Some of the best stories and essays revolve around the author's hometown. Spend fifteen minutes freewriting about the town or city in which you grew up. Focus on the people, the places, the landscape, and the memories surrounding them. Where was your favorite place to eat? Who were the most interesting characters? What did you do with your family and friends? What did the school look like? Where did you go when you wanted to run away?
Extreme experiences can significantly alter our perspective on life. Write an essay about a time when you faced a near-death experience, or believed you were in serious danger. Consider the following questions: How did you react immediately? How did you respond later? In retrospect, do you wish you'd reacted differently when it happened? What from the experience do you still carry with you?
Now that fall has almost arrived, ruminate about all that happened over the summer. Choose a moment or a scene that you distinctly remember and freewrite about it. What took place? Who was involved? Is it important? If not, why did you remember it? How did it make you feel? Review your freewriting and transform what you discover into an essay that transcends the subject at hand, so that it has universal appeal to readers.
A comprehensive article about how we compiled the 2013 MFA Index of full- and low-residency programs, featured in the September/October 2012 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.
The New York City-based PEN American Center recently announced the winners of the 2012 PEN Literary Awards. For over fifty years, PEN has given awards to the most promising and distinguished voices in the literary community. This year, eighteen grants, awards, and fellowships have been given to emerging and established writers from all over the country. The following are just a few of this year's winners.
Susan Nussbaum received the inaugural PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her manuscript, Good Kings Bad Kings. Founded by author Barbara Kingsolver, the $25,000 prize is given biennially to an author for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice. The prize also includes a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. Rosellen Brown, Margot Livesey, and Kathy Pories judged.
Vanessa Veselka won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for her novel, Zazen (Red Lemonade, 2011). The $25,000 award is given to a fiction writer whose debut work, published in the previous year, “represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” Lauren Groff, Dinaw Mengestu, and Nami Mun judged.
Fiction writer E. L. Doctorow won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. The $25,000 prize is given to a writer “whose body of work places him or her in the highest rank of American literature.” Don DeLillo, Jennifer Egan, and George Saunders judged.
James Gleick won the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Pantheon Books, 2011). The $10,000 prize is given for a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of physical or biological sciences published in the previous year. Elizabeth Kolbert, Charles Mann, and Dava Sobel judged.
The late Christopher Hitchens received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for his essay collection Arguably (Twelve, 2011). The $5,000 award is given for a book of essays published in the previous year that “exemplifies the dignity and esteem of the essay form.” Robert Boyers, Janet Malcolm, and Ruth Reichl judged.
Robert K. Massie won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 2011). The $5,000 award is given for a biography published in the previous year. Blake Bailey, Daphne Merkin, and Honor Moore judged.
Fiction and nonfiction writer Siddhartha Deb won the PEN Open Book Award for his memoir, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India (Faber & Faber, 2011). The $5,000 prize is given for a book by an author of color published in 2011. Alexander Chee, Mat Johnson, and Natasha Trethewey judged.
Poet Toi Derricotte won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The $5,000 prize is given to a poet whose “distinguished and growing body of work represents a notable presence in American literature.” Dan Chiasson, Aracelis Girmay, and A. Van Jordan judged.
Jen Hofer won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for her translation of Negro Marfil/Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press, 2011). The $3,000 award is given for a book-length translation of poetry into English published in the previous year. Christian Hawkey judged.
Bill Johnston won the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski (Archipelago Books, 2011). The $3,000 prize is given for a book-length translation of prose into English published in the previous year. Aron Aji, Donald Breckenridge, and Minna Proctor judged.
Margaret Sayers Peden received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, which is given to a translator “whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work.”
The winners and finalists of this year's awards will be honored at the 2012 Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 23 in New York City. PEN will begin accepting submissions for its 2013 Literary Awards on October 1. For a comprehensive list of this year’s winners and finalists, and for information and guidelines for the 2013 prizes, visit the PEN American Center website.
