Poets & Writers Blogs

A Night of Dinner and Poetry at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors

On June 20, 2016, the Readings & Workshops (East) program alongside the Queens Center for Gay Seniors organized a celebratory evening of poetry for LGBTQ seniors in Jackson Heights, New York. Poets & Writers brought together LGBTQ teaching artists Amber Atiya, Regie Cabico, Shira Erlichman, and Emanuel Xavier to perform their work. The reading culminated four months of writing workshops with diverse programming ranging from playwriting to watercolor poetry comics. The reading at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors was a heartwarming and unique experience, bringing together LGBTQ New Yorkers across many generations. We asked the evening's performers their thoughts on the experience. Below are their responses.

“From the start the seniors were incredibly warm, present, and receptive. I heard deep ‘ooofs’ and ‘oooos’ after some of us poets’ riskier lines. They were there with us—100 percent—start to finish. We were able to turn sharp corners as readers and trust that they'd be open and follow our lead. Simply put, I loved it. I was touched that I could read about illness, specifically mental illness, the stigma that comes along with it, the ‘coming out’ process of saying, ‘I have mental illness,’ the specifics of medication and the resilience it takes to grapple with it all and have a bright-hearted crowd listening intently, finding ways to enter my narrative, to connect, even if they didn’t directly relate to everything. As a reader, what more can you hope for? And yet, it’s not just the way they listened during the performance. After the show they made a point to reach out, introduce themselves, and say a few words; our private conversations were tender, their gratitude so felt, their own stories filling the air. I got hugs and posed for goofy pictures. I was made to feel not just welcomed, but included, at home.”
—Shira Erlichman, writer and musician, whose album Subtle Creature is forthcoming in August 2016.

“LGBTQ seniors + Jackson Heights + poetry = why I still love New York City. I was thrilled to connect with elders who have seen and lived through so much (and endure), who were attentive and lovely, and welcomed four poets into their space. (What a treat to perform in a zip code that doesn’t begin with 1-0-0 or 1-1-2!) Many thanks to Poets & Writers for inviting me to perform and for recognizing the importance of intergenerational programming. Thank you to Shira, Regie, and Emanuel for their words and hearts and jokes. To the queerest borough and the Queens Center for Gay Seniors: love and love to you, always."
—Amber Atiya, poet and book artist, and author of the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014).

“My workshop was an intimate celebration of seniors' lives in Jackson Heights. It was my first time working with an elderly population and their candidness blew me away. Hearing stories of coming out during the pre-Stonewall era, romantic foibles, and their political passion to be themselves was heartbreaking and humorous. The audiences at the senior center’s banquet were riveted and inspired by hearing four younger diverse queer voices. So many of the seniors were not exposed to the theatrically charged works of the readers. So many audience members came up to me and thanked me. These seniors have seen and related to so much of the readers’ work on mental health, family, religion, and race. An audience member from the workshop shared his struggle with cancer to the group in a way that he had never shared before. These brave hearts embrace poetry, they listen with a rainbow pride. They inspire me to be fearless.”
—Regie Cabico, spoken word pioneer and slam champion, and coeditor of Flicker & Spark: A Contemporary Anthology of Queer Poetry and Spoken Word (Lowbrow Press LLC, 2013).

“I’ve read in front of many different audiences throughout the years, everywhere from universities to prisons, and I always walk away astounded that my work doesn’t only appeal to my age group or younger but mostly to those that are much older. As a gay Latino poet, it amazes me when a little old white lady comes up excitedly to meet me in, like, Ohio. Sometimes we forget how our work can be widely universal and speak through the generations. That’s why being invited by Poets & Writers to read for our LGBTQ seniors was such an honor because it was an opportunity to share our words with such a vibrant part of our community. It is just as important for us to listen to their stories and acknowledge those that came before us because our LGBTQ history should never be forgotten. Our struggle for equality continues but our journey was nothing compared to theirs.”
—Emanuel Xavier, poet and activist, author of the poetry collections Radiance (Rebel Satori Press, 2016) and Americano: Growing up Gay and Latino in the USA (Queer Mojo, 2012), and the novel, Christ Like (Queer Mojo, 2009).

For more photos of the event, click here.

Photos: (top) Poets Amber Atiya, Emanuel Xavier, Regie Cabico, Shira Erlichman. (bottom) Queens Center for Gay Seniors group photo. Photo credit: Christian Rodriguez.

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. This program is supported by public funds from the New York City Council, in partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Department for the Aging.

A Time Portal Only Poetry Could Open: The Intergenerational Workshop Exchange

Born in Iloilo City, Philippines, Angela Peñaredondo is a Pilipinx poet and artist (on other days, she identifies as a usual ghost, subdued comet, or part-time animal). Her first full-length book, All Things Lose Thousands of Times (Inlandia Institute, 2016), is the winner of the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize. This past spring, she taught the senior workshop for Poets & Writers' inaugural Intergenerational Workshop Exchange (IWE), where teens and seniors wrote in response to each other, then shared their work at a celebratory reading. Below, Peñaredondo reflects on the project, sharing a few excerpts from participants. (Be sure to check out last week’s companion blog post by IWE organizer and cofacilitator, Melissa Sipin.)

