Poets & Writers Blogs

New Frost Prize for Formal Poets

The keepers of Robert Frost's family farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where the poet lived from 1900 to 1911, have opened their inaugural formal poetry contest. Sponsored by the trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets, a workshop group that holds a reading series at the historic site, the competition is calling for poems written in meter—any metrical form is welcome.

One winner will receive one thousand dollars and an invitation to read in the Hyla Brook series at the Frost Farm, a program that has hosted poets such as Maxine Kumin, Rhina Espaillat, and Wesley McNair. Serving as judge will be William Baer, former editor of the no-longer-published poetry journal the Formalist.

The entry fee is five dollars a poem, and writers may submit as many works as they like—via snail mail—by April 1. Complete guidelines are posted on the Robert Frost Farm Web site.

In the video below, a short film by Doug Williams interprets Frost's poem "Into My Own," originally published as "Into Mine Own" in New England Magazine during the time Frost lived at the Derry farm, in 1909.

Stegner, Guggenheim, and MacArthur Fellows Up for Story Prize

The Story Prize announced today the shortlist for its seventh annual award, an honor worth twenty thousand dollars. The finalists are Anthony Doerr for his fourth book, Memory Wall (Scribner); Yiyun Li for her third book, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (Random House); and Suzanne Rivecca for her debut, Death Is Not an Option (Norton), all of whom have received support from multiple sources that has bolstered their writing.

Doerr, author of the short story collection The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, is a recipient of fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also received the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award in 2003 for The Shell Collector.

Li, who received the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship last September, is also recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. From abroad, she has been recognized by the Munster Literature Centre with its Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and by the Guardian, with its First Book Award, for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. She is also the author of The Vagrants, a novel.

Currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Boston, Rivecca has also received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and spent time as a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University.

John Freeman, editor of Granta; author Jayne Anne Phillips; and Marie du Vaure, book buyer for California's Vroman's Bookstore will select the winner to be announced live on March 2 at an event (open to the ticket-holding public) in New York City. The runners up will each receive five thousand dollars.

In the video below, Doerr discusses how his grandmother influenced his latest book, radio days, and the best time to write.

New Grant for New York City's Early-Career Fiction Writers

The Center for Fiction is currently accepting applications for a new grant and residency program designed for emerging fiction writers who reside in the five boroughs of New York City. Housed in a 1930s-era building in midtown Manhattan, the organization is offering eight fellowship awards of three thousand dollars each and one year of time to write in its writing studio (beginning on May 15) to non-student writers who have not published and are not under contract to publish a book.

In the studio, accessible seven days a week at all hours, each writing fellow is afforded a desk with the requisite outlets, Wi-Fi capability, and access to a wireless printer, as well as a locker. Writers can also make use of a reference library, lounge area, and kitchenette. The fellows will also be offered a mentorship with a freelance editor, a chance to participate in two readings, and free admission to the center's events and lectures.

Applications, which must be e-mailed, are due on January 31 and should contain a resumé, a work sample of up to ten thousand words, and proof of residency. Full guidelines are posted on the Center for Fiction Web site.

Midwestern Indies Relaunch Innovative Novel Contest

A consortium of indie outfits—the Journal of Experimental Fiction, the press Civil Coping Mechanisms, and trade publisher Pig Iron Press—are reintroducing the Kenneth Patchen Award, given for a novel that echoes the innovative spirit of the late fiction writer and poet. Created in the 1990s by Pig Iron, the prize offers one thousand dollars, publication of the winning novel manuscript, and twenty author copies to boot.

Submissions opened on January 1 and will be accepted until July 31. Entries should be sent as a Word document or PDF via e-mail, and must be accompanied by a twenty-five-dollar entry fee payable through PayPal; for complete guidelines, e-mail the Journal of Experimental Fiction. The winner, selected by Ukrainian American avant-garde writer Yuriy Tarnawsky, will be announced in September.

