Archive September 2016

National Book Foundation Announces 5 Under 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rankine, Nelson Receive MacArthur “Genius” Grants

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photos from left: Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson)

LibroMobile Puts the Focus on Literacy and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Book Award Longlists Announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Poets Grow in the South Bronx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academy of American Poets Announces 2016 Award Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Sharon Olds)

An Interview With Oliver Baez Bendorf

Oliver Baez Bendorf is the author of The Spectral Wilderness (Kent State University Press, 2015) and cofounder of the Mount Pleasant Poetry Project. His writing and comics have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, diode, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere, and he holds an MFA and an MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught recent workshops on poetry-comics, visual thinking, watercolor comics, and cartonera books, at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors, 826DC, Rare Book School, the Allied Media Conference, BloomBars, and Mount Holyoke College.

What is your writing critique philosophy?
The closest thing to critique in my workshops is that we listen and look at each other’s work together with close and careful attention. I believe it’s one of the most powerful things we can give one another, especially in these times when focused attention is scarce. So I facilitate that for my students and have come to find that my workshops aren’t complete without enough time built in for this. Drafting dots have become one of my most used supplies for this reason. They are great for sticking drafts up on the wall. I recently led a Poetry Comics Crash Course in my living room and everyone made a single-panel comic, a strip, and a page over the course of the day. After each sprint we hung up everyone’s work on the wall and looked at it, talking about each piece and what we noticed.

The other head of the friendly monster is asking a good question, the kind that comes from looking closely at a piece, noticing what you notice and communicating that. My philosophy is that there is no shortage of critique from our own heads and from other people, and there are plenty of other venues through which writers and artists can seek that kind of critique. So my workshops are less about that. I aim to create the conditions for people to take creative risks, trust their own impulses and intuition, and for us to celebrate those risks together. This, as with almost everything I know about teaching, comes to me from the influence of my own teacher, Lynda Barry, who has said that people always ask her, “How does the good work happen if you don’t tell people what to fix?” and what she says is that she has found that the good work happens anyway. I have found the same. The things that people have written and drawn in my workshops, in such a short amount of time, blow me away.

How does teaching inform your writing and vice versa?
Prepping to teach a workshop involves me taking inventory of what it is that I know and find useful, and how to break that down into communicable and repeatable steps. So it’s pushed me into a level of reflection and metacognition on my own process that is both challenging and incredibly useful. When I get stuck, I try to pay attention to what tools and resources I’ve accumulated for moving through stuckness, so that I can document and share those not only with my students but with my future stuck self. This feedback loop has been very useful for my own creative work. I am inspired by the creativity of my students and the directions they take the exercises—in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of.

What makes your workshops unique?
Almost all of my workshops these days combine writing and drawing. So they’re very interdisciplinary, on purpose. I gear them to both the practicing/published and the beginning/returning. No drawing experience is necessary, and I build in a quick tour through getting over a fear of drawing. I use a lot of worksheets. Often we make a kind of zine or collaborative book together.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
A timer. I learned almost everything I know about teaching from my own teacher Lynda Barry, including the value of setting a timer during a free-write or other exercise, and not letting it go too long. Maybe it is counterintuitive, but I have found that it helps minimize dread, including for myself. If people know that there is a timer running, there’s no time to delay, panic, or even erase—all ways that we talk ourselves out of the good stuff, the risky or weird stuff we want to write and draw. I use a lot of prompts and exercises designed to get ideas down on the page and dig deep into them from new angles. I don’t tear anyone’s work apart.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups (i.e. teens, elders, veterans)?
I’m invested in the imaginations of folks on the margins. Teaching writing and art is a way to prioritize the creativity and world-building of people who are routinely left out of decisions about what they need. For participants, a workshop geared toward a particular group, shared experience, or identity (such as a watercolor comics workshop I recently taught at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors) opens up possibilities by changing the audience and the gaze receiving their work in the workshop setting. It means a poem doesn’t need to be an explainer, it can just be a poem.

For more photos of workshops and comics by Oliver Baez Bendorf, click here.

Photos: (top) Participants of the Poetry Comics Crash Course from August 2016. (middle) Poetry comics drafting tools. (bottom) Bendorf teaching the Poetry Comics Crash Course 2016. Photo credit: Oliver Baez Bendorf.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in DC 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.

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.