Poets & Writers Blogs

Han Kang Wins Man Booker International Prize

South Korean author Han Kang has won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel The Vegetarian. The £50,000 prize, announced on Monday at a ceremony in London, will be split between the author and her translator, Deborah Smith. This is the first year that the prize was given for a single work of fiction, and was open to writers of any language whose books have been translated into English.

Han Kang beat out an impressive and diverse shortlist for the prize, which included Italian author Elena Ferrante for The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final volume of her Neapolitan Novels; José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola for A General Theory of Oblivion, which was written in Portuguese; Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk for A Strangeness in My Mind; Robert Seethaler of Austria for A Whole Life; and Yan Lianke of China for The Four Books.

The Vegetarian, Han’s first book to be translated into English, is a dark novel about a woman who stops eating meat and wants to become a tree. From the Man Booker International website: “Fraught, disturbing, and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.”

Han Kang is the author of two novels, The Vegetarian and Human Acts, both published in the UK by Portobello Books, in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Han was born in Gwangju, South Korea, and moved to Seoul at age ten. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. She currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.

British translator Deborah Smith began studying Korean in 2010. Her other translations include Kang’s second book, Human Acts, and Bae Suah’s The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul. Smith recently founded Tilted Axis Press, a nonprofit publishing house focused on translations from Asia and Africa.

The Man Booker International Prize was created in 2005 to highlight “one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.” Until this year, the award was given biennially to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or available widely in translation. The prize is now awarded annually for a single work of fiction, translated from any language into English and published in the UK.

Photo: Deborah Smith (left) and Han Kang (right) at the Man Booker International Prize ceremony in London. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Seventh Annual Poets & Writers' Connecting Cultures Reading in New York City

Jyothi Natarajan is an editor and writer based in New York City who has worked in publishing and journalism for the past ten years. She is now managing editor at the Asian American Writers' Workshop, where she edits the Margins and runs a fellowship for emerging writers. As someone invested in the intersection of writing, social justice, and education, she helps run IndyKids, a social justice-oriented newspaper written by youth ages nine to thirteen. 

The Poets & Writers' seventh annual Connecting Cultures Reading took place on April 27, 2016, before a generous audience at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Jack Arts, Inc., Kundiman/Adhikaar, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Union Square Slam, and Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon gathered to celebrate the diverse literary communities of New York City and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program.

When K Sloan, a singer-songwriter hailing from Detroit, opened the reading with a song, the audience fell into a stunned silence—her voice was just that powerful. "Down, down, down, bring it down," began the lyrics to "Ancestor Song," which Sloan wrote as part of Jack Arts, Inc.’s writing workshop Creating Dangerously. “I wrote these lyrics in response to a prompt asking us, ‘What would it look like to walk with your ancestors? What would you say to her?'” said Sloan. 

Joining K Sloan on stage was Sara Abdullah, an indigenous Arab/Iranian/Pin@y mestiza queer Muslima living the diasporic hustle, whose stunning poems were also generated from the Creating Dangerously workshop.

An experimental, performance-based writing workshop for women of color led by a rotating cadre of instructors including Virginia Grise and Kyla Searle, Creating Dangerously received support from Poets & Writers’ Readings and Workshops program, which has provided fees to writers who lead workshops that serve underrepresented audiences since Poets & Writers was founded in 1970. The Connecting Cultures Reading brought together writers who had participated in five such workshops. This year’s reading marked the first time Poets & Writers has featured work from multilingual workshops, bringing writers together with translators to help share immigrants’ stories, like Babita Chhetri.

Chhetri grew up in Darjeeling, India and had been doing childcare and housework for a family in Singapore for nearly a year when she decided she needed to escape from her employer’s exploitation and abuse. Underpaid and overworked, Chhetri did something most workers wouldn't have the strength or courage to do: She ran away from her employer. She had accompanied the family on a summer holiday in New York City and at the crack of dawn, Chhetri crept out of the building they were staying in, forced to leave her flip-flops behind.

"I felt everyone's eyes on me: here was a scared woman in wet pajamas, barefoot, carrying a small bag in her hand. Where could she be going?” Chhetri, who has been in the United States for the past nine years, read on stage from a letter she wrote in Nepali addressed to her daughter and son in Darjeeling. The audience was in tears. Her story was one of ten that were told through letters as part of a workshop called A Letter Home, organized by Kundiman and Adhikaar and led by writers Meera Nair and Muna Gurung.

