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In Writers Recommend, Amy Shearn extols the virtues of coffee and its importance in her daily writing routine. Write a dialogue in which two characters are deprived of something: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sweets—or perhaps something as seemingly banal as cellular service, television, or the Internet. Now give one character his or her fix, leaving the other without, and rewrite the dialogue.

Katherine Noble, a senior in the English Department at the University of Texas in Austin, has received the Keene Prize for Literature for her collection of poems, “Like Electrical Fire Across the Silence.” She will receive $50,000. 

Noble is the first undergraduate to win or even place in the Keene competition, one of the world’s largest student literary prizes, which has been given annually to University of Texas students since 2006. Graduate students in the university’s Michener Center MFA program typically take home the award. 

“The judges were impressed by her audacious combination of spirituality with sexuality, by her wide range of literary reference, and her bold experimentation with the form of the prose poem,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and the award selection committee, of Nobel’s poems.

“I have been affected by images from biblical myths since I was a young girl,” Noble said in a press release, “and the narrators in my poems often wrestle to understand how God interacts with the physical world.”

In addition to Noble, three finalists will each receive $17,000. They are Corey Miller, a current Michener Center graduate student, for his collection of poems “The New Concentration”; Karan Mahajan, also a Michener Center graduate student, for an excerpt from his novel “Notes on a Small Bomb”; and Jenn Shapland, an English Department graduate student, for her essay collection “Finders Keepers.”

Fiction writer Fiona McFarlane, a Michener Center graduate, whose stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere, received the 2012 prize

Established by the the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas, the Keene Prize is given in honor of E. L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university who “envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the university’s prestige and support the work of young writers,” which would be given for “the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm.” The award is given to enrolled undergraduate or graduate students for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or plays. 

Print or write out a handful of unfinished poems you’ve had difficulty revising. Cut out each line and mix them up. Rearrange the lines to make a new poem. Consider using one of the lines as the title.

Poet and artist Amanda Deutch blogs about her P&W–supported poetry workshop for young women at the YWCA in Coney Island. She is the author of four chapbooks: Gena Rowlands, Box of Sky: Skeleton Poems, Motel Drift, and The Subway Series. She is also the recipient of a 2007 Footpaths to Creativity Fellowship to write in the Azores Archipelago.

Celebrities flash everywhere: billboards, newspapers, computer screens, televisions. We live in a KarGaGaianBieber glowing orb of a virtual society. They suggest what we buy, how we dress, how we live, and what we consider beautiful. Unfortunately, Warhol’s prediction of fifteen minutes of celebrity fame has drawn out to become several hours of fame and in some cases, even years of it. Like it or not, we know celebrity's faces, their favorite coffee drinks, and the names of their pet monkeys.

Thursday afternoons, I lead a poetry workshop for the YWCA’s teenage girls’ empowerment program in Coney Island. Poets & Writers has generously funded eight out of a year’s worth of these workshops. (We still seek funding for the rest of them, as the workshop is such a success that we plan to keep coming back!) One Thursday, two of the teenagers were clamoring and giggling over Justin Bieber. Fourteen-year-old Medina screamed, “I have total Bieber fever!” Medina is a beautiful teenager with an infectious smile who lives in Coney Island, a low-income, urban neighborhood at the end of the subway line. This is not who first comes to mind when I think of Bieber’s fan base. But I am glad that life continues to surprise me. I decided to follow the guidelines we set forth at the beginning of the writing workshop: to suspend judgment and listen.

"What do you like about him and his music?" I asked. Then I asked, “Would you like to write celebrity poems?” “Yesssss!” We read Frank O’Hara, Diane DiPrima, and newpaper articles about celebrities. We wrote poems about a chosen celebrity, incorporating lyrics from their songs or language from news clippings. The topics of media, celebrity, and pop culture brought up great conversations in the room about fashion, body image, women in media, and intelligent role models. Below are some of our celebrity poems. Can you guess who the celebrities are? (Answers can be found at the bottom of this page.) If you’d like to read more of the teenager’s poetry, see our magazine online, Teenager Fever Magazine.

Hello Superstar
by Maya

I don’t know who you are
all I know is what I see
all over the silver screen

Plastic here plastic there
Short outfits
Outrageously colored hair

But what about your life?
What shows do you watch
on tv or do you watch tv at all?

Do you eat fried chicken stereotypically
or some gourmet stuff that
I can’t afford?

Do you shop at the mall?
Or does someone do it
for you?

Do you run your own
household or do
maids do all the work?

I’m not an overly
obsessed fan
but I just wanna see

beyond my tv.

