What’s Your Obsession?

2.21.13

Read through your past writings—drafts of essays, journal entries, letters, stories—looking for themes or images that are repeated. Choose one of these and write an essay about it, exploring as much of it as you can. Incorporate your personal connection to it, as well as outside sources, such as definitions in the dictionary, historical information, and/or cultural and literary references. The idea is to dive deeply into this theme or image to discover the root of your obsession with it. 

Crossing Nations, Cultures, and Languages with Marick Press Founder Mariela Griffor

Since 2008, P&W has supported readings and workshops presented by literary publisher Marick Press. Its founder, Mariela Griffor, answered our questions about her experience publishing writers from around the world out of Grosse Pointe, MI, a small city neighboring Detroit. Griffor was born in the city of Concepción in southern Chile. She is the author of Exiliana (Luna Publications, 2007) and House (Mayapple Press, 2007). Her work has also appeared in Passages North, Cerise Press, and Washington Square Review. Her forthcoming translations include Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press, 2013), At Half Mast by Carmen Berenguer, Militant Poems by Raúl Zurita, Desolation by Gabriela Mistral and Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn. She is Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan.

Mariela GrifforWhat makes Marick Press unique?
Marick Press strives, across boundaries of nations, cultures, and languages, to create fine literature and make it a personal experience. We seek out and publish the best new work from an eclectic range of aesthetics—work that is technically accomplished, distinctive in style, and thematically fresh.

What project have you been especially proud of?
I’m proud of every single book I've published, but the translation series is something very, very special. This series includes some of the most accomplished and original writers in the world, translated into English.

I have always been able to find a special or unique book of poetry that has been overlooked in its original language or is essential to understanding the complete work of a poet. Particular cases of this are INRI by the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, and From Threshold to Threshold by Paul Celan.

What’s the most memorable event you’ve hosted?
P&W sponsored a festival of poetry held in Marick’s home town of Grosse Pointe, MI. The writers, publishers, and public shared some of the most remarkable readings I’ve experienced. It was the first time a poetry festival had been held in our community. For many in attendance, it was their first personal experience of fine literature—and it was new, fresh, and exciting!

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
A community with a literary program is an intellectually vibrant and relevant community not only for itself, but for its surrounding communities. I admire the work of Ann Arbor District Libraries here and in Ann Arbor. Individuals and community groups in my area use a lot of its resources.

I could not live in a place that is not interested in literature. Once a community experiences literature personally, it will go to any lengths—establishing writing programs, festivals, and public readings—to perpetuate and expand the personal experience of writing to everyone. If you counted how many writers of note have been attracted to, or were raised or born in Michigan, you would be stunned!

How has publishing and presenting informed your own writing and life?
If you are a publisher, you learn to be humble. You struggle, you struggle more, and then you get some satisfaction when the book is out. The creation of a book is not an easy task. It is a work of art, but also a responsibility. Very few can handle the weight of this work. You listen, take notes, produce, and through it all get to know people as they are.

The writing community in the United States is very assured, very eclectic, and much more resistant to foreign influence than those in other countries. Being a publisher and the host of a reading series has taught me the blessings of comparative literature among living writers.

Photo: Mariela Griffor. Credit: Javiera Denney.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Love Letter

2.14.13

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, write a love letter to an inanimate object that explores why you appreciate what you're writing about, what its special qualities are. Title it as you would address the letter: Dear Subway, Dear Keychain, Dear Gloves.

Time and Place

In Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction authors Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd describe how in "The White Album," an autobiographical essay by Joan Didion about the 1960s, Didion "uses her own responses to the times as a means of trying to capture a broad truth about events." Choose a period in your life, and write an essay about loosely related events you experienced that together offer insight into a certain time or place.

Barnes & Noble Announces Discover Award Finalists

Barnes and Noble has announced the shortlist for its 2012 Discover Great New Writers Awards, which annually honor works of fiction and nonfiction by emerging writers published during the previous calendar year and featured in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. Of the six finalists, one winner in each genre will be receive $10,000.  

The finalists in fiction are Amanda Coplin for The Orchardist (HarperCollins), Eowyn Ivey for The Snow Child (Reagan Arthur Books), and Karen Thompson Walker for The Age of Miracles (Random House). The finalists in nonfiction are Katherine Boo for Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House), Kristen Iversen for Full Body Burden (Crown Publishers), and Cheryl Strayed for Wild (Knopf).

Established in 1990, the Discover program highlights books by debut or early-career writers whose work might otherwise be overlooked by the mainstream. This year’s selections were chosen from a list of fifty-three writers. 

A group of Barnes and Noble volunteers hand-picks Discover selections each year from a list of nominees, and a panel of judges in both genres selects the award finalists and winners. This year's fiction judges are Lan Samantha Chang, Alan Cheuse, and Karl Marlantes. The nonfiction judges are Susan Cheever, Wendy McClure, and Touré.

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, March 6. Second-place finalists will receive $5,000, and third-place finalists will receive $2,500. 

The 2011 Discover Great New Writers Award winner in fiction was Scott O'Connor for Untouchable, published by Tyrus Books; Michael Levy won in nonfiction for Kosher Chinese, published by Holt. 