In the video below, Patchen reads his poetry amidst images of the writer's New York City. A contemporary of John Cage, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, Patchen is the author of more than forty books of poetry, prose, and drama including Before the Brave (1936), Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer (1945), and The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941).

Rewards Beyond Publishing for Texas Writers

Two Texas establishments are looking to honor books authored by home state poets and fiction writers. Recently published writers from Texas or who write about Texas themes could be eligible for prizes ranging from twelve hundred dollars to six thousand dollars.

Texas Christian University's biennial TCU Texas Book Award, which offers a prize of five thousand dollars, is open until December 31 to books of prose "about Texas" that were published in 2009 and 2010. The award has recognized one writer of literary fiction or creative nonfiction since the inaugural prize in 2003, Stephen Harrigan's Gates of the Alamo (Knopf, 2000), which was set in nineteenth-century Texas (others have been given to research-based nonfiction writers).

The Texas Institute of Letters is also seeking literary standouts in poetry, short fiction, and the novel for its literary awards. The six-thousand-dollar Jesse H. Jones Award is given for a novel or short story collection, and two one-thousand-dollar awards are given for a first book of fiction and a published short story. One volume of poetry is recognized with the twelve-hundred-dollar Helen C. Smith Memoiral Award, and a writer of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) will receive the Carr P. Collins Award of five thousand dollars. Eligible titles, published in 2010, should be submitted directly to the judges by January 8, 2011.

And for Texas writers of any publishing stripe longing for time to write? Now might be the time to check out the residency fellowships offered by the University of Texas at J. Frank Dobie's former ranch house west of Austin. The application deadline is January 15, 2011.

London Press Launches Free Story Contest

Britain-based indie Holland Park Press is holding its first, free competition for a short story, with a prize of one hundred pounds sterling (roughly $150) and publication in the press's online magazine. The King of Tuzla Short Story Competition, named after the press's recently published novel by Dutch poet and fiction writer Arnold Jansen op de Haar, is open to stories set in a conflict zone similar to the one the author creates in his book, set during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia (Tuzla is a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina that witnessed a civilian massacre in 1995).

Eligible stories, limited to one thousand words, should approach a narrative from the point of view of a single main character and must be set in the past or present, but not the future. "Your tale could unfold, for example, during the troubles in Northern Ireland," the press states in its guidelines. "It could just as well describe life in a refugee camp during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, or take place in the present time inside a remote village in Afghanistan."

The deadline for entries is December 31, and stories must be sent via e-mail. Instructions on how to compile a submission are available on the press's Web site.

In the video below, King of Tuzla author Arnold Jansen op de Haar, also an ex-soldier, gives a tour of his writing space and reads from his published works.

Writers From China, India, Japan, and the Philippines Up For Man Asian Prize

The longlist for the fourth annual Man Asian Literary Prize was announced earlier this week, honoring ten writers hailing from four countries. Among the semifinalists for the thirty-thousand-dollar prize are five novelists whose books are available in English from U.S. publishers, including one independent press. (All eligible titles, by Asian authors, must be written in or translated into English, a reversal of the original rule, which stated that books entered must not have yet been released in English.)

The longlisted titles with editions published in the United States are Three Sisters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Bi Feiyu, Dahanu Road (HarperCollins) by Anosh Irani, Serious Men (Norton) by Manu Joseph, The Changeling (Grove Press) by Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, and Hotel Iris (Picador) by Yoko Ogawa. Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna will be published in March by Grand Central Publishing.

Honored works that have yet to make their way to a U.S. house are Way to Go by Upamanyu Chatterjee, The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair, Monkey-Man by Usha K. R., and Below the Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes.

A shortlist will be revealed in February, and judges Monica Ali, Homi K. Bhabha, and Hsu-Ming Teo will select the winner, to be announced in mid-March. Submissions for the 2011 prize open in May.

In the video below, Mandanna reads a passage from her debut Tiger Hills.

