Written in the Stars

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 10.8.15 by Writing Prompter

Whether or not you believe in astrology, it can be an engaging exercise to contemplate the authority of a prediction based solely on your birthdate. Look up your current horoscope in a newspaper or online, and take note of how the forecast characterizes your astrological sign. Which particular elements of the horoscope’s characterizations do you find yourself immediately agreeing with? If you find yourself mostly in disagreement, what would you predict for yourself instead? Using the second-person voice, write an essay in the form of an astrological forecast. Describe how you foresee the upcoming month in terms of love, finances, home, and spiritual matters, and cite how these predictions are justified by your personality traits. Or, if you’d prefer, write an essay against astrology, pointing out the flaws in such pseudoscientific systems of divination, and examining what it is about your personality that opposes them.

Svetlana Alexievich Wins Nobel Prize

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 10.8.15 by Prize Reporter

Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. The prize was announced today in Stockholm by Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who called Alexievich’s writing “a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” 

Alexievich is the author of seven books, including Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Dalkey Archive Press, 2005), for which she interviewed more than five hundred eyewitnesses of the 1986 nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine—including firefighters, doctors, physicists, politicians, and citizens—over a period of ten years. The book was awarded the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction.

Her other works—such as 1988’s War’s Unwomanly Face, comprised of interviews with hundreds of women soldiers who fought in World War II—collect the memories of wartime, including the Soviet-Afghan war, the war in Afghanistan, and the fall of the Soviet Union, creating what Danius calls “a history of emotions—a history of the soul, if you wish.”

“By means of her extraordinary method—a carefully composed collage of human voices—Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” the academy noted. “For the past thirty or forty years, she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. But it’s not really about a history of events…. What she’s offering us is really an emotional world.”

Alexievich was born in Stanislav, Ukraine, in 1948, and grew up in Belarus. She worked as a reporter for several local newspapers, a Belarusian carp fishing magazine, and a Minsk-based literary magazine before dedicating her work to oral histories. Persecuted by Lukashenko regime for the nature of her writing, Alexievich left Belarus in 2000 and lived under sanctuary for a decade in Paris, Gothenburg, and Berlin, before returning to Minsk in 2011.

She becomes the fourteenth woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature since it was first awarded in 1901. The last woman to win, Canada’s Alice Munro, received the award in 2013. French novelist Patrick Modiano won the 2014 prize. Alexievich will receive eight million Swedish kronor, or approximately $1.1 million.

Stream of Unconsciousness

Fiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 10.7.15 by Writing Prompter

Though in many ways the act of writing can be considered an exercise in control—over everything from plot arc to characters to the weather in your setting—what happens when you take a more passive position and relinquish control, allowing a story to emerge from your unconscious mind? Many scientists, spiritualists, and artists have reported on “automatic writing,” in which a person steers clear of putting any conscious intention behind the words that are put down. Try your hand by first writing about what comes to mind immediately: perhaps the changing colors and textures of autumn leaves outside, or everyday details about upcoming holidays and visiting family. Try not to pause or edit yourself. Gradually let your mind progress into an associative stream of consciousness. Take a look at what you’ve written and, using your favorite elements, write a short short story with a seasonal theme, allowing it to be nonsensical, absurd, or surreal.

Talkin' About the Lunar Walk Reading Series

Read more from Readings & Workshops Blog

Posted 10.6.15 by RW Blogger

This blog features a conversation between Gerry LaFemina and Lynn McGee, cocurators of the Lunar Walk Poetry Series, hosted at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn, New York. McGee won the Bright Hill Press chapbook contest for her manuscript Heirloom Bulldog, published in 2015. Her full-length manuscript, Sober Cooking, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2016. Her previous chapbook, Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997), won the Hudson Valley Writers Center/Slapering Hol Press manuscript contest. McGee is a lead staff writer for the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York, and has worked in literacy and taught freshman writing at many private and public colleges including George Washington University, Brooklyn College/CUNY and Columbia University, where she earned an MFA in Poetry. LaFemina is Director of the Frostburg Center for Literary Arts at Frostburg State University, where he is an Associate Professor of English. His poetry collections include Vanishing Horizon (Anhinga Press, 2011), which is soon to be rereleased, Little Heretic (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2014), Notes for the Novice Ventriloquest (Mayapple Press, 2013), Steampunk (Small Books, 2012), and The Parakeets of Brooklyn (Bordighera Press, 2005), which won the 2003 Bordighera Prize. Recently LaFemina published a collection of essays, Palpable Magic: Essays and Readings on Poets and Prosody (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2015) as well as a novel, Clamor (Codorus Press, 2013), and edited the anthology Token Entry: New York City Subway Poems (Smalls Books/Red Lashes Productions, 2012).

