Poets & Writers Blogs

PEN Announces Literary Awards Longlists

PEN America has announced the longlists for its 2017 PEN America Literary Awards in fiction, creative nonfiction, and translation. Each year PEN awards more than $150,000 to writers of poetry, fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, and drama.

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000)

The semifinalists are The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood (Graywolf) by Belle Boggs; Known and Strange Things (Random House) by Teju Cole; Against Everything (Pantheon) by Mark Greif; A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind (Simon & Schuster) by Siri Hustvedt; The Girls in My Town (University of New Mexico Press) by Angela Morales; Soul at the White Heat (Ecco) by Joyce Carol Oates; Becoming Earth (Red Hen) by Eva Saulitis; Ethics in the Real World (Princeton University Press) by Peter Singer; Far and Away: Reporting From the Brink of Change (Scribner) by Andrew Solomon; and Hungry Heart (Atria) by Jennifer Weiner.

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000)

The semifinalists are Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky) by Rion Amilcar Scott; We Show What We Have Learned (Lookout) by Clare Beams; The Mothers (Riverhead) by Brit Bennett; The Wangs vs. the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jade Chang; When Watched (Penguin) by Leopoldine Core; Hide (Bloomsbury) by Matthew Griffin; Homegoing (Knopf) by Yaa Gyasi; Tuesday Nights in 1980 (Gallery) by Molly PrentissHurt People (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Cote Smith; and Wreck and Order (Hogarth/Crown Publishing) by Hannah Tennant-Moore

PEN Open Book Award for a book in any genre by a writer of color ($5,000)

The semifinalists are Blackass (Graywolf) by A. Igoni Barrett; Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt (Tim Duggan) by Yasmine El Rashidi; The Book of Memory (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Petina Gappah; The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James) by Jamaal May; Behold the Dreamers (Random House) by Imbolo Mbue; What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead) by Helen Oyeyemi; Look (Graywolf) by Solmaz Sharif; Problems (Coffee House) by Jade Sharma; Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press) by  Safiya Sinclair; and Blackacre (Graywolf) by Monica Youn.

The finalists in several categories will be announced on January 18, and the winners will be announced February 22. The debut fiction and essay awards, as well as the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the PEN/Nabokov Award, will be announced live at the PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on March 27 in New York City.


For the complete list of semifinalists, including those in the categories of poetry and prose in translation, visit the PEN America website.

The Storytellers of Kew Gardens

Leslie Shipman is a poet whose work has appeared in BOMB Magazine, the Kenyon ReviewTinderboxMid-American ReviewLaurel ReviewCosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and anthologized in Best New Poets. Formerly the assistant director of the National Book Foundation, she is now a freelance consultant specializing in project and event management for arts and literature nonprofits.

The F train takes about an hour to get from my home in Red Hook, Brooklyn to the Kew Gardens Community Center in Queens, site of a long-running, multigenre creative writing workshop for seniors, sponsored by Poets & Writers. Kew Gardens, like most neighborhoods in Queens, is a vibrant community of Latinos, Asian Americans, and an aging population of Jewish refugees who fled Germany after World War II and settled in this middle-class area. The hour on the train is useful. I anticipate the work my students will bring, and think about what craft element I want to introduce.

I work with a small group of ten or so women, ranging in age from mid-sixties to mid-eighties, who are writing poetry, fiction, and memoir. They’re good writers. Serious writers. Writers who are interested in an honest critical response to their work, and ways they might improve it. The range of life experience in this classroom is breathtaking, and I frequently feel more like a student than a teacher, as I read their stories and learn about their lives.

At the end of every class, I give them a writing prompt to help generate new work between classes. Usually it’s a simple exercise that asks them to describe something. The twist is that they can’t describe it from their own point of view, they have to describe it from, say, their mother’s point of view, or their childhood best friend’s point of view. I do this to help them separate themselves from their narrator, so they can feel what it’s like to create a voice that’s distinct from their own, to create a narrative persona, even in memoir.