To be invited to participate as a teaching artist in Poets & Writers' Intergenerational Workshop Exchange in Los Angeles was an honor and a gift. I knew the experience would be a rare one. It was the type of experience that opened a time portal—the kind only poetry could bring about.

It was a rich kind of transport, but not an easy one.

My grandfather, Perpetuo Peñaredondo Sr., and his youngest brother, my grand uncle Jesus Peñaredondo, were guerilla fighters on the island of Panay. One worked in intelligence (you could call him a spy), the other was a foot soldier. My grandfather died almost ten years ago. My grand uncle, who is ninety years old now, has moved back to the island of Panay. My grandfather lived without receiving the full recognition of his service during the war. My uncle continues to live without receiving the full recognition of his service. Like I said, I was deeply ecstatic to work with this community, who reminded me so much of my grandfather and a lineage that cannot afford to live or die here in the United States.

The workshop I led took place at the Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI) headquarters in Historic Filipinotown, a location that has existed for almost thirty-five years. FASGI is an inner-city center that functions as many things: community center, community garden, service provider, transitional shelter, backyard party venue, and a place where you can see a real nipa hut built by the hands of Filipino World War II veterans.

The workshop setting was small, intimate, and warm with moments that felt fragile and painful, but not without acts of strength or creative surprise. With some gentle persuasion even my parents joined in and shared their stories connected to the war. During one of the writing exercises, I asked participants to close their eyes, focus on the sound of their breath, picture a particular object from their youth, imagine it in their hands, and to observe the weight and look of it inside their palms. When asked to write a poem about that single object, my mother wrote about her mother’s silver ring (forever lost in the flux of war and migration). Franco Arcebal, a World War II Filipino American veteran participant, wrote about the pen he used to write a letter to his granddaughter, about being a prisoner of war, how his then young body suffered intense torture and his body still remembers even after so many years have past. As I listened to him explain and read his poems, it sounded like both a love letter to his granddaughter and to the pen.

After the meditation and writing exercise, Arcebal spoke of his desire to be a better writer and that he always wanted to write a book, but not about the war. I enjoyed watching him scribble with intention in his small notepad. Observing him helped me write my own poem during a letter writing exercise I gave as a second writing prompt.

Beverly and Cleo Other workshop participants included three wives of deceased World War II veterans: Beverly Siapno in her mauve hat, Cleo Bisnar in her bright citrine dress, and Anacurita Santos, who in her candy cane striped sweater said (always with a smile) that she couldn’t do this. She could not write it down. It was too hard for her, she would tell me without explanation, again with a sweet smile. There were times I saw her jot down a few precious notes, but Anacurita could not bring herself to read her words aloud. I understood her. My grandmother was very similar—silent and curt, communicating indirectly with her hands. Anacurita communicated indirectly with her smile, lovely and charming, but also cryptic and resilient.

Beverly’s letter poem begins with the line:

There are things you need to know about where you come from—where we come from.

And she ends with:

And so that you will not become like how we once were: poor, hungry, searching for freedom.

Beverly read her poem during the culminating reading, still wearing her mauve hat like a small, red sun in the middle of the dark reading room.

Cleo was not able to make it to the reading. Instead, I imagined her reading her lines in her soft, graceful voice:

As an orphan, there was nobody to push me. Nobody who told me to try hard in school. Nobody who put food on the table. Nobody who said I love you and goodnight.

But—I had natural knowledge. I thank God for this. So, I can read and write a little. I wrote you this poem. I give you this gift.

Connecting Generations Reading

You can read work produced by teen and senior participants of the inaugural Poets & Writers’ Intergenerational Workshop Exchange in a special issue of TAYO Literary Magazine titled “Connecting Generations.”

Photo 1: Workshop participants (front, from left) David Rockello, Anacurita Santos, Cleotilde Bisnar, and Beverly Siapno; (back) Franco Arcebal, workshop leader Angela Peñaredondo, P&W fellow Melissa Sipin, and Ivonne Peñaredondo. Photo 2: Beverly Siapno and Cleotilde Bisnar. Photo 3: Connecting Generations Reading participants and partners (front row, from left): workshop leader Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Beverly Siapno, Franco Arcebal, Rose Rteimeh, Rosalinda Flores; (middle row) Ivonne Peñaredondo, P&W fellow Melissa Sipin, workshop leader Angela Peñaredondo; (back row) St. Bernard High School teacher, poet, and emcee Mike Sonksen, and P&W staff Jamie Asaye FitzGerald. Photo credit: Tess. Lotta.

