Archive November 2019

Youth Writers Thrive in New Orleans

In New Orleans, you don’t have to be an adult to hone your skills and find a literary community. Youth writers are thriving and preparing to lead the next generation of New Orleans writers.

Here are a few places where young writers can find resources and adults can hear some amazing youth writers share their work:

N.O.Y.O.M.: The New Orleans Youth Open Mic was started in the spring of 2014. N.O.Y.O.M. is open to seventh through twelfth grade students in the Greater New Orleans area and provides a stage and space for young people to explore themselves and share their experiences with their peers through writing. N.O.Y.O.M. partners with the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, which hosts their shows on the third Wednesday of the month, and the New Orleans Public Library is often on-site proving free books and additional resources for all students in attendance.

826 New Orleans: I served on the board in the early days when it was called Big Class. The 826 New Orleans Youth Writing Center has after-school programming, workshops, and field trips for young writers aged six to eighteen. It’s a beautiful space on St. Bernard Avenue with a shop full of books, including student publications, 826 T-shirts, and more.

NOCCA: New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is the local school of the arts that offers intensive instruction in culinary arts, dance, media arts, music, theatre arts, visual arts, and creative writing. Their creative writing program is robust and rigorous. I’ve taught classes there on several occasions and students are reared to enter creative writing programs in the future.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: The Greater New Orleans Writing Project is an affiliate sponsor that administers the Scholastic Writing Awards for Southeast Louisiana. The competition provides awards to writers in grades seventh through twelfth in our region in writing categories that include flash fiction, novel writing, personal essay and memoir, and poetry.

Can you imagine having all these resources as a writer in high school? Amazing!

Young writers at 826 New Orleans.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

The Colony Summit

Hey mi gente! This week I wanted to spend a little time putting a spotlight on what community building through writing can look like. Here in Houston, we have writing groups that focus on poetry or fiction, and those are excellent workspaces being put together, but there is a need for information about the world around writing and publishing for writers of color. Enter the Colony Summit—a space and group designed to be a resource for writers of color in the Houston area.

The idea is super simple: Give writers of color a space to meet, provide some snacks, some ideas, some experts, and some resources and let these writers ask questions. Tintero Projects, a group I started for emerging Latinx writers, has a hand in organizing these events, along with support from VIP Arts Houston, Houston Public Library, My Brother’s Keeper, Houston Department of Health, and the Mayor’s Office of Education.

This project is still fairly new. So far it’s been a year of meetings. The Colony Summit meets quarterly and so the meetings are always packed. This all began as an idea batted around by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, the current poet laureate for Houston, and me about a year ago. We both felt more needed to be done to gather all the writers of color up in the city and get folks talking to one another about where they are in their writing and what ways we could provide support. For example, some writers don’t know about submissions to literary journals or how to create a Submittable account for submissions. Others want to know about fellowships and residencies, or are just searching for community.

Our last Colony Summit meeting was on November 9, but be on the lookout for the next one. If you are in the Houston area and want to check out a session, don’t hesitate. Look for @vipartshouston on Instagram for announcements and more information.

Writers at a recent Colony Summit meeting.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Venue Check Detroit

I love having an opportunity at the end of each week to reflect on the connections I have been able to make as a literary outreach coordinator. I want to take this opportunity to highlight venues in the city that have been getting more involved in the literary community through events, workshops, and books.

Spread Deli in Detroit’s Midtown area (formerly known as Cass Corridor) has a mission to “spread good vibes and great sandwiches.” On December 17, they will be opening their doors to host an open mic starting at 5:00 PM. This small but inviting space is also a fantastic choice for any writer who needs a place to write during the day.

Detroit Sip has been a supportive space for community activists and writers, and home to numerous workshops sponsored by Riverwise. Detroit Sip shares a building complex with Neighborhood HomeBase, a new community space that hosted this year’s Write-A-Thon Detroit. Located in the city’s University District, this is another small and welcoming space that remains rooted in its surrounding neighborhood.

Norwest Gallery of Art is a growing gallery in Detroit’s Rosedale community along the developing Grand River Creative Corridor, an art corridor and neighborhood revitalization project. The gallery is dedicated to contemporary arts with a curatorial focus on African and African American artists, and is open for rent to literary artists seeking event space. In fact, Riverwise writing workshops have been hosted here as well.

Norwest Gallery is directly next door to Pages Bookshop, which often hosts readings with authors of new books. Pages will be offering 10 percent off for teachers on Black Friday, and is an annual participant in Small Business Saturday. Another community-based bookstore to support is KAN Books (Know Allegiance Nation Books), which is dedicated to authors and artists of color in Michigan and beyond. Located in Detroit’s North End, the bookstore and co-op space hosts writing and self-publishing workshops and aims to bring communities together by inspiring the next generation of writers.

