Poets & Writers Blogs

Dove and Madhubuti Share Legacy Award in Poetry

The Hurston-Wright Foundation, established twenty years ago to promote and encourage writers of African descent, presented its 2010 Legacy Awards last week. Joining a list of Legacy alumni that includes Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Díaz and Edward P. Jones, MacArthur "Genius" fellow Edwidge Danticat, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist Uwem Akpan, are this year's winners, Rita Dove (also a Pulitzer winner) and Haki Madhubuti, who shared the poetry award, and fiction writer Percival Everett.

Dove received the honor for her collection Sonata Mulattica (Norton, 2009), inspired by the life of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, the biracial violinist who in 1803 premiered Beethoven's "Kreutzer" sonata in Vienna with the composer's accompaniment on piano. The poet "is concerned equally with the status of musicians in a world of precarious patronage," according to a review in the New Yorker, "and with 'the radiant web' of music itself." (A poem from the collection is available on the New Yorker online.)

Madhubuti won for his collection Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966–2009 (Third World Press, 2009). A pivotal figure in the Black Arts Movement, Madhubuti is the founder of Third World Press and established the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University, where he had also directed the MFA in creative writing program. He resigned from his work at the university earlier this year.

Everett was honored for his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier (Graywolf Press, 2009), which follows a character named Not Sidney Poitier on what the Believer calls "journeys through the minefields of American expectation, ugliness, and absurdity" accompanied by "a cadre of beautifully sketched characters, including [Ted] Turner and a rotund professor of 'Nonsense Philosophy' named Percival Everett."

Nonfiction writer Robin D. G. Kelley also took home an award for his book Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009).

Each writer received a statuette and five hundred dollars, a prize amount that is revised yearly based on funds raised for the occasion (in the early years of the award, created in 2002, the purse was ten thousand dollars), and the authors were feted at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

E-Mag's First-Ever Poetry Contest

For poets interested in seeking a Web venue for their work, online journal Gemini Magazine, which holds annual competitions for short stories and flash fiction, is now accepting entries for its inaugural poetry prize. The winner, selected by editor David Bright, will receive one thousand dollars and publication in the February 2011 issue of Gemini.

Poets may submit as many poems as they wish, with an entry fee of five dollars for every three pieces sent (electronically or via snail mail). The deadline for entries is December 31.

Full competition guidelines are on Gemini's contest page, and the most recent issue is available on the magazine's front page. For more on the magazine's philosophy and aesthetic, check out two interviews with editor David Bright, on Essential Writers and Duotrope.

Hayes, Gordon, Smith Win National Book Awards

The winners of the National Book Award, including a punk rocker, a poet influenced by music and memory, and a dark horse indie press author, were announced last night at a ceremony in New York City. Terrance Hayes won in poetry for Lighthead (Penguin); Jaimy Gordon won in fiction for her horseracing novel, Lord of Misrule, published by independent publisher McPherson; and Patti Smith won in nonfiction for Just Kids (Ecco), a memoir of her life as a young songwriter in New York City and her friendship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

This year's judges were Rae Armantrout, Cornelius Eady, Linda Gregerson, Jeffrey McDaniel, Brenda Shaughnessy in poetry; Andrei Codrescu, Samuel R. Delany, Sabina Murray, Joanna Scott, Carolyn See in fiction; and Blake Bailey, Marjorie Garber, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Seth Lerer, Sallie Tisdale in nonfiction.

Each winner received ten thousand dollars, and the finalists in each category, including poet C. D. Wright, novelist Nicole Krauss, and nonfiction writer Megan K. Stack, each received one thousand dollars.

In the video below, Smith reads from her winning book and performs her classic song, "Because the Night."

British Newspaper Holds Ghost Story Contest

From Henry James to A. S. Byatt, literary authors have long conjured spirits from beyond the grave, and as the weather cools and the shadows grow longer, the Daily Telegraph is honoring the form of the ghost story with a writing contest. Until Saturday, November 20, the British newspaper will accept short story entries, and on December 11 will publish the winning story along with illustrations.

"To be any good, a ghost story needs a structure, characters, a narrative line—dialogue is optional," says judge Susan Hill, author of literary novels such as The Beacon (Chatto and Windus, 2008) as well as crime fiction and ghost stories, most recently The Small Hand (Chatto and Windus, 2010). "Above all, the ghost must have a purpose. It may be revenge for harm suffered. It may be to explain some past incident. It may be to protest, to offer information—the whereabouts or contents of a will, a murdered body or the identity of a killer."

The Telegraph's Lorna Bradbury and Andrew Franklin of Profile Books will also judge. Their shortlist will be announced on December 4, and the finalists' stories will appear on the Telegraph's Web site on that date.

Stories should be no longer than two thousand words may be e-mailed or sent via postal mail to the Telegraph's offices. Full guidelines appear at the end of Hill's article on literary ghost stories on the Telegraph's Web site.

In the video below, Hill's The Small Hand is introduced in an eerie book trailer.

Dzanc Books Imprint Launches Novel Award

Aspinwall, Pennsylvania-based Black Lawrence Press, an imprint of Dzanc Books and sponsor of two contests for poetry and short story collections, has just launched a novel publication prize. The Big Moose Prize, open for entries now, will award one thousand dollars and publication of the winning book, and finalists will also be considered for publication.

While this is the first novel contest for Black Lawrence, the press has released a number of novels, including Todos Santos (2010) by Deborah Clearman, The Consequence of Skating (2010) and Temporary People (2008) by Dzanc publisher Steven Gillis, Every Bitter Thing (2010) by Hardy Jones, Dead Letter Office (2009) by Daniel Natal, and Christopher Torockio's Floating Holidays (2007). All of the press's books are trade paperbacks, perfect-bound, and with the option of a color cover.

Submissions are accepted via e-mail only, and the twenty-five-dollar entry fee must be paid using PayPal. The deadline is January 31, 2011. Complete guidelines are posted on the Black Lawrence Web site.

In the video below, Clearman discusses her process for writing her debut novel.

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.