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.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines for Fiction Writers

Summer has officially begun! If you are looking to kick off the season by submitting to writing contests, you’re in luck—the deadlines for several contests approach. Below is a roundup of contests with a June 30 deadline that are open to fiction writers. The contests award at least $1,000 and publication of full-length fiction manuscripts, as well as single stories or novel excerpts.

Indianapolis-based independent publisher Engine Books administers an annual fiction prize, which awards $1,000 and publication of a full-length short story collection, novella collection, or novel. Manuscripts of any length are considered; the entry fee is $30. Novelist and short story writer Alix Ohlin will judge.

Hidden River Arts, a literary arts organization based in Philadelphia, sponsors the annual William Van Wert Fiction Award for an unpublished short story or novel excerpt. Writers may submit up to 25 pages of fiction with a $17 entry fee. The winner will be notified by April 1, 2017.

For writers with some publications under their belt, the University of Pittsburgh Press Drue Heinz Literature Prize awards $15,000 and publication of a story collection. The award is open to writers who have previously published a book of fiction, or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in nationally distributed publications. Manuscripts of 150 to 300 pages are accepted exclusively via postal mail. There is no entry fee.

Self-published authors are eligible to submit to the Winning Writers North Street Book Prize. Three awards of $1,500 each are given annually for self-published books in the categories of fiction, genre fiction, and creative nonfiction. In addition to the cash prize, winners will also receive publication of an excerpt on the Winning Writers website; a one-hour marketing consultation with author and publishing consultant Carolyn Howard-Johnson; a $300 credit at BookBay, a self-publishing and book promotion platform; and three free advertisements in the Winning Writers newsletter. Two honorable mentions in each category will receive $250. The entry fee is $50.

For more information about the prizes and complete submission guidelines, visit the contest websites. Visit our Grants & Awards database and submission calendar for a wide selection of contests in all genres with upcoming deadlines.

But This Body, It Remembers: The Intergenerational Workshop Exchange

Melissa Sipin, the McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops Fellow, reflects on the Intergenerational Workshop Exchange (IWE), a community project where teens and seniors wrote in response to each other, then shared their work at a reading. For the inaugural IWE, teens from St. Bernard High School and World War II Filipino American veterans and their family members from the Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI), took part in the collaborative workshop series over a three-month period this past spring. Below, Sipin reflects on her experience as organizer and cofacilitator, and shares a few excerpts from the participants. (Stay tuned for next week's companion post by Angela Peñaredondo, teaching artist for the senior workshop at FASGI.)

During the months of February and March, Poets & Writers supported two writing workshops as part of the first Intergenerational Workshop Exchange (IWE)—a rare writing exchange between seniors and youth that reached teens from St. Bernard High School and a group of World War II veterans and their family members from the Filipino American Service Group, Inc. The project culminated with a celebratory reading titled Connecting Generations on April 17 at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California.

The IWE was my passion project as the 2015-2016 McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops Fellow. I personally chose to focus on working with a unique and highly underrepresented senior population, World War II Filipino American veterans (learn more about their activism at Justice for Filipino American Veterans), as many are quickly aging and passing away without ever having their voices heard. My own grandfather, Major Diego A. Sipin, was a guerrilla fighter and officer in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Philippines, Northern Luzon, who passed away without receiving the full recognition of his wartime active duty service. Pairing the Filipino American veterans with St. Bernard High School students—many of whom are children of immigrants from all corners of Los Angeles—was a moving way to bring to light their shared and collective experiences.

Traci Kato-Kiriyama and students During the workshops, teaching artist Traci Kato-Kiriyama had the St. Bernard High School students write a letter to their imagined grandchildren. In response, teaching artist Angela Peñaredondo had the seniors write to their actual grandchildren. After reading the seniors’ brief but poignant letters—which detailed their wartime experiences and migrations to America—the students then wrote to the seniors directly, sharing and exchanging their own family stories of migration. They described in visceral detail the smells, sights, and tastes of where they came from—the taste of hummus on a hot, balmy day in Beirut or how the sun shone on a small village near the border in Mexico—which in turn created a deep and touching connection across generations.

One of the most moving moments during the celebratory reading was Franco Arcebal’s letter to his great-granddaughter, Veronica. Before he read his letter, he shared a brief portrait of his life during the war—how he was tortured with electric shocks, baseball bats, and water; how he escaped the “monkey house,” a makeshift prisoner-of-war camp the Japanese soldiers used as an execution house. He told the crowd that he could never really answer his great-granddaughter’s questions about the war, and that every time she asked, he was filled with silence…until he participated in the writing workshop with his fellow lolas (“grandmother” in Tagalog), all of whom were widows of World War II Filipino American veterans. Here is an excerpt of his letter:

We were six in the monkey house.

I was the youngest. 20. What they considered fresh and young and robust, something that needed to be broken.

I was the most severely tortured. My body still remembers. Sometimes I want to forget. But this body, it remembers.