Through the workshop, Nepali and Tibetan women expressed their experiences as domestic workers, immigrants, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Dolly Sharma joined Chhetri on stage to read her own letter, while the audience followed along with English translation printouts, all the while dabbing their eyes with tissues.

The night shifted from Nepali to Spanish when Adriana Mora, from Aguascalientes, México, and María Guaillazaca, who moved to New York from Ecuador nine years ago, read before the packed audience. Both women participated in a writing program organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance in which they wrote in Spanish, responding to the idea of home—whether it was where they feel at home, other people’s homes, or the experience of working in someone’s home.

Other highlights from the evening included poet Sam Rush, who began writing poems after developing progressive hearing loss. Rush, who has been a part of Union Square Slam’s writing workshops, read poems that played with their realization of how many words each word could be, leaving the crowd dizzy with the emotional heft of their wordplay. Also a part of Union Square Slam, poet, screenwriter, and essayist Taylor Steele stepped on stage and immediately moved the mic aside. Her slam poems filled the room and left goose bumps in their wake.

Closing the evening were two writers from the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS): Amber Atiya and Jacqueline Johnson. WWBPS, which is now celebrating its fifth anniversary, offers women writers of all levels space to create and share poetic work.

By the end of the evening the room felt much smaller. The stories and words shared so courageously gave even the audience members the strength to say hello to strangers, and share words with the writers who had moved them to tears.

Photo: (top) Readers from the Seventh Annual Poets & Writers' Connecting Cultures Reading. (middle) Dolly Sharma and Babita Chhetri. (bottom) Sam Rush. Photo credit: Alycia Kravitz.

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.

Ed Roberson Wins Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

The Poetry Foundation announced today that Ed Roberson has won the 2016 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual award of $100,000 honors the outstanding lifetime achievement of a living U.S. poet.

“In both language and in life (his studies have taken him to Alaska, South America, Africa and Bermuda), Ed Roberson is an explorer,” says Poetry magazine editor Don Share. “Working at a healthy remove from the precincts of professional critics and tastemakers, but admired deeply by them, Roberson’s ten books of poetry take readers, as they have taken the poet himself, to every corner of the vivid labyrinth of life.”

Based in Chicago, Roberson has written several poetry collections, most recently To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press, 2010). His experimental poetry is influenced by visual art, spirituals and the blues, as well as his extensive travels: Roberson has climbed mountains in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, explored the upper Amazon jungle, and motorcycled across the United States, amongst many other travels. He has received the Lila Wallace Writers’ Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Award, and the 2016 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

Established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly and sponsored by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, the Ruth Lilly Prize is one of the most prestigious American poetry awards and among the largest literary honors for English language works. Adrienne Rich won the inaugural award, and recent winners have included Alice Notley, Nathaniel Mackey, and Marie Ponsot.

At the Poetry Foundation website, listen to an audio recording of Ed Roberson discussing his work.

Photo credit: Anya Schultz for the Daily Californian.

Deadline Approaches for Little Bird Writing Contest

Submissions are currently open for the Little Bird Writing Prize,  given each spring for a short story. The winner will receive an award of $1,000 and publication in the annual short fiction anthology Little Bird Stories. A first and second runner-up will each receive $250, as well as publication in the anthology. Writer Lisa Moore will judge.
A bonus prize of free admission to contest founder Sarah Selecky’s Story Intensive, an online creating writing class featuring guest lectures from Margaret Atwood and George Saunders, will also be awarded to one entrant, chosen at random.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 2,500 words and a $25 application fee, which includes a subscription to Little Bird Stories, by May 27. The story must incorporate one of the daily writing prompts or “story dares” featured on the contest website. For example, the 2015 winning story, “Paradise,” by Neil Smith, used this prompt: “Write a scene that uses layers and layers of clichés intentionally.”

Now in its sixth year, the Little Bird Story Contest was founded by fiction writer and writing instructor Sarah Selecky to support “innovative and emerging fiction writers.” In addition to daily writing prompts and the Story Intensive, Selecky also offers an online fiction workshop, revision tutorials, and homework for writers. She publishes Little Bird Stories each year; a percentage of each subscription goes to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. For more information, visit the website or e-mail Selecky at support@sarahselecky.com.

Finding Our Voice After War

Mario Bonifacio writes short fiction. He served for ten years in the U.S. Army, both active and reserve, as a field artillery and cavalry officer, including a combat deployment to Iraq. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and has participated in the Voices From War writing workshop since 2014.

