See the Light

Poetry Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 3.3.15 by Writing Prompter

“It was so overwhelming.… It’s hard to put into words because, for the first time in thirty-three years, I’m seeing light.” Jerry Hester is the first patient in North Carolina to receive the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, the world’s first FDA-approved device that restores vision to the blind. This “bionic eye” helps people with retinis pigmentosa recognize light. This week, try to put into words the experience of seeing light for the first time after years of darkness. 

Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award Shortlist Announced

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 3.2.15 by Prize Reporter

The shortlist for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award has been announced. Sponsored by Booktrust, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, and the EFG Private Bank, the annual prize of £30,000 (approximately $46,000) is given for a short story by a writer who has been published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. The finalists will each receive £1,000 (approximately $1,535). The winner will be announced at an award ceremony in a London on April 24.

This year’s shortlisted stories are Rebecca F. John’s “The Glove Maker’s Numbers,” Yiyun Li’s “A Sheltered Woman,” Elizabeth McCracken’s “Hungry,” Paula Morris’s “False River,” Scott O’Connor’s “Interstellar Space,” and Madeleine Thien’s “The Wedding Cake.” Subscribers of the Sunday Times can read the finalists’ stories on the publication’s website.

Judge critic and broadcaster Alex Clark says that the six shortlisted stories “represent the variety, ambition and invention we encountered throughout the judging process—and they also reflect the continuing health and vitality of this wonderful form.” The prize’s cofounder and chief of judges Lord Matthew Evans says, “We have six brilliant but utterly different examples which showcase the best of the short story form—ambitious in imagination, global in scope, yet all packing an emotional punch that will stay with readers for a long time after they have finished reading.” Sir Richard Eyre, Aminatta Forna, Andrew Holgate, and Elif Shafak round out this year’s judging panel.

Established in 2009, the international prize aims to promote and celebrate the excellence of the modern short story. Previous winners include Kevin Barry, Junot Díaz, Anthony Doerr, Adam Johnson, and C. K. Stead. This is the first year in the prize's six-year history in which five out of the six finalists are women.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Yiyun Li, Paula Morris, Scott O’Connor, Elizabeth McCracken, Madeleine Thien, Rebecca F. John.

A Room of One’s Own, Shared

Read more from Readings & Workshops Blog

Posted 3.2.15 by RW Blogger

Kara Krauze founded Voices From War in 2013 and teaches literature and writing in the workshop for veterans, along with writer Nathan Bradley Bethea, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Krauze has worked in publishing, the mental health field, and community organizing. A writer of fiction and creative nonfiction, her work has been published in Quarterly WestCenter: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Highbrow Magazine, the Daily BeastHypothetical Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Krauze holds a BA from Vassar College in International Studies and a MA in Literary Cultures from New York University. Voices From War offers writing workshops for veterans and related literary programming.

I’ve been thinking of Virginia Woolf and her “moments of being,” the captured experiences and memories that press up, suddenly intense and vivid, and the “room of one’s own” she argued for as a necessary space to write (and of course there is her call for an income to make it possible—five hundred pounds, was it?). Mostly, I have thought of this space as literal. In New York City, perhaps not a whole room in our cramped living quarters, but at least a corner. Right now I’m thinking of the room where the Voices From War workshop meets, not in an apartment, not tucked away, but in a community center at the 14th Street Y in New York City. Instead of an empty room for solitude, the physical space is populated. Around the table are veterans from multiple generations, mostly men, a woman or two. Mark the participants’ ages and then the decades, and we can unpeel eras of war: Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea. A lot of unknowns within a wide array of experiences, even among those with commonalities. But the space is shared and everyone has stories, some of which they will write about.

This has become more important to me than I expected, more important than I can even understand. These writers and their stories are the tiles in the mosaic of our history. Stories not yet written, stories (factual or fiction) not fully formed until they arrive from their authors on paper, later edited, shared, and revisited.

I’ve never been in an active war zone. I’ve never held a gun—a sentence that falls far short of the stories, absences, and significant details lurking behind its assertion. But when a student writes of wishing to cradle an M-5, I know just what he means. In the middle of that sentence—the words buoying the gun, holding it—I might have been writing about one of my babies, my children.

This is what I mean about the room: Virginia Woolf’s room, the room in our New York City East Village community center, a preschool by day (that a few years ago my own two boys attended) and now where veterans of varied ages and experiences (before, during, and after war) meet with me and my coteacher, Nate. Nate, who was deployed to Afghanistan and was posted in South Korea, is just one thread running quietly through the room—a fifty-year gap between instructor and the workshop participant who served there during his war. The room is a space we’ve made. We remake it each week, pushing away the noise of the outside world. 

Many individuals and key institutions help create that shared room with its white walls and empty space that suddenly fill with people, fill with words. The wonderful supporters at the 14th Street Y who understood and understand why this class matters. All of the participants in the workshop—from our start in season one in fall 2013, to this latest group, both returning and new, as we begin season four.

