Table of Contents

8.23.12

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.

Tim O’Brien Receives Dayton Literary Peace Prize

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 Launches New Literature Awards

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. 

Advice Column

8.16.12

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.

Write a Letter

The letter is one of the earliest and most widely practiced forms of the personal essay: It tells a story about the author's life; it poses questions; and, perhaps most important, it's a way of connecting to a reader. Write a letter to someone you know, keeping the basic tenants of the personal essay in mind. The letter should be about you, but should also somehow address a larger question or idea. For inspiration, check out Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road (Grossman, 1970), a collection of letters that documents her years-long correspondence and relationship with the owners of Marks & Co., a bookstore in London.

Invincible Summer

The summers of youth—and the unparalleled magic carried with them—have inspired many great works of literature. In "Once More to the Lake," E. B. White's classic coming-of-age essay about the August when he was twelve, the author writes: "Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end." Write an essay about being a child in the summertime. It may be about one particular moment or one particular summer, or about the season as a whole. For inspiration, read White's essay or Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel about summer and youth, Dandelion Wine

In Transit

7.24.12

In literature of every genre, some of the most interesting reflection takes place in transit. Write about a time when you were in transit of some kind—on a train, plane, bus, or bike, in a car or even on foot. Write about where you were going and why, and focus on what you were thinking, seeing, and feeling as you moved.

Nancy Kline on Stories: Hurry Up and Tell Them

For the past seven years, Nancy Kline has been leading P&W–supported senior writing workshops at Queens Community House in New York City. Her short stories, essays, literary criticism, and translations have appeared widely. She is the author of the novel, The Faithful, and edited and contributed to the essay collection How Writers Teach Writing. She also reviews regularly for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Kline generously shared with us reflections on her writing workshops with seniors.

What makes your workshops unique?
It’s the students who make my workshops unique—their jokes, epiphanies, reticencies, and idiosyncrasies; their chemistry with each other, with me, and with words. 

Could you share a few examples of stories written in your workshop recently?
In one workshop, we used pieces from Flash Fiction Forward as springboards into workshop participants’ own work.

Rick Moody’s “Drawer” inspired a hilarious description of the anarchic contents of one writer’s drawer and her increasing hysteria as she searched through it for some coveted item.

In response to the prompt "just like her mother," suggested by Pamela Painter's "Toasters," one workshop participant wrote about how, as a small child, she accompanied her mother to forage secretly for an apronful of grain with which to feed her starving family in decimated, post-World War II Germany.

Rob Carney's “Traveling Alone” inspired one eighty-six-year-old student's biblical monologue. When asked what she planned to write about next, having just done God, she replied: “Sex.” And so she did.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
In my experience, all writers are shy, at least on some level. We are naked in the page. For this reason, I try to establish a respectful, attentive environment in my writing workshops. Laughter helps.

I try to teach students to listen to their readers’ comments, without defensiveness or undue docility, and to comment on other people’s work with rigor and charity; to write any written comments in pencil, rather than pen; and to try to phrase their comments as questions, rather than statements. 

There’s a difference between asking a writer "Could you clarify this?" and stamping a text "Unclear." The former recognizes that the writer is in charge of her own words and has the power to change them. The latter suggests, to my ear, that the reader is in charge and the writer has failed.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
It is always that moment when a student gets it, whatever it happens to be. Sometimes a writer who has been struggling with constricted prose suddenly writes in a text so lush and genuine that the workshop falls silent in admiration. Smaller epiphanies occur: During a recent session on comma use, one of the seniors exclaimed, “Commas actually communicate information! I never knew that!” This was thrilling.

What affect has this work had on you?
It is deeply moving to be in the presence of the accumulated wisdom, imagination, and courage of the women and men with whom I’m working. Four of my students have died since I began to offer these workshops. Their deaths have marked me and their colleagues, and have underlined the collective sense that each of us has many stories to tell, and that we had better hurry up and tell them.

Photo: Nancy Kline. Credit: Adam Piore.
Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

After Tolstoy

7.16.12

As Tolstoy's axiom goes, "All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." Freewrite for ten minutes about each of these premises, then turn one—or both—into an essay.

The Genesis of Fear

7.12.12

Describe one of your earliest recollections of fear. What caused you to be afraid? What sensations—physical, mental, emotional—do you recall? How did you react? Next, describe a similar experience you've had as an adult. In what ways have your responses to fear changed since you were young? In what ways have they remained the same?

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