Archive March 2020

Party Time: Zine Fest Houston

Now that we are being asked to stay at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and adjusting to this new terrain, most literary events have been canceled or postponed. Knowing this, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing about literary festivals and conferences, but I wanted to add a little hope for the future and highlight some great events we can look forward to that take place in Houston. It has also been wonderful to see some events and conferences, like TeenBookCon, adjusting to the current state of things and finding ways to have virtual events via social media platforms. To wrap up this series of posts, I want to tell you all about Zine Fest Houston.

Zine Fest Houston has been around since 1993, first as a small gathering in a local park in Houston where zine creators came together to share their latest issues. Since then, they have grown each year but the annual festival has always been about DIY creations. This is a space for brilliant creators to showcase and share self-published works or small print runs of literary works. Everything presented, shared, and worked on is unique and unconventional and that is the main draw to the festival. According to their website, the event promotes “zines, mini-comics, and other forms of small press, alternative, underground, DIY media and art.” The registration is free and the event is for all ages. There are tables and tables of artists and zines, panels and talks, and even zine-making workshops.

I actually sighed in relief after thinking this would be another festival that had to be canceled and seeing that, as of their announcement on Twitter in early March, the event scheduled for November 7 is still a go! This year’s theme celebrates all things transit-related and the ways transportation has influenced Houston’s culture.

Zine Fest Houston has also just organized a “Cyber Mall: Texas Zinesters & Comic Creators Directory” as a community Google sheet to support those who have lost income and opportunities to sell at festivals and events. Keep up with their news on Twitter, @ZineFestHouston.

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

How the Water Holds Me

It has been about a week since Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a stay-at-home order to all residents as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In these sheltered times, I am reflecting on the moment and finding solace in books of poetry. Although just a few poems in, I am excited to say a few words about How the Water Holds Me by Palestinian American poet and Detroit local Tariq Luthun, which is forthcoming from Bull City Press in April.

In the introductory poems, we learn about Luthun’s background and family with subtle hints about the significance of place. As a reader, I found my curiosity building line by line as I gained snapshots of Tariq’s memories while sharing desires such as:

“I haven’t forgotten that / everyone needs a place on this planet. / And I, / I prefer to live where I can leave / the doors unlocked...”

Midway through this collection, I am beginning to better understand the title of the book as the poems “dive in” (pun intended) to how water plays a role in Luthun’s life and family. His words invite me to consider the distance over water between Detroit and Palestine. Luthun writes:

“Earth, / itself, I realize, is just a body / of waters.”

Luthun’s poems pull readers’ minds in and ask us to consider what displacement, home, ancestry, and identity mean to each of us. I am thinking about how I can connect more with my own family and history. I look forward to my journey through the rest of these poems, and highly recommend reading this collection.

Tariq Luthun, author of How the Water Holds Me (Bull City Press, 2020).
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Upcoming Contests with No Entry Fees

Submissions are open for a number of contests with no entry fee. With deadlines ranging from March 31 to May 15, all offer a cash prize of $1,000 or more.

Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually for a second book of poetry by a living poet to be published in the coming calendar year. The winner also receives an all-expenses paid weeklong residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Copies of the winning book are purchased and distributed to members of the Academy of American Poets. Rick Barot, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and Honorée Jeffers will judge. Deadline: May 15.

American Literary Translators Association Italian Prose in Translation Award: A prize of $5,000 is given annually for a book of fiction or nonfiction translated from Italian into English and published in the previous calendar year. Submissions may be made by publishers or translators. Deadline: April 20.

American Literary Translators Association Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize: A prize of $5,000 is given annually for a book of poetry or a text from Zen Buddhism translated from an Asian language into English and published in the previous calendar year. Books translated from Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, or Vietnamese into English are eligible. Submissions may be made by publishers or translators. Deadline: April 20.

Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships: Five fellowships of $25,800 each are given annually to U.S. poets between the ages of 21 and 31. Deadline: April 30.

Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing: A prize of $10,000 and publication by Restless Books is given in alternating years for a debut book of fiction or nonfiction by a first-generation immigrant. The 2020 prize will be given in fiction. Writers who have not published a book of fiction in English are eligible. Dinaw Mengestu, Achy Obejas, and Ilan Stavans will judge. Deadline: May 1.

Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation: A prize of £3,000 (approximately $3,945) is given annually for a book of poetry or fiction translated from Arabic into English and published for the first time in English during the previous year. Translations of Arabic works of poetry or fiction originally published in 1967 or later and published between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, are eligible. Deadline: March 31.

