tomino Nakayama on Unconditional Exploration

P&W-SPONSORED WRITER: Delia Tomino Nakayama
HOST ORGANIZATION: St. Anna's Episcopal Church

From October 18 to November 15, 2010, poet Delia Tomino Nakayama held five free "PoetryProcess" workshops at St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans. We asked Nakayama how she approaches workshopping.

What's your writing critique philosophy?
A lot of good comes from refraining from giving critique in workshops if the students are open to such an idea. An air of unconditionality then permeates the environment, and people can really go places they don't normally go and explore different ways of writing without feeling scrutinized. “Good” examples, writing exercises, and time spent writing together in silence can guide people in a gentle way to reach their potential. I also feel that the answers people are looking for regarding their work are usually inside of them, though it might take some time to find. Those answers are apt to be more appropriate than another person's, as the writer really knows the writing.

What is the strangest question you’ve received from a student?
“Do I really belong here?”

My answer was: “Of course!”

This person didn't really feel like a “writer” yet. Anyone who wants to write, whether they have or not in the past, “belongs” in any workshop I give.

How does teaching inform your writing and vice versa?
The knowledge I have as a writer and human being comes out as I teach, and though I knew that I “knew” something, my insights go through an actualization process where I am verbalizing what I know viscerally/subconsciously.

I think about how it was when I was starting out as a poet and writer, and how I doubted myself. I also remember getting bad and discouraging critiques. That process of development as a writer informs how I teach. I try to be as sensitive as possible to each student and give people a lot of space to move in, so they don't feel monitored or limited. I also do a lot of encouraging and praising. I don't say something is great if it isn't great (to me) or butter people up gratuitously, but I always aim to be positive and supportive. Praise and encouragement works.

I have had the great luck to teach some very talented writers who I have thought of as “better” poets than myself (though I don't really like to use that word and compare in that way), and those people have inspired me and challenged me to write more and “better.”

What has been your most rewarding experience as a writing teacher?
Teaching children and young adults poetry is the most satisfying for me. Giving a child a notebook and a pen, and letting him or her just write is amazing. It's like watching a flower bloom before your eyes.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups, such as teens, elders, the disabled, and veterans?
For groups of people that don't feel heard, or feel misunderstood, writing is a powerful tool to get clear on how they feel and see things, express those feelings effectively, and find an outlet where they can communicate and tell their stories to others in an interesting, engaging way. Writing empowers people and gives voice to stories, and perhaps even secrets, that need to be brought to light.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans 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.

Collin Kelley on a Writer's Worth

Collin KelleyP&W-SPONSORED WRITER & PRESENTER: Collin Kelley

For the next few weeks, poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, and curator of both the Poetry Atlanta reading series and the Georgia Center for the Book reading series will be blogging about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored writer and presenter of literary events.

In February 2005, I wrote my first grant approved by Poets & Writers, Inc., when it expanded its Readings/Workshops program to the Atlanta area. The recipient of that grant, Cherryl Floyd-Miller, hadn’t asked for any money, but deserved it for her many years of selfless and uncompensated work as a writer in the city. We had a standing-room-only audience that night at the Barnes & Noble on the Georgia Tech campus, and I was thrilled to be able to put a check in Cherryl’s hand.

Asking a writer to pay airfare, hotel (or sleep on an uncomfortable sofa), and other expenses with no compensation other than the “glory” and “honor” of being asked to read becomes more and more abhorrent to me the longer I’m in the business of words. Even if the writer is just coming from across town, they are giving up their time, paying $3-plus for gas and providing experiences for audiences.

Whether the poet is coming from Boston or Los Angeles (such was the case with January Gill O’Neil and Steven Reigns, respectively) or just around the corner (the newly-crowned Women of the World Poetry Slam champion Theresa Davis or local favorite Karen Head), my belief is that they all deserve to be paid.

