Poets & Writers Blogs

Joy Ladin on Lambda Literary's Retreat for LGBTQ Writers

Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including Impersonation (Sheep Meadow, 2009) and Transmigration (Sheep Meadow, 2015), which were both Lambda Literary Award finalists. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. She holds the Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University in New York. This past July, Ladin led a P&W–supported poetry workshop as part of the Lambda Literary Foundation's annual Writers Retreat in Los Angeles. Here, she blogs about the importance of this retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers.

Joy Ladin

Outside of MFA programs and writing conferences, it’s pretty queer to be a poet in most places in the United States. I learned that when, during my first job after college, a fellow office worker backed away from me when I told her that I was a poet.

But to many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer) poets, the poetry world seems just as “straight” as the non-literary world, just as invested in norms that focus attention paid on the work and lives of heterosexual white people (particularly men) and make it hard for LGBTQ people and people of color to feel seen, valued, or understood.

That's why the Lambda Literary Foundation’s annual Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices (supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program) is so important. For many of the LGBTQ writers who attend, the retreat is a weeklong oasis in which they can find the understanding, encouragement, and recognition that all writers need to survive and thrive. As Nico Amador, a poetry fellow, said, “In so many workshops queer and trans writers have to spend more time than we’d like on…educating our straight or non-trans peers enough so that they can engage with a reading of our work that honors our intentions and points of view. At Lambda, it was enlivening to be able to sit at a table with others who could move seamlessly through the varied thematic and poetic discussion in the workshop—applying a queer reading when relevant and leaving it out when it wasn’t. The space this created allowed us to take seriously the goals of each person's work, to offer a diversity of thought, and pose questions that could [help] each of us to grow in our work as poets.”

This past summer, for the first time, I learned firsthand what the writers retreat offers LGBTQ writers, when I led the poetry workshop. After decades of writing and teaching in classrooms where my transgender identity is treated as an awkward subject to avoid, I found myself in a place where my experience as a trans writer was valued. Not that I felt surrounded by “writers like me”: Even within the poetry workshop, we were all very different in our writing concerns, styles, backgrounds, and the complex constellations of our identities. At the retreat, we didn't have to minimize or hide our differences; we could share and celebrate them as sources of poetry, insight, humanity.

But as Julia Tranchina, another poetry fellow wrote: “The best part of the retreat was working on poetry. Breathing, biting, imbibing poetry with other poets.” Those are feelings every poet I've ever met can understand.

Lambda Retreat Poetry Cohort

Photos: (top) Joy Ladin. Photo credit: Lisa Ross. (bottom) Joy Ladin and poetry cohort. Photo credit: Lambda Literary.

 

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

October Poetry Contest Deadlines

The end of October is fast approaching, and with it comes not only Halloween but also a number of contest deadlines. Today we’re rounding up poetry contests with October 31 deadlines that offer at least $1,000 and publication. Whether you have a single poem, a chapbook-length collection, or a full-length manuscript ready to submit, don’t let these passing deadlines haunt you.

If you’re looking for a contest for a single poem, submit to the James Hearst Poetry Prize, which includes $1,000 and publication in the Spring 2017 issue of the North American Review. Award-winning poet Major Jackson will judge. Submit up to five poems along with a $20 application fee, which includes a subscription to the North American Review.

Ready those chapbook manuscripts and submit to the Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Prize, which includes $1,000 and publication by Tupelo Press. The winner will also give a reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Connecticut. Poet Maggie Smith will judge. Submit a manuscript of 20 to 36 pages with a $25 entry fee.

Kentucky-based Finishing Line Press hosts an annual open chapbook prize of $1,000 and publication. Submit a manuscript of up to 30 pages and a $15 entry fee.

Looking to publish a full-length book? Elixir Press sponsors an annual prize of $2,000 and publication for a poetry collection. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication is also awarded. Jane Satterfield will judge. Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages with a $30 application fee.

The Vassar Miller Prize awards $1,000 and publication by University of North Texas Press annually for a poetry collection. A. E. Stallings will judge. Submit a manuscript of 50 to 80 pages with a $25 entry fee.