LaFemina: Lynn and I have known each other for some eight years, and we've been talking about poetry for the entirety of that time. We have both been to countless readings—many of them good and many of them less good. After the Token Entry anthology came out, and we both attended readings for that book, we started to discuss running a reading series together, one that would be a little different from some of the other series in New York. Part of it would be an attempt to limit the open mic parts of the reading; the other would be to work with our writer friends to pair local New York poets with poets from out of town.

At the time I was splitting my living time between Maryland and New York. Now that I live in Maryland full time, I come in to Brooklyn to cocurate the series with Lynn but, because of my mileage hopping, she has to do much of the legwork. When the original home for the series, the Two Moon Café, closed, it was Lynn who found our new home at the Branded Saloon.

McGee: Gerry is being generous; he does plenty of legwork himself! I think things got a lot easier for both of us when Poets & Writers started the online funding application, which is a snap to fill out. Many of the writers we’ve featured have gotten a $50 honorarium, and it feels great to be able to support them and their work in that way. We also put aside our 10% of the door take, so we can provide a cash honorarium on the months we’re not funded.

I think the best part for me of being involved in the series (besides having a mojito with Gerry before the reading!) is hearing poets whose work is new to me and who cause some creaky door in my own writing to open. Like Gerry said, we feature writers from around the country, with poets we know in the area. Many of our featured readers come back and read one poem in the open mic, and there’s a lot of book trading and talking before and after the events.

To throw in a few facts: The Lunar Walk Poetry Series opened in September 2012, and so far, we’ve featured over fifty writers.

Gerry and I have read once ourselves in the series, and it’s been an honor to introduce to our audience (as of October 2015): Amy Holman, Dean Kostos, Hilary Sideris, Richard Levine, Robin Messing, Cornelius Eady, (who later appeared with guitarist Charlie Wauh and poet Robin Messing on vocals), Jean Monahan, Bertha Rogers, Dennis Nurkse, Jan Beatty, Del Marbrook, Mervyn Taylor, Susana Case, Joel Allegretti, Moira Egan, Nance Van Winckel, April Lindner, Ravi Shankar, Phil Terman, Christine Timm, Patricia Spears Jones, Bill Mohr, George Guida, Ann Lauinger, Michael Salcman, Maria Terrone, Elaine Sexton, Michael Klein, Ned Balbo, Jane Satterfield, BJ Ward, Catie Rosemurgy, Jeffery McDaniel, Laura McCullough, Doug Goetsch, Judith Baumel, Willie Perdomo, Austin Alexis, Michele Somerville, Aaron Smith, Natalie Diaz, Ilyse Kusnetz, Brian Turner, Timothy Liu, Nick Samaras, Claudia Serea, Andrey Gritsman, Elizabeth Haukaas, Alice Friman, Stephen Massimilla, Elizabeth Cohen, Margo Taft Stever, Michael T. Young, Gil Fagiani, Maria Lisella, Pamela Davis, Joseph Fasano, Michael Broek, and Suzanne Parker.

If you want to be on our mailing list, drop us a line at lunarwalkpoetryseries@gmail.com.

