Earlier this month, art critic Jason Farago wrote a New York Times article advocating for the removal and relocation of the Mona Lisa painting from its place in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Farago argues that the overwhelming popularity and crowding make for untenable viewing conditions, and that the painting itself is perhaps not worth the trouble. Write a personal essay that explores a piece of art—a book, painting, song, film, or live performance—you’ve experienced that left you with a feeling of disappointment. Describe the encounter, and then use the experience as an opportunity to reflect on a comparable work of art that’s underappreciated and deserves more widespread acclaim. How does your emotional response to the artwork affect your preferences?

Choi, Broom Win 2019 National Book Awards

At a ceremony tonight in New York City, the winners of the seventieth annual National Book Awards were announced. Susan Choi won the award in fiction for her novel Trust Exercise (Henry Holt), and Sarah M. Broom won the award in nonfiction for her memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Atlantic). Arthur Sze won the award in poetry for Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press), and Martin W. Sandler won the award in young people’s literature for 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury). László Krasznahorkai and Ottilie Mulzet won the award in translated literature for Mulzet’s translation from the Hungarian of Krasznahorkai’s novel Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (New Directions).

The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature, and translated literature published during the previous year. The winners each receive $10,000.

Actor and longtime host of the PBS show Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton emceed the evening. He opened the ceremony by celebrating the importance of literature. “Literature is the birthright of every one of us—if you can read in at least one language, you are, in my definition, free,” he said. “No one can pull the wool over your eyes.”

Earlier in the evening, writer and indie bookstore owner Ann Patchett presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “The creativity, ingenuity, and resilience of booksellers is nothing less than remarkable,” said Teicher. “I accept [this award] on behalf of the thousands of indie booksellers across this country who every day thousand and thousands of times perform that special act of magic of placing the right book in a reader’s hands.”

Director, actor, and writer John Waters presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Edmund White, saying, “He is beyond distinguished…but he’s disreputable too.” A fiction writer, biographer, and cultural critic, White has published several books, including In Hotel de Dream and States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. According to the National Book Foundation, White and his work “remain central to any consideration of gay male life in late twentieth-century America.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are some of the most prestigious literary prizes given in the United States. In 2018, the awards went to Justin Phillip Reed in poetry, Sigrid Nunez in fiction, Elizabeth Acevedo in young people’s literature, Jeffrey C. Stewart in nonfiction, and Yoko Tawada and Margaret Mitsutani in translated literature.

Photos (clockwise from top left): László Krasznahorkai, Ottilie Mulzet, Sarah M. Broom, Susan Choi, Martin W. Sandler, and Arthur Sze.

Sarah M. Broom


“If we truly love a place and are tethered to a place, then it’s our job to get to know that place.” In this Good Morning America interview, Sarah M. Broom speaks about her debut memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Press, 2019), which is a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction.

Just Mercy


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau, 2014) by Bryan Stevenson, a memoir recounting his experience as a young defense attorney fighting for a death row inmate wrongfully convicted of murder, has been adapted into a feature film. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the legal drama stars Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, and Rafe Spall.

Gratitude and Vengeance


“I had to write the book for two reasons. The first one was gratitude for all that kept me alive and made life worth living, and the second was vengeance against all that diminishes life,” writes Anne Boyer in an interview about her memoir, The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog. Think of an urgent issue in your own life which has provoked in you both feelings of gratitude and vengeance. Write a personal essay that expresses both of these important emotional states. How do you give voice to these feelings in a complex and productive or healing way?

Indie Bookstores in the HOU

Hey mi gente! This week I want to draw your attention to some indie bookstores here in Houston, the HOU.

Indie bookstores are independently operated as a small business and I am proud to say we have many in town that help build the literary fabric of the city. These spaces are important and special because they help bring authors into town and invite locals to see and hear new voices. Indie bookstores inform and build community with every reader that enters their doors.

Here are a few shops in town that I often frequent:

Brazos Bookstore is a solid space to find anything current and fresh, and the go-to spot for readings from local and national writers. They do an amazing job at keeping up with a special section for books by local writers.

Casa Ramirez is located in the heart of the Heights, in the Northside. Although it’s not technically a bookstore, Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery has always served as a cultural pillar providing a space for community and art. Casa Ramirez houses folk art, pieces by local artists, Dia de los Muertos events, Mexican artisan work, and a large selection of books written by Latinx writers, from children’s books to short story anthologies. They also host poetry readings, author talks, and storytelling events.

