Mirrors

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 9.17.14 by Writing Prompter

Does one of your characters have an obsession with their appearance? Is she the type that habitually glances at every reflective surface in order to catch a glimpse of herself? Does this behavior have a negative effect? This week, write a story in which this character can no longer examine her appearance. Perhaps she goes on a camping trip, or decides to take down all the mirrors in her house. Think about how this change in circumstance can impact the character’s mood, confidence, and outlook on life.

Glück, Hirsch Make National Book Award Poetry Longlist

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Posted 9.16.14 by Prize Reporter

Louise Glück and Edward Hirsch and are among the ten longlisted finalists for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry, which were announced this morning. Hirsch is nominated for his most recent book, Gabriel (Knopf), an elegy for his son, who died at the age of twenty-two. Glück makes the list for her twelfth collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The seven other books competing for the $10,000 prize include Collected Poems (Knopf) by Mark Strand, Roget’s Illusion (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) by Linda Bierds, A Several World (Nightboat) by Brian Blanchfield, Second Childhood (Graywolf) by Fanny Howe, This Blue (FSG) by Maureen N. McLane, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions) by Fred Moten, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf) by Claudia Rankine, and The Road to Emmaus (FSG) by Spencer Reece. Both Glück and Strand have served as poet laureate of the United States and have won Pulitzer Prizes. Earlier this year, Rankine recieved the $50,000 Jackson Prize from Poets & Writers, Inc.

Five shortlisted finalists will be announced on October 15. The longlist for young people’s literature was announced yesterday, and the longlists for fiction and nonfiction will be announced in the next two days. Winners in each category will be announced at the National Book Foundation’s annual awards ceremony in New York City on November 19.

The judges for this year’s poetry prize are Eileen Myles, Katie Peterson, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Paisley Rekdal, and Robert Polito. The panel considered more than two hundred submissions. Books written by U.S. poets and published in the United States between December 1, 2013, and November 30, 2014, are eligible for this year’s awards.

To read conversations with both Edward Hirsch and Louise Glück, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Watch a video of Hirsch speaking as part of a panel on Why We Write at the most recent Poets & Writers Live event in New York City.

Photos: Glück (Webb Chappell), Hirsch (Tony Gale)

Ask a Poet

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 9.16.14 by Writing Prompter

We all have questions buzzing around in our heads. They could be questions about the future, a love interest, or what to make for dinner. We usually turn to family and friends for advice on such concerns, but what if you could ask your favorite poet? How would he or she respond? This week, pick a question that’s been on your mind. Then channel the voice of a poet of your choice who answers your question and offers much-needed advice.

South Sudan, Georgia, and New York Meet on the Shores of Lake Ontario

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Posted 9.11.14 by RW Blogger

Estelle Ford-Williamson, is coauthor of Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a "Lost Boy" Refugee, and editor of the Lou Walker Center Writers Anthology, Vols. 1 and 2. She has received Poets & Writers grants to teach creative writing to young adults who have timed out of the foster care system in Atlanta, Georgia.

On the other end of the phone, a willing librarian listened: Would a library in north-central New York State be interested in a former Lost Boy of Sudan and his coauthor reading and discussing their recent book about his experience fleeing death in a religious/ethnic war, and his subsequent life adapting to Atlanta and now living on two continents?

Fortunately, the answer from Oswego Public Library’s Edward Elsner was yes. My coauthor Majok Marier and I began to put together an extensive road trip that included readings in four cities far from our Atlanta roots: Lakewood (Cleveland), Ohio; Oswego and Syracuse in New York; and Washington, D.C. One grant to appear at the Oswego Public Library was the catalyst that encouraged us to set up other readings–the grant was through Poets & Writers. During our tour, we met former Lost Boy John Bul Dau, author of God Grew Tired of Us and a South Sudan aid leader, and many others involved in refugee issues.

Our book, Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a “Lost Boy” Refugee was published in May by McFarland and Company. It updates the story of the young men and women, thousands who arrived in America in 2001. Their resettlement was a part of an unprecedented airlift to provide futures for the young children facing limited lives in refugee camps due to a decades-long war. Now young men and women, they are spread throughout the United States (Australia and Canada, too) as they pursue an education and jobs that enable them to support family back home, as well as help build the new nation of South Sudan.