Back when war was a concept that only existed to me in history books or on the news, I wrote for myself—well, for myself and for the strangers who were out there, faceless, and felt things similar to me, even if they never read my work.

I chose active duty in the U.S. Army in 2003 and my writing slowed. Being trained for war, training a platoon for war and, eventually, war itself, all pulled my thoughts outward; reflections that could have once filled notebooks now remained on Texas shooting ranges and ambling desert roads in Iraq. The external world I’d chosen was dangerous and not to be taken lightly, but as I'd learn in the years that followed, so was ignoring the internal conflict that inevitably followed many of us home.

When I returned home from war, I focused on my professional reintegration, which was far from easy but a welcome distraction and enough to convince myself that I was happy—that to be walking and breathing was all I needed to be happy. To be anything but seemed a crime against the memory of those unlucky enough to have not made it back. But I knew enough to understand my happiness was worthy of distrust, like the way you feel when entering a rush hour subway car with what seems like too many available seats.

I joined the Voices From War workshop, sponsored by Poets & Writers, at first, to remain connected to other veterans, not yet convinced I wanted to write about my time serving or the issues I, and veteran friends, faced while readjusting. I obviously knew there was writing out there about the Iraq War, in addition to movies and other media, but I passively avoided it. The world beyond the military offered no shortage of lessons to learn, so why use my limited facilities to hear others speak about something I had already experienced firsthand? Much of it was pretty terrible anyway—inaccurate and exaggerated.

It was the other participants in Voices From War who convinced me that this wasn't a problem to be avoided, but rather one to be solved—a problem that would persist until we rose up to tell our version of the story. After all, no one but us had the memories to draw upon, to become the voices from the war in Iraq.

After completing my first few works and participating in my first readings, both in conjunction with the workshop, I was able for the first time to see those faceless readers I'd once imagined—people who might never have heard a war story directly from the source, people who feel they don't have a voice, and people I served alongside who, for many reasons, cannot tell their own stories.

In the most literal sense, our story doesn't exist unless we write it down. And I very much want our stories to exist.

Photos: (top) Mario Bonifacio. Photo credit: Christina Garofalo. (bottom) Voices From War workshop participants. Photo credit: Kara Frye Krauze.

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.

Deadline Approaches for BOMB’s Poetry Contest

Submissions are currently open for the BOMB magazine poetry prize, which is given biennially for a group of poems. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in BOMB magazine. Bhanu Kapil will judge.

Using the online submission manager, submit up to five poems totaling no more than 10 pages and a $20 reading fee, which includes a one-year subscription to BOMB, by May 15. Simultaneous submissions are accepted. The winner will be announced on July 31. For questions, e-mail firstproof@bombsite.com.

Bhanu Kapil is the author of five full-length hybrid works of poetry and prose, including Schizophrene (2011) and Ban en Banlieue (2015). She teaches writing at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and at Goddard College’s low-residency MFA program.

Founded in 1981, BOMB is an independent nonprofit magazine that publishes conversations between artists of various disciplines; original works of fiction and poetry; novel excerpts; and first-time translations into English. The magazine also sponsors a fiction prize, which is given in alternating years. Previous winners of BOMB’s poetry contest include Daniel Poppick, Steve Dickison, Amanda Auchter, J. R. Thelin and Matthew Reeck. 

Andrea Barrett Wins Rea Award

The Dungannon Foundation announced yesterday that Andrea Barrett is the winner of the 2015 Rea Award for the Short Story, which honors a U.S. or Canadian writer who has made a “significant contribution to the discipline of the short story as an art form.” Barrett will receive $30,000.

“Andrea Barrett has continually enlarged the geography of her imagination, and her lucky readers have been the beneficiaries of those explorations, experiencing, as her characters so often do, the way our own small pasts bear on our own small present,” wrote judges T. C. Boyle, Bill Henderson, and Karen Shepard in a press release. “Barrett offers us the news from other worlds as a way to understand our own…. And she accomplishes those broad thematic implications with a precise and quietly intelligent style that surprises and disturbs and gratifies. That deceptive formal modesty keeps our focus on the world at the fiction’s heart and produces testimonies designed to celebrate the attested rather than the attester. The result has been a body of stories that like all great fiction expands our knowledge, brings us more fully into contact with the suffering of others, and supplies intense and gorgeous pleasure.”

