A. J. Jacobs

Caption: 

At one of last year's TED conferences, writer A. J. Jacobs spoke about his long, three-tiered self-improvement project that has resulted in three books, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (2004), The Year of Biblical Thinking: One Man's Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2007), and Drop-Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection (2012).

Charis Books and More: Keeping Doors Open for 38 Years

Elizabeth Anderson is the program director at P&W–supported Charis Books and More and Charis Circle, a unique for-profit independent feminist bookstore and 501(c)(3) social justice literary nonprofit hybrid located in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also a writing coach and fiction writer at work on her first novel, "Paradise Park."

What makes your reading series unique?
Charis Books is turning thirty-eight this year. With bookstores continuously closing, we will be the oldest feminist bookstore in North America and the primary LGBT-focused bookstore in Atlanta. Our events have always reflected the old feminist axiom, "the personal is political." We believe that fiction has the power to change the world and that reading can be a revolutionary act. We maintain a deep investment in helping to center voices traditionally at the literary margins.

What recent program have you been especially proud of?
The P&Wsponsored evening with Sassafras Lowrey, editor of Kicked Out, an anthology of work by homeless LGBTQ youth. Sassafras shared her own story of homelessness and talked about receiving one teen's story via text message because the kid didn't have access to traditional modes of journalistic communication. Sassafras opted to publish it in the book with a standard English translation. That anecdote spoke to me about the value of telling our story despite the obstacles.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
The life of a bookseller is a crazy one. We hear more confessions than priests and doctors. People share. A LOT. Folks come to a reading about how to turn a front lawn into a food producing garden and end up talking about their grandmas who, as it turns out, were from the same small town. By the end of the night, you have complete strangers hugging and smiling and trading recipes and crying over long dead people. That is the wonder of a reading at Charis.

How do you cultivate an audience?
It's about relationships. It's about remembering people's names and tastes. I call people on the phone. I invite people personally via e-mail and on Facebook. If someone buys an author's book, I remember. If that author is slated to read at our store six months later, I make sure to remind the customer. If the independent bookstore is to survive, it will be because of relationships.

How has literary presenting informed your own life?
It has made me a better writing coach: I can tell you exactly the moment at which you will begin to bore your audience (seventeen minutes, don't ever read for more than seventeen minutes straight, I don't care if you sound like James Earl Jones and are the best looking person on the planet, people will start to glaze).

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
All writers and readers have the potential to be activists if they choose. Bookstores are gathering grounds. They are the places to come and recharge your batteries or lick your wounds or rebuild after a hard political battle. At Charis, we fight to keep the doors open for our community because we believe there is a kind of grace in the act of gathering around stories no other space in our culture can provide.

Photo: Elizabeth Anderson.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The Wanderer

3.13.12

Travel writer, memoirist, and novelist Mary Morris, who teaches a workshop called The Writer and the Wanderer at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, likes to send her students on field trips to light the creative torch. “I like to get my students out of the house, and a little out of their heads,” says Morris, whose most recent book is the memoir River Queen (Holt, 2007). “Go away. Listen. Eavesdrop. Find something new. Bring back a souvenir. What do you take with you? What do you leave behind? Sit outside in one place until a story comes to you.” Follow Morris's guidance: Go on a field trip of your own, and discover the wanderer within you.

Cedar Crest College

MFA Program
Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Cross-Genre
Dublin, Barcelona, and Vienna
Application Deadline: 
Mon, 08/01/2022
Application Fee: 
$50

Women Writers Dominate Literary NBCC Awards

The winners of this year's National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night in New York City. Among the winners was Edith Pearlman, whose fourth collection of stories, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books), had also been nominated for the National Book Award last year, and went on to win the PEN/Malamud Award.

In poetry, Laura Kasischke won for her collection Space, In Chains (Copper Canyon Press), which recently received the first Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. Mira Bartók won in autobiography for her memoir, The Memory Palace (Free Press).

Awards were also given in criticism, to Geoff Dyer for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press); in biography, to John Lewis Gaddis for George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Press); and in general nonfiction, to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf).

Awards were also given to reviewer Kathryn Schulz, who received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and Roberts B. Silvers of the New York Review of Books, who won this year's Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the video below, Pearlman reads from her winning collection.

Get Lost

In her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking, 2005), Rebecca Solnit discusses the importance of allowing yourself to get lost—both in life and in writing—in order to become more fully conscious. The art of getting lost, she says, "is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss." Write about a time when you got lost—physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise—and how getting lost, and perhaps embracing that loss, resulted in something new being found.

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