The welcome was warm at the Oswego Library, the “Castle on the Hill.” The historic building is a shrine to abolitionism and to the Free Library movement as the library was built by noted abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Our book tour coincided with heated protests in another part of the country to block entry of underage migrant children from Central America. It was probably one of the most emotional times in the recent national debate on refugees in the United States.

The reading yielded only appreciation, encouragement, and a desire to learn more about Majok and our journey together as coauthors of his story–his semi-nomadic life as young Dinka tribesman in the Rumbek area before fleeing his village in the war. Even more interest centered on his goal of drilling the first water wells in such villages.

Our trip affirmed the value of such face-to-face exchanges, and I highly recommend that writers contact this library and other venues in states and cities served by the Readings & Workshop program. All it took was a minimal amount of research, a willingness to cold-call possible sponsors, and an interest by a library to enrich their patrons’ literary experiences.

Photo: (top) Estelle Ford-Williamson. 

Photo: (bottom) Estelle Ford-Williamson, Majok Marier, and John Bul Dau. Photo Credits: Richard Williamson.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Idioms

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 9.11.14 by Writing Prompter

Some phrases, such as "toe the line," are so ingrained in our minds that we automatically link the phrase with its intended meaning (in this case, to conform to a set of rules) without thinking about the literal meaning (carefully placing your toes along a line on the ground). This week, pause for a moment and try to imagine the actions described in these idioms. When someone says you're "barking up the wrong tree," what do you picture? Is there an idiom that you use frequently, or that you've always been a bit confused by? Write a short personal essay about what this idiom means to you. Then do some research into its history, and if you decide to go further, look up how similar sentiments are expressed idiomatically in other languages.

Story Time

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 9.10.14 by Writing Prompter

Think back to your childhood, to the stories you remember being told. Was there a particular story you wanted to hear over and over again? This week, try and remember that story, and choose one of the characters from it. Take that character and write an entirely different story centered around new obstacles. For example, if you choose Pippi Longstocking, write a story in which she is raising her own family, or has become the captain of her father's ship after his retirement.

Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler Make Man Booker Prize Shortlist

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Posted 9.9.14 by Prize Reporter

American writers Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler have made the shortlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, announced today by the Booker Prize Foundation. This year the prize was open for the first time to writers of any nationality whose fiction books were written in English and published in the previous year in the U.K. The winner, who will receive £50,000 (approximately $80,000), will be announced in London on October 14.

The finalists are: American writers Joshua Ferris for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking) and Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail); Australian writer Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus); and British authors Howard Jacobson for J (Jonathan Cape), Neel Mukherjee for The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus), and Ali Smith for How to Be Both (Hamish Hamilton). The six finalists were selected from a longlist of thirteen announced in July.

“As the Man Booker Prize expands its borders, these six exceptional books take the reader on journeys around the world, between the U.K., New York, Thailand, Italy, Calcutta and times past, present and future,” said A. C. Grayling, chair of the judges. “It is a strong thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English.” Along with Grayling, the 2014 judges are Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Alastair Niven, and Erica Wagner.

Established in 1969, the Man Booker Prize was originally awarded to a writer who was a citizen of the U.K., the British Commonwealth, Zimbabwe, or the Republic of Ireland. Jonathan Taylor, chair of the foundation, announced the prize’s expansion last September. Recent winners include Eleanor Catton, Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, and Howard Jacobson.

Upper left: Joshua Ferris, photo by Laurent Denimal; Upper right: Karen Joy Fowler, photo by David Levenson

Dada

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 9.9.14 by Writing Prompter

In the early and mid-twentieth century, the Dadaists would compose poems by making random selections from found text. This week, let your subconscious do the work. Take a newspaper article, or other piece of text, and carefully cut out each word. Next, throw all the clippings in a bag. Then, take one word out at a time. Arrange the words on a table in the order you drew them from the bag, and copy them down. As the Dadaists say, "The resulting poem will resemble you."