I also emphasize thinking about sentences. In a class where the students are working in different genres, sentences are what unite us. Words are the building blocks, but sentences, in all their structural complexities, are our raw material. We talk about syntax, and delay of information. We talk about how to create drama and tension, and how syntax can heighten these crucial elements of a poem or story.

With this in mind, I asked them to create a persona to describe their childhood bedrooms. All of their responses to this exercise were fascinating. One writer lingered over the way the light played on her ceiling. I asked if she was familiar with the magic lantern scene in Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. She wasn’t, but she managed to evoke a similar magic in her own description of the interior light of her bedroom as a child, evoking nostalgia, love, and a difficult relationship with her sister.

The gratitude I feel in working with these older writers is sustaining. I’m the lucky one, privileged to be a small part of their development as writers, to witness their lives in words, and to help shepherd their stories into the world.

Photo: Leslie Shipman. Photo credit: Elena Alexander.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program 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 and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Kia Corthron Wins First Novel Prize

At a ceremony last night in New York City, the Center for Fiction announced Kia Corthron as the winner of the 2016 First Novel Prize. Corthron, who will receive $10,000, won the prize for her debut novel, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter (Seven Stories Press). The annual award is given for a debut novel published in the previous year.

Kia Corthron has written and produced more than fifteen plays, and written for television shows such as The Wire. The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is her first novel, and tells the story of two pairs of brothers growing up during the Civil Rights Movement. Corthron lives in Harlem, New York.

The finalists for the prize were Emma Cline for The Girls (Random House), Nicole Dennis-Benn for Here Comes the Sun (Liveright), Yaa Gyasi for Homegoing (Knopf), Krys Lee for How I Became a North Korean (Viking), Kaitlyn Greenidge for We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books), and Garth Greenwell for What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Each finalist will receive $1,000. The longlist for the prize was announced in July and included twenty-five debut novels.

This judges for the 2016 prize were Chris Abani, Kate Christensen, Rivka Galchen, Kate Walbert, and Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the 2015 prize for The Sympathizer (Grove Press).

Previous winners include Tiphanie Yanique for Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead Books) in 2014 and Margaret Wrinkle for Wash (Atlantic Monthly Press) in 2013.

The Center for Fiction, established in 1820 as the Mercantile Library, is devoted to encouraging people to “read and value fiction and to support and celebrate its creation and enjoyment.” Based in New York City, the organization administers several literary prizes and fellowships, runs reading groups and writing workshops, and hosts events in its space.

 Photo: Kia Corthron

Submissions Open for Hazel Rowley Prize for Biographers

Submissions are now open for the Biographers International Organization (BIO) Hazel Rowley Prize, given annually for a proposal by a first-time biographer. The winner receives $2,000, a detailed manuscript reading by an established agent, a yearlong membership in BIO, and publicity through the organization’s website and newsletter, Biographers Craft.

Hazel RowleyCitizens or permanent residents of the United States and Canada writing in English who are working on a biography that has not been commissioned, contracted, or self-published—and who have not yet published a biography, history, or book of narrative nonfiction—are eligible. To apply, fill out the online entry form and upload a book proposal, résumé, and writing sample in one document totaling no more than 20 pages with $50 application fee by December 31. The winner will be announced during BIO’s 2017 conference in Boston on May 19.

First awarded in 2014, the prize is named for the late Hazel Rowley (1951–2011), the author of four biographies and a generous supporter of the Biographers International Organization. Previous winners of the prize include Holly Van Leuven for her biography of actor Ray Bolger, and Robert Marshall for his biography of New Age author Carlos Castaneda.

Biographers International Organization is the world’s only literary organization dedicated to biographers and biography. Founded in 2010, the organization “informs, supports, promotes, defends, and advocates for its members.” For more information about the prize, visit BIO’s website

(Photo: Hazel Rowley)

Emma Tao White on Writing With Seniors

Emma Tao White was born in Shanghai and came to the United States at age ten, living in the Midwest until she completed her education. For twenty years, she juggled a medical career and managed a family of five children. In her forties, she returned to school and became a licensed clinical psychologist. She now lives in San Francisco, where for the last ten years, she has facilitated writing groups for seniors in senior centers, senior housing, and adult day health centers including the P&W–supported Project Access at the Coronet Apartments. Over the same time period, she has been writing her own life stories.