Franco ArcebalIn loving response, one of the high school students, Yonathan Dereje, dedicated his piece to Arcebal:

Your great-granddaughter will love you, and you will love her. She is your privilege.... Your love for her wasn’t scarred, but only made it even more resilient. Your experience made you tougher and teaches me how to be resilient, and will forever teach me how to love and never give up.

The three-month project could not have been successful without our community partnerships, and I would like to personally thank the following for their precious time: teacher and poet Mike Sonksen, St. Bernard High School, the Filipino American Service Group, Inc., Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center for hosting the celebratory reading, and teaching artists Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Angela Peñaredondo.

These intimate letters are a testament to the power of sharing stories across cultures and generations—we share them because it is proof that what we hold dear and what we call home tend to always be the deep, unbreakable bonds we form with each other.

You can read work produced by teen and senior participants of the inaugural Poets & Writers’ Intergenerational Workshop Exchange in a special issue of TAYO Literary Magazine titled “Connecting Generations.”

Photo 1: (from left) Workshop participants Beverly Siapno, Cleotilde Bisnar, Anacurita Santos, David Rockello, Franco Arcebal, workshop leader Angela Peñaredondo, and P&W staff members Melissa Sipin and Brandi Spaethe. Photo 2: Workshop leader Traci Kato-Kiriyama with St. Bernard High School students Rose Rteimeh and Rosalinda Flores. Photo 3: Senior workshop participant and World War II veteran Franco Arcebal. Photo credit: Tess. Lotta.

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.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines for Poets

As we head into the second half of June, the deadlines approach for several poetry competitions. The contests included below—which are sponsored by organizations and schools based in places from Australia to Cape Cod—offer cash prizes from $1,000 to $10,000 for single poems.

The Cultural Center of Cape Cod offers a prize of $1,000 through its annual Poetry Competition. The submission deadline is Monday, June 20; the entry fee is $15.

With a deadline of Tuesday, June 21, the Troubadour International Poetry Prize, sponsored by London-based Coffee-House Poetry, offers a first-place prize of £5,000 (approximately $7,000) and a second-place prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,400). Glyn Maxwell and Jane Yeh will judge; the entry fee is $8 per poem.

Over in Australia, University of Canberra is currently considering submissions for its annual Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize. The international contest, open to poets from any country writing in English, offers a hefty first-place prize of $15,000 AUD (approximately $11,100) as well as a second-place prize of $5,000 AUD (approximately $3,700). The winners will be published in an e-book anthology, and Simon Armitage will judge. The deadline is June 30, with an entry fee of $20 AUD (approximately $15).

For the musically inclined, String Poet is hosting its annual poetry competition with a deadline of June 30. Not only will the winner receive $1,000 and publication in String Poet, but the composer Richard Books will compose a piece of music inspired by the winning piece. The entry fee is $15. X. J. Kennedy will judge.

Visit the contest websites for complete submission details, including eligibility guidelines and poem length requirements. For a look at more writing contests with upcoming deadlines, visit our Grants & Awards database and submission calendar.

 

Akhil Sharma Wins 2016 International Dublin Literary Award

The Dublin City Council announced last week that Akhil Sharma has won the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award for his novel Family Life. Sharma will receive €100,000 (approximately $113,000). The annual award, which is one of the world’s largest prizes for a single book, is given for a novel written in or translated into English and published in the previous year.

The 2016 judges were Meaghan Delahunt, Carlo Gébler, Ian Sansom, Iglika Vassileva, Juan Pablo Villalobos, and Eugene R. Sullivan. They selected Family Life (Norton) from 160 titles, which were nominated by libraries in 118 cities in 43 countries. Sharma’s novel, which tells the story of a family that immigrates to America from Delhi in 1978, was nominated by both the New Delhi­–based India International Centre Library and the Jacksonville Public Library in Florida.

“Suffering and the struggle to ameliorate suffering are not unknown in fiction but Family Life pulls off the extraordinary feat of showing them in their correct alignment,” wrote the judges in their citation. “Closing the book, having known this mix of light and dark, you are left with the sense that while reading you were actually at the core of human experience and what it is to be alive. This is the highest form of achievement in literature. Few manage it. This novel does. Triumphantly. Luminously. Movingly.”

The 2016 shortlist included Outlaws by Javier Cercas, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean; Academy Street by Mary Costello; Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers; The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky; A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James; Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa; Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.

Previous winners of the prize include Jim Crace for Harvest, Juan Gabriel Vásquez for The Sound of Things Falling, and Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin.

Sharma, who also won the £40,000 2015 Folio Prize for Family Life, lives in New York City and teaches at Rutgers University in Newark. “To be acknowledged by people I respect is a strange thing,” said Sharma of winning the International Dublin Literary Award. “I can’t say I fooled them. I feel abashed by this honor.”

Photo: Akhil Sharma. Credit: Jason Clarke.

