Anaphora

5.23.13

Often found in the work of Elizabethan and Romantic poets, anaphora—a Greek word meaning “the act of carrying back”—is the repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive lines, sentences, fragments, or verses. Write a short anaphoric essay beginning each sentence with the same word or phrase.

The Things You Carry

5.16.13

Make a list of the physical objects you carry with you: a wallet and phone, a journal and pen, medications and mementos. Then make a list of the non-objects you carry: memories, ideas, dreams, scars (literal or figurative), the people or places of your past. Once you've created both lists, write an essay that incorporates and investigates the items on each. Why do you carry these things? What do they mean to you? Do the physical items relate to the mental ones? Use "These are the things I carry" as your opening line.

Texas Undergrad Wins $50,000 Literature Prize

Katherine Noble, a senior in the English Department at the University of Texas in Austin, has received the Keene Prize for Literature for her collection of poems, “Like Electrical Fire Across the Silence.” She will receive $50,000. 

Noble is the first undergraduate to win or even place in the Keene competition, one of the world’s largest student literary prizes, which has been given annually to University of Texas students since 2006. Graduate students in the university’s Michener Center MFA program typically take home the award. 

“The judges were impressed by her audacious combination of spirituality with sexuality, by her wide range of literary reference, and her bold experimentation with the form of the prose poem,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and the award selection committee, of Nobel’s poems.

“I have been affected by images from biblical myths since I was a young girl,” Noble said in a press release, “and the narrators in my poems often wrestle to understand how God interacts with the physical world.”

In addition to Noble, three finalists will each receive $17,000. They are Corey Miller, a current Michener Center graduate student, for his collection of poems “The New Concentration”; Karan Mahajan, also a Michener Center graduate student, for an excerpt from his novel “Notes on a Small Bomb”; and Jenn Shapland, an English Department graduate student, for her essay collection “Finders Keepers.”

Fiction writer Fiona McFarlane, a Michener Center graduate, whose stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere, received the 2012 prize

Established by the the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas, the Keene Prize is given in honor of E. L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university who “envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the university’s prestige and support the work of young writers,” which would be given for “the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm.” The award is given to enrolled undergraduate or graduate students for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or plays. 

Dictionary Revision

In his recent New Yorker article on writing and revision, “Draft No. 4” (April 29, 2013), nonfiction writer John McPhee recommends drawing boxes around any word that “does not seem quite right” as well as those “that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.” Then, he writes, consult the dictionary—not the thesaurus—to find better words. While the thesaurus can be useful, McPhee writes, it can also be dangerous, often muddling a word’s meaning. The dictionary, on the other hand, not only offers a host of alternatives but can also spark new inspiration. Revisit an essay that’s ready for a new draft. After circling all words and phrases that could use work, dig deep into the dictionary to see what new words—and what new meaning—may arise.

Sabrina Chap Sees Art as an Antidote to Shame

In April P&W-supported writer Sabrina Chap led a creative nonfiction workshop and gave a reading at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle. Chap is a playwright, spoken word artist, songwriter, and editor. Her collection Cliterature: 18 Interviews With Women* Writers is distributed by Microcosm Press. Her plays, including Perhaps Merely Quiet, have been performed in New York, Chicago, Paris, and England. Project director Sophia Iannicelli writes about Chap’s visit to Seattle.

Sabrina ChapI have spent much of the last week with Sabrina Chap. I organized two events while she was in Seattle, and I enjoyed the conversations in between as much as the workshop and lecture. Sabrina is very open and encouraging when it comes to difficult subjects. She makes it suddenly okay to talk about topics such as grief and self-destruction that our society says are shameful. Her book Live Through This—a collection of essays, stories, and photos by women who’ve used art to process abuse, incest, madness, depression, and self-destruction—makes you want to open up to her.

Sabrina uses this openness to her advantage when she is teaching. During the writing workshop, the participants ended up sharing intimate details of their lives and psyches with people who had been strangers only minutes before. They shared so much, and felt so safe doing so, they decided to create a writing support group in order to continue the bonds they had developed in those two short hours. I'm still glowing from an email I received the next day:

“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for bringing in Sabrina. She’s amazing. I feel guilty for having not paid more for it. Her writing exercises were so well thought out and effective. Not only did I get writing skills out of it, but life skills. Wow!!! So much more than I expected. Thank you!!!!!”

While the participant didn’t expound on which "life skills” she left  the workshop with, I hope it was in some way related to cultivating openness. Fostering the ability to be vulnerable brings so many wonderful things in life, most notably the chance to connect with people in a deep way. Sabrina offers a way to view our self-destructive acts as something to be worked with and transformed into a positive force. Merely speaking about these difficult and often shamed activities or proclivities brings an amazing opportunity to evaluate them while reducing their power over us—ultimately making them work for us rather than letting them consume us.

Photo: Sabrina Chap. Credit: Jolene Siana.

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

Spring Has Arrived

Think about your life in relation to the seasons. What is your favorite season and why? During which season were you born? How did you feel as a child about each season? Have significant events happened during one season over the others? How do you see the world around you change at the start of each season? Use these musings to fuel an essay about one or all of the seasons. 