Waterston Desert Writing Prize: A prize of $2,500 and a two-week residency at the PLAYA artists and scientists' retreat in Summer Lake, Oregon, is given annually for a nonfiction work-in-progress that “recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and the human narrative, with the desert as both subject and setting.” The winner will also be provided with travel and lodging to attend a reception and awards ceremony at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, in June. Deadline: April 1.

Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grants: Up to eight grants of $40,000 each are given annually for creative nonfiction works-in-progress to enable writers to complete their books. Creative nonfiction writers under contract with a publisher are eligible. Deadline: May 4.

Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction: A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel published during the previous calendar year that is set in the South and reflects Willie Morris’s “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.” The winner will also receive an all-expenses paid trip to Oxford, Mississippi, in fall 2020 for an award ceremony. Deadline: May 1.

Willie Morris Award for Southern Poetry: A prize of $2,500 is given annually for a single poem that evokes the American South. Susan Kinsolving will judge. Deadline: May 1.

Winning Writers Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication on the Winning Writers website is given annually for a humorous poem. Jendi Reiter will judge. Deadline: April 1.

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.

PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund Open for Applications

To help writers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be highlighting emergency funds available to writers. For more sources of support, read our running list of resources for writers in the time of coronavirus.

The PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund is currently administering grants of $500 to $1,000 to writers who “demonstrate an inability to meet an acute financial need, especially one resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.” In response to the public health crisis, PEN America has streamlined its typical application process for support through the fund. Applicants will receive a response within ten days.

The grants are made to poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, translators, journalists, playwrights, and screenwriters. Professional writers who have a demonstrated record of publication and who are based in the United States are eligible. Qualifying professional credentials include the publication of one or more books; publication of multiple pieces in literary magazines within the last two years; full-time employment as a journalist, columnist, or critic; consistent publication on a freelance basis in a range of outlets; the authorship of a full-length play, performed by a professional theater company in a theatre seating 250 or more people; or contracted work as a writer. Other credentials may also be considered. Writers do not need to be members of PEN America in order to be eligible.

Using only the online application system, submit a statement of need, a recent tax return, information about personal finances, and contact information for three references. Writing samples are not required. Visit the website for complete guidelines and eligibility. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Since 1922, PEN America has worked “at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.” Headquartered in New York City, with additional offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the nonprofit works in conjunction with PEN International to advance causes including freedom of the press and artistic freedom from censorship.

Winners of 2020 Whiting Awards Announced

This evening ten poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and dramatists were named the winners of the 2020 Whiting Awards. Administered by the Whiting Foundation, the annual $50,000 awards honor emerging writers and are designed to give them “their first chance to devote themselves full-time to their own writing, or to take bold new risks in their work.”

The winners are poets Aria Aber, Diannely Antigua, Jake Skeets, and Genya Turovskaya; fiction writers Genevieve Sly Crane, Andrea Lawlor, and Ling Ma; nonfiction writers Jaquira Díaz and Jia Tolentino; and playwright Will Arbery.

The winners were announced online; the foundation’s annual ceremony in New York City was canceled due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. “We wish to celebrate extraordinary writers, but we find ourselves in extraordinary times, ones where we are all reinventing how to gather, exchange ideas, and deepen our connections with each other across a necessary distance,” said Courtney Hodell, the foundation’s director of literary programs. “As long as literature has existed, it has served this purpose, and we look to writers for their uncanny ability to sift raw experience for its poetry and truth. What we are living now, Whiting writers will reflect back to us in time, with depth and clarity and heart.”

The Whiting Awards were first administered in 1985, and have since honored dozens of writers including poets Jericho Brown and Tracy K. Smith, fiction writers Sigrid Nunez and Colson Whitehead, nonfiction writers Mary Karr and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and playwrights Tony Kushner and Suzan-Lori Parks.

Photo (clockwise from upper left): Aria Aber, Diannely Antigua, Jake Skeets, Genya Turovskaya, Genevieve Sly Crane, Will Arbery, Jia Tolentino, Jaquira Díaz, Ling Ma, and Andrea Lawlor.

Poetry Buffet: A Q&A With Gina Ferrara

This week I’m continuing to highlight New Orleans women writers to celebrate Women’s History Month. Gina Ferrara was born and raised in New Orleans and is the author of the poetry collection, The Weight of the Ripened, out this week from Dos Madres Press. Ferrara teaches English and writing at Delgado Community College as an associate professor. Since 2007, she has curated the Poetry Buffet, a monthly reading series sponsored by the New Orleans Public Library, and she gave me my first opportunity to be a featured poet for one of their readings. I was able to sit down with Ferrara to talk about her work with the reading series and her new book.