Barrett is the author of six novels and three story collections, most recently Archangel (Norton, 2013). Her 1996 collection, Ship Fever, won the National Book Award, and her 2002 collection, Servants of the Map, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She teaches at Williams College and in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and is particularly known for her historical fiction, the intertwining of characters across books, and her interest and use of science in her work.

Established in 1986 by writer Michael M. Rea, the Rea Award has been given in recent years to T. C. Boyle, Elizabeth Spencer, Richard Bausch, and Charles Baxter. Rea established the award to “foster a literary cause, to ennoble the [short story] form, to give it prestige.” The Washington, Connecticut–based Dungannon Foundation—also founded by Rea—also sponsors the Rea Visiting Writers and Rea Visiting Lectures series at the University of Virginia, as well as the Selected Shorts program at Symphony Space in New York City.

Listen to Barrett's 2013 interview with Studio 360, produced by PRI and WNYC Radio.

Photo Credit: Barry Goldstein

Joy Williams Wins PEN/Malamud Award

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced today that Joy Williams has won the 2016 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. The annual award of $5,000 “recognizes a body of work that demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction.”

One of the most respected contemporary short fiction writers, Joy Williams is the author most recently of The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, published last fall by Knopf. Williams’s short fiction is known for its crisp, elegant prose, dark wit, and ability to seamlessly permute from the real to unsettlingly unfamiliar. Richard Ford, a member of this year’s PEN/Malamud selection committee, said that Williams’s stories are “incandescent, witty, alarming, often hilarious while affecting seeming inadvertence (but not really) in their powerful access to our human condition. She is a stirring writer and has long been deserving of the Malamud Award.”

Williams is the author of five story collections, four novels, and two works of nonfiction. She has received the Rea Award for the Short Story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. 

Williams will receive her award and read from her work at a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on December 2.

Now in its twenty-eighth year, the PEN/Malamud Award was established in 1988 to honor the short fiction author Bernard Malamud, who died in 1986. The 2016 selection committee for the award included H. G. Carillo, Richard Ford, and Margaret Talbot. Previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Lorrie Moore, Adam Haslett, George Saunders, and Deborah Eisenberg. 

Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders

Christina Fialho is an attorney and cofounder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). In the fall of 2015, she invited P&W­–supported writer Alicia Partnoy to lead a writing workshop at the CIVIC annual retreat, and in this blog she shares about the resulting anthology Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which collects writing and artwork by people in immigration detention, and their family members and allies. Fialho also blogs for the Huffington Post, and her writings have appeared in MSNBC.com, the Washington Timesthe Hill, among other publications. She has produced an award-winning documentary and non-narrated shorts, which have appeared on NPR and in the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico. She has received fellowships from Echoing Green and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Fialho serves on the Board of the ACLU of Southern California.

Call Me Libertad book cover

Twenty years ago on April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, ushering in an era of mass detention and deportation of immigrants. A few months later, the president signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Together, these laws doubled the number of people in U.S. immigration detention from 8,500 each day in 1996 to 16,000 in 1998. The immigration detention system is now a multibillion dollar industry that detains 34,000 people per day and enriches private prison corporations and local governments at taxpayer expense.

Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders, which I coedited with Alicia Partnoy and Kristina Shull, is the first book to combine the voices of people in immigration detention with their family members and allies to give unprecedented insight into immigration detention. This multilingual book of poetry and art grew out of a writing workshop taught by P&W–supported poet and memoirist Alicia Partnoy for the organization CIVIC. The authors include Sylvester Owino (who spent nine years in detention), Eldaah Arango (whose father was detained and deported), and Katherine Weathers (who visits people in immigration detention).

"Writing about the abuses against us was the only way to let it out, slowly, so slowly. It is still coming out," writes Owino. The suffering that millions of immigrants have experienced in U.S. immigration detention over the last twenty years cannot be justified. This book, published by CIVIC, is an effort to liberate our political imagination so that we may build together a country without immigration detention. Reserve your copy here.

Photo: Call Me Libertad: Poems Between Borders anthology cover design by Art24 photography and design with art by Marcela Castro.

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 Deadline: Malahat Review Poetry Award

Submissions are open for the Malahat Review’s 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry, given biennially for a single poem by an emerging poet. The winner will receive $1,000 Canadian and publication in the Malahat Review. Steven Heighton will judge.

