September/October 2023

Cover of Poets & Writers Magazine, September/October 2023 edition. Roger Reeves, a Black man wearing a suit, smiles brightly in a nature background.

Our September/October issue features a special section on navigating the MFA, a profile of award-winning poet and essayist Roger Reeves, a conversation with poet Jane Hirshfield, essays by five of the year’s best debut nonfiction writers, an interview with Random House executive editor and vice president Jamia Wilson, and articles on the pressure of early success, how humor works in writing, and the impact of prepublication demand; plus a new column on publishing myths, as well as writing prompts, contest deadlines, and more. 


How to Survive the Darkness of Our Days: A Profile of Roger Reeves

by Destiny O. Birdsong
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In his first book of prose, Dark Days: Fugitive Essays, award-winning poet Roger Reeves braids memory, theory, and close critical readings to evoke a profound vision of community, solidarity, and even joy in our present moment. 

The Tiny, Immense, and Immeasurable Gift: A Profile of Jane Hirshfield

by Danusha Laméris
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Forty years into her illustrious career as a poet, Jane Hirshfield’s latest collection, The Asking: New and Selected Poems, expresses her simple hope for the future—that she may be granted the great fortune to write the next poem. 

Navigating the MFA: Admissions, Rejections, and How to Deal With a Tough Workshop

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Letters from Six Writer-Mentors on the Choice to Pursue an MFA

by Various
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If you’re at the start of your writing career, you may not have found a literary community to guide you yet. So we asked six writers to step in as mentors and answer a question on many emerging writers’ minds: Should I get an MFA? 

Decisions, Decisions: Which MFA Program Is Right for You?

by Miciah Bay Gault
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The decision to get an MFA depends on a series of individual considerations; a member of the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts introduces some key topics to consider as you seek out the MFA program that will serve you best. 

The Thin Envelope: Embracing Your Writing Life After MFA Rejections

by Yona Harvey
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A rejection from an MFA program can make you doubt your talent and your art. Writers who’ve been there share stories of persistence, publication, and the path to the writing life—with or without the MFA. 

When Workshop Is Hard: How to Deal With Tough Critiques, Miscommunications, and Our Own Insecurities

by Rosalie Knecht
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A writer’s ego is a sensitive thing, rendered most self-conscious in the unforgiving arena of the workshop. A novelist and practicing therapist offers advice on navigating the often-difficult experience of workshop critique.

Twenty-One Other Ways to Get There: An Alternative Map to a Writers’ Education

by Emma Komlos-Hrobsky
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The MFA is just one of many ways to develop voice and skill as a writer. If having an MFA credential isn’t an imperative, consider the wealth of non-degree writing classes offered by organizations across the country.  

News and Trends

The Practical Writer

Publishing Myths: “You Must Have a Big-Name Agent to Get a Book Deal”

by Kate McKean
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In our new column debunking the myths of the publishing industry, a veteran agent advises authors to consider less the name recognition of a given agent and more the best agent match for their book.

Preorder Now: Measuring the Impact of Prepublication Demand

by Michael Bourne
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The author of Blithedale Canyon analyzes why publishers, e-tailers, and bookstores keep tabs on preorder numbers and suggests several ways authors can tailor their preorder campaigns to play to their strengths.

Acknowledgments: An Active Gesture of Gratitude

by Liz Johnston
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More than just a list of names, an acknowledgments page is about showing gratitude to the people who have helped you along the way. The author describes the value of starting her acknowledgments page early on in the publication process.

The Literary Life

The Time Is Now: Writing Prompts and Exercises

by Staff
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Write a poem that takes the format of your favorite game show, a short story around the protagonist’s relationship with a job, or an essay about your favorite objects at home. 

The Pressure of Young Promise: What Is Success and at What Point Should We Give Up Trying to Attain It?

by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
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The author of The Evening Hero unravels the expectations that she carried with her in the nearly two-decade-long journey to the publication of her novel and shares some of the advice that helped her get to the finish line. 

Laugh Tracks: How Humor Works on the Page

by Beth Ann Fennelly
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Humans are pattern-making creatures—and upending patterns is one great way to leave your reader laughing. A former poet laureate of Mississippi deconstructs the brain’s desire to understand and explains how to craft the perfect joke.

What Is Meant for You Is Always Meant for You: A Mindful Approach to Writerly Competition

by Benjamin Schaefer
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Competition keeps us comparing ourselves to others writers—but what if in fact there’s plenty of opportunity to go around? An author and editor invites you to recalibrate your mindset by offering insights from his mindfulness practice.