Queens Lit Fest, A Happy Accident

Mike Geffner is the founder and producer of the Inspired Word literary/performance series and the Queens Lit Fest. For thirty years, he was a professional journalist who published stories in USA Today, Details magazine, Village Voice, Texas Monthly, the Writer, and Sporting News. He’s won awards for both column and feature writing, and was acknowledged seven times for excellence by the annual anthology Best American Sports Writing. Geffner retired from journalism in 2011 and is currently working on a book of poetry, tentatively titled Slogging Toward Death.

This was late March 2015. I was chatting with the event booker of a charming pub in Long Island City called LIC Bar. The place was already hosting several literary events and I felt it had the potential for something wonderful of my own. I just wasn’t sure what.

LIC Bar has the uniqueness of being broken into three distinct areas: a bar in front with antique-wood floors, brick walls, and a tin ceiling; an outdoor garden patio in the middle under the peacefulness of willow trees; and a private room in the back with a fireplace.

I mulled over a ton of ideas in my head before the words that would change my life spilled out: “How about a Queens Literary Festival?” It seemed perfect—the readings in the private room, the vendors in the patio, the schmoozing in the bar.

The booker agreed and we set a date for the first weekend in August. However, the second I left the bar, the reality hit: What did I just sign up for? How do you put together a two-day festival for an entire NYC borough in just four months?

It was daunting to say the least, though as a former journalist, I was used to dealing with deadline pressure and getting things done quickly. And as someone who has lived all his life in Queens, who loves his borough, I believed in the mission: to bring together Queens’s diverse literary community, to honor our literary artists, to create a dynamic event that would be unpretentious, all-inclusive, and filled with heart.

With the help of Inspired Word assistant producer, Poetry Teachers NYC founder, and fellow Queens resident Megan DiBello, aka Make It Happen Megan, we made it happen. We produced a cool logo, postcards, and T-shirts. We put together excellent programming, which included several notable Queens-based reading series; the current and previous Queens poets laureate, Maria Lisella and Paolo Javier, respectively; and an open mic that would level the playing field and make everyone feel involved.

We were written about in all the Queens newspapers prior to the event, and Megan, Maria, and I even appeared in studio on NY1.

It ended up being a glorious event. We had two sunny days, drew over three hundred people, and I’m proud to say that despite the event being free we paid all the featured artists with sponsorship money, including generous dollars from Poets & Writers.

This year’s event (July 16 to 17, 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM, open to all ages this time) will be on a grander scale. For one, the site is the wondrous wide-open space along the waterfront called LIC Landing, a symbol of the new Queens and which offers a stunning, unfettered view of the Manhattan skyline. We’re also collaborating with Hunters Point Parks Conservancy (leading the building of an ambitious new Queens Library of Hunters Point) and COFFEED, a coffee chain that donates 10 percent of its profits to nonprofit foundations and which owns and donated the event space. We’ve added, as well, a tireless arts visionary, Mark Christie, president of Friends of Queens Library of Hunters Point, as an organizer/consultant. And, once again support from the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers.

I know now what I’ve gotten myself into. We’re smack on the forefront of Queens’s culture renaissance, part of a movement to make Queens a literary destination, not just a pit stop to Brooklyn or Harlem. We’re forever on the timeline of Queens history. What an amazing thing from a few blurted out words.

You can follow the Queens Lit Fest on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @QueensLitFest. For more info, to RSVP, donate, or to sign up for the open mic, go here.

Photos: (top) Mike Geffner. (bottom) Megan DiBello.  Photo credit: (top) Jay Franco. (bottom) Mike Geffner. Artwork credit: Edward Cox.

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 form the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Lisa McInerney Wins Baileys Prize for Women

Irish author Lisa McInerney has been announced the winner of the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies (John Murray). The annual book award is open to women writers from anywhere in the world writing in English, and carries with it a £30,000 (approximately $43,500) prize.

The finalists were Cynthia Bond’s Ruby, Anne Enright’s The Green Road, Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.

The judging panel consisted of five women: novelist Elif Şafak; journalists Naga Munchetty and Laurie Penny; writer and singer Tracey Thorn; and former lawyer and television personality Margaret Mountford, who served as judge chair. The committee selected McInerney’s novel from a hundred fifty entries.

McInerney’s novel tells the tale of how a messy murder affects the lives of “five misfits who live on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society.” At today’s award ceremony in London, Mountford said, “After a passionate discussion around a very strong shortlist, we chose Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humor and skillful storytelling. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner.”

McInerney, thirty-four, began her writing career in 2006 with a personal blog called Arse End of Ireland, in which she documented working-class life in modern Ireland with a unique brand of cynical wit. The blog gained traction, and McInerney has since written for various Irish news and culture, feminist, and entertainment websites. Her short story, “Saturday, Boring,” was published in Faber & Faber’s Town and Country anthology in 2013. She lives in Galway.