Nobody’s Perfect
by Imani

Dear________,

I adored you since day one.
From your hit tv show to your
goofy catch phrases. Your hair
fascinated and intrigued me.
I envied the life you lived and
wanted to be you more than anything.
Then one day it was said that you
released nudes. I didn’t care.
You were still my idol and fashion
icon. Just like me, you
absolutely loved your dog. Then
one day you just vanished off the
face of the Earth and came back
with an EPIC haircut. Oh how
I admired it. Everyone made jokes
and criticized it, but I knew it was
for a great cause. When you
finally marry Liam
I’ll be there to throw rice as you
walk out.


Young Money
by Gavrielle

Your songs go from hell and
                back
Range from As to Zs
You can bring the final knockout
You have hate in your
heart, love in your mind
        You see nights
        full of pain and
        days that are the same
        Young Money

"Hello Superstar" is about Nicki Minaj; "Nobody’s Perfect" is about Miley Cyrus; "Young Money" is about Lil Wayne. (In case you are wondering, Justin Bieber’s illegal pet monkey’s name is Mally. But c’mon like you didn’t already know that!)

Photo: Workshop participant Maya reading Tupac Shakur's The Rose that Grew from Concrete. (Credit: Amanda Deutch.)

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Peter Cunningham, a participant in a P&W-funded writing workshop for cancer survivors at St. Luke's–Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, writes about his experience in the workshop. Cunningham, originally from Scotland,  just became a citizen of the US after living in this country for twenty-two years. A passionate founder and part owner of Absolutely Wild, a New York City-based event design company, he was sidetracked last year by the discovery of stage-three rectal cancer. The resulting year of treatment forced him to step down from his position and focus on his own healing, spiritually and emotionally. He calls the cancer a life-giving experience. He is now not sure what he wants to do or be. Through what he calls "The Gift" of the Roosevelt Hospital Writers Workshop, he has found his voice in ink. He is in the process of writing a book about his experience with the goal of getting more people to "take their butt to get a colonoscopy."

Another hospital? I moaned to myself, as I slowly exited the elevator onto the first floor. Why did it have to be in a hospital? All my chemo senses were kicking into high gear. I took a deep breath and hoped this was going to be fun. I wandered down two wrong corridors and opened three wrong doors. Finally I made it to the Cancer Writing Workshop led by Sue Ribner. I was at the end of my treatment for rectal cancer and was hoping to meet some other men with the same diagnosis. But no, God had a better plan, as all God's plans are. She's funny that way. A conference table filled with women. Not for the first time in my life, I was the only male at the room. What could I possibly have in common with all these ladies? After a round of introductions, I quickly made it clear that I was not going to even try to balance out the energy levels. The damn chemo had made sure I did not have the strength to do that. Plus, I had grown enough in the past six months to know it did not really matter.

We began with some simple, fun writing exercises and then progressed to longer passages. Nothing about cancer, yippee! Lots of fun topics from the teacher and a great array of stories from each of the attendees. Some were more reticent to verbalize their jottings than others. Some more fatigued, some at the end of their treatment, and others in a chronic stage. All just happy to be alive and writing, no matter how bad it was. As the weeks progressed the topics raised more memories that we had all forgotten. Postcards, shoes, the softest thing, grandmother; something which is too small, memories of a bathing suit, swimming, hair, school prom, skin, voice, sex, trains, sleeping outdoors, a lover, romance, homage to your favorite body part, first memory, a scoundrel, a corsage, tea leaves, a bar of soap, how you would like to be remembered, learning to drive, kitchen table—and so the prompts went on. Each week a new thought would unravel and lead us to places we had put aside to deal with our most pressing needs in the now. The past was coming back to make us cry and to make us laugh. Always to make our writing richer. "Homework" was not a favored title and "work from home" eased some of the school-time angst. "Work from a bus" was always an option.

As the weeks hurried by, we, the seven scribblers, opened up, and instead of people dealing with cancer we became human beings with stories to tell, to voice. Cancer was on the back burner for two hours each week and we reveled in the escapism. Slowly but surely the single paragraphs became passages, the details enhanced, and our weakened bodies emboldened. Wondrous phrases flowed onto the pages: "bubbling naughtiness," "mad cap cackles," and "my heart was racing and the super was pacing" were among the many. We were becoming writers, if only in our own minds. On occasions, someone had to miss a session. Silently and deep down we all knew why and we were relieved to see them return the next week. We have found our voices in a place where we did not leave them. We are stronger in ink and more assured that nothing is certain. An unspoken bond bubbles between the pages and the conference room seats. We are united in moving through the different stages presented to us each day. We are able to help each other grow and bring out our unspoken best in just 120 minutes. No battles, no fighting. Just being. No therapy needed today.