Ruth Nolan Encourages Workshop Participants to Speak Out About Suicide

The (In)Visible Memoirs Project runs no-cost, community-based writing workshops throughout the state of California, with the aim of creating a literary landscape that pushes back on dominant literary discourse’s exclusionary practices. Between January and April, writer P&W-supported writer Ruth Nolan taught an (In)Visible Memoirs workshop at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. Project director Rachel Reynolds writes about the workshop.

Ruth Nolan and workshop participantsThe thing about invisibility is that there are real risks to refusing its cloak. Invisibility counts on these risks for its effective deployment. Anyone who has found their space at the periphery—which is more of us than not—knows how terrifying it can be to push back the curtain and demand to be counted. As the person at the helm of programming for the (In)Visible Memoirs Project, I am constantly awed by how many people—instructors, participants, and community sponsors alike—are ready to let their stories ring out.

According to the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), nearly 40,000 people took their own lives in 2010. In the same year, the AFSP identified nearly 460,000 attempted suicides. Tallied together, roughly half a million people navigated suicide directly in 2010. The lives of countless others were impacted too, as friends and family of those directly involved struggled to walk this terrain.

When professor Ruth Nolan responded to my call for new (In)Visible Memoirs Project workshops this past fall, she wrote, “All too often, suicide survivors become victims, too, of social prejudices and judgments, and having experienced this myself, I have come to realize there is a huge need to give suicide survivors a safe and productive space to write, identify, and heal.” We leapt at the chance to support her in her goal of providing the first-ever workshop for people who live in the Palm Desert region and have lived with the impact of suicide.

Ruth Nolan is a force. A professor at College of the Desert in Palm Springs, she teaches writing and literature in addition to advising the college literary magazine. She is a widely published poet and prose writer, and an editor to boot. Armed with both personal experience and the chops required to deftly usher writers into a carefully crafted safe space, we knew she would provide a transformative experience for her workshop participants. What we could never have predicted, though, was just how far she’d take them or how essential the space she held was.

Meeting with seven participants—who spanned a forty-year age range and various social and ethnic identities—Ruth discovered that many of them had either wanted or been invited to speak at public suicide awareness events in the region but then felt their story was too dark, or worse, been asked not to share it. Immediately, Ruth made space for sharing these stories a workshop priority. What began as a shedding of silence within the confines of workshop meetings gained momentum and bloomed into multiple readings at public events. As I write this today, Ruth and members of her workshop have just finished recording some of their work for radio broadcast. From silence to center stage in the course of a twenty-hour workshop—Ruth and her workshop participants are writers of the fiercest sort. 

Photo: From left: Darlene Arciga, Tim Johnson, Kimberly Martinez, and Ruth Nolan. Credit: Ruth Nolan.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Show and Tell

4.25.13

We’ve all heard the adage “Show, don’t tell.” But in his latest book, To Show and Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction (Free Press, 2013), Phillip Lopate argues that the personal essay is perhaps the one form in which it’s not only permissible, but necessary, to do a little telling. “We must rely on the subjective voice of the first-person narrator to guide us, and if that voice never explains, summarizes, interprets, or provides a larger sociological or historical context for the material, we are in big trouble.” With Lopate’s advice in mind, choose a subject for an essay that you’d like to write. Then make a list of the particular kinds of “telling” you’ll need to do in terms of providing background, research, context, and personal experience. Use this list to guide the writing of a first draft.

Tweet an Essay

4.18.13

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, some tenets of the personal essay—confession, self-reflection, and cultural investigation, to name a few—have made their way further into the digital mainstream. Some authors have even written entire books on Twitter. With this in mind, create a series of micro-essays using Twitter as a model. They might be slightly disconnected vignettes or they may work to create a larger, more cohesive story. Either way, keep each individual piece to 140 characters and maintain some form of narrative thread throughout. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to utilize things like hashtags, links, and “Tweetspeak.” If you have a Twitter account, consider posting each piece as you finish.

Adam Johnson, Sharon Olds Win Pulitzer Prizes

The Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2013 Pulitzer Prizes today in New York City. Of the twenty-one categories, the prizes in letters are given annually for works published in the previous year by American authors.

The winner in fiction is The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House) by Adam Johnson. The finalists were Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Knopf) and Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child (Little, Brown). The winner in poetry is Stag’s Leap (Knopf) by Sharon Olds. The finalists were Collected Poems by the late Jack Gilbert (Knopf) and The Abundance of Nothing by Bruce Weigl (TriQuarterly). The winner in general nonfiction is Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys (Harper) by Gilbert King. The finalists were Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House) and David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature (Viking).

Pulitzer Prize Administrator Sig Gissler announced the winners and finalists today at Columbia University. At a ceremony on May 20, each winner will receive $10,000.

The prize board caused a stir last year when it failed to select a winner in fiction, leaving many in the literary world—including Denis Johnson and Karen Russell, who joined the late David Foster Wallace as fiction finalists—feeling slighted, and wondering if this year’s awards would prove different. The 2013 awards were given in all twenty-one categories; visit the website for a complete list of winners.

The Pulitzer Prizes were established in 1911 by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher. A portion of his bequest was used to found the Columbia University School of Journalism in 1912 and establish the Pulitzer Prizes, which were first awarded in 1917.

Submissions to be considered for the 2014 prizes will open in May. 

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