Writers who have not yet published a full-length poetry collection are eligible. Submit no more than three poems of up to 60 lines each with a $30 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to the Malahat Review, by May 1. The winner will be announced in July and interviewed for the review’s monthly e-newsletter and website. Submissions can be made via e-mail to horizons@uvic.ca, or by postal mail to University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Stn CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Y2, Canada. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Judge Steven Heighton has written more than ten books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, most recently the story collection The Dead Are More Visible (Knopf, 2012). “Right now the poems that most compel me are the ones that choke me up—poems that could rip the heart out of a wheelbarrow,” says Heighton in an interview with the Malahat Review. “I’m also gravitating toward work that emerges from the nightmind, as I call it—poems born of dreams and hallucinations. Weird, oneiric stuff. By the same token, I’m tired of poems that seem primarily to be auditioning for a collegial constituency, demonstrating the poet’s fluent familiarity with the films, songs, shows, apps, etc. that he or she knows colleagues to be co-immersed in. Intertextuality of that kind can be brilliant and effective, for sure, but only in the context of work emerging from some deeper psychic impulse.”

Recent winners of the prize include Laura Ritland, whose poem “Vincent, in the Dream of Zundert” was chosen by Julie Bruck from almost eight hundred submissions; and Kayla Czaga, whose poem “gertrude stein loves a girl” was chosen by Mary Dalton from more than five hundred submissions.

Established in 1967, the Malahat Review is based at the University of Victoria in Canada. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, and administers several contests each year.

Balakian, Nguyen Win Pulitzer Prizes

Today in New York City, the Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2016 Pulitzer Prizes. Of the twenty-one categories, the prizes in letters are awarded annually for works of literature published in the previous year by American authors.

The winner in poetry is Peter Balakian for his collection Ozone Journal (University of Chicago), a collection of poems “that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.” The finalists were Diane Seuss for Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf) and Elizabeth Willis for Alive: New and Selected Poems (New York Review Books).

Viet Thanh Nguyen won in fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathizer (Grove), “A layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a “‘man of two minds’—and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.” The finalists were Kelly Link for Get in Trouble: Stories (Random House) and Margaret Verble for Maud’s Line (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 

Prize administrator Mike Pride announced the winners and finalists at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Each winner receives $10,000. A complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories, including journalism, literature, and drama, is available on the Pulitzer Prize website.

The 2015 winners included poet Gregory Pardlo and fiction writer Anthony Doerr.

Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and journalist Joseph Pulitzer established the Pulitzer Prizes in 1911, and the first prize was administered in 1917. In celebration of this year’s centennial, the Pulitzer board has partnered with individuals and organizations across the country for its Campfires Initiative, which hosts events with the aim “to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by Pulitzer Prize–winning work.” 

Nominations for the 2017 prizes will open in May.

Creative Writing for the Underserved: Ideas, Inspiration, Revelation

On March 31, 2016, during the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Los Angeles, Poets & Writers brought together P&W–supported teaching artists Dorothy Randall Gray, Michael Kearns, Mike Sonksen, and Leilani Squire for the panel presentation “Creative Writing for the Underserved: Ideas, Inspiration, Revelation.” Panelists spoke about best practices, what motivates them to do what they do, and how teaching writing to underserved groups has enriched their writing lives. Below are some highlights from the conversation, as compiled by Readings & Workshops (West) director and panel moderator Jamie Asaye FitzGerald.

Classroom Approaches

"I look at longevity as a starting point, and have them write about all of the 'selves' that have gotten them to where they are today."
—Michael Kearns, who works with GLBT seniors

"We spend a lot of time just talking, working through issues, then do a timed writing. I listen and witness. That's a big part of it."
—Leilani Squire, who works with veterans and their family members

"I begin the class with three minutes of silence. I work with teenage identity and bring in poems about that. I've had them read [Paul Laurence] Dunbar's 'We Wear the Mask.' I've even had them make a mask, think about the layers of their identity and list them. I try to show them how poets are always talking to each other and that they are part of the conversation. I also use a little hip-hop, documentaries, current events."
—Mike Sonksen, who works with teens

"Sometimes these populations don't want to feel because it hurts too much. I try to get them to connect with their feelings. Music and visuals help. One reward for doing the writing is letting the kids be DJ and pick out the songs. To get them to open up, be silly, bring a visual, ask an easy question like 'What's your favorite food?' or 'What do you want to eat when you get out of here?'"
—Dorothy Randall Gray, who works with incarcerated youth, women, and the homeless