Visit the prize websites for complete application guidelines. For more contests with upcoming deadlines, visit the Grants & Awards Database, and check out the Submission Calendar.

Natalia Mount on Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland

Natalia Mount is a dynamic cultural producer with extensive experience in arts leadership, innovative programming, development and communications. Mount has worked at nationally significant institutions such as MoMA PS1 and Clocktower Productions, both in New York City. Currently, Mount is the executive director of Pro Arts in Oakland.

Pro Arts Gallery Hybrid Series Once a month, poets, writers, visual artists, and musicians come together at Pro Arts Gallery in downtown Oakland and collaborate on a cross-genre presentation of new work entitled the Hybrid Series. To date, Pro Arts has hosted poets and writers Sara Mumolo, Emily Hunt, Harmony Holiday, Norma Cole, Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel, Candace Eros Díaz, and Louise Mathias.

Conceived and curated with the aim to serve as a departure from the more conventional mode of presentation of material, the Hybrid Series swaps the standard practice of same-genre groupings—such as the poetry reading, artist talk, music performance or lecture—for that of a community gathering, a format that is open, fluid, and accessible to diverse audiences. The main idea of the Hybrid Series is to actually connect ideas, text, image, and sound. We believe that the hybridization across life-spheres and aesthetic experiences yields positivity and promotes cultural symbiosis and plurality across genres, elevating the artist above the hierarchies inherent in the myopic nature of academically grounded work. Along with our other programs, the Hybrid Series at Pro Arts is designed to expand the possibilities for experimentation and innovation in contemporary art. After only four installments of this series so far, we are convinced that the platform we have created to accommodate the series can and will continue to foster new collaborations among artists. 

To give a taste of what you might expect should you attend, I will summarize here our first Hybrid Series event that took place on March 12, 2016. We opened the night with an artist talk by Adia Millett who discussed her practice as it related to her solo exhibition entitled Re-Connect (installed at Pro Arts at the time). Topics that prompted larger conversation with the audience revolved around questions related to feminist aesthetics, abstraction, and community identity. Next, Elisabeth Nicula presented her new work entitled Sense Memories, an exploration into image and experience. For Sense Memories, Nicula searched through her hard drive and cell phone for snapshots that she had forgotten, treating her digital cache as a source of found objects that are discrete moments from her life, remembered by machinery. Human memories are imperfect, exaggerated, or conflated, but exist in the fullness of an inner life.

SL Morse performed “The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus”—a conceptual rendering of the seminal work translated into Morse code. SL Morse performs modernist literature through Morse code translations from text to musical notation for a drum kit. “The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus” followed the arc of the essay, where Sisyphus is condemned to ceaseless, pointless labor, has a temporary reprieve, then returns to pushing a heavy rock up a hill that always falls down, finally reconciling himself to his fate that absurd labor is preferable to nonexistence.

Last, audiences enjoyed a reading by Oakland-based poet Sara Mumolo, who read from her collection of poems, Mortar (Omnidawn, 2013). In accompaniment to her reading, Sara chose to screen various repetitive yet entertaining videos, found on the internet and YouTube. This gesture both complemented her words and provided another access point to her ideas. By straddling both worlds (text and moving image), Sara was able to break away from the mold of a traditional format for poetry reading—shifting her perspective, the perspective of the audience, and the notion of what poetry reading might entail.

Photo: Pro Arts Gallery Hybrid Series.  Photo credit: Pro Arts.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

In a surprising decision out of Stockholm this morning, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for, in the words of the Swedish Academy, which administers the prize, “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award, and the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993. The decision comes as something of a shock to the literary world: Although Dylan has been included in prize predictions for the past few years—along with perennial favorites Don DeLillo, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the poet Adonis—his chances were considered outside at best, as, some argue, his work misses the mark in the categories that the prize traditionally honors—poetry, novels, and short stories.