Senior Writers

For several years, I’ve facilitated writing groups at adult day health centers and senior apartment buildings where the participants range from the elderly and/or disabled with good cognitive and physical functioning to those who have approached dementia and need assistance with the physical act of writing. Writing abilities range from retired professional writers to those who need assistance to write due to brain injury, muscle disease, or arthritis. 

One of the most enthusiastic writers, who I have dubbed “Happy Camper,” has a severe stutter. Each week, he writes a page or more detailing the highlights of his week. With public transportation, he often gets around the entire Bay Area. He frequently expresses joy and appreciation for this group: “I am glad we have an outlet to explore and put down our thoughts and ideas on our journey of life.”

Another writer I call the “Doughnut Man” developed Baker’s Lung from making doughnuts for over thirty years. Since he was still too young for social security, he went on to a second career as a security guard. A few years ago he had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia that hampered his ability to find and say words. With persistent effort, he has noticeably improved. He shared in his writing how after trying different jobs as a young man, he found doughnut making the most satisfying. 

After having a stroke about twenty years ago, one woman uses the class to practice her handwriting. Her concentration is admirable whether she is practicing her name, numbers, or the ABCs. Another participant writes romantic poems in Spanish, based on song lyrics she remembers from her youth. And yet another participant began her autobiography years ago, and at ninety-two, she still has the ambition to write a book about her colorful life that began in Scotland when her father, a graduate student from China, married his landlady’s daughter. She stopped work on her manuscript just as the Cultural Revolution was to begin.

One of our most prolific writers is a professional entertainment writer in her home country. In the beginning, she wrote about her delight with her cat and how they live together. Then she began to write about her childhood, her health, and what she finds satisfying as she ages. She said she does not want to just “extend arms and open mouth” in her old age.

Among the various immigrant groups in the Bay Area, the elderly Asian immigrants arrived at different ages, some when they were young while others were brought over by their children who came first to study and become established. They get the most pleasure from being around family on weekends and holidays, eating and laughing together. Because many of them live in social circles of other Asian immigrants, they do not see the upheaval of having survived wars and traversed continents as worthy writing material. Or perhaps they have buried their traumatic memories and moved on.

One man recounted how he arrived in this country with his young children and worked for the same company until he retired. After being widowed, he’s very content living with his son. One day, tears streamed down his face as he wrote about how he wished he could see more of the world with his wife, a longing perhaps he had not acknowledged before.

Those who write gain a sense of satisfaction in being able to put their thoughts down on paper, and have a place to voice their feelings and opinions, and at the same time, preserve their precious memories. With the realization that their time on earth is finite, this activity provides a means to leave a part of themselves to others. With their varied backgrounds, the writing group gives them a chance to write and share the rich and full lives they have lived and are living.

Photo: Senior writers reading.  Photo credit: Emma Tao White.

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 Prose Contest Deadlines

Do you have a work or fiction or nonfiction ready to submit? As we head into the weekend, consider submitting to the following contests—which offer prizes of up to $10,000 and have deadlines within the next two weeks.

University of Iowa Press Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction: Publication by University of Iowa Press will be given for an essay collection; Meghan Daum will judge.
Deadline: December 10
Entry Fee: $10

Friends of American Writers Literary Awards: A prize of $4,000 will be given for a book of fiction or nonfiction published during 2016 by a writer who is a resident of the Midwest (or who previously resided in the Midwest for at least five years) or whose book features a Midwestern setting.
Deadline: December 10
Entry Fee: None

Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest: A prize of $10,000 and publication in Creative Nonfiction will be given for an essay on the theme of “The Dialogue Between Science & Religion.” A $5,000 runner-up prize will also be awarded.
Deadline: December 12
Entry Fee: $20