Photo: Peter Cunningham. Photo Credit: Peter Cunningham.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

In his recent New Yorker article on writing and revision, “Draft No. 4” (April 29, 2013), nonfiction writer John McPhee recommends drawing boxes around any word that “does not seem quite right” as well as those “that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.” Then, he writes, consult the dictionary—not the thesaurus—to find better words. While the thesaurus can be useful, McPhee writes, it can also be dangerous, often muddling a word’s meaning. The dictionary, on the other hand, not only offers a host of alternatives but can also spark new inspiration. Revisit an essay that’s ready for a new draft. After circling all words and phrases that could use work, dig deep into the dictionary to see what new words—and what new meaning—may arise.

In celebration of National Short Story Month, the arts and culture website Flavorwire has announced the launch of its first-ever short fiction contest. The winner will receive $500 and publication on the Flavorwire website.

Fiction writers may submit a previously unpublished story of up to five thousand words by e-mail (in the body of a message, not as an attachment) along with a brief author biography and contact information to flavorwirefiction@gmail.com by Friday, May 17. There is no entry fee. 

Flavorwire literary editor Emily Temple will judge, and the winner will be announced on May 24. The winning story and a selection of honorable mentions will be published on the website during the final week of May.

For more information about Flavorwire or the short fiction contest, visit the website—and while you’re there, check out eight fascinating stories behind classic book titles

Choose a minor character from a story or book you’ve read recently and have that character write the author a letter, beginning: “Dear Author, nice try, but here’s what you missed about my life....” Now turn your attention to one of your own stories. Think of a character in a work-in-progress whom you'd like to get to know more deeply. Have the character write you a similar letter: “Dear [your name here], nice try, but here’s what you missed about my life....”
This week’s fiction prompt comes from Aaron Hamburger, author of the story collection The View From Stalin’s Head (Random House, 2004) and the novel Faith for Beginners (Random House, 2005). He currently teaches at the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Pick an iconic figure with a famous weak spot (Superman and kryptonite, Achilles and his heel, Samson and his hair, the Wicked Witch of the West and water). Write a letter from the icon to the weakness or from the weakness to the icon. Is it hate mail? A love poem? A blackmail note? Advice?

Poet and artist Amanda Deutch blogs about P&W–supported Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival, a literary nonprofit she founded in 2009. Parachute hosts a festival in the fall, free writing workshops, and innovative poetry happenings in Coney Island, New York. She is the author of four chapbooks: Gena Rowlands (Sounds Nice), Box of Sky: Skeleton Poems (Dusie Kollektiv 4), Motel Drift, and The Subway Series. She is also the recipient of a 2007 Footpaths to Creativity Fellowship to write in the Azores Archipelago. Deutch lives by the water in Brooklyn, NY, and plays skee-ball in her free time.

“Coney Island, Let me see, let me hear, let me know what is real, let me believe.”

—Muriel Rukeyser

From street signs to carnival talkers, from the Chief hawking fresh clams with a call of, “Hey! Get it! Get it!” to the influx of monarch butterflies in late August, there is poetry in the everyday language that surrounds us. I want people to stop and notice poetry in daily motions. That’s part of my job as a poet. Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival is the manifestation of these desires. Since I was a young poet, I’ve thought of ways to make poetry appealing, accessible and to draw attention to the poetry that is all around us.

I founded Parachute, a community-based literary organization, in 2009 to host a free two-day festival that features an array of local poets and writers. The writers read in front of an ethereal blue floor- to-ceiling tank of jellyfish in the New York Aquarium. Throughout the year, Parachute leads creative writing workshops, curates innovative poetic events, and celebrates Coney Island’s vibrant literary culture through readings, broadsides, workshops, and attention to the luminaries that have been inspired by Coney’s shores—Walt Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser, and Henry Miller, to name a few.

Among the festival’s featured readers have been Coney Island poet Sheila Maldonado, Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, Edwin Torres, and Martin Espada. 2012 marks the first time that the current Brooklyn Poet Laureate has ever read in Coney Island. Parachute’s audience is diverse, comprised mostly of people who live and work in the neighborhood: business owners from Mermaid Avenue, pastors, community board members, local teenagers, ticket takers, Cyclone operators, and poets. Ruth Magwood, who worked in Astroland, comes every year and tells me who her favorite poets are each night. Describing the festival, Ruth said, “It’s gorgeous with the jellyfish. Normally you’d have to go all the way to the city for something like this.”