In the wake of the announcement, the literary Internet is grappling with this very question. At Literary Hub, Lisa Levy considers Dylan's artistic identity and the “Poet vs. Songwriter vs. Showman” debate. At the Guardian, meanwhile, Richard Williams defends the Academy’s decision, extolling the many reasons why Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel.

Naturally, many writers also took to Twitter as the announcement came in. Salman Rushdie tweeted: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” Mary Karr also showed support of the decision:

Others were not so supportive.

The Washington Post rounds up more writers’ responses to the Nobel decision.

Dylan, who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, has written and recorded dozens of albums “revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love,” the Academy writes. “The lyrics have continuously been published in new editions, under the title ‘Lyrics.’” In addition to his records, Dylan has also produced experimental work like Tarantula, a 1971 collection of prose poetry, and the 1973 compliation Writings and Drawings. The first volume of his autobiography, Chronicles, was published in 2004.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded since 1901 to writers who have produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” In that time, 114 writers have received the award. (Only 14 have been women. This year, every Nobel Prize, across all disciplines, went to men.) Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich won last year’s prize; French novelist Patrick Modiano won in 2014; and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro won in 2013. The annual prize carries with it a purse of 8 million Swedish kronor, or approximately $900,000.

In announcing the prize this morning, Sara Danius, a literary scholar and the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, called Dylan “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition,” comparing him to Homer and Sappho. When asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician meant an expansion of the definition of literature, Danius responded, “The times they are a-changing, perhaps.”

What do you think? Weigh in with a comment below, or send us a tweet @poetswritersinc.

Road Dog for Poetry

Craig Czury has spent three decades conducting poetry, life-writing, and writing as healing workshops in schools, universities, community centers, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, and mental hospitals. Czury is a lecturer at Albright University, an editor, publisher, tireless arts advocate, and the author of over twenty books of poetry, most recently, Thumb Notes Almanac: Hitchhiking the Marcellus Shale (FootHills Publishing, 2016), a poetry documentary woven from his hitchhiking interviews and observations taken while hitchhiking through the heart of "fracking" in his home region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He is the cohost and artistic director of the Old School Poetry Series at the Springville Schoolhouse Art Studios, where he lives, works, and plays bocce.

ROAD DOG FOR POETRY
By Craig Czury

BECAUSE

Because I will never know where it is you find
your courage to speak without fear of punishment
   fear of ridicule  or invasion

Because I am always a stranger  new in town
                        new in school  new among best friends

But when we speak to each other from that place
inside ourselves where we're not afraid
      even if it's the kitchen where we don't sleep at night
our words don't turn back on us like a cracked mirror
in the world that wears masks

Because

Because when your voice sifts through me
I need to talk with you from a familiar table
               table set by the silenced  not allowed voices

so we can sit  talk and find out where we are

I’ve been a road dog for poetry ever since I was awarded the First Book Award from the Montana Arts Council in 1980. Invitations to conduct poetry writing workshops in schools began coming in and I found out that I was really good at stepping into a classroom and exciting students with language, getting them to write their own poems. For the next twenty-five years I made my living as an itinerant poet in schools, prisons, homeless shelters, mental hospitals, and community centers through various state arts councils and arts foundations, until No Child Left Behind knocked us all out of the water. In 2005 I went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing at Wilkes University and began teaching as an adjunct professor at Albright College, a small private school in Pennsylvania—not at all the same game as stepping into a room, making it spontaneously combust with poetry, and driving off to my next unknown excitement.

With the publication of my new book, Thumb Notes Almanac: Hitchhiking the Marcelus Shale, I took a leave of absence from my college teaching, bought a ’99 Volvo station wagon to bunk in, and, thanks to my publisher Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing for introducing me to Poets & Writers, and my agent Kimberly Crafton, I set up a reading series throughout upstate New York. Within six months, I rolled into Cuba, Peru, Rome, Macedon, Utica, Bath, Endicott—global names of towns fitting the global consciousness of poetry. The salary I earned from my P&W–sponsored workshops and readings, afforded me airfare to Italy for a reading tour in May and June, where Thumb Notes Almanac had been translated and published into Italian. And when I returned, P&W kept me afloat to not only work on my next book of poems, but to encourage others, in out-of-the-way communities, to explore and take more seriously their own writing.

