Theatre producer and former professor Rocco Landesman was confirmed by the Senate on Friday as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Also confirmed by the Senate last week was former congressman Jim Leach, tapped to head up the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both men are expected to be sworn in within a few days.
Entries will soon be accepted for the 2010 Bellwether Prize, given biennially for a novel whose content "addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." The winner will receive $25,000, courtesy of sponsor Barbara Kingsolver, author of the novels The Bean Trees (HarperCollins, 1988) and The Poisonwood Bible (HarperCollins, 1999), among others. Editor Kathy Pories of Algonquin Books will negotiate a publication contract and edit the winning manuscript.
"Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger," Kingsolver says in a statement on the prize Web site. "Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities."
Writers who are U.S. citizens may submit a manuscript of eighty thousand words or more, along with a curriculum vitae and a twenty-five-dollar entry fee, between September 1 and October 2. The contest is open to emerging writers who have some previous publication credits, but have not published a book that sold more than ten thousand copies.
The previous prizewinners are:
2008 Heidi Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (forthcoming from Algonquin Books)
2006 Hillary Jordan for Mudbound (Algonquin Books, 2008)
2004 Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape (HarperCollins, 2005)
2002 Gayle Brandeis for The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins, 2003)
2000 Donna Gershten for Kissing The Virgin's Mouth (HarperCollins, 2001)
Flooding provoked three days ago by sudden rains in Louisville, Kentucky, has caused an estimated $5 million in damage to the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. The building—said to be the worst-hit in the city—will be closed to the public until at least Labor Day, with restoration work continuing throughout the remainder of the year.
This summer is a significant season for the 2008 winners of the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prizes sponsored by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. By this time next week, poet Leslie Harrison, fiction writer Skip Horack, and creative nonfiction writer Vicki Forman will all have seen their debut books hit bookstores (Harrison’s and Forman’s were published in July, and Horack’s goes on sale next Wednesday), and will be gathered at the twelve-day conference, which they will attend on fellowship.
Harrison won the Bakeless Prize in poetry for her collection Displacement, which she calls a "project book" with a distinct narrative arc. Eavan Boland was the judge. Skip Horack won in fiction for The Southern Cross, chosen by Antonya Nelson, a collection comprised of sixteen stories set in the Gulf Coast shortly before and after Hurricane Katrina. Forman received the prize in creative nonfiction, judged by Tom Bissell, for her memoir This Lovely Life, centered on her experiences as a mother of a special needs child. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is the publisher for the 2008 winners’ books. (Graywolf Press will publish the 2009 winners.)
In the midst of this celebratory time, Poets & Writers Magazine caught up with the winners to get their views on receiving the award and publishing a first book.
What was the most difficult aspect of bringing your debut book into the world, and the most fulfilling?
Skip Horack: Well, it’s pretty tough these days to get a short story collection published. So, other than getting the words down on the page, I suppose the most difficult aspect of putting my book together was keeping the faith. That said, I suppose that’s also what makes seeing the book in print most fulfilling, as nothing that comes too easily can be all that satisfying. Also, having the manuscript chosen by someone as talented as Antonya Nelson was incredibly touching.
Vicki Forman: Before winning the prize, the book had been subject to more than a few difficult rejections. As with all heartbreaking rejections, many cited the impressive language, craft and storytelling, but concluded that the story itself might be too painful for most readers. I knew the story was tough, but from my perspective, I felt there was a kind of complexity and depth to the story that carried the reader beyond the painful elements. When Tom Bissell chose the book, my sense was that it was, in fact, the story that pulled him in and carried him along, partly because it was tough but primarily because it was also complex.
What has been
the most positive result of having won the Bakeless Prize?
Leslie Harrison: Well, there is the obvious positive result, which is that I have a book! Beyond that, there is a weird intangible quality to having won. Before your book gets taken, you—if you are like me—think about it a lot. You want it to happen. You wish and hope and send the manuscript out. You pay the contest fees and the postage. Then it did happen and I was really excited. Just beside myself with joy. And disbelief. I tried to convince Michael Collier [Bread Loaf Writers' Conference director and poetry editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt] that he should call me up every day for awhile and reassure me that it was true. He—very politely—declined, but did send, almost instantly, a letter confirming that the book had indeed won, so I could refer to that when in doubt.