Founded in 1996, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was established to recognize “excellence, originality, and accessibility in writing by women throughout the world.” The award is the U.K.’s most prestigious annual prize for a full-length book of fiction written by a woman. Previous winners include Ali Smith, Eimear McBride, Téa Obreht, and Zadie Smith. For more information, visit the prize website

Lambda Literary Awards Announced

Last night, at a ceremony in New York City, the winners of the twenty-eighth annual Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”) were announced. The awards recognize excellence in LGBTQ literature, critical studies, and drama, and are given in twenty-five categories determined by more than ninety judges.
The awards in poetry were given in three categories: The Lesbian Poetry award went to Dawn Lundy Martin for Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life (Nightboat Books); the Gay Poetry award resulted in a tie between Nicholas Wong’s Crevasse (Kaya Press) and Carl Phillips’s Reconnaissance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and the Transgender Poetry prize went to kari edwards’s succubus in my pocket (EOAGH Books).

In fiction, the awards were administered in five categories: The Lesbian Fiction award went to Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta; Hasan Namir won in Gay Fiction for God in Pink (Arsenal Pulp Press); Anna North won the Bisexual Fiction prize for The Life and Death of Sophie Stark (Blue Rider Press); Roz Kaveney took home the Transgender Fiction award for Tiny Piece of Skull: Or, a Lesson in Manners (Team Angelica Publishing); and the LGBT Debut Fiction prize went to Victor Yates for A Love Like Blood (Hillmont Press).

During the reception, poet Eileen Myles was honored with the organization’s Pioneer Award, and nonfiction writer Hilton Als received the Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature.

A complete list of winners in all twenty-five categories, as well as photos of the awards gala, are available on the Lambda Literary website.

Lambda Literary is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to celebrating and advancing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer literature. In addition to the annual Lammy Awards, the foundation administers prizes for emerging and mid-career writers, hosts the Writers Retreat for Emerging Voices, and sponsors the LGBT Writers in Schools program

Union Square Slam: Putting the Unity Back in Community

Cecily Schuler received their MFA in Writing from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Having attended both the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center, Schuler has had their work featured in the Offing, Fairy Tale Review, Wicked Banshee, Ellipsis, and Duende, and anthologized in great weather for MEDIA and Fire Stories: Further Thoughts on Radically Rethinking Mental Illness. Schuler's chapbook, 296, chronicling the author's experience living with multiple mental health diagnoses, is available from Next Left Press. Schuler cofounded and manages Union Square Slam, a weekly poetry open mic/slam in the heart of New York City.

What makes your program(s) unique?
I would say that, while we share components of each, we are not your average open mic, poetry reading, or poetry slam. Union Square Slam (USS) was created to not only serve the local and national slam poetry circuit, but more so to provide a creative space for our local poets and authors to branch out, foster, and showcase their particular talents and interests. We are looking to showcase the broad range of overlapping scenes here in New York City, as well as poetic style and talents from other regions of the country.

We encourage audience engagement in a number of ways: “If You Feel Something, Say Something.” If someone says something on the mic that moves you, it’s the culture of the show to respond to that movement through snapping/clapping, moans/groans, shouting and talking back. On paper that sounds like a ruckus, but at the show it can be encouraging and empowering. We also offer writing workshops with highly skilled facilitators before the show each week. Sometimes we ask for donations that go towards the facilitator, but more often than not, the workshops are free! All of the organizers are also working artists, and we know how challenging it can be to keep creating while volunteer organizing on top of working a 9-5. These weekly workshops are just another way we hope to generate community-based quality work for our show attendees.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
We inherited a venue and show day/time from another open mic/poetry slam in January 2015. Over time, it became clear that the venue and our show were growing in different directions artistically and aesthetically. In November of the same year, we switched venues to our current home in the Bureau of General Services - Queer Division. It was such a relief in so many ways: not only were we in a venue dedicated solely to literary and visual arts, we could now serve all ages and accommodate folks who use wheelchairs. We have managed to build a steady and returning audience, book and fund our features (thanks P&W!!) and have a successful slam season, culminating in USS sending our very first team to the National Poetry Slam in Decatur (Atlanta), Georgia this August. It was a lot of rigmarole, and yet people have come out of the woodwork to offer us support in countless ways. (Speaking of which, please consider helping USS reach its fundraising goals for the team by donating here.)

How do you find and invite readers?
Part of Union Square Slam’s mission is to amplify voices of the oppressed. We aim to book features who self-identify in one or more of the following: people of color and/or queer/LGBTQIA and/or disabled/alter-abled/neurodiverse and/or poor/working class. We don’t go looking for artists who fit these criteria; rather, we check ourselves against this standard as we are booking. Our organizers have been involved in different aspects of not just the national slam scene, but other literary scenes throughout New York City, so between us, we’ve had a wide range of featured poets this year.

Photo: (top) Cecily Schuler. (bottom) Grand Slam Champ Nkosi Nkululeko. Photo credit: (bottom) Guangpyo David Hong.