In the words of poet Carol Elaine Deys at Books Etc. in Macedon:

Expansive, eternal and occasionally soundless
in the world of choice - the every day world -
the world which requires us to sustain.
We write.
We determine as whole and well on Planet Earth.
We sustain, because we must.
The Voice of the Poet remains intact despite all
rumors to the contrary -
and we shall be blessed because of it.

Photos: Craig Czury.  Photo credit: Kimberly Glemboski

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York  is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from Friends of Poets & Writers.

Finalists for National Book Awards Announced

The National Book Foundation has announced the finalists for the 2016 National Book Awards. The annual prizes are given for books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and young people’s literature published in the previous year. The winners receive $10,000; each finalist receives $1,000. The winners will be announced on November 16 at an awards ceremony in New York City.

The finalists in poetry are:
Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press)
Rita Dove, Collected Poems 1974–2004 (Norton)
Peter GizziArcheophonics (Wesleyan University Press)
Jay Hopler, The Abridged History of Rainfall (McSweeney’s)
Solmaz SharifLook (Graywolf Press)

Mark Bibbins, Jericho Brown, Katie Ford, Joy Harjo, and Tree Swenson judged.

The finalists in fiction are:
Chris Bachelder
The Throwback Special (Norton)
Paulette JilesNews of the World (William Morrow)
Karan MahajanThe Association of Small Bombs (Viking)
Colson WhiteheadThe Underground Railroad (Doubleday)
Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (Amistad)

James English, Karen Joy Fowler, T. Geronimo Johnson, Julie Otsuka, and Jesmyn Ward judged.

The finalists in nonfiction are:
Arlie Russell HochschildStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press)
Ibram X. KendiStamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books)
Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press)
Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Heather Ann ThompsonBlood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon Books)

Cynthia Barnett, Masha Gessen, Greg Grandin, and Ronald Rosbottom judged. 

The longlists for the awards were announced in September. Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the literary world’s most prestigious prizes. The 2015 winners were Robin Coste Lewis in poetry for Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf), Adam Johnson in fiction for Fortune Smiles (Random House), and Ta-Nehisi Coates in nonfiction for Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau).

Deadline Approaches for StoryQuarterly Fiction Prize

Submissions are open for the sixth annual StoryQuarterly Fiction Prize, given for a short story. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Issue 50 of StoryQuarterly. Alexander Chee will judge.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 6,250 words with a $15 entry fee by October 15. All entries will be considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Alexander Chee is the author of two novels, most recently the historical epic The Queen of the Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). “I speak to so many young writers who still have various cynical ideas about how one gets ahead,” said Chee in a February interview with the Toast. “Really, just do your best work, stand up for yourself, stay close to your excitement. Yes, the asymmetry between effort and reward in writing is the hardest part of it in many ways—the things you work on forever that receive little or no acknowledgement or pay, the things written quickly that pay enormously or that fly around the Internet, viral—but just keep writing.”

Established in 1975 and based at Rutgers University in Camden, StoryQuarterly publishes fiction and nonfiction. The journal, edited by writer Paul Lisicky, is released quarterly in print and administers a fiction contest in the fall and a nonfiction contest in the spring. Previous winners of the Fiction Prize include Nafissa Thompson-Spires for her story “Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology,” Anne Ray for her story “The Pool,” and Janet Peery for her story “No Boy At All.”

Other fiction contests with upcoming deadlines include the University of Louisville’s Calvino Prize, Cutthroat’s Writing Awards, Boston Review’s Aura Estrada Short Story Contest, and Omnidawn Publishing’s Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Contest. For a full list of upcoming contests, visit the Grants & Awards database.