You have worked at building an inclusive poetry community with the Poetry Buffet series for many years. Why is this so important to you?
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I was in a group called the Women’s Poetry Conspiracy. The group formed in 2002 or 2003. Latter Library was one of our venues for reading events. The group dissolved after Katrina, but the head librarian Missy Abbott saw a need to bring poetry to the library again and invited me to start a new series.

I think of the Poetry Buffet series as something distinctively New Orleans, as we read on St. Charles Avenue, surrounded by canopies of live oaks and crape myrtles, and the streetcar passes on the tracks with its bell while poets share their work in a historic mansion, which is now a library. It’s my honor to curate this series.

Who has Delgado Community College recently invited to their growing reading series?
Our English department has a bevy of writers that drive our reading series. We bring in readers who are able to connect with our students. We recently featured Malaika Favorite, an African American visual artist and poet. Another writer we invited was J. Bruce Fuller, who actually began his academic career as a Delgado student and went on to become a Stegner Fellow.

What inspired your new book, Weight of the Ripened?
Like its title indicates, the poems are dense and distinctive with a lyrical specificity. The poems span from 2013 until early 2019, and although I didn’t set out with the purpose of writing poems about women, in retrospect, quite a few of the poems are investigations about them.

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

Party Time: TeenBookCon

Hey mi gente, I hope everyone is hanging in during this time of worry and self-isolation. Though we may not be able to gather at the moment, I wanted to continue to highlight some of the literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. Previously I wrote about Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival, Comicpalooza, and Fade to Black. Today I’m writing about TeenBookCon, a wonderful festival that connects young readers with authors.

TeenBookCon is a volunteer committee of librarians, teachers, and fans of young adult literature who come together and plan a one-day book convention with keynote speakers, author panels, book signings, and activities for teens. This year’s event was scheduled for April 4 in Houston but has now had to cancel due to the public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Although this news is sad, the annual event really is special and the organizers are already planning for 2021.

Their mission is super simple: provide the time and space to get teen readers in touch with their favorite YA authors. There are author signing booths and TeenBookCon partners with local indie bookstore Blue Willow Bookshop, where attendees can purchase books to get signed. There are also local food trucks with plenty of food to keep everybody fully fueled. I think the best part of this convention is the energy behind it. The organizers have always zeroed in on the mission. They have amazing sponsors and don’t even charge for registration. I was sold on it the moment I read that.

And even now, they are still trying to find ways to get signed books into hands and possibly connect authors to readers virtually. They won’t let up. This is that important. This alone makes me want to support their efforts for this year and next year. Look out for updates on their Twitter feed, @TeenBookCon, for virtual event announcements.

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

Dream With a Glass Chamber

Michigan has implemented social distancing for just over a week now, meaning many of us are doing our best to self-isolate. What better to do with this time than blow the dust off of the bookshelf and dive in? For today’s post I’d like to do a quick reflection on a poetry collection by one of my favorite writers, and a past mentor of mine, Aricka Foreman.

Dream With a Glass Chamber is Aricka’s chapbook published by YesYes Books in 2016. Her imagery is prominent and haunting throughout, allowing the reader to grasp dreams, memories, and grief with lines like:

“...find us making promise, find us clutching the static / of a wormhole where we settled into disappointment”

Place and time play a role in these poems moving us from Detroit in the eighties to the month of September in New York and back again, evaluating different losses along the way. Emotional complexities that shift from platonic to romantic flow seamlessly throughout, introducing close and distant characters that carry the collection from beginning to end. One of my favorite lines in the entire book is:

“Numb, I’ve run out of wicks and / your songs pour thick in my ears, love.”

It seems as if every word written is a part of Aricka’s many nuanced ways of grieving while her reality acts as the glass chamber, where both she and the reader watch these concepts unfold. I think this is best captured in her poem “dream in which you survive and in the morning things are back to normal,” a very fitting title for a poem that questions reality after waking from a dream. Throughout the entire collection, we are reminded to continue evaluating the fine line between dream and reality, and how grief exists on each side of that line.

Aricka Foreman, author of Dream With a Glass Chamber.
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Authors League Fund Open for Applications

To help writers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be highlighting emergency funds available to writers. For more sources of support, read our running list of resources for writers in the time of coronavirus.

The Authors League Fund assists poets, writers, dramatists, and journalists who are “experiencing unexpected hardship.” Writers with an established record of publication that live in the United States or who are American writers abroad are eligible to apply for a no-strings-attached, interest-free loan. The loan amount is based on the fund’s budget as well as the writer’s professional background and financial need; the fund requests the writer pay back the loan “when and as one is able.”