Willow Books Literature Awards: A prize of $1,000 will be given for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction by a writer of color. Story collections, novellas, novels, essay collections, and memoirs are all eligible.
Deadline: December 15
Entry Fee: $25

Chautauqua Institution Chautauqua Prize: A prize of $7,500 will be given for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction published during the previous year. The winner also receives a weeklong, all-expenses-paid summer residency at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.
Deadline: December 15
Entry Fee: $75

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

BuzzFeed Announces 2017 Emerging Writer Fellows

BuzzFeed has announced the recipients of its second annual BuzzFeed Emerging Writer Fellowships. Four nonfiction writers will each receive $12,000 and career mentorship from BuzzFeed’s senior editorial staff. Beginning in January, the fellows will spend four months in BuzzFeed’s offices in New York City or Los Angeles and focus on writing personal essays and cultural criticism.

The 2017 fellows are: Jennifer Hope Choi, a Brooklyn, New York–based creative nonfiction writer who is currently at work on a memoir, and whose writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, the Atlantic, and elsewhere; Frederick McKindra, a writer based in Brooklyn, New York, who is at work on a novel, and whose writing interrogates the intersections between race, sexuality, gender, and socio-economics; Nichole Perkins, a writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, whose pop culture writing and personal essays have appeared in Vulture, Fusion, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere; and Pier Dominguez, a writer from Colombia whose cultural criticism and pop culture essays have appeared in Newsday, Remezcla, Univision, and elsewhere. Read more about the fellows.

BuzzFeed’s editorial staff selected the 2017 fellows from a pool of more than three hundred applicants. Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, launched the BuzzFeed Emerging Writer Fellowship program in 2015 with a mission to “diversify the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” The inaugural fellows were Chaya Babu, Tomi Obaro, Neila Orr, and Esther Wang.

Read our exclusive interview with Jones about the first year of the program and his goals for its second year. 

(Photos from left: Jennifer Hope Choi, Frederick McKindra, Nichole Perkins, Pier Dominguez)

Missing You: Honoring Loss and Resilience in South Tucson

Teaching artist Marge Pellegrino recently led a series of P&W–supported writing workshops for the YWCA’s La Escuelita’s summer program. Pellegrino has written about grief and resilience for children. Since 1999, she has directed programming for the Owl & Panther expressive arts project that serves refugees impacted by torture, trauma, and traumatic dislocation. Her book Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln Press, 2009) is a Smithsonian Notable Book, Southwest Best Book, and Judy Goddard Award winner for excellence in young adult literature. Her book Too Nice (Magination Press, 2002) is available in five languages.

Missing You Workshop Cohort

The neighborhood surrounding the House of Neighborly Service’s La Escuelita knows loss. Many of the youth who participate in the YWCA’s La Escuelita summer camp have family members who have died too young. Some have relatives who have been incarcerated. Some youth come from mixed-status or undocumented families who are separated from loved ones by deportation.

The series of five P&W–supported “Missing You” writing workshops invited neighborhood youth from five to seventeen years of age to explore new ways to hold memories and reach out to those they love. They played with writers’ tools to create a small body of work that tapped spatial and linguistic intelligences. They let their illustrations fuel a “simile portrait.” They felt the cadence in their “I Miss/I Remember” list poems. They composed letters to the people they love and imagined how the voice of that person might sound in an answer. Some of the participants were particularly engaged when they stitched together narratives that captured details of a time they spent together with the person they miss.

One morning they wrote about the metaphorical trash in their lives on scraps of colored paper. They ripped the paper up, put the small pieces in a blender with water, “transforming trash into treasure,” and created a beautiful handmade paper cover for their book, which held their own story of resilience. Their last exploration held up gratitude. They wrote about things they valued about a brother, a tio, abuela, or the mother who loved them, in order to feel how gratitude can lift their spirits, like the last line of a great poem.