Photo: Alexander Chee; Credit: M. Sharkey

Señal Tour of Latin American Poets and Translators

Silvina López Medin was born in Buenos Aires. She is the author of three books of poetry: La noche de los bueyes (Madrid, 1999), awarded the International Young Poetry Prize by the Loewe Foundation; Esa sal en la lengua para decir manglar (Buenos Aires, 2014); and 62 brazadas (Buenos Aires, 2015). Her play Exactamente bajo el sol opened at Teatro del Pueblo in 2008. With poet Mirta Rosenberg, she has also translated Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet. She collaborates with Señal, a chapbook series for contemporary poetry from Latin America, published by Ugly Duckling Presse, BOMB Magazine, and Libros Antena Books.

We are very pleased to announce the Señal Tour, a set of bilingual readings and discussions with authors and translators from the Señal Series, featuring poets Luis Felipe Fabre from Mexico, Florencia Castellano and Pablo Katchadjian from Argentina, and their translators John Pluecker, Alexis Almeida, Rebekah Smith, Victoria Cóccaro, and Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal (reading Sor Juana). The Señal Tour will take place from October 8 to October 14 in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, starting with a curated reading at the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) Conference and ending at the beloved Poetry Project.

Señal is a chapbook series for contemporary poetry from Latin America in bilingual editions, published collaboratively by BOMB Magazine, Libros Antena Books, and Ugly Duckling Presse. Founded in 2015, Señal publishes two chapbooks a year, linked either thematically, conceptually, or trans-historically, troubling received ideas on what the terms “contemporary” and “Latin America” might represent.

When Señal was created, our goal was to bring more Latin American poetry to English readers, to make more porous the boundaries that bring so much English-language literature into other languages, and celebrate work not written in English, here in the United States and in many other countries. We do this with the books we publish, and in bringing together poets, translators, and editors to read, share, and discuss.

Now, with this tour, we are proud and excited to have poets and translators getting together to present, listen, and exchange ideas. In a time where things tend to be virtual, we love the prospect of all these different voices and languages actually coming together to speak and read in person, interact with an audience, and keep things live.

This is a huge international poetry event for a small press (four cities, six venues, three international poets, five translators), which means a great effort and need for resources, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of Poets & Writers. Their generous help has been essential to make it happen. Now we are eager to meet the Spanish and English-speaking members of the audience, who are, or hopefully will become, Señal readers and lovers of Latin American poetry.

RSVP on Facebook for the Señal Tour:

October 9: Señal at ATA, San Francisco

October 11: Señal at Poetry Foundation, Chicago

October 12: Señal at Sector 2337, Chicago

October 13: Señal Reading at NYU

October 14: Señal Reading at the Poetry Project

Photo: Silvina López Medin. Photo credit: Martin Sonzogni.

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 A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

National Book Foundation Announces 5 Under 35

The National Book Foundation has announced its 2016 5 Under 35 honorees. The annual awards are given to five writers under the age of 35 who have published their first novel or story collection in the past five years. Each honoree is selected by a writer who was either a finalist for the National Book Award or a previous honoree of the 5 Under 35 program.

The 2016 recipients, who each receive $1,000, are:

Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers (Riverhead, 2016), selected by Jacqueline Woodson.

Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing (Knopf, 2016), selected by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Greg Jackson, author of Prodigals (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), selected by Lauren Groff.

S. Li, author of Transoceanic Lights (Harvard Square Editions, 2015), selected by Karen Bender.

Thomas Pierce, author of Hall of Small Mammals (Riverhead, 2016), selected by Amity Gaige.

“We are proud to add the current 5 Under 35 honorees to the National Book Foundation’s roster of remarkable writers,” said David Steinberger, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “There is no doubt that all 5 Under 35 honorees have expanded and will continue to expand the literary landscape by producing work that engages the world at large.”

Established in 2006, the 5 Under 35 program has honored more than fifty emerging writers including Angela Flournoy, Phil Klay, Valeria Luiselli, Justin Torres, and Kirstin Valdez Quade. The 2016 honorees will be celebrated at a ceremony in New York City on November 14.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Brit Bennett, Yaa Gyasi, Greg Jackson, Thomas Pierce, S. Li

Rankine, Nelson Receive MacArthur “Genius” Grants

This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced the twenty-three recipients of its 2016 fellowships. Also known as “Genius Grants,” the annual fellowships of $625,000 each—which are distributed to recipients over a period of five years—are given to individuals who “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity of self-direction.”