More Winners This Week: Vietnam Veteran Takes Novel Prize, USA Fellows Announced

Earlier this week, the Center for Fiction in New York City presented its (newly-renamed) Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize to a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marines whose debut novel tells a story informed by his time serving in Vietnam. Author Karl Marlantes received the ten-thousand-dollar award for his book, Matterhorn (Grove/Atlantic), selected by jurors Oscar Hijuelos, Sheila Kohler, John Pipkin, Dawn Raffel, and John Wray.

Also this week, United States Artists announced its 2010 fellows. Honored this year with awards of fifty thousand dollars each are poet Martín Espada, whose collection Trouble Ball is forthcoming in 2011 from Norton; poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, whose most recent book is Tocqueville (New Issues Poetry and Prose); poet Brighde Mullins, also a playwright, author of the chapbook Water Stories (Slapering Hol Press, 2003), and fiction writer Susan Steinberg, whose most recent short story collection is Hydroplane (Fiction Collective Two, 2006).

The awards honor artistic excellence in the field, determined by a panel of writers' peers. Fellowships are also given annually to playwrights, dramatists, filmmakers, visual artists, folk artists, and musicians—thirty in all this year.

In the video below, USA fellow Steinberg performs her story "Powerhouse" at a reading for the Rumpus.

Spanish Novelist Is Third Woman to Receive Cervantes Prize

The Spanish Ministry of Culture announced recently that its Cervantes Prize, given annually to a Spanish or Latin American writer for lifetime achievement, will go to for the third time to a woman—Spanish novelist Ana María Matute. The eighty-five-year-old author of The Lost Children (MacMillan, 1965) and Soldiers Cry at Night (Latin American Literary Review Press, 1995) will receive her award of 125,000 euros (approximately $165,000) on the 395th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra on April 23, 2011.

"I am happy, enormously happy," Matute said in response to the announcement of her award. "I take it as a recognition, if not of the quality of my work, then at least of the effort and dedication that I have devoted to writing throughout my life."

Matute joins on the short list of women honorees Cuban-born poet Dulce María Loynaz, whose works have been collected in English translation most recently in Against Heaven (Carcanet Press, 2007) and Woman in Her Garden (White Pine Press, 2002), and Spanish essayist María Zambrano, one of whose books, Delirium and Destiny: A Spaniard in Her Twenties, was published in translation by State University of New York Press in 1999. Other past winners of the Cervantes Prize include Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, Octavio Paz, and this year's Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa.

Among Matute's works in English, in addition to the titles above, are Celebration in the Northwest (University of Nebraska Press, 1997), Trap (Latin American Literary Review Press, 1996), and School of the Sun (Pantheon, 1963). According to the Spanish Ministry of Culture, her books have been translated into twenty-three languages.

Creative Nonfiction Is Looking for Your Night Moves

The first journal tailored exclusively to its eponymous form, Creative Nonfiction is holding a themed contest in anticipation of its Summer 2011 issue. Judged by New Yorker writer and author of The Orchid Thief (Random House, 1998) Susan Orlean, the competition is open to true stories concerning the night. (The contest Web page offers a few ideas: "It was a dark and stormy night; "Strangers in the Night"; the night sky; Friday Night Lights; things that go bump in the night; Take Back the Night; night owls; The Night Before Christmas; The Night Watch; In the Night Kitchen; The Armies of the Night; "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"; prom night; date night; Good Night, Nurse!")

The writer of the winning essay will receive five thousand dollars, and the winning piece will be published in the magazine. One runner up will receive $2,500 and online publication.

The prize is cosponsored by the Salt Institute, a Portland, Maine, a center for aspiring nonfiction story–telling writers, radio producers, and photographers that offers a range of classes to college and graduate students and awards a certificate in documentary studies (as well as transferable credits). Pending acceptance to the institute, the two top honorees in Creative Nonfiction's "Night" contest have to option to apply their awards funds directly to tuition at Salt.