I hope that this list of Detroit venues encourages everyone to visit a new space and strengthen our literary community.

Readers at a KAN Books event.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

The last deadlines of November are approaching for contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Each of these contests has a deadline of November 30, and all but one offer a prize of $1,000 or more. 

Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Chapbook Series: A prize of $1,000, publication by Beloit Poetry Journal, and 50 author copies is given annually for a poetry chapbook. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $20.

BOA Editions A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by BOA Editions is given annually for a first book of poetry by a U.S. resident. Richard Blanco will judge. Entry fee: $25.

Brunel University London International African Poetry Prize: A prize of £3,000 (approximately $3,668) is given annually for a group of poems by a poet who was born in Africa, is a national of an African country, or whose parents are African. Poets who have not yet published a full-length collection are eligible. Entry fee: none.

Burnside Review Press Book Award: A prize of $1,000, publication by Burnside Review Press, and 10 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Darcie Dennigan will judge. Entry fee: $25, which includes one title from the press’s catalogue.

Cider Press Review Book Award: A prize of $1,500, publication by Cider Press Review, and 25 author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Lesley Wheeler will judge. Entry fee: $26.

Dappled Things J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction: A prize of $500 and publication in Dappled Things is given annually for a short story. The editors will judge. Entry fee: none. 

Fish Publishing Fish Short Story Prize: A prize of €3,000 (approximately $3,330) and publication in the annual Fish Publishing anthology is given annually for a short story. The winner will also be invited to attend a five-day short story workshop and read at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2020. Colum McCann will judge. Entry fee: €20 (approximately $22) for online submissions or €22 (approximately $24) for submissions by mail.

Munster Literature Center Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize: A prize of €2,000 (approximately $2,219), publication in Southword, and a weeklong residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland, is given annually for a single poem. Kim Addonizio will judge. Entry fee: €7 (approximately $8) for the submission of a single poem or €30 (approximately $33) for the submission of five poems.

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. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication in Narrative is also awarded. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $27.

Poetry International C. P. Cavafy Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Poetry International is given annually for a single poem. The editors will judge. Entry fee: $15.

Quarter After Eight Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest: A prize of $1,008.15 and publication in Quarter After Eight is given annually for a prose poem, a short short story, or a micro-essay. Thisbe Nissen will judge. Entry fee: $15.

University of North Texas Rilke Prize: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a poetry collection published in the previous year by a mid-career poet. U.S. poets who have published at least two previous poetry collections are eligible. The poetry faculty of the University of North Texas will judge. Entry fee: none.

White Pine Press Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by White Pine Press is given annually for a poetry collection by a U.S. citizen. Entry fee: $20. 

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Choi, Broom Win 2019 National Book Awards

At a ceremony tonight in New York City, the winners of the seventieth annual National Book Awards were announced. Susan Choi won the award in fiction for her novel Trust Exercise (Henry Holt), and Sarah M. Broom won the award in nonfiction for her memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Atlantic). Arthur Sze won the award in poetry for Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press), and Martin W. Sandler won the award in young people’s literature for 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury). László Krasznahorkai and Ottilie Mulzet won the award in translated literature for Mulzet’s translation from the Hungarian of Krasznahorkai’s novel Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (New Directions).

The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature, and translated literature published during the previous year. The winners each receive $10,000.

Actor and longtime host of the PBS show Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton emceed the evening. He opened the ceremony by celebrating the importance of literature. “Literature is the birthright of every one of us—if you can read in at least one language, you are, in my definition, free,” he said. “No one can pull the wool over your eyes.”

Earlier in the evening, writer and indie bookstore owner Ann Patchett presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “The creativity, ingenuity, and resilience of booksellers is nothing less than remarkable,” said Teicher. “I accept [this award] on behalf of the thousands of indie booksellers across this country who every day thousand and thousands of times perform that special act of magic of placing the right book in a reader’s hands.”

Director, actor, and writer John Waters presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Edmund White, saying, “He is beyond distinguished…but he’s disreputable too.” A fiction writer, biographer, and cultural critic, White has published several books, including In Hotel de Dream and States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. According to the National Book Foundation, White and his work “remain central to any consideration of gay male life in late twentieth-century America.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are some of the most prestigious literary prizes given in the United States. In 2018, the awards went to Justin Phillip Reed in poetry, Sigrid Nunez in fiction, Elizabeth Acevedo in young people’s literature, Jeffrey C. Stewart in nonfiction, and Yoko Tawada and Margaret Mitsutani in translated literature.