Photos: (top) Gerry LaFemina, (middle) Lynn Mcgee. (bottom) Audience at Cornelius Eady and Jean Monahan Lunar Walk Reading.  Photo Credit: Lynn McGee and Gerry LaFemina

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 New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Perfect Strangers

Poetry Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 10.6.15 by Writing Prompter

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself,” said author Mohsin Hamid in a 2012 interview. Think about a stranger with whom you recently crossed paths. It could be the person who bagged your groceries, stood in front of you in line at the post office, or simply walked by you on the street. What type of situation can you imagine this stranger experiencing? Which emotions or feelings would you project onto this stranger? Write a poem about this imagined event from the stranger's perspective. Concentrate on digging deeply into your own private observations and personal history to capture what sensations might be echoed in another person’s experience.

Kirkus Prize Finalists Announced

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 10.1.15 by Prize Reporter

Kirkus Reviews has announced the finalists for its second annual Kirkus Prize, given for books of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature published in the previous year. The winners, who will be announced on October 15, will each receive $50,000.

The six finalists in fiction are: Susan Barker for her novel The Incarnations (Simon & Schuster, 2015); the late Lucia Berlin for her short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); Lauren Groff for her novel Fates and Furies (Riverhead, 2015); Valeria Luiselli for her novel The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press, 2015) translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney; Jim Shepard for his novel The Book of Akron  (Knopf, 2015); and Hanya Yanagihara for her novel A Little Life (Doubleday, 2015). This year’s fiction judges are Megan Labrise, Nicole Magistro, and Colson Whitehead.

The six finalists in nonfiction are: Ta-Nehisi Coates for Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America (Spiegel & Grau, 2015); John Ferling for Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (Bloomsbury, 2015); Helen Macdonald for H Is for Hawk (Grove Books, 2015); Adam Tooze for The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931 (Viking, 2014); Simon Winchester for Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers (HarperCollins, 2015); and Andrea Wulf for The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Knopf, 2015). The nonfiction judges are Meghan Daum, Marie du Vaure, and Clayton Moore.

Books published in the previous year that received a Kirkus Star review were eligible. The editors of Kirkus Reviews estimate their reviewers cover eight to ten thousand books every year and give 10 percent of those books a Kirkus Star. Established last year to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of Kirkus Reviews, the inaugural Kirkus Prize was given to Lily King for her novel Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) and Roz Chast for her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury).

My Own Private October

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 10.1.15 by Writing Prompter

October begins today. Pick a memory, moment, image, object, or idea that holds the essence of the month in your mind. Explore this entity from multiple angles: the visual, literal, historical, and metaphorical. Perhaps it is rooted in nature or childhood, in a color or flavor. Examine your associations with the month and how your perceptions have changed over the years.

5 Under 35 Announced

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 9.30.15 by Prize Reporter

The National Book Foundation announced its annual 5 Under 35 honorees this morning. Now in its tenth year, the program honors five young fiction writers, who were selected this year by previous 5 Under 35 honorees.

This year’s 5 Under 35 are:

Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins (Black Cat), selected by Paul Yoon

Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), selected by ZZ Packer

Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home (Hawthorne Books), selected by Phil Klay

Tracy O’Neill, author of The Hopeful (Ig Publishing), selected by Fiona Maazel

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, author of Fra Keeler (Dorothy), selected by Dinaw Mengestu

Since 2006, the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program has honored writers in the early stages of their careers, including Téa Obreht, Karen Russell, and Justin Torres. The honorees each receive a cash prize of $1,000, and will be celebrated at a ceremony in New York City on November 16, hosted by LaVar Burton.

The Raker

Fiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 9.30.15 by Writing Prompter

Autumn leaves are a pleasurable part of the season, until it’s time to rake them up. Write a story about a character who rakes her neighbors’ lawns for extra cash. Have her deliver a short narrative about each home she visits. Delve into how these narratives relate to one another and whether they are intertwined. Do they reveal a greater story about the neighborhood that has been hidden until now? Does your narrator uncover secrets about her neighbors or her home?