To find details on how to submit your essay of up to four thousand words (with a twenty dollar entry fee), visit the Creative Nonfiction Web site. The deadline for entry is January 10, 2011.

In the video below, Orlean reveals a bit about her literary predilections—through her desert island book picks.

Literary Agent Dorian Karchmar's Advice to MFA Students

Should MFA students think about finding an agent before graduating? How should they approach agents? And what do agents think about working with MFA grads? We asked literary agent Dorian Karchmar of the William Morris Agency, whose client list includes Helene Cooper, Guy Fieri, Kate Jacobs, Jennifer Haigh, and Jennifer Vanderbes, these questions and more.

Where do you find your new talent?
Referrals are the primary thing—mostly clients who recommend me to friends of theirs who are writing. Also editors refer promising people to me. Sometimes an editor will go to an MFA program or a conference. Editors are, for the most part, not going to sign up a writer without an agent, so oftentimes they will put my name into the mix if they are interested in someone.

What do you look for in a query letter?
Doing a query correctly is important. When writers query me, and it’s clear they’ve done their homework—they know who I am, have listened to my interviews, and know my list—then, of course, I will take them very seriously. I get queries all the time from people who graduated from Iowa, Michigan, Columbia, The New School, five years or ten years prior and have been working on things ever since. That’s always very exciting to me. I really like seeing work from people who show a real writer’s level of commitment—people who are ready now, years after receiving their MFA, because they have the passion and the patience. Writing requires tremendous patience.

Are you wary of working with freshly graduated MFA students?
I am not wary of it at all. While certainly a number of students need to work harder and longer on what it is they have to say and how to say it, there are plenty of MFA students who have been out of school and working and also working on their writing before going back for their masters. These are not all twenty-one-year-olds.

Should MFA students even be thinking about agents?
MFA students shouldn’t be thinking about agents. They shouldn’t be thinking about what other people are doing. They shouldn’t be thinking about any of it. They should be thinking about the project they’re working on.

What’s the most important thing to take away from an MFA program?
One or two really trusted readers—people who are particularly good readers for your work and are tactful but ruthless about what is and is not working. Agents and editors are looking for work that has been taken as far as it can go. If you can come out of a program with a couple of people who really understand what you’re trying to do with a project and who can dig into the work and solve the problems, it is probably the single greatest value aside from being given a couple of years of time.

In publishing nonfiction, is it better to first publish a nonfiction piece in a magazine, and then try to craft it into a book? I think getting a piece in a magazine first can oftentimes be extremely helpful in raising the author’s profile and sousing out if the subject matter deserves a book. A lot of the time, a story can be told in a piece and doesn’t necessarily need to be a book.

You’ve said that critiquing is about the person’s work being as good as it can be, and that a true professional will embrace negative criticism. What about questions in workshops that seem to be more of a matter of taste? Should a student listen more to the professor? The students? Her friends? Whose opinion matters?
I think the question is, Do they seem to understand what it is you’re trying to do? Do they seem to understand the book or the story in the fundamental spirit of the thing? If the answer is yes, then they may have a pretty good idea about why it’s not working. Very often writers know what is working and what is not. Sometimes we don’t want to believe it because that might mean starting something over. And sometimes the answer lies in putting it aside for a while. Take great notes while people are giving you feedback and come back to it a little while later with those different notes in hand and see what seems to click.

No writer ever feels 100 percent about her work. How can she know when it's ready to be shown to an agent?
Whatever your self-criticism is, you can feel when you’ve taken a work as far as you can take it. Obviously you want your key readers to read it and feel it’s working, but the thing has to have its basic shape. It needs to be very clean; you need to understand what it is. It should never be, “I think there’s something here, and I want to get an agent’s take on it.” That’s a mistake. An agent is not your professor.

Amazon Announces Fourth Annual Breakthrough Novel Contest

Along with its CreateSpace self-publishing platform and Penguin Group, Amazon once again will sponsor a prize for an unpublished or self-published novel. Works that have never been under contract and are written in English by authors in the United States and Canada (excluding the province of Québec), as well as twenty-one other countries, are eligible.