But I still had to go to work and do laundry and shovel snow, and then I got that itch that means a new poem is bubbling away somewhere, and I realized that almost nothing had changed about my life. Winning was not going to make me thinner, better looking, smarter, more talented, or—given that I am a poet—substantially richer. But that one change, it was pretty remarkable. It was a huge vote of confidence in the work: a poet whose work I admire saying, "yes," a legendary publishing house saying, "yes," a storied writing conference also saying, "yes—we believe in this project." And because all those people believe in the book, the poems have the chance to find for themselves an audience—people to whom they will speak, and maybe even matter.
How has the process of writing and publishing the first book informed your approach to working on subsequent projects?
Horack: I feel like, to have any real chance of winning most contests, you typically have to submit a polished, compelling, and—almost—fully realized manuscript. However, outside of the contest world, I think many fiction writers approach editors and agents too early in the process, before their work is truly ready to be pitched, and thus they never really give their own manuscript a chance to be well-received. So I suppose this experience has taught me to "work up" every writing project like it is going to be submitted to the judge of a contest—and indeed, for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, whether that "judge" be an agent, an editor, or Antonya Nelson.
Of course, I think there are also many writers who hold on to their work for way too long, so it's important to strike the right balance.
Forman: To me, getting a first book published is like cracking a code. Until this work was in print, I wasn't sure I'd be able to continue writing about my son, which meant writing about disability, the way it's perceived and its daily realities. I knew I still had stories to tell in this regard, but I didn't know if those stories would ever reach an audience. Now that the book is published, I've given myself more permission to continue with those threads, and see where they take me.
Do you have a piece of advice for writers preparing to submit book manuscripts for publication, particularly those looking to enter a first book competition as you did?
Harrison: I would say that you need to believe in your work enough to send it out. Be as honest as you can about making sure your manuscript is your best work and is the best you can do and then try not to think about it while it is out in the world. Write good poems. Give the craft everything you have and then keep trying. Read everything you can. Don't panic. Keep writing.
Forman: Aside from the usual advice—put your best foot
forward, do your research, follow the rules and be absolutely professional in
your approach—I would also say it's very important to discharge any
preconceptions or imaginings you might have about the prize, your odds at
winning, or the mechanics of the process. I sent the manuscript and
promptly let it go from my mind. The worst thing a writer can do is sit
around waiting to hear results. It's utterly disastrous for your writing
and your day.
Horack: Again, I think it is very important that the manuscript be quite polished, as I assume “overall readiness to be published in the near future” is an important factor in many book competitions. Also, in putting my book together, I made it my goal to get at least half of the stories accepted by various literary journals. I think that was a good strategy, as it helped ensure that a large portion of the manuscript had already been vetted, to some extent. So take advantage of all the hardworking and brilliant people working at the hundreds of literary journals out there. Finally, remember that you have to play to win. So much of being a writer is learning not to be afraid of rejection. I wish I could say that the Bakeless was the first competition I ever entered, but that’s very, very far from the truth.
We also asked the winners what they were anticipating about the attending the storied conference, now in its eighty-fourth year. One thing all of them said that they were geared up to do: commune with talented writers, including one another. "I think writers spend so much time fretting that it’s nice to take a moment every now and then to relax and acknowledge that you’re doing something you love, and that you’re doing it voluntarily," said Horack. "So, I suppose my main goal is to go and meet some wonderful people, learn a lot about writing and teaching, and say a truckload of thank-yous, then head back home with my batteries recharged, ready to put my head back down and write."
Manuscript entries for next year’s Bakeless Prizes will be accepted from September 15 to November 1, and the winners will be announced in spring 2010. The 2009 winners are Nick Lantz of Madison, Wisconsin, for his poetry collection We Don’t Know We Don’t Know; Belle Boggs of Washington, D.C., for her novel, Mattaponi Queen; and Kim Dana Kupperman of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for her essay collection, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings. Their books will be published in 2010.
Hoping to ramp up competition in the e-book arena, Sony announced the launch of a new—and less expensive—line of digital readers on Tuesday evening. The Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition, priced at $199 and $299 respectively, will hit stores later this month. The company also said that its online store will knock two dollars off the cost of new and bestselling e-books, matching the $9.99 price Amazon set for Kindle titles in 2007.
