Halloween Costumes

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 10.30.14 by Writing Prompter

Good Halloween costumes distill the essence of what or who you are dressing up as, so that it’s immediately recognizable. This week, think about the scariest Halloween costume you’ve ever seen. What was it about the costume that really made an impact on you?  

Monster for Hire

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 10.29.14 by Writing Prompter

The fright-seekers are gearing up to get scared this week, visiting haunted houses, riding haunted hayrides, and stumbling through cavernous corn mazes. Imagine one of your characters is hired to be a monster for one of these frightful events. Why does she take the job? Does she like scaring people, or does she just need the money? What does her costume look like? Does she feel guilty about frightening people?

Haunted House

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 10.28.14 by Writing Prompter

Haunted houses are a classic setting for ghost stories. This week, write a poem about the house you live in as though it were haunted. Imagine what kind of spirits might live there, why they remain, and how they inhabit the space. Describe the sound of the creaky floorboard near the refrigerator, the way the windows slide shut on their own, and the weird smell near the fireplace. For inspiration, read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Haunted Houses.” 

Deadline Approaches for the Madison Review Prizes

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Posted 10.27.14 by Prize Reporter

Submissions are currently open for the Madison Review’s Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry and Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction. The prizes are given annually for a trio of poems and a short story. Each winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Madison Review.

Using the online submission system, submit either three poems totaling no more than fifteen pages, or a story of up to thirty pages with a $10 entry fee by November 1. The editors of the Madison Review will judge.

Established in the early 1970s, the Madison Review is the undergraduate student­–run journal of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The biannual review has published the work of poets Stephen Dunn, Lisel Mueller, and C. K. Williams, and fiction writers Charles Baxter and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The 2013 poetry prize–winner was Steve Tomasko for his poems “And No Spiders Were Harmed,” “The Plane of the Ecliptic,” and “An Inordinate Fondness.” Phillippe Diederich won the fiction prize for his short story “The Falling.” The winning pieces were published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Madison Review.

Inaugural Winners of Kirkus Prize Announced

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Posted 10.24.14 by Prize Reporter

Kirkus Reviews has announced the winners of its inaugural Kirkus Prize. Established this year to celebrate the eighty-first anniversary of Kirkus Reviews, the $50,000 prizes will be given annually for a book of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature published in the previous year.

Lily King won the fiction prize for her novel Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press). The finalists were Siri Hustvedt for The Blazing World  (Simon & Schuster); Dinaw Mengestu for All Our Names (Knopf); Brian Morton for Florence Gordon (Houghton Mifflin); Bill Roorbach for The Remedy of Love (Algonquin Books); and Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests (Riverhead). Kate Christensen, Stephanie Valdez, and Marion Winik judged.

Roz Chast won the nonfiction prize for her graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury). The finalists were Leo Damrosch for Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press); Elizabeth Kolbert for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Holt); Armand Marie Leroi for The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Viking); Thomas Piketty for Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press); and Bryan Stevenson for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau). Sarah Bagby, Sloane Crosley, and Gregory McNamee judged.

Kate Samworth won the young readers’ literature prize for her picture book Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (Clarion). Claudette S. McLinn, Linda Sue Park, and John Edward Peters judged.

The 2015 Kirkus Prize will be awarded to books published between November 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, and given a Kirkus Star review. For a traditional Kirkus review, authors, agents, or publishers may submit two copies of a book at least four to five months before its publication date. Self-published authors may order a Kirkus Indie review for $425 (for a review in seven to nine weeks) or $575 (for a review in four to six weeks). 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. Founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus, Kirkus Reviews is published twice monthly. 

Upper Left: Lily King, photo by Winky Lewis. Upper Right: Roz Chast, photo by Bill Franzen.

Muse

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 10.23.14 by Writing Prompter

When you sit down to write, do you invoke a muse? Who is this muse, and what do you ask of her? Is this someone in your day-to-day life, or an unearthly entity—like the nine muses in Greek mythology? This week, write a personal essay about a person who brings you inspiration, courage, and clarity in moments of creative effort. 