Let’s face it: Unless some book-loving heiress has died and bequeathed her fortune, most literary organizations are struggling. And not just because of the recent economic downturn, but since time began. It’s not that people don’t value literature; it’s just often taken for granted as always being there. Writers are usually left in the gray area of trying to balance doing what they love and keeping the lights on in their dens.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

Welcome to Our New Blog!

Welcome to Readings & Workshops, a new blog which will showcase the fabulous literary contributions that Readings/Workshops program participants make to their communities. Check back regularly to read highlights of events we’ve supported through our R/W grant program and dispatches from the writers and literary presenters we’ve partnered with in New York State, California, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.

For a taste of what R/W is all about, check out this video, which documents a writing workshop at New York’s Goddard Riverside Community Center. We’ve funded this workshop since 2001, making it one of our longest-running writing workshops for seniors, and most of the participants have attended consistently for more than a decade. You’ll understand why when you watch the video.

Adaptation of Orange Prize Novel Up for Film Award

Lionel Shriver, who some posit is among the greatest living American writers, finds her Orange Prize–winning novel recognized for another honor this spring. The film adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring Tilda Swinton—an actress with more than a few literary films under her belt—is up for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. (Meanwhile, the Independent reports, Shriver has not seen the film and will not go to Cannes, though she was not opposed to the adaptation of her book.)

The novel, Shriver's seventh, took the 2005 Orange Prize, given since 1996 for a novel by a woman of any nationality. We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was rejected by dozens of publishers before finding break-out success, was also voted the Orange Prize "winner of winners" in a public vote last summer. (Shriver dismissed the subsequent honor, however, telling the Independent, "I'm critical of the Orange people on this front. The more prizes you give, the more meaningless they become.")

Whether the story of Kevin will be recognized with another honor will be revealed on the final day of Cannes, May 22.

U.S. Writer Wins Big Overseas for Detroit Story

The two-year-old Sunday Times Short Story Award, given by the U.K. weekend newspaper for a single story, goes this year to an American author. Anthony Doerr, who won the Story Prize in March for his second collection Memory Wall, took the thirty-thousand-pound prize (nearly fifty thousand dollars) for "The Deep," set in 1920s Detroit.

Doerr's story, set in 1920s Detroit, centers on a boy with a hole in his heart who lives among salt miners in a world that "continually drains itself of young men." It originally appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story's Fall 2010 issue.

Also honored are stories by Will Cohu ("East Coast—West Coast"), Roshi Fernando ("The Fluorescent Jacket"), Yiyun Li  ("The Science of Flight"), Hilary Mantel ("Comma"), and Gerard Woodward ("The Family Whistle"). Each was given five hundred pounds (about eight hundred dollars).

Last year's inaugural Sunday Times Short Story Award winner was seventy-eight-year-old New Zealand author C. K. Stead, for his story "Last Season's Man." In order to be eligible, authors, regardless of nationality, must have had work previously published in the United Kingdom.

In the video below, actor Damian Lewis reads an excerpt from Doerr's winning piece.

Three American Women Shortlisted for IMPAC Prize

Among the ten finalists for the one-hundred-thousand-dollar International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award are three American writers, the same number that hail from the librarian-driven award's home country. Barbara Kingsolver is shortlisted for her novel The Lacuna, Yiyun Li for The Vagrants, and Joyce Carol Oates for Little Bird of Heaven, all published in 2009.

Representing Ireland (with a touch of New York City) are the novels Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, and Love and Summer by William Trevor. Also shortlisted are Michael Crummey of Canada for Galore and Australian writers David Malouf for Ransom, Craig Silvey for Jasper Jones, and Evie Wyld for After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice.

The titles were selected from a pool of 162 books nominated by librarians around the world, and for the first time since 2000, no translations appear on the shortlist (the Guardian's books blog probes the issue). The winner, selected by an international panel of writers, will be announced on June 15.