Writers with a demonstrated record of success are eligible. Eligible writers include authors who have published at least one book with a traditional publisher, dramatists whose full-length plays have been produced in mid-size or large theaters or published by an established press, and poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and journalists who have published “a substantial body of work in periodicals with a national or broad circulation.”

The fund typically disburses funds to writers who are ill or supporting someone who is in poor health; writers facing overwhelming medical or dental expenses; writers struggling after a natural disaster; and writers suffering financial crises unrelated to health, such as unexpected loss of income or temporary unemployment.

Using only the online application system, fill out the required entry form. Writers are asked to describe the nature of their emergency, detail their publication record and writing projects, and provide personal information regarding income, employment, rent, assets, and health insurance. Writing samples are not required. Visit the website for complete guidelines and eligibility requirements.

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and are typically processed in ten to fourteen days.

Novelist Ellis Parker Butler established the Authors League Fund in 1917; the fund has since disbursed millions of dollars to writers in need. Major donors to the fund include Suzanne Collins, James A. Michener, Kenneth Patchen, the Haven Foundation, and the Amazon Literary Partnership.

Winners of the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prizes Announced

Eight writers have been named winners of the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prizes. The unrestricted grants of $165,000 are awarded annually to poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and playwrights, and are intended to provide their recipients a life-changing opportunity “to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.”

This year’s winners are poets Bhanu Kapil and Jonah Mixon-Webster, fiction writers Yiyun Li and Namwali Serpell, nonfiction writers Anne Boyer and Maria Tumarkin, and playwrights Julia Cho and Aleshea Harris.

The winners were announced via a livestream video hosted by fiction writer and journalist Damian Barr. Mike Kelleher, director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, has remarked on the ambition and prescience of their collective work, which “digs deeply into everything from the poisoned water crisis in present-day Flint, Michigan, to the vicissitudes of the surveillance state in an Afro-Futurist Zambia.”

The Windham-Campbell Prizes were established at Yale University in 2013 by novelist and memoirist Donald Windham. The prizes honor Windham’s lifelong partner, Sandy M. Campbell, and their shared wish to provide others with the kind of security that allowed Windham’s writing to flourish. Previous recipients of the award include poets Kwame Dawes and Cathy Park Hong, fiction writer John Keene, and essayist Rebecca Solnit. Winners are selected through a confidential nomination process; there are no applications for the award.

Photos (clockwise from upper left): Bhanu Kapil, Julia Cho, Yiyun Li, Maria Tumarkin, Anne Boyer, Namwali Serpell, Aleshea Harris, and Jonah Mixon-Webster

What’s Changing in New Orleans

As I type these words the case count of residents in Louisiana who have tested positive for coronavirus is 196. The total number of cases in Orleans Parish in New Orleans is 136.

On Sunday, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell announced that the city enforced a ban on large gatherings and the Tennessee Williams Festival, the New Orleans Book Festival, and the New Orleans Poetry Festival have been canceled.

I will do my best to share resources and ways to support local authors and bookstores through my Twitter feed, @NOLApworg.

The coronavirus will be a blow to our city in many ways. New Orleans is a city that heavily depends on tourism. We are a port city and a large event destination city. We are the city of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Many local writers have had readings canceled or postponed. Local bookstores are impacted, too. While I’m sure this narrative is nationwide, the uncertainty and rising deaths in our state underscore the trauma experienced from a lack of federal response during Hurricane Katrina fifteen years ago.

In some ways we are prepared and know how to hunker down. We know how to find small moments of joy. So to everyone near and far, I say to you, we will get through this because one of the things New Orleans has taught the world is how to survive.

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

Party Time: Fade to Black

As I mentioned last week, many of us were not able to attend the AWP conference earlier this month, but it did create some special moments, not only in San Antonio but in other cities and online. Although we are in a time when many events are being canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to continue to highlight some great literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. So far, I have already covered Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival and Comicpalooza, and today I want to feature Fade to Black.

Fade to Black is Houston’s first national play festival to showcase the new works of African American playwrights. It’s a brilliant lineup of national, regional, and local playwrights displaying their craft. The summer festival is jam-pack with play readings and performances read and produced by African American writers and actors, many of which are from here in Houston.

This past year’s festival celebrated their seventh season and was held last June at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH). Festival goers come in from all over the state of Texas and the country. The plays of ten finalists from a national competition are produced and performed, and there are writing workshops and playwright panels that are all part of the three-day festival. If you are a writer thinking about how to step out from behind the desk or want to engage in something performative, then this is just the ticket. In addition, the organizers have added in a Fade to Black reading series with live readings of even more plays. There is so much inspiration from this playwriting community!

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