Rona Jaffe Award Winners Announced

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Posted 9.5.14 by Prize Reporter

The Rona Jaffe Foundation has announced the recipients of the twentieth Rona Jaffe Awards, given annually to six emerging women writers. The foundation offers awards of $30,000 each to poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers.

The 2014 winners are poets Danielle Jones-Pruett of Salem, Massachusetts, and Solmaz Sharif of Oakland, California; fiction writers Olivia Clare of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and T. L. Khleif of Ann Arbor, Michigan; and nonfiction writers Karen Hays of Minneapolis and Mara Naselli of Grand Rapids, Michigan. They will be honored at a private reception in New York City on September 18, and will give a reading at New York University on September 19.

Novelist Rona Jaffe (1931–2005) established the awards in 1995 to “identify and support women writers of unusual talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers.” The foundation has awarded nearly $2 million to emerging women writers. Previous recipients include Rachel Aviv, Elif Batuman, Eula Biss, Sarah Braunstein, Lan Samantha Chang, Rivka Galchen, Aryn Kyle, Rebecca Lee, Dana Levin, ZZ Packer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Tracy K. Smith, Mary Syzbist, and Tiphanie Yanique.

The recipients are nominated by writers, editors, publishers, academics, and other literary professionals, and chosen by a committee of judges selected by the Rona Jaffe Foundation. To learn more about the history and growth of the awards, read the Q&A with Beth McCabe, director of the program, in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: Rona Jaffe

Alice Lovelace on Harriet Rising

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Posted 9.4.14 by RW Blogger

Alice Lovelace is a cultural worker, poet, playwright, and performer. She is coeditor of “Art Changes” at In Motion Magazine, an online journal dedicated to issues of democracy. Lovelace earned her MA in Conflict Resolution at Antioch University’s McGregor School. Her focus is on community art as a form of mediation. In 2011, Lovelace and visual artist Lisa Tuttle collaborated on “Harriet Rising,” commissioned by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program and Underground Atlanta, for its four-month long exhibit, Elevate: Art Above Underground in Atlanta, Georgia. The installation remained at Underground Atlanta for one year, and was named one of the fifty best public art projects in the nation by Americans for the Arts’ 2012 Public Art Network Year in Review. 

“Harriet Rising” was born in 2011 when visual artist Lisa Tuttle asked me out for lunch and we discussed the possibility of an artistic collaboration. That was the year the country began reflecting on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The art would be on display at the Underground Atlanta, a shopping and entertainment district in downtown Atlanta. Lisa and I joined our interests in community-built art, envisioning the project as an opportunity to educate the public about universal social conditions faced by women and girls, and the organizations women have built in resistance.

The focus on Harriet Tubman was the perfect choice. Her contributions to the war effort are seldom mentioned or taught. We often see paintings or photos of Tubman as an elderly woman, but she was in her late twenties to early thirties when she brought over three hundred people out of the South, up the Ohio River to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Years later, during the Civil War, she was commissioned by President Lincoln as spy and strategist for the Union Army. She also served as a nurse to black soldiers, while challenging the President and Congress over the issue of equal pay for equal service and sacrifice. In the 1863 Campaign on the Combahee, she helped over seven hundred slaves escape plantations along the river in South Carolina.

“Harriet Rising” was commissioned by the City of Atlanta and Underground Atlanta, as part of the exhibit, Elevate: Art Above Underground, which opened in October 2011. Lisa installed “Harriet Rising” onto eight four-sided columns in the heart of an Atlanta downtown hub. On the four sides of each column, we combined photography, poetry, historical and educational text, honoring the spirit and legacy of Harriet Tubman, the American hero.