Guggenheim Announces Twenty-Seven Literature Fellows

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation named yesterday the winners of its 2011 fellowships for writers in the United States and Canada. The writers receiving awards, which last year averaged $36,867, are most in the middle stages of their careers, with two or more books published. Award amounts vary based on a writers' individual budget requests.

The fellows are, in poetry:
Peter Campion
Claudia Emerson
Paul Guest
Kimberly Johnson

Eleanor Lerman
Maurice Manning
Bill Porter (translation)
D. A. Powell
A. E. Stallings
Matthew Zapruder
Cynthia Zarin

In fiction:
Bonnie Jo Campbell
Jonathan Dee
Christie Hodgen
Clancy Martin
Valerie Martin
Karen Russell
David Vann
Lara Vapnyar
Brad Watson

In creative nonfiction:
Eula Biss
Mary Cappello
John D’Agata

Rosemary Mahoney
Katherine Russell Rich
Patricia Volk

In the video below, fiction fellow Lara Vapnyar, who emigrated from Moscow in the early nineties, describes her experience as a writer in America.

Bellingham Review Extends Deadline

The Washington State–based literary journal Bellingham Review is offering an extension for submissions to its poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction contests. Having received fewer submissions than they have in the past, the journal opted to accept entries until April 15.

Judging this year's entries will be poet Lia Purpura, author of King Baby (Alice James Books, 2009); fiction writer Adrianne Harun, author of the story collection The King of Limbo (Mariner Books, 2002); and creative nonfiction writer Ira Sukrungruang, author of Talk Thai: The Adventures of a Buddhist Boy (University of Missouri Press, 2010).

Last year's winners were Jennifer Perrine for her poem "When the Dazzle Isn't Gradual," Jacob Appel for his story "Bait and Switch," and Angela Tung for her essay "An Old Man on the Frontier Loses His Horse," selected by Allison Joseph, Jess Walter, and Rebecca McClanahan, respectively.

Complete guidelines for entry and samples of work published in the journal are available on the Bellingham Review Web site.

New Fifty-Thousand-Dollar Poetry Prize Has Global Ambitions

Just before National Poetry Month kicked off last week, word began to spread about a major new poetry prize out of Canada. The fifty-thousand-dollar Montreal International Poetry Prize, funded by an anonymous donor, isn't honoring a poet's lifetime achievement or a major new book, but a single poem.

The prize purse is highly unusual for a single-poem competition—similar contests tend to offer a few thousand dollars, at most. (The winning poem and forty-nine finalists will also be published in a "global anthology" by Véhicule Press in the fall, and an e-book featuring one hundred additional poems is planned, as well.) We asked prize director Len Epp how he might respond to writers skeptical of the magnitude of this new contest, which Epp hopes will be able to offer the same amount annually.

"I would tell them that single works of art are often given a much greater value than fifty thousand dollars," Epp wrote in an e-mail, "and that we're trying to tell the world that a poet who can produce an excellent poem deserves an excellent reward as much as any other artist. To doubt this is to undervalue poetry in a very unfortunate way."

He added that the prize organization has "done a lot of work to establish our credentials, and we are proud of our advisory and editorial boards," which include international poets Valerie Bloom, Stephanie Bolster, Frank M. Chipasula, Fred D'Aguiar, Michael Harris, John Kinsella, Sinéad Morrissey, Odia Ofeimun, Eric Ormsby, Don Paterson, and Anand Thakore, and fiction writer Ben Okri. Former U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion will judge.

The contest, looking to cull entries from international poets writing in "the various Englishes of the world," will charge an entry fee based on a sliding scale (writers in designated developing countries may pay a lower rate) ranging from fifteen to twenty-five dollars. When asked why the competition is charging a fee, Epp responded, "While we are actively seeking traditional forms of support through big sponsors and patrons, we are also committed to a self-sustaining community funding model, which would maximize our independence. As with all other poetry competitions that charge fees, entry fees go towards covering our costs, improving the prize, and guaranteeing its future."