Each workshop ended in sharing within the cohort—a time when their words traveled on sound, when they could see others respond to what they had kept tucked in their hearts. A time when the writing and sharing could break through the isolation caused by a buildup of grief and separation. Hearing the others’ stories let them know they weren’t alone with these feelings.

The series culminated in a shy and proud reading for the community elders.

Photo: La Escuelita “Missing You” workshop with Marge Pellegrino.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Tucson is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Fiction and Nonfiction Deadline Roundup

Planning to do some writing over the holiday weekend? Have something ready to submit? Here are a few upcoming deadlines for prose writers (and a few more for poets, too)—including publication prizes for individual stories and essays, chapbook and full-length book awards, and academic fellowships.

Narrative Fall Story Contest: A prize of $2,500 and publication in Narrative is given annually for a short story, a short short story, an essay, or an excerpt from a longer work of prose of up to 15,000 words. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication is also awarded.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$24

Fish Publishing Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,360) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story of up to 5,000 words.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$25

Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize: Three prizes of $1,000 each, publication by Arcadia Press, 25 author copies, and distribution to Arcadia subscribers are given annually for a poetry, fiction, and nonfiction chapbook of 15 to 45 pages.
Deadline: 
November 30
Entry Fee: 
$20

W. Y. Boyd Literary Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually by the American Library Association for a novel published in 2016 that is set in a period when the United States was at war.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry fee:
None

Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction: A prize of $1,000 is given annually by the Langum Charitable Trust for a book of historical fiction published in 2016.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry fee:
None

Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Writing Fellowships: Seven-month residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, are given annually to four poets and four fiction writers who have not published a full-length book in any genre. Each fellowship includes a private apartment and a monthly stipend of $750. For fellowships from October 1, 2016, through April 30, 2017, using the online submission system submit up to 35 pages of fiction (include a synopsis if submitting a novel), a personal statement
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry Fee: 
$50

Stanford University Wallace Stegner Fellowships: Ten two-year fellowships, five in poetry and five in fiction, are given annually to emerging writers. Each fellowship includes a $26,000 annual stipend, a tuition waiver, and health insurance. Submit 10 to 15 pages of poetry or a fiction manuscript of up to 9,000 words, composed of two short stories, one short story and a novel excerpt, or a novel excerpt.
Deadline: 
December 1
Entry Fee: 
$85

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. Check out our latest roundup of poetry deadlines, and for more upcoming contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar.

End of the Month Poetry Contest Deadlines

As the month of November winds down, the deadline approaches for several poetry contests. Whether you’re looking to submit a single poem or a full collection, here are contests with a deadline of November 30—all of which offer a prize of at least $1,000 and publication.

If you have a full-length poetry manuscript ready to send out, consider submitting to the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition; the White Pine Press Poetry Prize; the Bear Star Press Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, given to a writer residing in a state west of the central time zone; the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Competition; or the Burnside Review Press Book Prize, judged by Ada Limón. The Cider Press Review Book Award is also open for submissions and will be judged by Anne Harding Woodworth; the winner will receive $1,500 and publication.

The University of Georgia Press is also accepting submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts to its Georgia Poetry Prize; in addition to $1,000 and publication, the winner will receive travel expenses to give readings at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University, with a $1,000 honorarium for each event. David Bottoms will judge.

For writers looking to publish their first book of poetry, the BOA Editions A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize is open for submissions. The winner will receive $1,500 and publication; Brenda Shaughnessy will judge. New Issues Poetry & Prose is also open to submissions for its annual Poetry Prize. The winner will receive $2,000 and publication; David Rivard will judge.

For poets over the age of fifty, check out the Two Sylvias Press Wilder Series Book Prize. Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy will judge.

The University of North Texas’s Rilke Prize is given for a poetry collection published in the previous year by a mid-career poet. The winner will receive $10,000 plus airfare and lodging to give readings at the University of North Texas and the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex in April 2017. U.S. poets who have published at least two previous poetry collections are eligible.