Past winners of the contest, which includes a fifteen-thousand-dollar prize and publication by Penguin, are Patricia McArdle for Farishta, James King for Bill Warrington's Last Chance, and Bill Loehfelm for Fresh Kills.

To enter, writers must first complete the free registration for CreateSpace. Then, between January 24 and February 6, 2011, the service will accept submissions of full novel manuscripts of 50,000 to 150,000 words each, along with an excerpt of and pitch for each work. There is no cost to submit, but once five thousand entries have been received, Amazon will close the contest.

Judging will take place in five rounds, commencing with Amazon editors reviewing pitch submissions. Titles whose pitches pass muster will advance, and excerpts of those works will be read by a selection of Amazon's customer reviewers. Reviewers for Publishers Weekly will then read the highest-rated 250 titles.

Fifty semifinalists will have their manuscripts assessed by editors at Penguin, and three finalists' works will advance to being read and reviewed by a group of literary professionals. This year's panelists are New York City author and book critic Lev Grossman, agent Jennifer Joel, and Putnam editor Marysue Rucci.

Finally, the public will have a chance to read the panelists' reviews and vote for a winner beginning in late May. The winner will be announced in June.

While entries for the novel contest (and the second-annual young adult novel contest) will not be accepted for another eight weeks, full guidelines and eligibility information are available now on the Amazon and CreateSpace Web sites.

The video below is a book trailer for King's winning book, which was published last August.

Bush Foundation Discontinues Artist Fellowship Program

The Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, created in 1953 by Edyth Bassler Bush and 3M executive Archibald Granville Bush, announced last week that it will no longer administer its longstanding individual fellowship programs, including one targeted to artists. Instead of discipline-specific awards—grants had been offered specifically to artists, medical doctors, and nontraditional students—the organization will now run a single fellowship competition open to innovators of any stripe who are invested in social change in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

"We need 'all hands on deck,'" the foundation says on its Web site, "every social entrepreneur, business owner, artist, public sector employee, community volunteer, and the like—to embrace the opportunity to learn and grow so others in our communities can have the hoped for future." The foundation says it will focus on tackling "tough problems through building individual leadership capacity," particularly in schools and with Native American nations working to rebuild their governments.

Since it began in 1976, 431 artists from Minnesota and the Dakotas received funds from the fellowship program, including poets Robert Bly and David Mura and memoirist Patricia Hampl. Guidelines for fellowship application and information about the new initiative will be posted on the Bush Foundation Web site tomorrow.

In the video below, Bly reads his poem "Driving Through Minnesota During the Hanoi Bombings" in an excerpt from the 1978 documentary on the poet, "A Man Writes to Part of Himself." (The film was released the same year that Bly received his first Bush Foundation artist fellowship).

Best-Selling Novelist, Indie Author Take U.K. Awards

The John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Irish Book Awards were announced last week, both recognizing books by U.K. authors. In London, Orange Prize finalist Amy Sackville won the Rhys Prize, given for a work by a writer under thirty-five, for her novel, The Still Point (Portobello Books), and in Ireland, native Dubliner Emma Donoghue won the Novel of the Year prize at the Irish Book Awards for her best-selling novel Room (Picador, 2010) , which earlier this month took the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in Canada and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

The judges for the Rhys Prize, which awarded Sackville five thousand pounds (approximately $7,800), were critic Claire Allfree; Bidisha, who debuted on the literary scene at age sixteen with the novel Seahorses; and poet Maura Dooley.

Donoghue, whose book was shortlisted for Novel of the Year along with Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (Scribner, 2009), Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light (Harville Secker, 2010), and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (Random House, 2009), was determined the winner of the Irish Book Award by public voting. Her novel received nearly thirty thousand nods.

In the video below, Donoghue discusses how she approached writing the child protagonist of her winning book.

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.