Harlan and Mariko Nagai, both of
them writers of poetry and fiction, have won 2009 book publication
prizes from the University of Missouri's BkMk
Press. Harlan, who lives in Berkeley, California, won the John Ciardi
Prize for Poetry for her debut collection, Mapmaking, selected by
Sidney Wade. Jonis Agee chose
Nagai’s first story collection, Georgic,
as winner of the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Each winner received one thousand dollars, and their books will be published
by BkMk Press next year.
Harlan’s poems and stories have appeared in AGNI Online, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, and Sycamore Review, among other journals. She has also written essays about her travels to global destinations such as the Orkney Islands of Scotland and the oases of Tunisia for the New York Times.
Nagai, who lives in Tokyo and teaches at Temple University’s Japan
campus, has previously published a poetry collection, Histories of Bodies,
which won the 2005 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award and was released by
Red Hen Press in 2007. She has also received Pushcart Prizes in both
poetry and fiction, and translates Japanese literature.
The deadline for the 2010 book prizes is January 15. The contests are open to poetry manuscripts of 50 to 110 pages and short fiction manuscripts of 125 to 300 pages, and writers should submit an entry fee of twenty-five dollars along with each submission.
Critic Geeta Sharma-Jensen penned her final column as books editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday after announcing last week that she has accepted a voluntary buyout offer from the newspaper’s publisher. Similar deals—part of a cost-cutting plan to address flagging ad revenue—have been accepted by thirty-six other employees at the paper, including four arts and entertainment writers.
For creative nonfiction writers looking to submit work before the summer’s end, three publications have essay contests underway. Literal Latté, an online journal that publishes a yearly anthology, is accepting entries for its Ames Essay Award until September 15, and the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Hunger Mountain, a print and online arts magazine published by Vermont College of Fine Arts, is open until September 10. Each awards offers a one-thousand-dollar prize and publication of the winning work.
Real Simple magazine, whose award we covered on this blog in May, is also looking for personal essays. Its Life Lessons Essay Contest, which will award three thousand dollars and publication in the national magazine, closes on September 7.
The winner of last year’s Ames Essay Award is Margi Fox of
Diane Glancy of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, won Hunger Mountain’s 2008 Creative Nonfiction Prize, judged by Nick Flynn, for her essay "Discourses on Paper Dolls." The finalists were Judy Copeland of Pomona, New Jersey, for "Louisville, 1953" and Kali Meister of Knoxville, Tennessee, for "Seven Vignettes About Rats." This year's contest will be judged by Robin Hemley.
Aldra Robinson of Los Angeles won the 2008 Life Lessons Essay Contest for "A Witness to Grace," which was selected by editors of Real Simple. Her piece responded to the question, "What was the most important day of your life?" This year's competition asks writers, "When did you realize that you had become a grown-up?"
PEN American Center, the U.S. division of the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization, yesterday announced the appointment of Steven L. Isenberg as executive director. Isenberg, a professor, lawyer, and former publisher, will replace Michael Roberts, who stepped down in June after eleven years in the position.
Daniel Khalastchi of Milwaukee has been named the winner of Tupelo Press’s tenth annual First Book Award for his poetry collection The Maturation of Man. He will receive three thousand dollars, and his debut book, selected by editors of College of Charleston's Crazyhorse literary journal and Tupelo Press, will be published by the Massachusetts-based independent press.
Khalastchi, whose work has appeared in jubilat, Ninth Letter, and Court Green, among other journals, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Eleven finalists for the award were also announced. They are:
Ari Banias of New York City for One the Whistler, One the Dog
Laurie Capps of Austin, Texas, for Modern Recluse
Brett Foster of Wheaton, Illinois, for The Garbage Eater
Christina Hutchins of Albany, California, for World Without
Tanya Larkin of Somerville, Massachusetts, for Enemy Love Song
Dawn Lonsinger of Salt Lake City for fatal light awareness
Jynne Martin of New York City for We Mammals in Hospitable Times
Kathy Nilsson of Cambridge, Massachusetts, for Black Lemons
Addie Palin of Chicago for The Cautery
Juliet Rodeman of Columbia, Missouri, for Tropics of Petticoats
Amanda Rachelle Warren of Aiken, South Carolina, for Some Grain of Absolute Among the Trembling
The deadline to enter manuscripts for next year’s prize is April 15, 2010.
[Correction: Due to inaccurate information provided by the sponsoring organization, the cash value of the First Book Award was incorrectly stated in the August 3, 2009 blog post. The First Book Award is worth three thousand dollars.]