August 4

7.28.11

Go for a walk, paying careful attention to your surroundings, until you find something that doesn't belong. It could be a piece of garbage on the street, a coin, an animal, a car battery in the woods, anything out of place. Tell the story of how it got there.

Kingsolver Honored for Peace Work

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize committee announced today that its first Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award will be given to novelist and nonfiction writer Barbara Kingsolver. The ten-thousand-dollar prize, formerly known as the Lifetime Achievement Award but renamed to honor the late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, celebrates an author for a body of work that promotes peace and understanding.

Kingsolver is the author of, most recently, The Lacuna (Harper, 2009), a novel examining the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Among her other works are the memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (HarperCollins, 2007), coauthored with her husband and daughter, and the novels The Poisonwood Bible (HarperFlamingo, 1998) and The Bean Trees (Harper and Row, 1988).

The author will receive her award on November 13 at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, the site of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. The finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, given annually for a book of fiction and a book of nonfiction, will be revealed later this month, and the winners will be honored alongside Kingsolver.

In the video below, Kingsolver discusses nationhood, news and gossip, and schadenfreude in The Lacuna, which won the 2010 Orange Prize.

The Art of the Literary Duel

Melville House Publishing, pioneer of book-trailer appreciation, is offering its entire novella library to the literary filmmaker who can come up with "the most awesome book trailer of all time." The challenge? Create a video that embodies five novellas by major international authors, all titled The Duel.

The independent press has just released the suite of novella reprints, by Giacomo Casanova, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad, Heinrich von Kleist, and Alexander Kuprin, as part of its forty-two volume Art of the Novella series (the official publication date for the five is in August, but books are available now from the press). The winner of the trailer competition will receive the entire collection celebrating the "renegade art form" that doesn't often make its way into a stand-alone book, including titles by classic authors such as Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Herman Melville.

Entries, which should first be posted on YouTube, can be created using any media, from crayons to computer-generated imagery, and must be under three minutes. For all the details on how to submit a video (there is no entry fee), as well as descriptions of each version of The Duel, visit the Melville House site.

In the video below, Melville House throws the gauntlet.

July 28

7.27.11

In a radio interview this week on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, fiction writer Donald Ray Pollock, whose most recent novel, The Devil All the Time, was published this month, talked about how he learned to write by typing out a story by an established author once a week. Use Pollock’s strategy this week, typing a story by an author whose writing you admire. After typing it out, print out a copy and carry it with you, reading and rereading it, making notes along the way. Let the process reveal the story’s gifts to you. Then begin a story of your own.

First Novels, Indie Presses Make Booker Prize Longlist

The Man Booker Prize panel has announced its 2011 "Booker dozen," the semifinalists for the fifty-thousand-pound novel award (approximately eighty-two thousand dollars). Among the thirteen are four first-time novelists: Yvvette Edwards, whose A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld) was more than twenty years in the making; Stephen Kelman for Pigeon English (Bloomsbury), which emerged from an agency slush pile and made its way into a bidding war; Patrick McGuinness, who has previously published two books of poetry, for The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books); and journalist and memoirist A. D. Miller for Snowdrops (Atlantic Books).

The other longlisted titles are The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape) by thrice-shortlisted author Julian Barnes; On Canaan's Side (Faber and Faber) by Sebastian Barry; Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate Books); The Sisters Brothers (Granta Books) by Patrick deWitt; Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail); The Stranger's Child (Picador) by Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Booker in 2004; Far to Go (Headline Review) by Alison Pick; The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press) by Jane Rogers; and Derby Day (Chatto & Windus) by D. J. Taylor.

Members of U.K. publishing's Independent Alliance made a strong showing, with Canongate Books of Edinburgh and London-based Atlantic Books, Faber and Faber, Granta Books, and Serpent's Tail all represented on the longlist. Also flying the indie flag are Sandstone Press in the Scottish Highlands and Seren Books, the first Welsh publisher to have one of its titles considered for the Booker.

The judging panel, chaired by Stella Rimington, former director of British intelligence agency MI5, consists of novelist Susan Hill, journalists Matthew d'Ancona and Gaby Wood, and politician Chris Mullin. It took roughly two hours of "impassioned debate, but without any acrimony and with a great deal of humor," according to Rimington, for panelists to select this year's titles from one hundred thirty-eight under consideration.

The Booker shortlist will be announced on September 6, and the winner will be named on October 18. The annual award, considered one of the most prestigious for literature in English, is given to a citizen of the British Commonwealth, Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

The video below is a trailer for Kelman's Pigeon English. For further visual access to the semifinalists' works, the Guardian has the longlist in pictures.

