Lower East Side Coming Right Up

Best known for How I Became Hettie Jones (Grove Press, 1990), her memoir of the “beat scene” of the 1950s and 1960s, Hettie Jones is the author of twenty-three books for children and adults, including the award-winning Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music (Viking, 1974) and Drive (Hanging Loose Press, 1998) which won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber Award. Since 1979, Jones has taught creative writing at various universities, and is now on the faculties of the New School’s Graduate Writing Program and the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center. She was a member of the Literature Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts and subsequently served on the Board of Directors of Cave Canem. Jones was a NYFA Fellow in Nonfiction Literature in 2009, and a 2013-14 recipient of a Civic Engagement Grant from the New School as well as a grant from Poets & Writers for her work with New York City’s Lower East Side Girls Club. Love H, a selection from her forty-year correspondence with the sculptor Helene Dorn, is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Duke University Press. Full Tilt, a collection of new and selected poems, and In Care of Worth Auto Parts, a collection of linked short fiction, are also forthcoming.

There’s a danger, we’ve been warned, in knowing only “the single story.” Given any chance to change—or at least improve—this situation, I’ve jumped at it. But I’m certain I couldn’t have made those leaps without the help—and just as important, the validation—of Poets & Writers.

My first P&W-funded workshop took place in the late eighties at Sing Sing prison. A year later there were others, at the Bedford Hills women’s prison and elsewhere. By then I’d also taught writing in colleges for a decade and knew that a lot of voices were still to be heard. So over the years I’ve traveled, sometimes long distances, not only to prisons but community centers and senior centers and libraries and any other place set aside for a writing workshop. I’ve met all kinds of people and brought out their words.

But I’ve also been lucky enough to come home to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And now—double luck!—I’ve been able to teach here, in my very own neighborhood, to both make a difference and keep it in view at the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community.

And what a sight I was treated to when I arrived! A brand new building with a planetarium—moon and stars and space! A bakery and a sewing machine room for hands-on skills! A recording studio! A performance space! I had signed on to teach for a semester, but knew I was hooked. And when I discovered that I’d be teaching not girls but their mothers, I was thrilled. A mothers writing group, my first!

We began with poetry because most inexperienced people come to a writing workshop to write there—just as they’d go to woodworking with similar expectations—and it’s best to start short and provide a few relevant examples. But prose works, too (memoirs, personal essays). Such personal writing, as has been mentioned and I agree, should really not be called nonfiction but instead, non-poetry.

This past fall the Mothers Writing Group was into non-poetry. We wrote every Wednesday from 6:00-8:00 PM, in a large, high-ceilinged room on the second floor, with comfortable tables and chairs as well as a big couch where one of us might curl up and be alone with her pen and paper. Writing done, we read our work aloud, offered suggestions, and often were moved, sometimes to tears and always to applause.

Did I mention that, like any good mother, the Girls Club fed us snacks that were worthy of being called dinner?

Our chapbook of last fall’s work is still in preparation, but Poets & Writers will have their copy when it’s hot off the press. By the way, in our group photo below, the Airstream trailer we’re standing in front of is a recording studio where we recorded our first podcast. A trailer on the second floor? It was hoisted in before the roof was on. The Girls Club Center for Community is high-minded!

Photo Top: Hettie Jones. Photo Credit: Colleen McKay

Photo Bottom: Hettie Jones, WGRL station managers Kiya Vega-Hutchens and Odetta Hartman, and the Mothers Writing Group. Photo Credit: Amelia Holowaty Krales

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Notebook

British writer Will Self advises, “Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.” This week, try carrying a notebook around with you. If you take notes on an electronic device, like your computer or mobile phone, try using old-fashioned pen and paper. At the end of the week, compile your notes into an essay about your day-to-day reflections.

Context Clues

3.26.15

While building our vocabularies, we often learn new words based on the rest of a sentence or passage we’re reading. This can lead to some made-up definitions that can go uncorrected for years, even decades. This week, write an essay about a word or phrase that you thought you completely understood, yet recently found out meant something different. Has the habit of using this word become ingrained in your everyday speech? Do you prefer your own definition to the official one?

Finding a Good Balance: Caitlin Rother on Leading Workshops

Caitlin Rother is the New York Times best-selling author and coauthor of ten booksfiction, nonfiction, and memoirincluding the forthcoming novel from Pinnacle, Then No One Can Have Her. A Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist, Rother teaches narrative nonfiction and digital journalism at the University of California, San Diego Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink, and works as a book doctor and writing coach.

Caitlin RotherHow do you prepare for a reading or workshop?
I look for excerpts that are action-oriented, funny, hold some personal meaning or that I think will resonate with the audience. When I launched my mystery novel, Naked Addiction (WildBlue Press, 2014), at a library reading in La Jolla recently (thank you P&W), I chose one of my favorite passages, which describes a ceremony at Windansea beach that we locals call “Sunset.” The passage incorporates my personal connection with the beach and the ocean, and I hoped that reading it would help build a connection with audience members and entice them to read my book. I also read passages that were inspired by tragic personal events, including my late husband’s suicide. These provided me with a springboard to discuss how I draw from my own emotional knowledge and experiences when I create fictional characters, and when I write about the real people and events featured in my nonfiction books.