The exhibit included oral histories of current women activists. One fall Sunday afternoon, women dressed in white arrived at the American Friends Service Committee Georgia Peace Center to tell me their stories, and to have Lisa photograph them. They were asked to wear white to signify their relationship to Harriet Tubman, who dreamed of being led to safety by a heavenly host of “ladies in white.” The women were members of 9to5 Atlanta, Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, Georgia WAND, Refugee Women’s Network, SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Women Watch Afrika, Inc., Tapestri, Inc., and the Toni Cade Bambara Writers/Scholars/Activists Collective.

bookcover

Funding from Poets & Writers for our Readings & Workshops program allowed us to include some of the most dynamic poets from the local slam scene. I was joined for onsite readings by Theresa Davis, Mariangela Manu Mihai, April 'Ap' Smith, Chauncey Beaty, and M. Ayodele Heath, along with singer/activist Monica Simpson. Three times we called, and the community gathered around Harriet’s columns. The crowds grew. We had repeat visitors and earned the attention of those standing in nearby businesses.

Working with Lisa Tuttle and the community of women organizers was a dream come true for a poet/cultural worker like me—I was able to play a major role in a popular public art exhibit and to bring the voices of over thirty women into the public arena. I can’t wait to do it again!

Photos: (top) Alice Lovelace at US Social Forum. Photo Credit: Nic Paget Clarke. (bottom) Harriet Rising Book Cover. Photo Credit: Lisa Tuttle.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Atlanta is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from  the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Messages

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 9.4.14 by Writing Prompter

It may be a drag to be the bearer of bad news, but consider the recipient. Would you want to learn that your significant other is ending the relationship through words on a tiny screen? Sometimes we can't connect in person and we must rely on phone calls, texts, or e-mails to communicate difficult news. But what if you could recruit a messenger, a total stranger, to deliver your message for you? How would that alter the message? Write about a message you wish could be delivered by a stranger. For inspiration, watch filmmaker Miranda July's performance piece involving the new mobile app, Somebody.

Characters

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 9.3.14 by Writing Prompter

As everyone recovers from, and reacts to, the shocking announcement that the popular cartoon character Hello Kitty is not a cat but a human girl, take a moment to think about how leaving certain details ambiguous could enhance or detract from a character's impact in a story. Do you have any characters that have elements of their backstory, or ambiguous qualities, that are never explained? If you have a character whom you feel is hiding something for whatever reason, write a scene in which this secret is revealed.

Expectations

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 9.2.14 by Writing Prompter

This week write a poem that sets out to explain an item, idea, or process. Begin the title with "How..." or "Three Reasons Why..." or some other phrase that introduces what is about to be explained. Maybe you will pick apart a particular habit you have, or analyze a fear that seems illogical. Don't feel obliged to reach a concrete conclusion. Instead, see where the thought pattern takes you. Is this poem really about why you think bunk beds are unsafe, or does it begin to address something else?

Write a House Residency Finalists Announced

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Posted 8.28.14 by Prize Reporter

The finalists have been announced for the inaugural Write a House residency, a new program through which a formerly vacant home in Detroit is renovated and given permanently to a creative writer.

The ten finalists are Lydia Conklin of East Sandwich, Massachusetts; Matthew Fogarty of Columbia, South Carolina; Adam Morris of San Francisco; Anne Elizabeth Moore of Chicago; Jason Reynolds and Casey Rocheteau, both of Brooklyn, New York; Aisha Sabatani Sloan of Los Angeles; Valerie Vande Panne of Detroit; Darryl Lorenzo Wellington of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Monika Zobel of Bremen, Germany. Finalists' bios can be found on the Write a House website.

The winner will be announced on September 19, and will be invited to move into his or her new house soon thereafter.

Write a House received roughly 350 applications in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from throughout the United States and abroad. “Many of our best applicants came from right here in Detroit,” the organizers wrote in an announcement on the Write a House blog. “There were many excellent and inspiring submissions, and if we could give a home to every talented writer who applied, we would.”

The organization plans to open applications for its next house in early 2015.

The judges were Write a House cofounder Toby Barlow, along with poets and writers Billy Collins, dream hampton, Major Jackson, Sean MacDonald, Michael Stone Richards, and Tamara Warren. Finalists were selected based on the quality of their work and for their potential to contribute to the neighborhood and the literary culture of Detroit.

For more information on Write a House, read an article on the program currently featured in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: The first Write a House property, located in Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood. Credit: Andy Kopietz.