As the old story goes, Ernest Hemingway was once asked to write a six-word story about himself. This is how he responded: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Write a six-word memoir about yourself. For inspiration, check out Smith Magazine's Six-Word Memoir Project.
Compose a table of contents for your life. Include titles, subtitles, sections, and chapters that outline a period—or the entirety—of your life. Once you've finished the table, write a brief summary for each section.
Author Tim O’Brien has been awarded the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. O’Brien, a Vietnam veteran whose work often deals with war, and who is perhaps most well known for his short story collection The Things They Carried, will receive $10,000.
Established in 2006 and inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize is given internationally for literature that promotes peace, social justice, and global understanding. In addition to two annual prizes given for a work of fiction and a work of nonfiction published in the previous year, the Richard C. Holbrooke Award—named for the United States diplomat who played an instrumental role in negotiating the Dayton Accords—is given annually for a body of work.
"The Dayton Literary Peace Prize promotes the cause of peace by helping people understand the ugly realities of war on a deep, personal level, which is exactly what I strive to do in my work," O'Brien said. "Over what has been a long career, this award means more to me than any other—by far."
Originally from Austin, Minnesota, O’Brien served in the United States Army in Vietnam for a year, and later worked as a national affairs reporter for the Washington Post. His first book was the 1973 memoir about his experiences at war, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. He received a National Book Award in 1979 for his novel about Vietnam, Going After Cacciato (Doubleday); his 1990 collection, The Things They Carried (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; In the Lake of the Woods (Penguin, 1995) received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction. His most recent novel is July, July, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2002. The sixty-five-year-old O’Brien lives in central Texas and teaches writing in the MFA program at Texas State University in San Marcos.
Previous Peace Prize winners include Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver, Studs Terkel, and Elie Wiesel. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, on November 11.
In the following 2010 Art Works podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts and Public Radio Exchange, O’Brien discusses The Things They Carried on the twentieth anniversary of its release.
Willow Books is currently accepting submissions for its first annual Literature Awards. A prize of $2,000 will be given for a book-length work of literary prose, and a prize of $1,000 will be given for a full-length collection of poetry. The two winning manuscripts will be published in spring 2013 by Willow Books.
The Willow Books Literature Awards are given to United States writers from culturally diverse backgrounds. “Our mission is to develop, publish, and promote writers typically underrepresented in the market,” the press’s website states. Ten finalists will be announced on January 21, 2013, and the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony and reading in Chicago later in the spring. The remaining eight finalists will have selections of their work published in an e-book anthology. All finalists for the awards are expected to attend the ceremony and assist in future online publicity for the press.
Judges for the poetry prize include poets John Murillo, Ching-in Chen, and Naomi Ayala; judges for the prize in literary prose include fiction and nonfiction writers Pauline Kaldas, Latha Viswanathan, and Ana-Maurine Lara.
“We are excited about our new competition and the caliber of our judges,” says Randall Horton, editor of Willow Books. “We are also planning to host workshops during the awards weekend, so watch for updates.”
Poets may submit three copies of a collection between 50 and 125 pages, along with a $25 entry fee; prose writers may submit three copies of a novel, short story collection, memoir, or essay collection (totaling no more than 100,000 words), along with a $30 entry fee. The deadline for submissions is October 1. Submissions are accepted via postal mail only.
Willow Books, established in 2007 as an imprint of the Detroit-based Aquarius Books, publishes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Some of the press’s recent authors include Tara Betts, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Krista Franklin, and Tony Medina.
Willow also partners with the Cave Canem Foundation to publish the biennial Cave Canem Anthology, a collection of poetry by Cave Canem faculty and fellows.
For the required entry form and complete submissions guidelines for the Literary Awards, and for more information about Willow Books, visit their website.
Using the advice column as your form, write about a problem or challenge you have faced. Addressing a fictional recipient who is facing the same issue, offer your best advice on how to handle the situation. For inspiration, check out the Rumpus's advice column, "Dear Sugar," penned by creative nonfiction writer Cheryl Strayed.