Voigt, Lerner, Coates Receive MacArthur Genius Grants

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 9.29.15 by Prize Reporter

The MacArthur Foundation announced today that poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, poet and novelist Ben Lerner, and journalist and nonfiction writer Ta-Nehisi Coates are among the recipients of 2015 MacArthur Fellowships. They will each receive $625,000 over the course of five years. The no-strings-attached fellowships, also known as “genius grants,” are awarded annually to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Ellen Bryant Voigt, 72, is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently Headwaters (Norton, 2013), and two books on the writer’s craft, most recently The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (Graywolf Press, 2009). The MacArthur Foundation states that her poetry “meditates on will and fate and the life cycles of the natural world while exploring the expressive potential of both lyric and narrative elements…. A poet of sustained excellence and emotional depth, Voigt continues to advance American literary culture through her ongoing experimentation with form and technique.” Voigt also started the first low-residency MFA Program at Goddard College in 1976; the program later moved to Warren Wilson College in 1981. Voigt lives in Cabot, Vermont.

Ben Lerner, 36, is the author of two novels, most recently 10:04 (Faber & Faber, 2014), and three poetry collections, most recently Mean Free Path (Copper Canyon Press, 2010). Lerner has also published an art book with Thomas Demand, Blossom  (Mack Books, 2015). The MacArthur Foundation says: “Bringing to the novel a poet’s relentless engagement with language and a critic’s analytical incisiveness, Lerner makes seamless shifts between fiction and nonfiction, prose and lyric verse, memoir and cultural criticism, conveying the way in which politics, art, and economics intertwine with everyday experience.” Lerner lives in New York City where he teaches at Brooklyn College.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, 39, is a national correspondent for the Atlantic, and the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle (Penguin, 2008), and the book-length essay Between the World and Me (Penguin, 2015), which was recently longlisted for the National Book Award in nonfiction. “A highly distinctive voice, Coates is emerging as a leading interpreter of American concerns to a new generation of media-savvy audiences and having a profound impact on the discussion of race and racism in this country,” states the MacArthur Foundation. Coates lives in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1970, the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation has awarded over nine hundred fellowships since its inception, including the twenty-four awarded this year. The grants are given to professionals in a variety of fields, including science, history, visual art, music, journalism, literature, and public service. Recent literature recipients include graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel and poets Terrance Hayes and Khaled Mattawa in 2014; fiction writers Karen Russell and Donald Antrim in 2013; and fiction writers Junot Díaz and Dinaw Mengestu in 2012.

Photos from left to right: Voigt, Lerner, Coates (Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

ohn D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Ode to Autumn

Poetry Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 9.29.15 by Writing Prompter

In “To Autumn,” John Keats personifies the season through descriptions of landscape and life in agrarian England. Write an ode that personifies a modern vision of autumn. Use characteristics of contemporary life: perhaps a new school year, a harvest we no longer see, football and its violence, costumes and horror, or our obsession with pumpkin spice. Explore what these aspects reveal about our present-day relationship to nature and the seasons. Does the idyllic character of Keats’s poem endure?

Luchador Manifestos: Reflections on 826LA Summer Camp 2015

Read more from Readings & Workshops Blog

Posted 9.28.15 by RW Blogger

Ashaki M. Jackson is a social psychologist and poet living in Los Angeles who has worked with youth through research, evaluation, and creative arts mentoring for over a decade. Her poetry has appeared in Eleven Eleven, Inch Magazine, and Rkvry Quarterly, among other publications. This year, Jackson was one of the instructors for 826LA's Words, Spoken summer writing workshops for teens, which Poets & Writers has been cosponsoring for the past five years. She blogs about her experience below.

Ashaki Jackson“El Padre de Sunset Boulevard,” I announced, “will you please take the ring?”

El Padre is a high school freshman. I met him and his sister one year prior, during an 826LA summer camp when I was a guest instructor. This year, I was invited to be the core instructor, responsible for introducing students—familiar and new—to another world in creative writing for five consecutive mornings. Our goal: the manifesto.

To begin, I wanted each student to assume a plucky persona to use while writing. This would ease the fear of facing a blank page and sharing drafts with peers. I provided students a die and a numbered list of incredibly ridiculous titles with which they created their luchador (Mexican wrestler) names.

¡El Hurican Incognito!

¡Karate Chop #1!

¡Chicharron de Ramen!