University of Wisconsin Professor Wins for Year's Worst Sentence

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest announced, for the twenty-ninth year running, the worst sentence submitted to its annual race for the most wretched first line of an imaginary novel. The writer of this year's worst opener is professor and admitted punster Sue Fondrie, who teaches in the curriculum and instruction program at University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. She will receive as her prize "a pittance."

Fondrie took top honors for the line—the shortest to win in contest history—"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."

The sentence joins a cast of other misfits, run-ons, and purple prose creations in genres such as crime, historical fiction, and romance, as well as a collection of "vile puns," selected for this year's auxiliary honors. The notable lines are posted on the Bulwer-Lytton website.

The contest, established 1982 by English professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, is named for Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the familiar opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." Entries are accepted via e-mail throughout the year.

Guardian Seeks Suggestions for Debut Book Prize

Earlier this month the Guardian revealed the one hundred thirty-six nominees for its annual First Book Award, posing the question, "what have we missed?" After inviting readers to suggest fiction and nonfiction titles not yet entered by publishers—who must pay an entry fee of one hundred fifty pounds (nearly two hundred fifty dollars) to submit each title—the newspaper collected more than a hundred responses, but the forum for discussion is still open.

On Monday the Guardian posted responses from a group of literary bloggers weighing in on the question. Asylum's John Self named Teju Cole's novel, Open City (Random House) as his missing title, and Bookslut's Jessa Crispin suggested Vanessa Veselka's novel, Zazen, and nonfiction title Who Is Anna Mendieta? by Christine Redfern and Caro Caron (Feminist Press), among others. Nic Bottomley of Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights and Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles both called out the novel Snowdrops by A. D. Miller (Atlantic Books).

Fictionbitch blogger Elizabeth Baines, looking for "books that don't fit the conception of the 'market' but, with the oxygen of a prize win, have the power to capture readers' imaginations and indeed change the terms of the market," selected as one of her titles James Franco's "brilliantly written" story collection Palo Alto, published by Faber in the United Kingdom and Scribner in the United States.

For the bloggers' full lists and to offer your own nominations, visit the Guardian's website. The long- and shortlists for the prize, worth ten thousand pounds (roughly sixteen thousand dollars), will be rolled out in the coming months, with a winner announced in the late fall.

July 21

7.21.11

Create a main character assigning basic characteristics, such as gender, age, and physical attributes. Imagine this character having dinner with three other people. At the end of this dinner, the character will have lost something significant—a job, a partner, a home. Write this scene at dinner, and then use it as a turning point for a larger story

Self-Taught Poet Among 2011 Pew Fellows

The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia has announced its 2011 fellows in the arts. Poets CAConrad and Pattie McCarthy are among the twelve Philadelphia-area artists, musicians, and innovators awarded sixty-thousand-dollar fellowships.

Conrad, who has lived in Philadelphia for twenty-five years, is a self-taught writer for whom "poetry and other art disciplines are forms of courage.” Innovator of a type of writing he calls "(Soma)tic poetry""instructions and recipes that invite the reader-listener into deeply embodied experiences," Conrad is the author of six books including The Book of Frank (Chax Press, 2009), The City Real & Imagined (Factory School, 2010), Advanced Elvis Course (Soft Skull Press, 2009), (Soma)tic Midge (Faux Press, 2008), and Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull Press, 2006). His latest, (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises & Poems, is forthcoming from Wave Books this fall.

McCarthy studied creative writing at Temple University, where she earned her M.A. in 1998. Experimenting with language and narrative, her collections include Table Alphabetical of Hard Words (2010), Verso (2004), and bk of (h)rs (2002), all published by Apogee Press, and she is currently at work on a project involving various Marys of history and fiction (from the Virgin Mary to Marys who figured into the Salem Witch Trials, for instance).

The awards, now in their twentieth year, are given to Philadelphia-area artists and writers at any stage in their careers. While there is an entry process for nominees, those who may apply for the annual fellowships are selected by an anonymous panel familiar with artists working in the region.

In the video below, Conrad reads from his most recent collection, The Book of Frank.

July 14

7.13.11

Choose a unique historical moment, the first that comes to mind: the Crimean War, the first lunar landing, the invention of the wheel, or something seemingly less dramatic, such as the building of the first traffic light. Then spend some time researching the moment you chose—dig into a few sources, make a page of notes. Create a character who lives on the periphery of the event—a witness or minor player, yet someone living at the intersection of history. The character can be swept up by the event or remotely affected, battle against it or be its biggest cheerleader. Write his or her story.

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