And if you only have a few polished poems, not to worry! Poetry International is accepting submissions for its annual C. P. Cavafy Poetry Prize, given for a single poem. The Munster Literature Center Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, given annually for a poem, includes €1,000; publication in Southword; a weeklong residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland; and up to €600 in travel expenses, as well as lodging and meals, to give a reading at the Cork International Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland, in February 2017. Mary Noonan will judge.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines and submission details. For more upcoming contests, visit our Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar.

 

 

Joan Gerstein on Teaching Workshops With Incarcerated Veterans

Joan Gerstein, originally from New York, has lived in California since 1969. A retired educator and psychotherapist, Gerstein has been writing poetry since elementary school, and her writing is featured in multiple San Diego publications as well national and international periodicals. She has volunteered to teach creative writing to incarcerated veterans at the county jail for almost two years and finds it stimulating and extremely rewarding. She has led the workshop for veterans at the Vista jail for six years. Her poetry has been published in Tidepools, Magee Park Poets Anthology, A Year in Ink, Summations, and the San Diego Poetry Annual. She served as the editor of the special Veteran's Section of the San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-16. San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild partnered with Gerstein recently for a series of P&W–supported veteran workshops.

Joan GersteinWhat makes your workshops unique?
The veterans are in a specially designed program called Veterans Moving Forward and are required to participate in all classes including my creative writing workshop. As such, the men have a wide range of writing skills and interest in the writing process. There is also much fluidity because new participants enter weekly and some depart. I offer a combination of workshops such as poetry, memoir, fiction writing, and if there are requests, classes focused on grammar and sentence and paragraph structure. I also offer my editing, typing, and submission services for those who either wish to enter a contest or are writing something of which they want my feedback. Because they are currently incarcerated and have little access to computers, I meet individually with those men, edit and type up their material, get their approval of final product, and if relevant, submit their entries to various periodicals and veteran anthologies.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
Attending the workshop is mandatory but participation varies. I offer a vast number of different exercises to ensure that everyone can hopefully respond to at least some. Sharing of work with the group is voluntary. I often suggest that men work in pairs or groups to allow more reserved men to participate without undue attention. While they are doing assignments, I make a point of walking around the room and working individually with men who rarely share with the group.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
The men are extremely appreciative as a group and individually. I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy my weekly workshops and feel especially rewarded when I work individually with the writers, and their submissions are accepted. 

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I’m not sure this has affected my work except as possible subject matter to use in my writing, however the experience has enriched my life and given me a greater understanding of the challenges facing discharged military. My students range from men in their young twenties to veterans of the Vietnam War, of every race and background, from all over the United States as well as foreign countries. I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of their sacrifices and challenges.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for veterans?
This is a creative outlet for many. For men who already enjoy writing and do it regularly, it is an opportunity to hone their craft and a showcase for them to share their material. If they want, I work with the men individually to fine-tune their writing. I offer several opportunities for the men to submit poetry and prose to various contests or veteran publications. For all the men, I hope to expose them to various styles of writing as well as many writers. For example, I may read excerpts from A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca, so the men can see that anyone can overcome odds including incarceration, and even become a great writer. The various exercises we do, individually and in small and large groups, encourage critical thinking. Most participants, even those that insist they “can’t write,” will find some success and surprise themselves.

Photo: Joan Gerstein  Photo credit: Joan Gerstein
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.

Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships Announced

The Lannan Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2016 Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships. The awards honor writers who have made “significant contributions to English-language literature,” while the fellowships recognize writers of merit who demonstrate outstanding potential. This year the foundation awarded a total of $850,000 in awards and fellowships to a group of seven poets and fiction writers.

The 2016 award recipients are fiction writers Kevin Barry and John Keene, and poet Tyehimba Jess.

Kevin Barry is the award-winning author of the novels Beatlebone (Doubleday, 2015) and City of Bohane (Graywolf, 2011), and the story collections Dark Lies the Island (Graywolf, 2012) and There Are Little Kingdoms (Stinging Fly, 2007). John Keene is the author of the fiction collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015), the novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995), and the poetry-art collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006). Poet Tyehimba Jess is the author Olio (2016) and Leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. 