Photos (clockwise from top left): László Krasznahorkai, Ottilie Mulzet, Sarah M. Broom, Susan Choi, Martin W. Sandler, and Arthur Sze.

Coates and Ward in New Orleans

“Are you in line?” asks a man wringing out the rain from his shirt behind me. He tells me he is there to see Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As I scan the line of people waiting to enter Temple Sinai on Saint Charles Avenue, I think to myself, I wonder if anyone would ever stand out in the rain to hear me speak.

On October 30, the rain didn’t stop New Orleans from packing the main floor and balcony of the temple to see Jesmyn Ward in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ward, an acclaimed novelist and professor at nearby Tulane University, asked Coates questions about his new book, The Water Dancer, and if it was difficult to transition from writing nonfiction to writing his first novel.

“In a novel you have to pay attention to details and almost obsess about them in ways you don’t have to in nonfiction,” said Coates. He gave an example of how in fiction, you have to include what kind of curtains are hanging when a character enters a room.

Coates was charismatic and blended his journalist instincts and oftentimes flipped the questions asked of him onto Ward, especially when asked the question she hates being asked, “What are you working on?” His reply, “I don’t know Jesymn, what are you working on?”

Ward acquiesced to the reply and talked about a new novel she’s working on that is set in New Orleans. In turn, Coates responded that he’s just touring for now, but projects are always in the works.

The event ended with questions from the audience ranging from the 2020 election to civil discourse. In a reply to a question about how to speak to people who don’t want to hear views different from their own, he told the audience that we can’t put too much stock in people whose minds are already set. “Life is short,” said Coates. “We got books to write.”

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Comité Permanente Reading Series

This week I wanted to spotlight a beautiful, new reading series that is run entirely in Spanish, known as Lecturas en Español de Comité Permanente (the Permanent Committee Readings). Comité Permanente is organized by the brilliant students currently studying in the PhD program in Spanish with a concentration in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, the first program of its kind in the United States.

A small group of students, many of whom are prize–winning authors from Latin America, got together to create some space for Spanish-language writing and reading outside of the confines of the program. Founding writers and organizers include Ana Emilia Felker, Mauricio Patrón Rivera, and Raquel Abend van Dalen. Officially this group is hard to find, outside of Facebook where members of the organizing committee post invites to readings and Instagram where you can find them @comitepermanente.

Comité Permanente provides a space to celebrate the writings of people in the UH program, but also invites Spanish-language writers and readers in Houston to enjoy good writing. They have even incorporated an open mic into their events to welcome writers of any age to share their work.

I was happy to inform them about the Readings & Workshops mini-grants, which have helped fund their readings. So far I have had the chance to check out two of their readings with open mics and am looking forward to what comes up next! If you are in the Houston area, and are looking to catch something new, please head into the Montrose area and check out the next Comité Permanente reading, which are currently held at Inprint.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Detroit Youth Poet Laureate

In 2016, Detroit became part of the National Youth Poet Laureate program, a joint initiative of Urban Word NYC and the InsideOut Literary Arts, Penmanship Books, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, and Cave Canem. With over forty cities participating, the program now honors one youth poet laureate to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate. Each poet must submit writing and a community engagement idea for an opportunity to be chosen by a panel of esteemed judges, which has included former U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo.

For the 2018 term, Detroit named Imani Nichele as our city’s youth poet laureate. Since spring of 2018, Imani has led workshops, written two books, and read and performed her work on many stages. I took a moment to speak with Imani about her development as a writer.

“My biggest writing influence has been my internal competition,” said Imani about what inspires her to keep writing. When we spoke about what her community can do to offer writers more support, Imani said, “I want the literary community to help by offering more spaces to meetup. I want to know who I can reach out to and how to find them.”

This reminded me of the work that numerous artistic organizers and I are aiming to do in order to build a more connected literary community in Detroit. It’s been motivating to begin making these connections in response to an ask for such community. Sharing information about our Readings & Workshops mini-grants and offering the Detroit Writers Circle workshops are just a couple ways we are aiming to address this need.

When I asked Imani what she thought her work would look like in twenty years, she wisely responded, “It’s impossible for me to know what my art will look like in twenty years—I don’t know who that woman is yet.”

I am excited about the seeds being planted that will blossom in the near and distant future. Imani has recently passed the torch to the 2019 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate, Mahalia Hill, who is continuing to forge this path for young Detroiters. 