Five writers received fellowships this year, including poet Claudia Rankine, creative nonfiction writer Maggie Nelson, journalist Sarah Stillman, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

The author of five books, Claudia Rankine is “a poet illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in twenty-first-century America,” the announcement stated. Her award-winning 2014 collection, Citizen: An American Lyric, interrogates racially charged violence through poetry, documentary prose, and images to “convey the heavy toll that the accumulation of these day-to-day encounters exact on black Americans.”

Maggie Nelson has written five books of creative nonfiction, including The Red Parts (2007), Bluets (2009), The Art of Cruelty (2011), and The Argonauts (2015), as well as several poetry collections. The MacArthur Foundation writes that Nelson is “forging a new mode of nonfiction that transcends the divide between the personal and the intellectual and renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience.” 

Now in its thirty-fifth year, the MacArthur Fellows Program encourages exceptional individuals across a broad range of fields to pursue their creative, intellectual, and professional projects. Fellows are recommended by external nominations, and then chosen by an anonymous selection committee; there is no application process. Between twenty and thirty fellows are selected each year.

For a complete list of this year’s recipients and more details about the fellowships, visit the MacArthur Foundation website.

(Photos from left: Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson)

LibroMobile Puts the Focus on Literacy and Community

Sarah Rafael García is the current artist-in-residence at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. As part of her residency, García is creating the LibroMobile, a bookmobile that integrates literature, visual exhibits, year-round creative workshops, and live readings. In addition, García is the author of Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories (Floricanto Press, 2008), coeditor of the anthology pariahs, writing from outside the margins, founder of the reading and writing youth empowerment program Barrio Writers, and a 2016 Macondista. Below, she blogs about the mission of LibroMobile, as well as recent and upcoming P&W–supported events. 

Sarah Rafael GarciaLibroMobile, a project of Red Salmon Arts in Santa Ana, California, is a bookmobile designed to cultivate diversity by offering affordable books by writers of color; bilingual and Spanish books for children, youth, and adults; as well as books that speak to culture and social justice issues relevant to the local community. LibroMobile also includes a community board to post local resources and a traveling Little Free Library—a book exchange for those who cannot afford to buy a book off the bookmobile. 

The design of the LibroMobile is reminiscent of the iconic paletero carts or fruit vendors that are part of Downtown Santa Ana. LibroMobile’s literary events and creative writing workshops provide Santa Ana residents of all ages opportunities to meet award-winning writers of color, and to write, revise, and submit their own work for possible publication.

This past month, with the help of Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program, LibroMobile launched its inaugural exhibit and literary event, Macondistas en SanTana, featuring Macondo Writers’ Workshop attendees (known as Macondistas) Reyna Grande and Emmy Pérez. Pérez led a free workshop for participants sixteen years old and older and was later joined by Grande, where both performed alongside the AntenaMóvil, a literary project whose designers helped in the conceptualization of the LibroMobile.

Emmy Perez WorkshopThe LibroMobile resides at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) and travels throughout Santa Ana visiting a variety of communities, including Alta Baja Market at Calle Cuatro and the monthly Artwalk in the Artist’s Village, doing its work to build community and promote literacy. Upcoming events include: A Bilingual Children’s Reading Hour with authors René Colato Laínez and Amy Costales on September 24, and Poetry of Resistance: A Tribute to Francisco X. Alarcón, a free P&W–supported workshop and reading with Javier Pinzón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez on October 27.

LibroMobile is indebted to Poets & Writers, Red Salmon Arts, the GCAC, and the City of Santa Ana’s Investing in the Artist Grant Opportunity for empowering this project to provide diverse books and host marginalized literary voices that can effectively support, inspire, and challenge our Santa Ana residents to read, write, and build community.

For more information about LibroMobile and upcoming events, visit the Facebook page and website.