The fellowship recipients are poets Don Mee Choi, Craig Santos Perez, Solmaz Sharif, and Ocean Vuong.

Don Mee Choi’s published works include the poetry collections Hardly War (Wave, 2016) and The Morning News Is Exciting (Action, 2010), as well as several translations of Korean poet Kim Hyesoon. Craig Santos Perez is the coeditor of two anthologies of Pacific Islander literature and the author of three poetry collections, most recently the American Book Award–winning from unincorporated territory [guma’] (Omnidawn, 2014). Solmaz Sharif’s debut collection, Look (Graywolf, 2016), was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her other honors include an NEA fellowship and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Ocean Vuong’s debut collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, was published by Copper Canyon in 2016. He has received the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, as well as honors from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Candidates for the awards and fellowships are first nominated by a group of writers, publishers, editors, and literary scholars. The Lannan Foundation’s literary committee selects the winners. There is no application process.

The annual Lannan Literary Awards and Fellowships program aims to expand the audience of contemporary poetry and prose and to inspire the creation of more English-language literature. Visit the website for more information about the awards and winners.

Colson Whitehead, John Lewis Among National Book Award Winners

Last night in New York City the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 National Book Awards. Daniel Borzutzky won in poetry for his collection The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press), and Colson Whitehead took home the fiction award for his novel The Underground Railroad (Doubleday). Ibram X. Kendi won in nonfiction for his book Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, and John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell won in young people’s literature for the graphic memoir March: Book Three (Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing). Each winner receives $10,000.

The ceremony was hosted by comedian Larry Wilmore, who along with award judges, winners, and presenters returned to the power and importance of literature, particularly in the current political climate. “Books give us hope,” said Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation. “There’s no better way to start conversations about the world than reading. Let’s change the world one book at a time.”

The winners reinforced the idea that books can both advance and record social change. In his acceptance speech, poetry winner Daniel Borzutzky said, “Literature and poetry can serve as the means of preserving social and historical memory.” Fiction winner Colson Whitehead, whose book The Underground Railroad follows the story of two slaves trying to escape via the Underground Railroad, accepted the award and urged everyone to “be kind to everybody, make art, and fight the power.” Nonfiction winner Ibram X. Kendi, whose book details the history of racist ideas in America, said, “In the midst of racism there is the human beauty of the resistance to racism. That is why I have faith.”

“Let me tell you something,” Wilmore said after Kendi’s speech. “The National Book Foundation is woke.”

Congressman John Lewis, who along with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell won in young people’s literature for the third installation of Marchwhich chronicles Lewis’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement—took the opportunity to note how the social climate in America has changed. To explain the award’s significance to him, Lewis, who is the congressman for Georgia’s fifth congressional district, spoke through tears of being denied a library card growing up in a segregated Alabama. “I love books,” said Lewis. “Thank everyone, thank you, National Book Foundation.”

Earlier in the evening, the foundation gave the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to the nonprofit Cave Canem. Established twenty years ago by poets Cornelius Eady and Toi Dericotte, the nonprofit works to advance African American poetry. Poet Terrance Hayes presented the award, and cited the Latin meaning of Cave Canem—“beware the dog”—to explain the importance of the organization’s work, especially in the face of ongoing discrimination. “Cave Canem is the fortification of your language, your history, your future,” said Hayes. “We must be the dog that guards the house.”

The foundation also honored biographer Robert Caro with its Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Caro has written several notable biographies, including The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Knopf, 1975), and a set of four biographies about Lyndon Johnson.

The finalists for the awards were announced in October; each receives $1,000. The annual awards are given for books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people’s literature published in the previous year. Interviews with the winners and finalists, as well as the full video from last night’s ceremony are available on the National Book Foundation website.

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).

