Ms. Soulflower's Artistic Future

Devoya Mayo is a poet, playwright, former radio personality, DJ, tastemaker, and events coordinator with P&W-sponsored The Soulflower Group. Based in Fresno, she dedicates her time to curating events that bridge the divide between the diverse communities residing within California’s Central Valley. From 2005–2006, Mayo was P&W’s Central Valley outreach consultant. Under the moniker Ms. Soulflower, you can find her spinning music in dimly lit establishments, organizing and hosting gatherings, and creating art via Etsy.

What makes the Soulflower Group unique?
We are a consortium of designers, DJs, musicians, photographers, poets, and organizers connected by the tenet that creativity and culture are essential in building community wellness.

What recent project have you been especially proud of?
The P&W-supported Soulflower Speakeasy featuring Sunni Patterson, along with Stephen Mayu, Connie Owens, and Joy Graves, was the easy standout of the year. Sharing space with someone who had appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, performed at major spoken-word venues, and worked with several well-known artists and performers—including Sonia Sanchez, Wanda Coleman, and Amiri Barakawas spiritually motivating and an honest-to-goodness awakening. From the moment Sunni walked on stage with her son, she offered us a glimpse into her soul through poetry, reflecting the strife, angst, joy, and hope that many of us were feeling.

How do you find and invite readers?
I find writers via word-of-mouth, social networks, and the occasional open-mic night. You can’t walk down the street in a place like Fresno and not run into a writer of some kind. California’s Central Valley has always been home to a host of heavy hitters like Connie Hales, Tim Z. Hernandez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lee Herrick, Philip Levine, and Gary Soto.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
One night a crowd favorite walked on stage, placed a gym bag on a stool, and began to read from his chapbook. As he read about the abuse inflicted by various objects, he began to reach into his bag and toss out the offending objects. He threw boots, belts and, yes, even an iron into a crowd of poetry lovers. Needless to say, there were lots of near misses and, afterwards, we enacted a no-Gallagher-type-antics disclaimer for future events.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
When I’m part of an event, or in the process of curating one, my literary antennae are on high alert. I push myself harder and listen more than I speak, which is hard... let me tell ya. The elements that speak to me, or don't speak to me, inform what I want to provide.
 
What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Very few have the power, resources, or authority to demand more programming. This is how we knew we had to do more than just daydream about what it would be like if we were really to invest in our artistic futures.

Photo: Devoya Mayo. Credit: Joe Osejo Photography.

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

Use Your History

2.16.12

Research one of the decades during which you were a child. Make a list of the popular music at the time, the best-selling books, the favorite movies and celebrities. Then write notes about politics—who was president? what were the major political issues in the United States and globally? Then freewrite about the neighborhood where you lived—who were your neighbors? what was the living situation like? what was a typical day for you and the people around you. Finally, choose an event from your life or from history that happened during the time you've researched and write about it, using your research to inform and contextualize what you write.  

Pushcart's Winningest Magazines

The Pushcart Prizes, given annually since 1976 for poems, stories, and essays published by literary magazines and indie outfits, purport to highlight the "best of the small presses" in a yearly anthology. Looking to apply some objective analysis to the results (and determine, by Pushcart standards, where his own fiction might be in the most distinguished company), one writer has taken to tracking winning venues over the years.

Since 2008 Clifford Garstang, author of the story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009) and editor of Prime Number Magazine, has looked back at the past ten years of Pushcart anthologies and calculated the most-honored magazines, using a system that awards points for Pushcart wins and honorable mentions. The results for 2012, broken out by genre, were reported last week his Perpetual Folly blog.

This year's tally saw Georgia Review, Ploughshares, and Southern Review taking top slots across all three genres, with Conjunctions ranking in the top five in both fiction and nonfiction. Poetry was the front-runner in its genre of specialization. Big movers in fiction, in relation to Garstang's 2011 rankings, were A Public Space and One Story. In nonfiction, Harvard Review and n+1 made jumps this year, tied for thirty-second place. (Small presses make a lesser showing, though BOA Editions holds the fifteenth spot in poetry.)

Garstang admits that ten-year retrospective he takes naturally favors older journals, as well as magazines that appear in print (only one online journal was highlighted in the 2012 award anthology). "Pushcart has for several years been criticized for discriminating against online magazines," Garstang writes on his blog. "Online magazines have made some inroads in the annual volume. I expect this will accelerate and the problem will correct itself. We shall see. In the meantime, for those of us who submit work to online journals—some of which are excellent—we have to look elsewhere for measures of quality."

For more information about the 2012 Pushcart Prize anthology, visit the prize website.

How-to Manual

Using Lorrie Moore's "How To Be An Other Woman" from Self-Help (Knopf, 1985) as inspiration, turn a personal experience into a twelve- (or more) step, how-to manual. The piece can be a simple enumerated list, or it can be more detailed, conveying a broader story; but use the second-person, and keep it instructional.

Ploughshares Launches Tri-Genre Emerging Writer's Contest

Starting yesterday, forty-year-old literary journal Ploughshares began accepting entries for a new writing contest open to unpublished poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. The Emerging Writer's Contest, an expansion of last year's inaugural competition in fiction, will award one thousand dollars and publication to a writer in each genre.

In order to be considered "emerging," writers should not have published a book or chapbook in any form (self-published works included). Ploughshares invites potential entrants with eligibility questions to inquire via e-mail.

Poets may submit between three and five poems and prose writers may submit works of up to five thousand words along with a twenty-dollar entry fee, which includes a subscription to Ploughshares, until April 2. For complete guidelines and to access the submission manager, visit the journal's website.