An Evening of Poetry and Music

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Posted 8.28.14 by RW Blogger

P&W supported poet Aliki Barnstone blogs about her reading for Saint Julian Press in Houston, Texas. Barnstone is also a translator, critic, and editor. Her books of poems are Bright Body (White Pine, 2011), Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (the Sheep Meadow Press, 2010), Blue Earth (Iris, 2004), Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002), a National Books Critics Circle Notable Book, Madly in Love (Carnegie-Mellon, 1997), Windows in Providence (Curbstone, 1981), and The Real Tin Flower which includes an introduction by Anne Sexton and was published by Macmillan in 1968, when Barnstone was twelve years old. She is Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Aliki BarnstoneOn April 4, 2014, I participated in a reading at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, which was organized by Ron Starbuck, editor and publisher of Saint Julian Press, and cosponsored by Poets & Writers. Ron beautifully orchestrated the event in a truly unique way that I found exhilarating and profound.

There were three poets—Melissa Studdard, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and myself—and there was a pianist, John Hardesty. Before the reading, we poets e-mailed Ron the poems that we planned to read, which was a first for me. There was a bit of back and forth between the four of us, so we could get the timing and the length right. Then Ron arranged the poems into sets. I was a little disconcerted when he changed the order of the poems I’d sent, but I was also open to the adjustment because the whole event was so unusual (and his re-ordering proved to be a much better unfolding).

The usual circumstance, as the readers of this blog know, is that each author is given a certain amount of time, and then whatever happens, happens—which can work well or can lead to some consternation when someone reads too long or if one person is miffed to read first and perceives that he or she is a “warm-up” for the “headliner” who reads last.

All those prospects for unseemly drama were eliminated by Ron’s process. He printed out scripts for us, which were ordered in three-ring binders and placed on music stands. John Hardesty played a prologue, each of us read a set, and between readers, John responded with improvisation. We each read two sets. John’s music was meditative and created an atmosphere that was receptive to poetry and to the ineffable.

When I give readings, I usually have a set list with alternatives, depending on how the audience responds. The musical interludes combined with the script made this unnecessary, so the part of my mind that usually considers whether I’m reading the right poems was free to listen to the music and my wonderful fellow poets, and to commune with all the souls present.

The format freed me in other ways too. I must admit, I find that when I’m reading with others I can’t be as attentive as I’d like. If I read after someone, I can’t give my undivided attention to his or her reading because I’m too revved up (and I’m also thinking about alternative poems to read that might better dovetail with the reader before me). However, if I read before someone, then I may still be too distracted to concentrate fully on the person’s work, because I’m recuperating from my own reading. Despite my regard for the other person’s work and my best intentions, there’s still a bit of noise in my mind.

Ron’s arranging genius allows the readers to interact wholly with each other, John’s music, the audience, and the place itself. For me, it was a particular joy to immerse myself in Leslie’s and Melissa’s work, and to hear their poems performed aloud while simultaneously seeing them laid out on the page.

Four at TrinitiyThe venue and the audience contributed to a feeling of connection, high spirits, and aesthetic abundance. The series is held in the beautiful chapel of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, with its gorgeous stained glass windows and paintings. The chapel was filled to capacity with people who are regular attendees, as well as newcomers.

This event came at a pivotal moment in my career since my book, Madly in Love, was just reissued as a Carnegie-Mellon Classic Contemporary. The fact that I could celebrate this significant publication in Houston, where I have familial ties, was especially gratifying. My uncle, Howard Barnstone, designed the Rothko Chapel; my aunt, Gertrude Barnstone, is a well-known artist and activist; and my cousins, George Barnstone and Lily Barnstone Wells, and their families still live in Houston and are active members of the community.

In the course of meeting people in Houston, making connections and reconnecting, I was deeply touched to discover that people see me as part of a legacy. The reading generated a lot of interest in my work, and the fact that there was a lot of talk about bringing me back makes me very happy.

Hear recordings of Barnstone and her fellow readers from this event.

Photo: (top) Aliki Barnstone. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

(bottom) John Hardesty, Ann-Marie Madden Irwin, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and Ron Starbuck. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.