“What is a chicharron de ramen, miss?” one student asked. “Frighteningly delicious,” I replied.

This year, we would all be wrestlers grappling with words and craft. When it was time for students to share their work, I would call their monikers and invite them to the ring (any classroom area where luchadors read their work aloud to peers).

Manifestos require good knowledge of personal values or a passion to advocate for something greater. I selected the manifesto because it offered an activity in pieces and called for action. Each day we worked through key elements—who I am, where I’m from, and what I believe.

On day one, we each jotted down broad statements about ourselves on Post-it notes then stuck them to one classroom wall. I invited small groups to visit the wall, grab a few notes written by their peers that were relevant to their self definitions, then rewrite those statements in their own words and spirits. “I love pizza” became: “My world revolves around that saucy bread.” “I’m from LA” became: “I was born in the middle of palm trees.”

Words, Spoken anthology

On day two, we subverted our origin stories with guidance from Eduardo Galeano’s Genesis (Nation Books, 2010). Students documented where they were from, then fortified their magnificence by including a magical element. Stars were fish scales from an ancient underwater era, and one student lived in a house teetering on a hill of coffee grounds. We pushed through the writing together, carefully, to create personally meaningful statements on who we are and what we want out of life. Similar to the qualities of any decent luchador, the resulting manifestos were colorful, tender, and risky.

Moving through the activity together fostered closeness among the luchadors as they explored themselves in writing. Equally vital for the week’s success was the space in which we worked. 826LA has, for years, provided students an environment wherein they are able to be duly youthful, curious, and safe. It also allowed me the latitude to implement a nontraditional lesson plan that revealed the luchadors’ true, soft faces. As one lithe luchador searching for his rhythm in the class shared: “An amethyst is just as pretty... next to a diamond, but that doesn’t mean people will see it.” We are all better for the grapple.

Photo 1: Ashaki M. Jackson; credit: Ana Ponzo. Photo 2: The Words, Spoken workshop anthology published by 826LA; credit: Jamie FitzGerald.

Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Television Commercial

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 9.24.15 by Writing Prompter

This week, think of a television commercial you saw recently, or one that you recall vividly from your childhood. Write an essay exploring why this particular advertisement is still stuck in your head. Did you covet the product being sold? Was there an actress or tagline that evoked a certain feeling or emotion? Does the commercial bring you back to a familiar time or place?

Deadline Approaches for Inaugural Cave Canem Chapbook Prize

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 9.23.15 by Prize Reporter

Submissions are currently open for the Cave Canem Foundation’s inaugural Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize, valued at over $2,500. The annual award will be given for a poetry chapbook by a black writer; the winner will receive $500, publication by Jai-Alai Books, a weeklong residency at the Betsy Hotel in Miami, and a featured reading at the 2016 O, Miami Poetry Festival. Ross Gay will judge.
Using the online submission system, submit a poetry manuscript of 25 to 30 pages with a $12 entry fee by Wednesday, September 30. The winner must agree to complete a residency and lead a craft talk at the Writer’s Room at the Betsy Hotel in Miami from April 10 to April 15, 2016, and to participate in the O, Miami Poetry Festival on April 14, 2016. Black poets writing in English are eligible to apply regardless of previous publication history and career status. The winner will be notified via e-mail by December 31.

Remica L. Bingham and P. Scott Cunningham will serve as preliminary judges for the prize; Ross Gay will serve as the final judge. Gay is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), which was recently longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry.

Established in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, the Brooklyn, New York–based Cave Canem Foundation is “committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.” The foundation hosts writing retreats, craft workshops, panels, readings, and two book prizes. The foundation launched the chapbook prize in preparation for its twentieth anniversary in 2016.

Photo: Cornelius Eady, Toi Derricotte

Natural Disaster

Fiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 9.23.15 by Writing Prompter

Recent wildfires in California and an earthquake and tsunami in Chile are potent reminders of how destructive forces of nature can be upon modern civilization. Out of catastrophe, however, we see acts of bravery, generosity, and compassion. Write a short story that takes place in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Examine the ways in which your main character's psychological and physical strength might be tested under the circumstances.