What’s the strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member or workshop participant?
Here’s one from a thirteen-year-old that made me laugh:
“Are you rich?”
“No,” I replied. “It is an urban myth that authors make tons of money on their books. That is really the exception. You should come outside and take a look at my car, which I’ve had since 1997.” 

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I find that audiences respond to humor, honesty, and sincerity. One of my favorite jokes, which never fails, is when I tell audiences that I used to cover politics for a living, but I found that writing about murder felt, well, less dirty.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been a part of?
I was leading an exercise on how to tell true stories at a teen writing workshop recently (thanks again to P&W) and was amazed at some of the serious subject matter the participants came up with. One fourteen-year-old girl, whom I’ll call Marcia, volunteered in a quiet voice that a friend had confided to her that she’d been cutting herself. Marcia didn’t know what to do or how to help her. When I asked if anyone else knew about this, she said no, the friend hadn’t told anyone else and neither had she. I suggested that Marcia tell her own parents because that was a heavy burden to carry. It seems that everyone, at any age, has a deeply personal story to tell.

How does giving a reading or workshop inform your writing and vice versa?
It’s always rewarding and helpful to see what passages or topics resonate most with readers. And leading a workshop often reinforces the best practices to fix my own writing tics. 

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
I believe that sharing common or unique experiences through reading and writing is a good way to build a strong, supportive, and educated community.

Photo: Caitlin Rother    Photo Credit: Joel Ortiz

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

Poets & Writers Celebrates Twenty-Five Years in California

Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, Director of Poets & Writers’ California Office and Readings & Workshops (West) program, blogs about the California program’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, which took place on March 6, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Ryan Tranquilla

The excitement in the room was palpable. The open mic sign-up sheets were filling up with names (fifty-two, to be precise!). Free copies of Poets & Writers Magazine were flying off the table. The audience of nearly one hundred sat in chairs, congregated in the aisles between bookshelves, and leaned on the balcony railings of downtown Los Angeles’s the Last Bookstore for a special celebration.

For twenty-five years, Poets & Writers has served California through the Readings & Workshops program, providing grants to thousands of writers and reaching an audience of tens of thousands annually. We offer regular roundtable meetings for the literary community, sponsor an annual cross-cultural reading, and much more.

The evening’s featured readers were introduced by emcee Mike “the Poet” Sonksen, himself a P&W-supported writer, and included Gloria Alvarez, Olga Garcia Echeverria, Kate Gale, Dorothy Randall GrayPeter J. Harris, Richard Modiano, Ruth NolanCati Porter, and Terry Wolverton, as well as past Readings & Workshops program directors Ryan Tranquilla and Cheryl Klein. Together, these writers represented organizations that included Avenue 50 Studio, Red Hen Press, Urban Possibilities, the World Stage, Grand Performances, Beyond Baroque, Inlandia Institute, and Writers at Work. Between open-mic readers, program assistant Brandi M. Spaethe raffled off fantastic P&W door prizes!

Group

Writer Ruth Nolan, who drove to Los Angeles from the blooming desert of California’s Inland Empire to participate in the event, thanked P&W for building writing communities in unlikely places with unlikely people.

Poet and teacher Dorothy Randall Gray, who has received P&W support for her Urban Possibilities workshops serving Los Angeles’s Skid Row, summed it up: "I sometimes think of writers as swimming in a sea of creativity—and, you know, in this sea we have tidal waves and monsoons and tsunamis. We also have blue skies and smooth waters and smooth sailing. I think of Poets & Writers as people, as vessels, who help us get to the shore of success by giving us their support—but even more than support, by saying, We believe in you and we believe in what you're doing, and we're going to put our money where our mouths are. They have always been there to support, to guide, to say, Hey, we're gonna back whatever you do. So I just want to give a huge thank you. Thank you, thank you, for all the support that you've given to me and all the writers that are sitting in this audience, and those writers to come."

Poets & Writers is proud to serve and partner with the writers and literary presenters of California, and we hope to do so for years to come.

Photo 1: Former program director Ryan Tranquilla. Photo 2: (Left to right): Featured poet Cati Porter, featured poet Richard Modiano, P&W intern Tammy Tarng, P&W program assistant Brandi M. Spaethe, P&W program director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, former P&W intern Leticia Valente, featured poet Ruth Nolan, emcee Mike “the Poet” Sonksen. Credit: Katy Winn.

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

Laguna Woods Village

Contact Name: 
Thea Iberall

The Spoken Word Club of Laguna Woods is a place for writers, poets, playwrights, monologuists, and storytellers to read their work and develop new material. In our monthly meetings, members have an opportunity to read and hear others. There is a featured reader every month. Guests are welcomed to listen or read ($2 charge for guests per meeting). Light refreshments at the Redwoods Room in the Community Center on El Toro on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 1pm-3pm.