The grants we receive from Poets & Writers are instrumental in helping us pay writers to lead workshops during the festival. These funds, along with other grants enable us to invite amazing New York poets and writers to read and lead workshops in an underserved neighborhood. We believe it is important to pay writers, both established and emerging, for their work and want to continue to do this in a field where this is not always the “norm.” Through grants such as the one from P&W, we are able to keep the Parachute Festival and its writing workshops free so that anyone who would like to can attend. It is very important to us that this continue to be accessible and welcoming to people who live in the community. Coney Island has arts and culture for those who come and visit, but not so many opportunities for those who live there. This festival is designed with the neighborhood as well as greater New York in mind.

Henry Miller wrote about Coney Island, "everything glitters…” Parachute illustrates Coney Island’s vital glittering landscape with poetry and all the poetic voices that have found solace and delight here—from Walt Whitman, America’s bard, to Woody Guthrie, and more recently, Bernadette Mayer. Coney Island has a not-so-hidden literary landscape that’s been traveled by many of our great American writers. I want to showcase that through landscape and create a space where living poets, fiction writers, and artists can come down, eat some clams, and read their words about Coney Island. Hopefully, sometime soon we’ll put their words together in a book, and you can read that book while sitting on the boardwalk. Meanwhile, “Hey! Get It! Get It!”

Photo: (Top) Amanda Deutch. (Bottom) Tina Chang reading in front of the jellyfish at the Coney Island Aquarium. Credit: Amanda Deutch.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Bauhan Publishing is currently accepting submissions for its third annual May Sarton New Hampshire Book Prize. An award of one thousand dollars, publication, and one hundred author copies is given for a poetry collection.

Poets may submit a previously unpublished manuscript of fifty to eighty pages, written in English, with a $25 entry fee by June 30. Submissions are accepted by postal mail or via the online submission system. Jeff Friedman will judge. 

The prize, first given in 2011, is named in honor of the late American poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton. Originally open only to first collections, the prize is now also open to poets with previously published books. Rebecca Givens Rolland won the 2011 prize for her collection The Wreck of Birds; Nils Michals won the 2012 prize for Come Down to Earth.

Founded in 1959, the Peterborough–based Bauhan Publishing is an independent press that publishes books with a New England regional focus, including poetry collections and nonfiction works on the topics of history, art, and nature. General submissions are considered year-round. 

In April P&W-supported writer Sabrina Chap led a creative nonfiction workshop and gave a reading at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle. Chap is a playwright, spoken word artist, songwriter, and editor. Her collection Cliterature: 18 Interviews With Women* Writers is distributed by Microcosm Press. Her plays, including Perhaps Merely Quiet, have been performed in New York, Chicago, Paris, and England. Project director Sophia Iannicelli writes about Chap’s visit to Seattle.

Sabrina ChapI have spent much of the last week with Sabrina Chap. I organized two events while she was in Seattle, and I enjoyed the conversations in between as much as the workshop and lecture. Sabrina is very open and encouraging when it comes to difficult subjects. She makes it suddenly okay to talk about topics such as grief and self-destruction that our society says are shameful. Her book Live Through This—a collection of essays, stories, and photos by women who’ve used art to process abuse, incest, madness, depression, and self-destruction—makes you want to open up to her.

Sabrina uses this openness to her advantage when she is teaching. During the writing workshop, the participants ended up sharing intimate details of their lives and psyches with people who had been strangers only minutes before. They shared so much, and felt so safe doing so, they decided to create a writing support group in order to continue the bonds they had developed in those two short hours. I'm still glowing from an email I received the next day:

“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for bringing in Sabrina. She’s amazing. I feel guilty for having not paid more for it. Her writing exercises were so well thought out and effective. Not only did I get writing skills out of it, but life skills. Wow!!! So much more than I expected. Thank you!!!!!”

While the participant didn’t expound on which "life skills” she left  the workshop with, I hope it was in some way related to cultivating openness. Fostering the ability to be vulnerable brings so many wonderful things in life, most notably the chance to connect with people in a deep way. Sabrina offers a way to view our self-destructive acts as something to be worked with and transformed into a positive force. Merely speaking about these difficult and often shamed activities or proclivities brings an amazing opportunity to evaluate them while reducing their power over us—ultimately making them work for us rather than letting them consume us.

Photo: Sabrina Chap. Credit: Jolene Siana.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Think about your life in relation to the seasons. What is your favorite season and why? During which season were you born? How did you feel as a child about each season? Have significant events happened during one season over the others? How do you see the world around you change at the start of each season? Use these musings to fuel an essay about one or all of the seasons. 

Write a story in which a minor incident occurs—the main character is bitten by a cat, loses her keys, gets a flat tire, accidently breaks something—that symbolizes something larger. Use the incident and how the character deals with it to both move the plot forward and explore a larger significance.  

Choose a favorite or compelling line from another writer's poem, and write your own line with same number of stressed syllables and same vowel sounds. Use this line as the start of a new poem.

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