Celebrity Encounters

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 10.22.14 by Writing Prompter

Is there a celebrity that you think one of your characters is destined to meet? Write a scene in which he or she has a chance encounter with this famous person. Have the two carry on a normal conversation before your character recognizes this person is a celebrity. Perhaps this star has some words of wisdom to impart to your character (or the other way around), or maybe he or she is just looking for a friend. For inspiration, watch this video in which recording artist Jay-Z meets a woman named Ellen in a New York City subway car.

Amazing Facts

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 10.21.14 by Writing Prompter

Is there a simple fact that you find amazing? Think of some tidbit of knowledge that somehow altered your perspective or filled you with a new sense of wonder. It could be something very basic that changed your daily routine, or something that sparked your interest to learn about a new topic further. For example, did you know your age actually represents the number of times you have orbited around the sun? Write a poem incorporating your fact and meditate on why it fascinates you.

Douglas Kearney Raps, Scats, and Grows Beautiful, Thorny Horns

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Posted 10.17.14 by RW Blogger

Poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney’s third poetry collection, Patter (Red Hen Press, 2014), examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. His second book, The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009), was a National Poetry Series selection. He has received residencies and fellowships from Cave Canem, The Rauschenberg Foundation, and others. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry, nocturnes, Pleiades, The Boston Review, The Iowa Review, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, and Callaloo. Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family in California’s Santa Clarita Valley and teaches at CalArts.

Douglas KearneyWhat are your reading dos?
Gosh—reading dos. I remember that the writing of these poems was driven by some kind of dynamic source—intellectual, emotional, physical. If I remember that, it animates the poems, even the quieter ones. Going to hear a reader read a poem is simply not the same thing as reading it yourself. So as a poet giving a reading, I see no point in being absent from the work while presenting it live (reading in Times New Roman, I call it). That’s what the book is for. That does not mean that you have to shout, switch accents, and sing (though that’s often an honest part of the composition for me and many others)—but I think being present is necessary and audiences can tell, even when your version of present is to read without much affect.

How do you prepare for a reading?
Most of my preparation is around getting my voice ready. I’ll scat a bit so I know where my range will be and to get my tongue limber. It’s funny, it also gets me surer of enunciation. Then, there are two rap tracks I perform: Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar’s “Definition,” and Latyrx’s “Say That.” Both are two-emcee crews, so it stretches me out a bit in terms of timbre, cadence, and breath control. As the work has gotten more mercurial, more shard-full, I sometimes do Nicki Minaj’s verse from “Monster.” Then, I pray that I don’t get in the way of the work, that I don’t embarrass my ancestors and contemporary friends and family, and give thanks I get to do this at all.

When it comes to picking my “set,” I want to do a different one for every reading. But if I’m a bit nervous, I lean on past sequencing. I want to get out of that habit—explore the “deep cuts” (ha!) a bit more.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I don’t know how pleased crowds are with my poems that work. I’ll say the ones that are probably the most likely at getting the unsettled responses, that I think the work solicits, are the “Miscarriage” poems from Patter, and my “peppy poem about the Middle Passage,” “Swimchant for Nigger Mer-folk” from The Black Automaton. These work because most folks seem to know how they should react to the surface subject matter—yet, the poems don’t go there without some complications. I think the surprise of that is engaging to audiences.

Additionally, I’ve come to pay a lot more attention to the banter between poems as an extension of the writing in a live setting. So I rework setups a lot. A dear friend of mine, playwright, performer, poet, and musician Eisa Davis has referred to the banter as “my stand-up.” I do study comedians to work out timing, cringe humor, and audience interaction.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been a part of?
Two things! Once, way back at a group reading in San Diego, some guy stood up in the middle of one of my poems, shouted “Parasites!,” and stormed out. That was fun!

And once, I was having a public dialogue with Amiri Baraka in the Bay Area. I read a poem called “The Chitlin Circuit.” This involved me leaping from the stage and stalking around the crowd, getting louder and louder as I repeated a passage of the poem. When I got back to the stage, Mr. Baraka looked at me like I had grown horns—but bright, beautiful, thorny horns! Then, he read “Ka’Ba”—and it was like a balm spread over the room. I had never truly known so much love and yearning for peace was in that poem—and I understood viscerally something about the late poet and the power of poetry I had never known before.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on:
Something for my kids. They are working at being high-maintenance.