In addition to awarding the prize, the organization has long term ambitions to provide direct funding to poets and establish a global poetry center.

More information about the Montreal International Poetry Prize and details on how to enter are available on the prize Web site. The deadline is July 8, and a discounted entry fee is available for poems submitted by April 22.

In the video below, Motion reads two poems at the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival.

Booker Finalist Declines Nomination

The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize have been announced, but if one nominee's wishes were honored, the shortlist would have to be clipped further. Best-selling author John le Carré has refused his nomination for the prize honoring achievement in fiction, saying simply that, while flattered by the recognition, he does not compete for literary awards.

Despite le Carré's request to be removed from the list of contenders, he could still be given the honor, which is offered at the discretion of a judging panel. "Le Carré's name will, of course, remain on the list," says chair of the judges Rick Gekoski. "We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."

Unlike its sister award, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the International Prize does not accept outside nominations. The finalists and winner of the sixty-thousand-pound prize (approximately ninety-six thousand dollars) are determined by a closed judging process.

In addition to le Carré, the finalists for the seventh annual award are Wang Anyi and Su Tong of China; Juan Goytisolo of Spain; James Kelman and Philip Pullman of the United Kingdom; Amin Maalouf of Lebanon; David Malouf of Australia; Dacia Maraini of Italy; Rohinton Mistry of India and Canada; and U.S. authors Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, and Anne Tyler. The winner will be announced on May 18 at the Sydney Writers' Festival in Australia.

In the video below, the Daily Beast's Tina Brown speaks with Roth about the future of the novel as a literary form.

Zone 3 Launches Creative Nonfiction Book Award

Zone 3 Press, housed at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, is accepting entries for a new book competition "open to anyone who can carve an artful exposition, drive a factual narrative, or strum a lyric sentence." One creative nonfiction manuscript will be selected for publication by the press, and the winning writer will receive one thousand dollars.

The judge is Baltimore poet and essayist Lia Purpura, author of the prose collections Increase (University of Georgia Press, 2000), On Looking (Sarabande Books, 2006), and Rough Likeness, which is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in 2012. Her poetry collections include The Brighter the Veil (Orchises Press, 1996) and King Baby (Alice James Books, 2008).

Eligible manuscripts should be 150 to 300 pages, and writers are encouraged to submit works that "embrace creative nonfiction’s potential by combining lyric exposition, researched reflection, travel dialogues, or creative criticism." The entry deadline is May 1. Complete deadlines can be found on the press's Web site.

In the video below, Purpura, whose prose works have been referred to as "lyric essays," reads from her latest collection of poetry.

Charles Simic and Dinaw Mengestu Win Prize for Foreign-Born Writers

The Vilcek Foundation has selected poet Charles Simic and fiction writer Dinaw Mengestu as recipients of the sixth annual Vilcek Prizes honoring foreign-born writers, artists, and scientists now living in the United States. Former U.S. poet laureate and recent Robert Frost Medal–winner Simic, born in the former Yugoslavia, received the one-hundred-thousand-dollar prize for lifetime achievement, and Mengestu, born in Ethiopia, won the twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize for creative promise.

Author of twenty poetry collections, Simic's most recent work is Master of Disguises (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Mengestu is the author of the novels How to Read the Air (Riverhead Books, 2010) and the widely praised The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead Books, 2007), which won the Guardian First Book Award.

The finalists for the prize for emerging writers, each receiving five thousand dollars, are poet Ilya Kaminsky (born in the former Soviet Union) and fiction writers Simon Van Booy (born in England), Téa Obreht (born in Croatia), and Vu Tran (born in Vietnam).

The literature honorees will participate in a panel, The New Vernacular: Immigrant Authors in American Literature, at New York City's Housing Works Bookstore Café on April 5. The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are appreciated.

In the video below, Mengestu discusses his latest novel.