Photo 1: Sarah Rafael Garcia. Photo 2: Workshop participants.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

National Book Award Longlists Announced

Today the National Book Foundation wrapped up its longlist announcements for the 2016 National Book Awards in the categories of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and young people’s literature.

In poetry, the longlist includes Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press); Rita DoveCollected Poems 1974–2004 (Norton); Peter GizziArcheophonics (Wesleyan University Press); Donald HallThe Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Jay Hopler, The Abridged History of Rainfall (McSweeney’s); Donika KellyBestiary (Graywolf Press); Jane MeadWorld of Made and Unmade (Alice James Books); Solmaz SharifLook (Graywolf Press); Monica YounBlackacre (Graywolf Press); and Kevin Young, Blue Laws (Knopf).

Mark Bibbins, Jericho Brown, Katie Ford, Joy Harjo, and Tree Swenson judged.

The fiction longlist includes Chris BachelderThe Throwback Special (Norton); Garth GreenwellWhat Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone (Little, Brown); Paulette JilesNews of the World (William Morrow); Karan MahajanThe Association of Small Bombs (Viking); Elizabeth McKenzieThe Portable Veblen (Penguin Press); Lydia Millet, Sweet Lamb of Heaven (Norton); Brad Watson, Miss Jane (Norton); Colson WhiteheadThe Underground Railroad (Doubleday); and Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (Amistad). 

James English, Karen Joy Fowler, T. Geronimo Johnson, Julie Otsuka, and Jesmyn Ward judged.

The longlist in nonfiction includes Andrew J. BacevichAmerica’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (Random House); Patricia Bell-ScottThe Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (Knopf); Adam CohenImbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck (Penguin Press); Arlie Russell HochschildStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press); Ibram X. KendiStamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books); Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press); Cathy O’NeilWeapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Crown Publishing Group); Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press); and Heather Ann ThompsonBlood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon Books).

Cynthia Barnett, Masha Gessen, Greg Grandin, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Ronald Rosbottom judged. 

Visit the National Book Foundation website for more information about the writers and judges, and to see the longlist in the category of young people’s literature.

The shortlists—which will include five finalists in each category—will be announced on October 13; the winners will be named at the foundation’s annual awards ceremony in New York City on November 16. Winners will receive $10,000; shortlisted authors will receive $1,000.

Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

This morning in London, the Man Booker Foundation announced the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes. The annual award is given for a book of fiction written in English and published in the United Kingdom in the previous year. The winner receives £50,000 (approximately $66,400).

The finalists are Paul Beatty of the United States for The Sellout (Oneworld); Deborah Levy of the United Kingdom for Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton); Graeme Macrae Burnet of the United Kingdom for His Bloody Project (Contraband); Ottessa Moshfegh of the United States for Eileen (Jonathan Cape); David Szalay of Canada for All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape); and Madeleine Thien of Canada for Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books).

The judging panel—which includes 2016 judges chair Amanda Foreman, as well as Jon DayAbdulrazak GurnahDavid Harsent, and Olivia Williams—selected the finalists from a longlist of thirteen. Foreman remarked, “The final six reflect the centrality of the novel in modern culture—in its ability to champion the unconventional, to explore the unfamiliar, and to tackle difficult subjects.” Deborah Levy is the only shortlisted author who has previously made the list, in 2012, for her novel Swimming Home.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall on October 25. Each shortlisted author receives £2,500 (approximately $3,300) and a bound edition of their book. 

First launched in 1969, 2016 marks the third year that the Man Booker Prize has been open to writers of any nationality; the prize was previously limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth, and Zimbabwe. Jamaican author Marlon James won the 2015 prize for his novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings.

Clockwise from top left: Graeme Macrae Burnet, Deborah Levy, David Szalay, Madeleine Thien, Paul Beatty, Ottessa Moshfegh 

Young Poets Grow in the South Bronx

Joy Leonard, teaching artist and program director at New Settlement's Program for Girls & Young Women serves adolescent girls in the Southwest Bronx with arts and leadership development classes after school, on weekends, during school breaks, and in the summer. Participants in the program are young women of color, 99 percent from low-income families, often attending underperforming schools. The program strives to connect young women with established artists and educators, who will introduce them to relevant, high-quality materials and guide their development as artists, while also supporting their engagement with social justice issues. In her other life, Leonard is a mother of two boys, an actor, director, and executive producer of the Synaesthetic Theatre Collective.