The winner of the first contest was thirty-six-year-old Thomas Lee, for his story "The Gospel of Blackbird," which appears in the current issue of the magazine, alongside fiction by James Franco, William Giraldi, Ann Hood, and Rachel Kadish. Sample works from the issue, guest edited by Alice Hoffman, are accessible online.

Description and Speculation

1.31.12

Write for twenty minutes, without stopping, a piece of pure description about something you see (a person, a scene, or an object in the room). No dialogue, no metaphor, no emotion; just pure description, as detailed as possible. Then write, nonstop, for another twenty minutes about the same subject, but this time use only speculation—imagine the subject's thoughts, perceptions, emotions, inner, or outward dialogue, etc.—and/or your own thoughts and observations about the subject. Combine the two pieces, and see what kind of story comes to life.

PEN American Center's Big Deadline Approaches

The closing date is less than a week away for New York City-based PEN American Center's literary competitions for poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and translators.

The five-thousand-dollar Open Book Award is given for a book of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction by an author of color. Award alumni include poets Harryette Mullen and Willie Perdomo, fiction writer Victor LaValle, and creative nonfiction writer Joy Harjo.

In fiction, the PEN/Robert Bingham Prize offers twenty-five thousand dollars for a first novel or story collection published in 2011. Danielle Evans, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Monique Truong are among past winners.

Essayists may enter the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, which awards five thousand dollars for a collection published in 2011. Last year's winner was Mark Slouka for Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations (Graywolf Press, 2010).

In translation, several awards are offered, including grants of between two and ten thousand dollars each for unpublished translations. One three-thousand dollar prize competition is open specifically to published translations of poetry, another to works in any genre.

PEN also gives prizes in biography, children's and young adult literature, sports writing, science writing, and drama. For more information and guidelines, visit the organization's website.

NBCC Announces Book Award Finalists

Over the weekend the National Book Critics Circle revealed the contenders for its 2012 book awards, the only literary awards judged solely by book critics.

The finalists in poetry are:
Forrest Gander for Core Samples from the World (New Directions)
Aracelis Girmay for Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)
Laura Kasischke for Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)
Yusef Komunyakaa for The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Bruce Smith for Devotions (University of Chicago Press), which was a finalist for last year's National Book Award

In fiction, the finalists are:
Teju Cole for his novel, Open City (Random House)
Jeffrey Eugenides for his novel The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Alan Hollinghurst for his novel The Stranger’s Child (Knopf)
Edith Pearlman for her story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books), a finalist for the National Book Award
Dana Spiotta for her novel Stone Arabia (Scribner)

In memoir, the finalists are:
Diane Ackerman for One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing (Norton)
Mira Bartók for The Memory Palace (Free Press)
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts for Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown)
Luis J. Rodríguez for It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone)
Deb Olin Unferth for Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt)

Among the finalists in nonfiction are John Jeremiah Sullivan, the Paris Review's southern editor and a contributing editor of Harper's, nominated for his essay collection, Pulphead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In the criticism category, novelist Jonathan Lethem got a nod for The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday).

The winners will be announced on March 8 at a ceremony at the New School University in New York City.

Lisa Bowden and Kore Press: Publishing for Progress

Lisa Bowden is the publisher and co-founder of the P&W-supported Kore Press in Tucson, where P&W has been supporting literary events since 2008. A poet who works with dancers and musicians, she is also an award-winning book designer and currently serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Bowden has made her home in Tucson for nearly three decades.

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Kore is one of six presses left in the country dedicated to publishing the intellectual and creative work of women writers. The press is also entering its nineteenth year, which is a bit of a coup for a small, nonprofit house.

In addition to publishing, we have educational and literary activism projects that take writing off the page to engage the public in innovative ways. For example, we just completed a Big Read using Emily Dickinson as our focus of inquiry to help heal our city after the 2011 shootings. We collaborated with forty organizations, businesses, and individuals to reinterpret Dickinson's work and find new ways of reading and writing (using dancers, musicians, actors, students, libraries, pastry chefs, the bus system, translators, a videographer, visual artists, etc.). P&W helped fund a writing workshop by visiting poet/art critic Eva Heisler.

What recent projects have you been especially proud of and why?
We adapted the book Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq to the stage. We used the production, “Coming in Hot,” as a tool for civil discourse by touring it in high schools and non-theater venues to get people talking about difficult issues women face in war times.

Kore also runs an after-school writing-as-activism program for teen girls and transgendered youth to help them get their story into public circulation. Most recently, the girls created a short film based on peer interviews exploring issues of sex and identity, which screened in our local independent movie house.

What’s the most moving thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
After watching our play, female veterans who had never been able to talk about their experiences overseas felt a catharsis and liberty to speak. One female veteran, who ended up following us as we toured the play to high schools to answer students's questions, said that seeing the play and working with us saved her life.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I am honored whenever I'm listed as a reader or speaker at someone else's literary program, as I know how hard the work is! After doing so much of the same work myself, it's always nice to be on the other side. It's also heartening, as a writer, to participate and learn from fellow presenters and writers. It's such a rich writing community we have in the United States.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs in your community?
Tucsonans are fortunate to have both the University of Arizona and the Poetry Center in our city, as well as many non-university/institutional literary organizations that do a variety of programming. We are steeped in literature of all kinds. We relate with and through a love of words, understanding, and staying in positive conversation with our crossroads culture and western borderlands.

Photo: Lisa Bowden. Credit: Sam Ace.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Double Take

1.18.12

Choose an incident from your past—it could be an ordinary occurrence, such as a family dinner—or a significant event, such as an achievement or a mishap. Write about it from your perspective, then write about it from the perspective of someone else who experienced it with you—a friend, sibling, or parent.

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