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 Fund Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Feminist Press and TAYO Launch First Book Prize

The Feminist Press has partnered with TAYO Literary Magazine to launch the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, which will be given for debut books of fiction or nonfiction by women and nonbinary writers of color. The winner will receive $5,000 and a publishing contract with the Feminist Press.

Novels, short story collections, and works of narrative nonfiction are eligible. Women and nonbinary writers of color (or those who self-identify as nonwhite) may submit a complete manuscript of 50,000 to 80,000 words along with a cover letter that includes the following: an author statement, a brief bio, how the book fits with the work and mission of TAYO and the Feminist Press, a list of up to three influential writers, and the manuscript’s word count. The deadline is July 31. Complete guidelines here.

Entries will be read by a group of judges made up of staff, board members, and allies of the Feminist Press and TAYO Literary Magazine. The top five manuscripts will then be sent to final judges Tayari Jones and Ana Castillo, who will select the winning manuscript. The winner will be announced in February 2017.

The new prize was founded in honor of novelist, essayist, journalist, and activist Louise Meriwether, age 93, who published her first novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, in 1970. The book, about the life of a poor black family in the post–Harlem Renaissance era, was one of the first contemporary American novels to feature a young African American girl as the protagonist, and went on to inspire the careers of authors such Jacqueline Woodson and Bridgett M. Davis.

TAYO—a which means “us” or “stand up” in Tagalog—is a magazine dedicated to publishing works of poetry and prose that “slice into the phantasmagoria of the oppressed, marginalized, post-colonized, and diasporic life.”The Feminist Press, founded in 1970 at the City University of New York, is a nonprofit press established to “advance women’s rights and amplify feminist perspectives,” and champion “silenced and marginalized voices in order to support personal transformation and social justice for all people.

Photo: Bridgett M. Davis and Louise Meriwether in 2014. Credit: Muneesh Jain

Griffin Poetry Prize Winners Announced

Poets Norman Dubie and Liz Howard have won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prizes, given annually for books of poetry published in or translated into English in the previous year. They each received $65,000 Canadian (approximately $50,000). Alice Oswald, Tracy K. Smith, and Adam Sol judged.

Poet Norman Dubie won the International Prize for his collection The Quotations of Bone (Copper Canyon Press). Dubie, 71, has published twenty-nine poetry collections and teaches at Arizona State University in Tempe. “The poems in Dubie’s newest collection are deeply oneiric, governed by vigorous leaping energy that brings the intimate into contact with history, and blurs the distinction between what is real because it once happened, and what is real because of the emphatic manner in which it has been felt,” wrote the judges in their citation.

Liz Howard took home the Canadian Prize for her debut collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McClelland & Stewart). “These poems are filled with energy and magic, suspended between competing inheritances, at home in their hyper-modern hybridity,” said the judges. “Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent confronts its legacies with vivid imagery and crackling language, and introduces us to a bold, original poetic voice.”

The finalists for the International Prize were Joy Harjo for Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton), Don Paterson for 40 Sonnets (Faber & Faber), and Rowan Ricardo Phillips for Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists for the Canadian Prize were Per Brask and Patrick Friesen for their translation from the Danish of Ulrikka S. Gernes’s Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books) and Soraya Peerbaye for Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press). Each finalist received a $10,000 honorarium for participating in the Griffin Prize shortlist reading on Wednesday in Toronto.

Established in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize was founded to “serve and encourage excellence in poetry.” Each year the trustees—Mark Doty, Carolyn Forché, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, and David Young—along with Scott Griffin, the founder of the prize, select the judges. This year’s judges read 633 poetry collections from 43 countries.

Previous winners of the International Prize include Michael Longley, Brenda Hillman, Fady Joudah for his translation of Ghassan Zaqtan, and David Harsent. Recent winners of the Canadian Prize include Jane Munro, Anne Carson, David McFadden, and Ken Babstock.

Publishers may submit titles for the 2017 prize. The deadline for books published between January 1 and June 30 is June 30; the deadline for books published from July 1 to December 31 is December 31.

Photos: Dubie (Matt Valentine), Howard (Ralph Kolewe)

 

Upcoming June Contest Deadlines

Planning to submit to writing contests this summer? Here are several contests in poetry and prose with an application deadline of June 15. Each prize offers at least $1,000 and publication.

In poetry, the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award and the University of Akron Press Akron Poetry Prize offer prizes for full-length poetry manuscripts. The winner of the Library of Poetry Book Award receives $1,000, and the winner of the Akron Poetry Prize receives $1,500. Allison Joseph will judge the Akron Poetry Prize.

In prose, the Curt Johnson Prose Awards offer two prizes of $1,500 each and publication in December for a short story and an essay. One runner-up will receive $500. Anthony Marra will judge in fiction and Eula Biss will judge in nonfiction.