Photo (left to right): Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, Congressman John Lewis, Daniel Borzutzky, Colson Whitehead, Ibram X. Kendi

Corporeal Voices Launches Grant for Oregon Writers

Corporeal Voices has launched a new $10,000 grant for Oregon writers. The Voice is a Muscle Grant will be awarded annually to an Oregon poet, fiction writer, or nonfiction writer. The 2017 grant will be given to a writer of color; the 2018 grant will be given to a LGBTQ writer.

“We are dedicated to amplifying artistic voices by extending direct financial resources to writers,” write the staff of Corporeal Voices. “Your artistic labor is important and urgently needed. Art is the counter voice to cultural repression. Writers matter.”

Using the online submission system, writers of color may submit up to 20 pages of poetry or prose by December 5; there is no entry fee. Students enrolled in a degree-granting program are not eligible to apply. The winner will be notified by December 25.

The grant is administered by Corporeal Voices, a nonprofit foundation dedicated “to recognizing the voices, bodies, and lives of writers as socially vital to society.” Established by writer Lidia Yuknavitch, Corporeal Voices is “committed to non-hierarchical collaborations, to the body as a site of resistance and resilience, to new forms of storytelling, and to new relationships to the planet and to one another.”

Growing a Poetry Group and Finding Our Poetic Voices

Currently an adjunct college professor at SUNY Empire State College, Linda Griggs is the founder, host, and coordinator of Palace Poetry Group, which is in its tenth year of existence. She has been a mentor at Empire State College; a mental health counselor; and a transition supporter for Vietnamese “boat people” and refugees from war in Ethiopia and Somalia, using arts and crafts and, sometimes, poetry. With her husband, she is a backyard gardener, making the earth productive and healthy. Griggs self-published the chapbook Love Poems of the Universe (2003), wrote and illustrated The Night of the Starfish People (Willet Press, 2011), and is the author of the chapbook The Balance of Love (Willet Press, 2012).

Palace Poetry Group is free and open to the public at DeWitt Community Library in DeWitt, New York. Our group started in 2007 and has a monthly poetry reading with a different featured reader every month and an open mic. The goal of this poetry group is to help poets find their poetic voices and, in that process, encourage each other. Once a year, we have an additional special reader and a workshop for poets.

I found it was important to be sensitive to the poetic needs of group members and to find featured readers who could challenge those needs. Thanks to Poets & Writers’ grants, we are constantly inspired by excellent poets who expand members’ world views and expose them to different ways of poetic expression.

Three poets who received P&W grants in 2016 were Joseph Bruchac, Michael Czarnecki, and Barbara Crooker. All have different ways of expressing poetry while clearly illustrating their views on the world. Joseph and Michael are master storytellers. Joseph told his stories and read his free verse poems about nature, justice, spirituality, and Native American culture, describing how these themes relate to the good of all of us. Michael used free verse as well as the poetic expressions of haiku and haibun, a Japanese literary form combing condensed prose and haiku, to express experiences he’s had traveling throughout the United States—recording his feelings and his approach to looking at nature and life. Barbara Crooker read her free verse poems choosing ordinary experiences and perceptions of nature to express caring, compassion, and joy in life.

Each featured reader expressed interest in audience members listening to them, using anecdotes and humor to express their ideas. For example, Joseph Bruchac used humor and stories to lead audience members to an understanding of Abenaki culture and beliefs. He listened carefully to each poet in the open mic—including a poet who read in Spanish, a language he is fluent in—and said something positive about each of the poems. Palace Poetry Group members were able to look anew at the way they wrote and fine-tune their own poetry, thus developing their poetic voices, the goal of our group.

Photos: (top, left to right) Lindsey Bellosa, Linda Griggs. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (middle) Palace Poetry Group tenth anniversary cake. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (bottom, front row, left to right) Jane Schmid, Donna M. Davis, Paul R. Davis, Eileen Rose, Linda Griggs, Martin Willitts. (back row, left to right) Michael Cheslik, David Harper, David Forrest Hitchcock, Paul Shephard, Stephen Brace. Photo credit: Sue Harper.

 

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 the Friends of Poets & Writers.