The Effect on Their Writing Lives

"If I tell them to write deeply, to go for the jugular, how can I not do that myself?"
—Squire

"My stakes are higher. I am deepened by them."
—Kearns

"Not only do I have to deal with the truth; I have to face my own truth. I believe in sticking a pen in my own vein. As they tell their stories, I tell my stories."
—Gray

On Self-Care

"Being in the trenches is taking care of myself. Dealing with horror, pain, and abuse—it's contradictory, but it is comforting that I can hear and be empathetic.... And I have my daughter when I feel overwhelmed."
—Kearns

"You get worn out. Performing poetry and doing freelance writing helps. I keep my writing career active. Then there are the two kids who really get it, there's the e-mail from a kid five years later, and the kid who stays after class to help clean up."
—Sonksen

"Meditation. Adjusting my own beliefs. Compassion is a big part of it, and being as gentle and loving as possible."
—Gray

"I have to walk in centered, whole, and confident or I'll get beat up. I'm a practicing Buddhist. I go to Native American lodges, which helps me gain answers to questions I ask. I cuddle with my dog."
—Squire

Hopes for Their Students

"I hope they find a home in their hearts, where they feel loved and safe."
—Gray

"I hope their voices get louder, not softer; more authentic, more hopeful; more of who they are and not less—because that can often happen as one ages."
—Kearns

"I hope they come to a place of acceptance, understanding; of being listened to, witnessed; to come to some sort of wholeness. My agenda is to promote peace."
—Squire

"I try to give them the tools they need to lift themselves up. Ultimately, I'd like to create lifelong readers and writers. But mainly I use writing as a bridge to help them build identity and future hope."
—Sonksen

We are pleased to be able to support writers who work with underserved groups. For more information about whether your event might qualify for Readings & Workshops support, please see our guidelines or contact us.

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

Finalists Announced for Man Booker International Prize

The shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize was announced yesterday, and includes Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and pseudonymous Italian fiction writer Elena Ferrante. The prize is given annually for a work of fiction translated into English and published during the previous year. The £50,000 prize is split between the author and translator.

This year’s shortlist includes José Eduardo Agualusa of Angola for A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker), translated by Daniel Hahn; Elena Ferrante of Italy for The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), translated by Ann Goldstein; Han Kang of South Korea for The Vegetarian (Portobello Books), translated by Deborah Smith; Orhan Pamuk of Turkey for A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber), translated by Ekin Oklap; Robert Seethaler of Austria for A Whole Life (Picador), translated by Charlotte Collins; and Yan Lianke of China for The Four Books (Chatto & Windus), translated by Carlos Rojas.

“In first-class translations that showcase that unique and precious art, these six books tell unforgettable stories from China and Angola, Austria and Turkey, Italy and South Korea,” says chair of judges Boyd Tonkin. “In setting, they range from a Mao-era re-education camp and a remote Alpine valley to the modern tumult and transformation of cities such as Naples and Istanbul. In form, the titles stretch from a delicate mosaic of linked lives in post-colonial Africa to a mesmerizing fable of domestic abuse and revolt in booming east Asia. Our selection shows that the finest books in translation extend the boundaries not just of our world—but of the art of fiction itself.

Tonkin—along with judges Tahmima Anam, David Bellos, Daniel Medin, and Ruth Padel—selected the finalists from a longlist of thirteen books, which in turn was culled from a group of 155. This year the prize combined with the Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize, and marks the first time the award has been given annually for a single work of fiction in translation. The prize was previously awarded to a fiction writer for a body of work.

The winner will be announced at an event in London on May 16. Previous winners of the prize include László Krasznahorkai, Lydia Davis, Philip Roth, and Alice Munro.

Image courtesy of the Guardian.

Mia Alvar, Ta-Nehisi Coates Among PEN Award Winners

Last night in New York City, the PEN American Center honored the recipients of the 2016 PEN Literary Awards. A selection of winners were announced in February; the winners of the following five awards were announced live at the ceremony.

Mia Alvar won the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for her story collection, In the Country (Knopf). Helon Habila, Elizabeth McCracken, Edie Meidav, and Jess Row judged. “It is rare to find a debut of such depth and breadth, work singing with the grace of a thousand doomed lifetimes compressed into stories both luminous and empathic, populated by memorable characters facing such keenly felt challenges,” the judges wrote.

Ta-Nehisi Coates took home the $10,000 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for Art of the Essay for his critically acclaimed epistolary memoir, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau).

