Flaws and All


“We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity,” writes Carmen Maria Machado in her new memoir, In the Dream House (Graywolf Press, 2019), about the need to acknowledge the queer community as human beings who are multifaceted and morally complex. Think of someone who at some point has occupied a heroic role in your life and write an essay that attempts to represent all the dimensions of this person. What possibilities are you allowing for when you articulate a person’s flaws or mistakes instead of simply presenting the best version?

BRIO Grants Accepting Applications

Submissions are open for the 2020 Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) grants. Administered by the Bronx Council on the Arts, each $5,000 BRIO grant provides direct support to a Bronx artist who demonstrates “compelling vision and original voice” and “high level of skill.” Grants are available across four categories—literary, media, visual, and performing arts—and literary applicants may apply in disciplines including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrated text. Winners are encouraged to organize a one-time public service activity known as an Artists for Community Enrichment (ACE) event within a year of receiving the award. These events are intended to offer artists additional visibility, while also fostering connections between the artists and their communities.  

Using only the Bronx Council on the Arts Submittable system, submit a short bio, a headshot, a résumé, proof of Bronx residency, and a writing sample of ten to forty-five pages of poetry, prose, or illustrated text by December 16. All samples must represent work created within the last five years. Decisions will be announced in May 2020, and winners will be formally honored in a ceremony in June. There is no entry fee. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Launched in 1989, the BRIO program has offered grants to 481 artists, and distributed more than $1,500,000. Every year, the awards are judged anonymously by a panel of art professionals representing the different disciplines. In 2019, more than 40 artists received grants. 

Haunted Hotels and Cemeteries


Do you believe in ghosts? Browse through the New York Times’ list of haunted hotels and National Geographic’s photo gallery of cemeteries with “views to die for” and think back to a hotel stay or cemetery visit from your own past that might have been tinged with something eerie in the air. Write an essay that centers on this haunting experience. What kind of decorative adornments, distinctive architecture, or imposing weather might have contributed to the mood? Was the tone of the visit tempered by more practical considerations and activities, or did you deliberately revel in the phantasmic atmosphere?

Books About New Orleans

Every place has writers that reflect its culture. Literary place-making, I call it. If you want to know more about a place, you need to hear its stories. There are so many books to choose from, but here are just a few that celebrate New Orleans culture by writers who live, breathe, and love this city.

From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press, 1998) edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. This anthology captures the diverse voices of New Orleans, celebrating the multi-ethnic tapestry of the city. Established and emerging writers of all ages are included in this extensive collection of poetry.

Monday Nights: Stories From the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans (University of New Orleans Press, 2016) edited by Fredrick Barton and Joanna Leake. The University of New Orleans MFA program in creative writing has produced some fantastic writers. The writers in this anthology took part in a Monday night workshop that has lasted over twenty-five years, where they met to share and discuss their work. Included are stories by graduates of the program, such as Rebecca Antoine, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and Che Yeun, as well as faculty members, such as Fredrick Barton, Amanda Boyden, and M. O. Walsh.

N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature (Lavender Ink, 2013) edited by Nancy Dixon. This book highlights the literature of New Orleans over the past two hundred years including prominent writers like Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams, but also historic writers like the poets of Les Cenelles, French Creoles of color who published the first anthology of African American literature in 1845. The book was made possible by grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans (LSU Press, 2013) by Susan Larson. For years, Susan Larson was the book editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and now hosts WWNO’s public radio program The Reading Life. Susan shares her wealth of knowledge for local bookstores, historic landmarks, current literary festivals, and more.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2011) by Freddi Williams Evans. This book explores the history of the Sunday gatherings of enslaved Africans at Congo Square beginning in the eighteenth century. Included are stories and descriptions of the songs, dances, and musical instruments of these gatherings. Congo Square is often considered the birth place of American music and continues to be a prominent venue for music festivals and community gatherings.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Alex Dimitrov


“What is under the earth followed them home. / The branch broke. It broke by itself. It did break, James.” In this 2014 video, Alex Dimitrov reads his poem “Together and by Ourselves” at the Radar Reading Series in San Francisco. Dimitrov and Dorothea Lasky’s Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac, an astrological guide that expands upon their popular Twitter feed, is out this week from Flatiron Books.