Barnes and Noble accepts nominations for the Discover program four times yearly. For the Fall 2013 season, books published between August and October, 2013, may be submitted by April 4. Publishers may nominate books by debut authors or writers with fewer than three previously published books. Authors may not submit their own work. Works of literary fiction (including novels and short story collections) and literary nonfiction (including essay collections, memoirs, and other nonfiction works with a strong narrative) are eligible. Self-published or digital-only titles are not eligible. For more information and complete submission guidelines, visit the website.

Time Travel

1.31.13

In honor of the 100th anniversary on February 1 of New York City's famed Grand Central Station, write an essay about a time in your life when you travelled—it could be daily travel, such as the commute to and from a job; seasonal travel, such as heading to a beach community every summer; or a vacation, such as a trip to a foreign country. Focus on what compelled you to go and the transition of leaving one place and arriving in another.

When Did You Know

1.24.13

Think about an important conclusion or insight that you've had at some point in your life but that took time to fully realize. It could be anything—the need to end a relationship, the decision not to pursue a certain career, or the hard truth about a life challenge. Write an essay structured around the many moments that led you to your final conclusion or insight. Consider using headings for each section, such as The First Time I Realized X, The Second Time I Realized X, etc.

Amen to Peter J. Harris: Man of Inspiration

Peter J. Harris, founder and Artistic Director of Inspiration House, is an African American cultural worker who has since the 1970s published his poetry, essays, and fiction in a wide range of national publications; worked as a publisher, journalist, editor, and broadcaster; and been an educator, and workshop leader for adults and adolescents. Harris is also founding director of The Black Man of Happiness Project, a creative, intellectual, and artistic exploration of Black men and joy. He is a mainstay of the Los Angeles arts community and has been supported by P&W as both a writer and event curator.

Peter J. HarrisWhat are your reading dos?
I choose poetry that feels right for the moment and best captures my artistic voice, as well as the ideas and emotions welling within me as I absorb the atmosphere of the venue.

I try to contribute to the overall harmonics of the event, but prioritize sharing work that resonates with my journey as a human being and focuses the audience’s attention on that journey.

When producing or curating, my essential “do” is to present programs that include virtuosos—poets with vitality and distinctive voices, who are enchanted by the power of well-chosen language.
 
How do you prepare for a reading?
Give thanks for the invitation. I choose work that addresses the theme of the reading and review works-in-progress I'm inspired to revisit, in hopes that my preparations might include sharpened insights and heightened skills to complete the new poem in time.

Over the years, I’ve found that publicly reading freshly minted work is difficult, but exhilarating. I can’t rely on memory or familiarity to take it to the bridge. Reading a new poem makes me nervous, slows me down, quiets the room, and demands that I concentrate on feeling/capturing the nuances of the poem in real time. Under the right circumstances, folks in the audience experience and witness in a positive way the humility of my struggle, and they lean in to listen and join me on the exploration.
 
What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
Honesty. Fearlessness. Conversational, passionate delivery of the poem. Resist the urge to lean on what some folks might call a signature poem.

Place the poems first. The audience is there to hear the work, not to see me, even if I’m the “featured” poet.
 
What’s the inspiration behind the Inspiration House PoetryChoir?
Inspiration House PoetryChoir, a collaboration between a shifting roster of virtuoso poets and improvisational musicians, is my old KPFK radio show stood up on its feet. The radio show, “Inspiration House: VoiceMusic for Whole Living,” aired from 1999 to 2004 on KPFK-FM, Pacifica Radio for Southern California. The show featured poets reading their work to recorded music. Poets selected poetry in response to the music, and I selected music in response to the poetry.

Inspiration House PoetryChoir events unfold in the same unscripted way, with the audience encouraged to respond spontaneously—with shouts of encouragement, amens, and affirmation—to the skill of the poets and musicians, stitching their voices into the dialogue, and helping to produce a testament to whole living.

The Inspiration House PoetryChoir is also a reflection of my thinking that poetry readings can become ceremonies that are mini rites of passages, in which participants begin the experience in one state of mind/being; plunge into the deep exchange between poets sharing their work, while musicians improvise musical responses to the poetry, all of us losing ourselves within the blending of words, intonations, audience responses, and dynamic silence; then leave the gig renewed and recommitted to cultural work that contributes to the creation of a humane society.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs and the role of the writer in the community?
Ideally, literary programs are concentrated opportunities to swap ideas, testimony, and stories that celebrate our uncensored voices. Sometimes they present virtuosos whose mastery sets or expands standards of excellence. Sometimes they are briar patches to intensify the creative and artistic intimacies of writers of a common cultural or stylistic flow. Sometimes they call us to cross borders and be ethical witnesses to the evolution of themes and issues that hip us and humble us, so we’re reminded to stay curious and hungry to learn.

The role of the writer in the community? Scribe. Critic. Griot. Historian. Entertainer. Provocateur. Visionary. Tour-guide to big ideas, insecurities, and private insights that unlock public understandings. Mas o menos!

Photo: Peter J. Harris. Credit: Adenike Harris.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

If I Hadn't

1.17.13

Think about a choice you made in your life that led to specific consequences or outcomes. Explore the alternative reality that could have been if you'd made a different choice in an essay that begins If I hadn't...

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