Imani Nichele, the 2018 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award Accepting Submissions

Submissions are open for the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Established in the memory of poet and editor Tony Quagliano, the biennial prize awards $1,000 for an outstanding body of work by a poet who “consistently strives for cutting edge and avant-garde innovation.” Poets who have published at least one full-length collection or who have an extended publication record in literary journals and anthologies are eligible. 

Submit 20 pages of published or unpublished poetry with proof of previous publications establishing eligibility by December 1. Applications may be made only via email or by mailing a CD or flash drive containing the required materials. There is no entry fee. Visit the website for complete guidelines

Administered in partnership with the Hawai’i Council for the Humanities, the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award was established in 2010 and has been awarded to five writers. The 2018 prizewinner was Eleanor Stanford. 

A Mighty Oak Has Fallen: Remembering Ernest J. Gaines

“I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are and what you can be.”
—Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

I met Ernest J. Gaines, who died on November 5 at the age of eighty-six, at the Louisiana Book Festival a couple of years ago. After a talk he gave from his wheelchair, I introduced myself and told him I was trying to be a writer. “Keep trying and reading,” he replied. It was said with the kindness and warning of an elder that knew trying (i.e. many bad drafts and rejections) is a precursor to being a writer.

Gaines represented a pride in the South and the African American experience of his rural Louisiana childhood through his writing. Born in Oscar, Louisiana, the son of sharecroppers, Gaines graduated from San Francisco State University and attended graduate school at Stanford University. He was the author of eight novels, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Dial Press, 1971), A Gathering of Old Men (Knopf, 1983), and A Lesson Before Dying (Knopf, 1993), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1993. In addition, Gaines was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur “Genius” grant.

If you’re ever in Louisiana and have some time on your hands, stop by the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Gaines donated his early papers and manuscripts through 1983 there, and it is expected that the center will acquire the remainder of his papers.

Ernest J. Gaines.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Indie Bookstores in the HOU

Hey mi gente! This week I want to draw your attention to some indie bookstores here in Houston, the HOU.

Indie bookstores are independently operated as a small business and I am proud to say we have many in town that help build the literary fabric of the city. These spaces are important and special because they help bring authors into town and invite locals to see and hear new voices. Indie bookstores inform and build community with every reader that enters their doors.

Here are a few shops in town that I often frequent:

Brazos Bookstore is a solid space to find anything current and fresh, and the go-to spot for readings from local and national writers. They do an amazing job at keeping up with a special section for books by local writers.

Casa Ramirez is located in the heart of the Heights, in the Northside. Although it’s not technically a bookstore, Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery has always served as a cultural pillar providing a space for community and art. Casa Ramirez houses folk art, pieces by local artists, Dia de los Muertos events, Mexican artisan work, and a large selection of books written by Latinx writers, from children’s books to short story anthologies. They also host poetry readings, author talks, and storytelling events.

Kaboom Books is a used bookstore in Woodland Heights just above Downtown Houston. I love this space because, although it focuses on used books, they have a great outside patio to host readings featuring writers with new work. Many local literary organizations have used the space for book launches and the shop owners are always all about it.

Murder By the Book is a beautiful, small shop that focuses on thriller, suspense, and mystery genres. They regularly host author readings and Akashic Books’ Houston Noir celebrated its launch party there this past May.

To find indie bookstores in your area, check out the Literary Places and Reading Venues databases.

Saeed Jones reads for a recent event at Brazos Bookstore.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Write-A-Thon Detroit

This past weekend I had the privilege of coleading a session for Write-A-Thon Detroit. The Write-A-Thon was a daylong event designed to offer time and space to workshop, build community, and tackle writing projects. This event was held at Neighborhood HomeBase, a new community and office space in northwest Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhood. Pledges raised funds to support the Tuxedo Project Literary Center.

Event organizer Rose Gorman and I offered a session where writers and organizers shared thoughts about what events they frequent, the series that have ended and are missed, and what gaps need to be filled for the literary community to thrive.

When asked what literary happenings are missing, a lively discussion produced ideas such as readings with more physical activity, more collaborative efforts between literary organizations, and events curated with input from residents located by the venues. When asked about what stops writers from making it to events, the top barriers were time, transportation, and finances. These conversations, in addition to the opportunity to share our favorite events, offered insight on how the local writing community is responding to the literary events in Detroit.

Dialogue such as this is a huge key to planning events not only in Detroit, but in every city. I was excited to receive such strong feedback from writers of a variety of backgrounds and hope that this conversation expands and continues.

A Write-A-Thon Detroit collage made by local writer Carol Ellsberry.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.