Two short fiction contests—the New Rivers Press American Fiction Short Story Award and Rosebud’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award—offer $1,000 for a short story. For the American Fiction Prize, a $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given. The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award gives awards of $100 each to four runners-up. Previous final judges for the American Fiction Short Story Award include Charles Baxter and Ann Beattie; this year’s judge has not been announced. Roderick Clark will judge the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award.

For fiction writers with published books, the Bard Fiction Prize offers $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College for a published book. The prize is open to writers under the age of forty. Alexandra Kleeman won the 2016 prize for her book, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.

Visit the Grants & Awards database and submission calendar for more contests with upcoming deadlines. Complete submission guidelines, including eligibility requirements and entry fees, are available on the contest websites. 

Janine Joseph on Her Homecoming With Undocumented Students

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016) and winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Best New Poets, Best American Experimental Writing, Zócalo Public Square, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera/HGOco include What Wings They Were: The Case of Emeline, On This Muddy Water: Voices From the Houston Ship Channel, and From My Mother's Mother. Joseph serves as vice president of the Writers@Work executive board and is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. She blogs about her P&W–supported reading for the Poesía Peligrosa series at the University of California in Riverside.

Janine Joseph

A 2009 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow, I was invited late last year to “take over” their Instagram account for a whole week so that followers could meet me and get a sense of my "New American" story. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I shared pictures and brief stories about my family’s immigrant beagles, my Lolo Lazarus, and what it was like to live, for the first time, in a landlocked state. As the publication of my debut collection of poetry, Driving Without a License, was (then) just a few months away, I talked also about my experiences as a formerly undocumented American. Through luck or happenstance, a student and the vice president of PODER (Providing Opportunities, Dreams, and Education in Riverside) at my alma mater, University of California in Riverside (UCR), saw my posts and asked if I might be interested in doing a reading for a specially themed Poesía Peligrosa event during their upcoming Immigrant Awareness Week.

I graduated from UCR in the spring of 2005—three years before PODER, which “seeks to provide assistance to undocumented students through mentorship, financial assistance, and community building,” was established, so this invitation and event was an emotional homecoming for me. In short, the partnerships between PODER, Teatro Quinto Sol, and the office of Chicano Student Programs at UCR, coupled with the generous monetary support from Poets & Writers, made it possible for an undocumented student group to bring me in to read about my experiences as an undocumented person. To add to the significance of this event even further: It brought me back to the very school where I had studied creative writing as an undocumented student.

And what a gift the occasion was. Poesía Peligrosa, which was hosted by two current UCR undergraduates, brought together a mix of music, theater, and poetry to the stage. The night began with an interactive performance by UCR's Theater of the Oppressed, followed by my reading from Driving Without a License, and ended with students sharing their own immigration-themed work. The audience, which consisted of current UCR students, alumni, UCR staff, and family members, was lively, attentive, and welcoming. There were also students and their chaperones from a local high school in attendance. Later, I looked around the room from where I sat in the back and imagined that this would have been my community nearly a decade ago, had the organization existed. I was overjoyed and relieved to know that current students had the support and space I had once longed for.

It is my hope that this event sets a personal precedence, particularly in how I plan readings in support of the book, and that I will be able to give back to other undocumented student groups around the country. It is my hope, too, that the students who I had the great privilege of meeting continue to share their stories and continue to complicate our ever-expanding American identities. I am thankful to Poets & Writers for supporting this effort, these events, and writers with immigrant backgrounds like ours.

Photo: Janine Joseph. Photo credit: Jaclyn Heward.

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.

End of May Contest Roundup

As the month of May winds down, the deadlines for several book contests in poetry and fiction are quickly approaching. Each prize compiled below offers at least $1,000 and publication of the winning manuscript.

For fiction writers, the BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize and the University of Georgia Press Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award both offer a prize of $1,000 and publication for a short story collection. Peter Conners will judge the BOA Short Fiction Prize, while Lee K. Abbott will judge the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award. The deadline for both contests is May 31.

Meanwhile, the Elixir Press Fiction Award offers $2,000 and publication for a short story collection or novel. The press’s editors will judge; the deadline is May 31. The annual Gival Press Novel Award offers publication and $3,000 for a novel; the judge is anonymous and the deadline is May 30.

On the poetry side, three contests—the Anhinga Press Anhinga–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry, the Backwaters Press Backwaters Prize, and the Oberlin College Press FIELD Poetry Prize—each offer publication of a full-length poetry manuscript. Evie Shockley will judge the $2,000 Anhinga­–Robert Dana Prize for Poetry; the deadline is May 30. Henri Cole will judge the $2,000 Backwaters Prize, and the editors of Oberlin College Press will judge the $1,000 FIELD Poetry Prize; the deadline for both contests is May 31.

For a look at more writing contests with upcoming deadlines, visit our Grants & Awards database and submission calendar. Full submission details, including eligibility guidelines, manuscript length requirements, and entry fees, are available on the contest websites.