This spring we were fortunate enough to find (with the help of the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Kamilah Aisha Moon: author, poet, and gifted teacher. Kamilah led a seven-session workshop series titled Drop the Mic for program participants ages fourteen to twenty. Kamilah began each session with a group reading of two or three selections of poetry, linked by themes or similar poetic devices, and then led the group in a conversation about what they noticed, what resonated with them, and how language was used. She would then offer the group a writing prompt for the evening, related to the readings and conversation.

Participants wrote about their names, their perceptions, and evoked places of memory. Inspired by Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” they experimented with writing from the perspective of someone else, in a voice not their own. Kamilah selected relevant pieces from a wide range of poets, with a heavy concentration of women and people of color, but she also kept the young women tuned in with critical discussions of motifs in popular songs, like Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and encouraged them to relate to works that moved them. In response to Nina Simone’s “Blackbird,” one young poet wrote:

Why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t ever gonna fly.

Flying is for the Good, never for the ‘hood.

Us, suspended in the air – you, paying your fare. Ha!

So why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t gonna make it.

All that you can do is get on a plane, so please, face it.

Birds of a feather flock together. You the one getting blown away in the bad weather. Ha!

Kamilah effectively drew them into expressing opinions and considering why poets had chosen the language, rhythms, and images used in each piece. While the group was often loud, raucous, and challenging to channel in conversation—you know, teenagers—once Kamilah explained the prompt for each evening, they settled down to commit themselves to paper with a seriousness and focus that sometimes surprised the program staff. Everyone wanted Kamilah to read their work and provide feedback. They wrote funny, daring, surprising pieces, and over the course of the workshop it was clear they felt comfortable enough to risk expressing themselves in new ways.

The Program for Girls & Young Women is indebted to Poets & Writers, and Bonnie Rose Marcus, in particular, for enabling us to work with Kamilah Aisha Moon, a poet and teacher with the experience and compassionate personality to effectively support, inspire, and challenge our young poets.

For more on the Program for Girls & Young Women, visit their Facebook page. For samples and video clips of the young poets performing work created in the workshop, visit the Drop the Mic 2016 website.

Photo (top): Joy Leonard. Photo credit: Chris Nichols. Photo collage (bottom): Kamilah Aisha Moon and participants. Photo credit: Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

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 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.

Academy of American Poets Announces 2016 Award Winners

The winners of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prizes, which honor poets at various stages in their careers, have been announced. This year the Academy awarded more than $200,000 in prize money to poets including Sharon Olds, Lynn Emanuel, and Natasha Trethewey.

Sharon Olds received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award for “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” Olds, seventy-three, is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Stag’s Leap (Knopf), which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Her forthcoming book, Odes, will be published by Knopf on September 20. Previous winners of the Wallace Stevens Award include Joy Harjo (2015), Robert Hass (2014,) and Philip Levine (2013).

The recipient of the 2016 Academy of American Poets Fellowship is former United States poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. The annual prize of $25,000 is given for “distinguished poetic achievement.” The Academy’s Board of Chancellors nominates and selects the winner.

Lynn Emanuel received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her collection The Nerve of It: Poems New and Selected (Pitt Poetry Series). The annual $25,000 prize is given for a poetry collection published in the United States during the previous year. 

The James Laughlin Award went to Mary Hickman’s Rayfish (Omnidawn). The annual $5,000 prize honors a second book of poetry. The winner also receives an all-expenses-paid weeklong residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, as well as distribution of the book to approximately a thousand Academy members. Ellen Bass, Jericho Brown, and Carmen Giménez Smith judged.

For a complete list of winners and more information about the Academy’s awards, visit poets.org.

Established in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the largest nonprofit organization supporting the work of American poets. 

(Photo: Sharon Olds)