Kaboom Books is a used bookstore in Woodland Heights just above Downtown Houston. I love this space because, although it focuses on used books, they have a great outside patio to host readings featuring writers with new work. Many local literary organizations have used the space for book launches and the shop owners are always all about it.

Murder By the Book is a beautiful, small shop that focuses on thriller, suspense, and mystery genres. They regularly host author readings and Akashic Books’ Houston Noir celebrated its launch party there this past May.

To find indie bookstores in your area, check out the Literary Places and Reading Venues databases.

Saeed Jones reads for a recent event at Brazos Bookstore.
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Casa Ramirez

Casa Ramirez stands as a cultural pillar in the community offering a selection of folk art, Mexican dresses, local artist work, books on culture and cooking and bilingual books for children, greeting cards and decorations. Classes have been offered on Dia de los Muertos traditions and altar building, learning Spanish and the history of tequila as well as poetry and author readings and storytelling.

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Casa Ramirez

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

November deadlines are approaching for contests in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the oldest annual literary award in America, the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Each of these contests has a deadline of November 15, and all but one offer a prize of $1,000 or more in addition to publication. 

Hidden River Arts Blue Mountain Novel Award: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Hidden River Press is given annually for a novel. Hidden River Press staff will judge. Entry fee: $22.

Nightboat Books Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Nightboat Books, and twenty-five author copies is given annually for a poetry collection. Kazim Ali, Stephen Motika, Lindsey Boldt, and Andrea Abi-Karam will judge. Entry fee: $28.

North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in North American Review is given annually for a poem. All entries are considered for publication. Ilya Kaminsky will judge. Entry fee: $23, which includes a subscription to North American Review.

Perugia Press Poetry Prize: A prize of $1,000, publication by Perugia Press, and ten author copies is given annually for a first or second poetry collection by a woman. Entry fee: $27.

Pleiades Press Lena–Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize: A prize of $2,000 and publication by Pleiades Press with distribution by Louisiana State University Press is given annually for a poetry collection by a U.S. poet. The winner also receives $1,000 for book tour expenses. Tiana Clark will judge. Entry fee: $25.

Pleiades Press Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose: A prize of $2,000 and publication by Pleiades Press with distribution by Louisiana State University Press is given annually for a collection of short stories, short short stories, or essays. CJ Hauser will judge. Entry fee: $25.

Sonora Review Flash Prose Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Sonora Review is given annually for a work of short prose on a theme. This year’s theme is “Encounter.” Hybrid work is encouraged. Lucy Corin will judge. Entry fee: $15.

Sonora Review Nonfiction Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Sonora Review is given annually for a work of creative nonfiction on a theme. This year’s theme is “Encounter.” Hybrid work is encouraged. Rae Paris will judge. Entry fee: $15.

Southeast Missouri State University Press Nilsen Literary Award: A prize of $2,000 and publication by Southeast Missouri State University Press is given annually for a novel, novella, or collection of linked stories by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel. Entry fee: $30.

TulipTree Publishing Genre Issue Contest: A prize of $1,000 and publication in TulipTree Review will be given annually for a story of genre fiction. Stories in the genres of mystery, crime, romance, science fiction, fantasy, noir, and western are eligible. Entry fee: $20.

Washington Writers Publishing House Poetry and Fiction Prizes: Two prizes of $1,000 each, publication by Washington Writers Publishing House, and 50 author copies are given annually for a poetry collection and a short story collection or novel. Writers who live in Washington, D.C., or in Maryland or Virginia within a 75-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, are eligible. Entry fee: $25.

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition: A prize of $3,000 and travel and lodging expenses for a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City is given annually for a short short story. The winner will also be featured in an article in Writer’s Digest. A second-place prize of $1,500 is also awarded. Early entry fee: $25 ($30 for entries made November 17 through December 16). 

Yale University Press Yale Series of Younger Poets: An award of publication by Yale University Press is given annually for a poetry collection by a poet who has not published a full-length book of poetry. Carl Phillips will judge. Entry fee: $25.

Visit the contest websites for complete guidelines, and check out the Grants & Awards database and Submission Calendar for more contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Notes to A Tribe Called Quest


“It’s a book about a rap group, but, more particularly, a book that is examining how fandom seeps into our lives.” In this PBS NewHour video, Hanif Abdurraqib speaks with Amna Nawaz about his memoir, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (University of Texas Press, 2019), and the ways in which music intertwines with identity and the poignant moments in our lives.

Mario Vargas Llosa


“The only counsel that is acceptable is to work! To work very hard until you discover the kind of writer that you want to be.” Nobel Prize–winning Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa dispenses advice to young and emerging writers in this Louisiana Channel interview with Christian Lund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.


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