Photo: Douglas Kearney     Credit: Eric Plattner

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

Blood Moon

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

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Posted 10.16.14 by Writing Prompter

Last Wednesday, a full lunar eclipse occurred in the early hours of the morning. Its red hue has earned the lunar event the title of a “blood moon.” It is part of a rare series of eclipses known as a “tetrad,” when the moon is completely covered by the earth’s shadow for four eclipses in a row. Some people believe it to be a sign of things to come, while others see it as simply a unique, astronomical event. This week, write about what eclipses, blood moons, and other unusual celestial events make you think about.

Rankine, Robinson Top National Book Award Shortlists

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 10.15.14 by Prize Reporter

The National Book Foundation has announced the shortlists for its 2014 National Book Awards. The finalists in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people's literature were announced this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition by Mitchell Kaplan, cofounder of Miami Book Fair International and former president of the American Booksellers Association. 

The finalists in poetry are Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Fanny Howe, Second Childhood (Graywolf Press); Maureen N. McLane, This Blue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions); and Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press).

The finalists in fiction are Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press); Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner); Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin); Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Knopf); and Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The finalists in nonfiction are Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury); Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books); Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton); and Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright).

The finalists in young people’s literature are John Corey Whaley, Noggin (Atheneum Books); Deborah Wiles, Revolution (Scholastic); Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books); Eliot Schrefer, Threatened (Scholastic); and Steve Sheinkin, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Books Press).

The finalists were selected from a longlist in each category. Fiction heavyweights Richard Powers and Jane Smiley failed to make the cut, while relative newcomers Phil Klay and Emily St. John Mandel join Pulitzer Prize–winner Marilynne Robinson, whose novel Home was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2008. On the poetry side, veteran Edward Hirsch was also cut from the longlist, while favorites Glück, Howe, and Rankine (who earlier this year received the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, Inc.) top the list.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York City on November 19, headlined by Daniel Handler—also known as Lemony Snicket. 

Photo: Claudia Rankine

Story in a Song

Fiction Prompt

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Posted 10.15.14 by Writing Prompter

Most songs have a story to tell. It could be a simple message, such as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, or more complicated and personal. This week, think of a favorite song and write a story from it. You can invent new characters, settings, and plot points, or stick to the information provided in the lyrics of the song.

Richard Flanagan Wins Man Booker Prize

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 10.14.14 by Prize Reporter

Australian author Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Flanagan, fifty-three, was presented with the award by the Duchess of Cornwall at a ceremony this evening at London's Guildhall. He receives £50,000, or approximately $80,000.

Flanagan is the author of five previous novels and several works of nonfiction. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, published in the U.K. by Chatto & Windus and in the United States by Knopf, tells the story of Australian prisoners of war forced by imperial Japan to construct the Thailand-Burma Death Railway during World War II. Flanagan based the novel on the experiences of his father, who died the day Flanagan finished the book.

For the first time in its forty-six-year history, Britian’s most prestigious literary prize was expanded this year to include writers of any nationality. The decision has been controversial, with the Man Booker Prize Foundation consistently taking heat from the British literary community. The award was previously limited to authors from the U.K. and the British Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland, and Zimbabwe.

Flanagan was chosen from among six short-listed finalists, including the American authors Joshua Ferris for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking) and Karen Joy Fowler for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Putnam); 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). A panel of six judges chose the winner from more than a hundred novels. 

New Zealand’s Eleanor Catton won the 2013 prize for her novel The Luminaries. At twenty-eight, Catton became the youngest writer to win the award. Flanagan is the third author from Australia—and the first from the island of Tasmania—to win the prize.

Super Powers

Poetry Prompt

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Posted 10.14.14 by Writing Prompter

It’s not quite Halloween yet, but that doesn’t stop some people from dressing up as superheroes. Have you ever worn a superhero costume or daydreamed about what kind of superhero you’d want to be? This week, write a poem about your superhero persona. Would you have a specific power? How would your actions help others? Would you work on a team with other superheroes, or would you fly solo? Have fun with this one.