Event Types: 
Type of Venue: 

Vulnerability

3.19.15

Is it necessary to be vulnerable if you want to become closer with someone? This week, write an essay that gives advice to those looking to be more open with the people they know. Use your personal experience to discuss whether vulnerability has helped create stronger connections, or if an alternative experience offered positive results for tighter bonds. 

PEN Announces Longlist for Literary Awards

PEN American Center has announced the longlist for its 2015 Literary Awards. The annual prizes are given for works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and children’s literature written by emerging and established writers. This year PEN will award over $150,000 to writers through its awards.

The full longlist for the 2015 awards, given in seventeen categories (eight of which do not have a longlist), can be read on PEN’s website. Below are the semi-finalists for a few awards:

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): Awarded annually for a debut short story collection or novel published in the previous year that represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

The UnAmericans (Norton) by Molly Antopol
Ruby
(Hogarth) by Cynthia Bond
Black Moon
(Hogarth) by Kenneth Calhoun
Redeployment
(Penguin Press) by Phil Klay
Ride Around Shining
(Harper) by Chris Leslie-Hynan
The Dog
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jack Livings
The Wives of Los Alamos
(Bloomsbury) by TaraShea Nesbit
The Heaven of Animals
(Simon & Schuster) by David James Poissant
Love Me Back
(Doubleday) by Merritt Tierce
Time of the Locust
(Atria Books) by Morowa Yejidé

Judges: Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, Victor LaValle

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): Awarded annually for an essay collection published in the previous year that exemplifies the dignity and esteem the essay form imparts to literature.

Moral Imagination (Princeton University Press) by David Bromwich
Theater of Cruelty
(New York Review Books) by Ian Buruma
Loitering
(Tin House Books) by Charles D’Ambrosio
Surrendering Oz
(Etruscan Press) by Bonnie Friedman
The Hard Way on Purpose
(Scribner) by David Giffels
Where Have You Been?
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Michael Hofmann
The Empathy Exams
(Graywolf Press) by Leslie Jamison
Sidewalks
(Coffee House Press) by Valeria Luiselli
Limber
(Sarabande Books) by Angela Pelster
You Feel So Mortal
(University of Chicago Press) by Peggy Shinner

Judges: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, Mark Slouka

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000); Awarded annually for an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color.

An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press) by Rabih Alameddine
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Charles M. Blow
Team Seven
(Doubleday) by Marcus Burke
Streaming
(Coffee House Press) by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
Every Day Is for the Thief
(Random House) by Teju Cole
An Untamed State
(Black Cat) by Roxane Gay
A Brief History of Seven Killings
(Riverhead Press) by Marlon James
Citizen: An American Lyric
(Graywolf Press) by Claudia Rankine
The Fateful Apple
(Urban Poets and Lyricists) by Venus Thrash
The City Son
(Soho Press) by Samrat Upadhyay
Kinder Than Solitude
(Random House) by Yiyun Li

Judges: R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks, Chinelo Okparanta

Finalists will be announced on April 15, and the winners will be announced on May 13 and honored at an award ceremony at the New School in New York City on June 8.

Established in 1922, PEN American Center has administered its Literary Awards for nearly fifty years. Based in New York City, PEN works to “ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to make it possible for everyone to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.”

Rankine, Robinson, and Chast Win NBCC Awards

The winners of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night at the New School in New York City. Claudia Rankine, whose poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) was the first book in the NBCC’s history to be nominated in two categories—poetry and criticism—took home the award in poetry. Marilynne Robinson won in fiction for her novel Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and Roz Chast won the autobiography prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury).John Lahr won in biography for Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton); David Brion Davis won in general nonfiction for The Problem of Slavery In the Age of Emancipation (Knopf); and the criticism prize was awarded posthumously to Ellen Willis for The Essential Ellen Willis (University of Minnesota Press), edited by Willis’s daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz. Phil Klay won the John Leonard Prize for his National Book Award–winning short story collection, Redeployment (Penguin Press); the John Leonard Prize recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre. Alexandra Schwartz, an assistant editor at the New Yorker, won the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

The poetry finalists were Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press), Willie Perdomo’s The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Books), Christian Wiman’s Once in the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and the late Jake Adam York’s Abide (Southern Illinois University Press).

The finalists in fiction were Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press), Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), Lily King’s Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press), and Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead).

The autobiography finalists were Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (Norton), Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side (Tin House), Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure (Random House), and Meline Toumani’s There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books).

Established in 1974, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which are considered amongst the most prestigious awards given in the literary world, are given annually for books published in the previous year. A board of twenty-four working newspaper and magazine critics and editors nominates and selects the winners each year. The 2013 winners included Frank Bidart for poetry and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for fiction.

Photos from left to right: Claudia Rankine (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times), Marilynne Robinson (Ulf Andersen/Getty), and Roz Chast (Bill Franzen/Washington Post)

One Hundred Words

3.12.15

This week, write an essay using exactly one hundred words. Pick a concept you’ve been thinking about recently, like daylight savings time, or a personal story someone’s reminded you of recently, like when you learned to ride a bike. It doesn’t take long to write one hundred words, but you must make every one of them count.

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