Ink Well: The Podcast

This week I want to introduce you to Ink Well, a Houston-based podcast that I cohost which interviews established and emerging writers from across the United States. Presented by Tintero Projects and Inprint, the two organizations collaborate to make suggestions for writers to interview, Inprint provides the recording space and the producer, Tintero Projects founders Jasminne and yours truly cohost and interview guests, and ta-da, you get a podcast series, which is currently in its third year.

With the series, we hope to find ways to showcase international, national, and regional voices talking about the writing landscape. We especially want to feature writers of color and Southern voices from the Gulf Coast to offer them an opportunity to share their work and thoughts on writing.

Our inaugural episode welcomed poet Analicia Sotelo, whose debut poetry collection, Virgin, was selected by Ross Gay as the first winner of the Jake Adam York Prize. Since then guests have included Ching-In Chen, Rigoberto González, Daniel Peña, Samanta Schweblin, and Carmen Giménez Smith.

If you’re looking for something to occupy you on a long commute and want to hear brilliant voices talking about all things literary, give Ink Well a listen. I hope you’ll be introduced to some new inspiring voices.

Ink Well podcast cohosts Jasminne and Lupe Mendez.
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Adrienne Brodeur


“The very act of reading is an empathetic act.” In this Aspen Institute video, Adrienne Brodeur talks about her writing process and reads from her debut memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), which is featured in Page One in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

With a new month swiftly approaching, the time is right to submit to these contests, all of which have a closing date of October 31 or November 1. These poetry, fiction, and nonfiction awards include opportunities to attend residencies in Italy and Oregon. Each offers a prize of $1,000 or more; one prize has an estimated value of over $6,000.

Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards: Three prizes of $1,000 each are given annually for works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The winners will also be invited to take part in a panel discussion at the annual Tucson Festival of Books and attend a workshop on the University of Arizona campus in March 2020. Deadline: October 31. Entry fee: $20.

Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award: A prize of $3,000, publication by Red Hen Press, and a four-week residency at PLAYA in Summer Lake, Oregon, is given annually for a poetry collection. Allison Joseph will judge. Deadline: October 31. Entry fee: $25.

Poetry Society of the United Kingdom National Poetry Competition: A prize of £5,000 (approximately $6,430) and publication on the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom website is given annually for a poem. A second-place prize of £2,000 (approximately $2,570) and a third-place prize of £1,000 (approximately $1,290) are also given. The winners will also be published in Poetry Review and invited to read at festivals in the United Kingdom. Poems written in English by poets from any country are eligible. Mona Arshi, Helen Mort, and Maurice Riordan will judge. Deadline: October 31. Entry fee: $9. 

Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award: A prize of $5,000, publication by Graywolf Press, and a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, is given annually for a poetry collection by a poet who has not published a book of poems in a standard edition. The winning book will also be distributed to 5,000 members of the Academy of American Poets. Harryette Mullen will judge. Deadline: November 1. Entry fee: $35.

Briar Cliff Review Writing Contests: Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Briar Cliff Review are given annually for a poem, a short story, and an essay. The editors will judge. Deadline: November 1. Entry fee: $20, which includes a copy of the prize issue. 

Autumn House Press Poetry Chapbook Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication by Autumn House Press is given annually for a poetry chapbook. Gerry LaFemina will judge. Deadline: November 1. Entry fee: $20. 

Fiction Collective Two Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest: A prize of $1,500 and publication by Fiction Collective Two is given annually for a novel, short story collection, novella, or novella collection. U.S. writers who have not previously published a book with Fiction Collective Two are eligible. Sarah Blackman will judge. Deadline: November 1. Entry fee: $25.

Cutthroat Writing Awards: Three prizes of $1,200 each and publication in Cutthroat are given annually for a group of poems, a short story, and an essay. Deadline: November 1. Entry fee: $20.

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.

How We Fight for Our Lives


“I wanted to encapsulate the experience I was having, and particularly the memories in terms of what they mean to me now, as someone who’s thirty-three years old.” At Unbound, a literary series copresented by BAM and Greenlight Bookstore, Saeed Jones talks about the drive that compelled him to write his debut memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives (Simon & Schuster, 2019), which is featured in Page One in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Grave Goods


Last week Science journal published a study with the DNA analyses of graves and found objects from prehistoric German households that demonstrates wealth disparities in inhabitants not previously seen. The findings include indications that under the same roof, there were family members who passed down inherited wealth, unrelated individuals not buried with wealth, and nonlocal women who maintained or married into wealth. Consider the beloved and functional items in your home and write a personal essay that examines how these objects express social complexity or class status. How might you be remembered based on your possessions?


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