A Reading Series for the Neighborhood

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Posted 10.9.14 by RW Blogger

Richard Jeffrey Newman is the author of The Silence of Men and has translated from the Persian, The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. His poetry and essays have been published in Diode, the Good Men Project, Voice Male, 66: The Journal of Sonnet Studies, Ozone Park, and Newtown Literary. He blogs about the impact of feminism on his life as a man and the relevance of classical Iranian poetry to our contemporary lives. In June 2012, Newman took over as curator of First Tuesdays: A Neighborhood Reading Series

My favorite part of hosting First Tuesdays, the neighborhood reading series I run in Elmhurst, Queens, is building the “cento,” which has become a tradition for me to close with at each month’s open mic. A cento is a poem made from the lines of other author’s poems, and represents a collaboration between the poet composing the cento and the poets from whose work he or she borrows from. At First Tuesdays, this collaboration happens in real time. While the first open mic reader shares his or her work, prose or poetry, I listen for language that moves me. When the reader is finished, I recite that line back to the audience, and then I take (or sometimes the audience suggests) a line or phrase from each subsequent reader. In this way, line by line, we build a poem that represents the literature shared that evening.

Part of the fun is that I don’t write anything down until the entire cento is finished, making the poem a true collaboration. Indeed, the audience often helps me remember the lines, especially when the list of open mic readers is long. This communal participation, the fact that the people who come to First Tuesdays see themselves as a community, is what I cherish most. We are a diverse group, including writers at all levels of accomplishment and from many walks of life, and I am inspired by how warm and welcoming everyone is. Almost every month, we become the first audience for someone who has never read their work publicly before; and there are always people who come just to listen. Some of them have become regulars, as well.

I took over hosting First Tuesdays for the 2012–2013 season, though circumstances made it impossible for me to apply for Poets & Writers funding. Starting from the fall of 2013, I have applied for every reading, and the money I’ve received has made it possible not only to pay our featured readers a respectable honorarium, but also to demonstrate that our small, neighborhood venue—and the work that it does as a small, neighborhood venue—matters. The smiles and head nods I see when I announce that Poets & Writers has sponsored a reading tells me people are happy, and even proud, about that.

Here is September’s cento, the first of the 2014–2015 season, composed of lines by Allison, Keron Dinkins, Herb Rubinstein, Valerie Keane, David Mills, Amanda, Lydia Chang, Norman Stock, Marty Levine, Norka Del Rios, Sean Egan, and Peter Marra:

Everyone Downstairs Can See Directly Up My Skirt

A blind man suggests an offering:   
A family of skeletons released,
Seeking a way out of the suction of Eros,
   Blazing the way you are
when you finally return
   To be grossed out by little peckers.


Perhaps they will wonder why I have so little hair  
 Waiting for the lion
to return.

Be nice to your mother  
 In the presence of the holy one blessed be
he.

That melody of love was interrupted.

I whisper secrets to her pillow to see what it says.   
She always
carried a contempt for daylight.
   
I cried for a while and then the
humor of it struck me.


–Composed at Terraza Cafe, September 2, 2014

Photo: Richad Jeffrey Newman. Photo Credit: Beech Tree Images.

Photo: Terraza Cafe. Photo Credit: Richard Jeffrey Newman.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by 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.

Current Issue

Cover Story 

Our Independent Publishing Issue features an in-depth interview with Graywolf Press editor Jeff Shotts; a look at the successful partnerships of eleven small-press authors and their editors; a profile of indie essayist Charles D'Ambrosio; Donald Hall recalls a golden age of American poetry; best-selling author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore on the rewards of self-promotion; advice for self-published authors; a conversation with Guernica publisher Lisa Lucas; and much more.

Finding Gems in Lost & Found

by Rebecca Bates

News and Trends

Posted 10.15.14

November/December 2014

The Center for Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City is making the ephemeral more tangible through its Lost & Found chapbook series.

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Let's Just Do This: Eleven Small-Press Authors and their Publishing Partners

by Kevin Larimer

Special Section

Posted 10.15.14

November/December 2014

Eleven small-press authors and their publishing partners discuss the independent approach—and all the passion, commitment, and love that comes with it—to bringing books into the world.

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Agents & Editors: Jeff Shotts

by Michael Szczerban

Special Section

Posted 10.15.14

November/December 2014

Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts discusses the power of patience in publishing, editing as an act of empathy, and why it’s an exciting time to be a poet.

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