The PEN Open Book Award went to Rick Barot for his third poetry collection, Chord (Sarabande Books).

Lauren Redniss won the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future (Random House).

Jean Guerrero received the inaugural PEN/FUSION emerging writers prize for her manuscript “Crux.” The $10,000 prize was established in 2015 to recognize an unpublished nonfiction manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five.

Meanwhile, novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison was honored with the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

This year, PEN will confer approximately $200,000 in awards, fellowships, grants, and prizes to writers and translators. Visit PEN’s website for a complete list of the 2016 Literary Award–winners.

(Photo: Mia Alvar, Credit: Deborah Lopez)

Watch a video of the awards ceremony below:

Soul, Look Back in Wonder

Nikki Williams is a multidisciplinary artist: an award-winning photographer, poet, playwright, painter, and producer of Arts Programs for almost thirty years. Williams is very proud that for the last sixteen years, she has been instrumental in becoming the first to introduce ongoing creative writing workshops in domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, and other cultural institutions in New York City, and very grateful for the funding from Poets & Writers for many of these workshops. 

The seniors participating in WiZdom from the Elderberry Tree, a series of memoir and creative writing workshops for seniors of mostly African American descent whose roots are mainly from the South, were members of the Senior Ladies' and Men’s Club at River Terrace in upper Harlem. This was the first time that any of the seniors had participated in a writing workshop. These workshops, funded through the Readings & Workshops Program, culminated with a special invitation from the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, to personally meet him and speak about their lives and the legacy of the Schomburg—History meeting History. The day included a tour of the American Negro Theatre, and the opportunity for the seniors participating in the last day of the program to write in the famed Scholars-in-Residence conference room.

You know my soul look back and wonder. How did I make it over?

African American elders, “Been Here Before,” spirits, speak of women bent low by heat and history, wedged between a wing and a prayer, picking cotton and pieces of their lives with equal urgency. Stories resurrected and reborn as quilted art are audible in Grandmother, Nana, Big Mama, and M’Dear tongue. Tales of paving a way out of no way, cutting through cane and cotton.

“My mother was a very strong Black woman with skin that was the color of a dark cup of coffee. She did not take any stuff from anyone. My mother was born on April 16, 1913 in Burke County, Georgia. Her advice to us: ‘Never depend on anyone but yourself.’ My mother worked long hours in the cotton fields.” –Mrs. H. B. Jenkins

Tell me how we got over Lord, I've been falling and rising all these years.

The journeyed stories of people of African descent are stowaways, surviving the Middle Passage. Good men, strong men, resilient men, managed with wit and might to untwist chains and tongue, to tell stories weighted down under iron bit that nudged them a nod toward freedom.

“When I was an MP in the army, one of my buddies, all of whom were white, suggested that we stop off at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. As we entered the restaurant, all of us in full uniform, a white man came out from behind his desk, walked directly up to me and said, ‘We don’t serve your kind.’ I responded by saying the first thing that came to my mind, ‘What kind is that?’ I could feel the blood rushing to my head. This was 1963. ” –Mr. W. Cherry

Despite degradation and hardship, African American elders speak of an improvised life full of joy that America claims as its own: classical Ellington, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Vaughn, and Holiday. They carried their stories from southern fields, be-bopped them along northern concrete. Travelled them tray steady on the shoulder of the dining room car, waiter coming home on a chariot swung low and sweet. His movements pure Jazz in its sway.

“The Savoy was around the corner from our apartment building, on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st streets. My brother and I would sit on the fire escape where we could see the neon sign and hear the Big Bands. In those days, bands came to Harlem every weekend. Vocalists stood before a mike and just ‘sang’ without elaborate staging; singers like Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald.” –Mrs. B. Bonner

And then we're gonna sing somewhere 'round God alter, and then we're gonna shout all our troubles over.

African American elders place legacy in the womb of the listening ear—an Underground Railroad leading heart heavy souls to the promise land. Harriet Tubman holding a lamp lighting Sojourner’s truth. They have consistently told us that nothing is impossible, no stone too heavy, no river too wide to cross. Take my renewed hand; music my words with trumpet and song. Each note, a stepping stone, a crossed bridge; be amazed child, look back in wonder and see….

You know my soul look back in wonder. How did I make it over?

Photos:  Nikki Williams (top), Claudia Hurst (middle). Senior Citizens Club (Bottom).  Photo credit:  Nikki Williams and Mohammad & G.

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.