I am continually amazed, impressed, humbled, and educated by the individuals who have given their service in complex times and places, and who continue to serve in multiple ways. Jacob Siegel, a talented writer and veteran, helped launch seasons one and two. Nathan Bradley Bethea, who was a coteacher in season three, continues to share his insightful analysis and exceptional craft now teaching in season four. Designer eperez gave visual representation to Voices From War by designing our logo. The two smallest members of my family continue to teach me why and why not with their Lego battles on the floor, the toy soldiers on their desk, and in bed with their stories, still shielded from the all too real blood in the world.

A huge thank you to Poets & Writers, an invaluable supporter from our first workshop, for advocating again and again for writers and readers, for veterans, for voices shaping their stories and waiting to be heard. Poets & Writers and the 14th Street Y in Manhattan’s East Village give us the physical room that creates the interior room—a space of community, of voices shared that lift each other up and care for their words. These stories matter.

Photo (top): Kara Krauze, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: James Burry

Photo (right): Nathan Bradley Bethea, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: Yoonkyung Lim 

Photo (middle): Voices From War classroom photo. Photo Credit: Nathan Bradley Bethea

Photo (bottom): Group photo from the Voices From War "Literary Showcase" event with Veteran Artist Program.

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Ultracrepidarian

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.26.15 by Writing Prompter

The term “ultracrepidarianism,” or the habit of giving opinions and advice on issues outside one’s scope of knowledge, comes from a comment made by Greek artist Apelles to a shoemaker who criticized one of the artist’s paintings. The phrase “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam,” essentially means that the shoemaker should not judge beyond his own soles. This week, write an essay on the value of voicing opinions regardless of your expertise on the subject matter.

From Screen to Page

Fiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.25.15 by Writing Prompter

So many great films have been released over the past year, many of which have been adapted for the screen from works of fiction and creative nonfiction. This week, think of a movie you love that isn’t based on a book and try to write a short story version of it. Examine the types of shots used, the lighting, how scenes are staged, and try to translate these visuals into the structure of your story. For inspiration, read this article in Electric Literature

Cole, Dyer, Sullivan Receive Windham Campbell Prizes

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 2.24.15 by Prize Reporter

The winners of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes for Literature were announced at a press conference this morning at Yale University. The international awards, administered by Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, are given to English-language writers of fiction, nonfiction, and drama for a body of work or extraordinary promise. Each winner receives $150,000.

The 2015 winners are, in fiction: Teju Cole (U.S./Nigeria), Helon Habila (Nigeria), and Ivan Vladislavić (South Africa); in nonfiction: Edmund de Waal (U.K.), Geoff Dyer (U.K.), and John Jeremiah Sullivan (U.S.); and, in drama: Jackie Sibblies Drury (U.S.), Helen Edmundson (U.K), and Debbie Tucker Green (U.K). Read complete bios of each winner here.

The Windham Campbell Prizes were established in 2013 by Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns. There is no submission process, and winners are determined by an international group of invited nominators, a jury in each category, and an anonymous selection committee.

In September, the winners will gather from around the world at Yale for an international literary festival celebrating their work. All events are free and open to the public.

“The Windham Campbell Prizes were created by a writer to support other writers," said Michael Kelleher, director of the program. “Donald Windham recognized that the most significant gift he could give to another writer was time to write. In addition to the recognition prestige it confers, the prize gives them just that—with no strings attached."

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library houses the Donald Windham and Sandy M. Campbell Papers. For more information about the awards and winners, visit windhamcampbell.org.

Photos: Teju Cole, Geoff Dyer, John Jeremiah Sullivan.

Cut-ups

Poetry Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.24.15 by Writing Prompter

“When you cut into the present, the future leaks out,” William S. Burroughs stated about the cut-up technique. This method of writing poetry uses the cutting and layering of pieces of printed text to reveal meaningful insight. This week, take a printed work of writing and tear it apart. Then reassemble it in a fashion that communicates something deeper. With some clever rearranging, these cut-up words and phrases will reveal their own message.  

Black Earth Institute Seeks New Fellows

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 2.23.15 by Prize Reporter

Submissions for the Black Earth Institute (BEI) 2015-2018 fellowships are currently being accepted until March 15. An organization dedicated to supporting artists who address social justice, environmental issues, and spirituality in their work, BEI will award six fellowships of $3,000 each, given over the course of three years, to emerging and established poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and other artists.

Fellows will receive an annual $1,000 stipend to support a single, larger project such as a book, or several smaller projects that combine the “artist’s creative direction with the goals and values of BEI.” In addition to completing individual projects, fellows will edit an issue of BEI’s literary journal, About Place, which carries with it a separate $1,000 stipend, and participate in various panels and readings associated with the institute. Fellows are also expected to attend BEI’s annual retreat, which will be held October 8-11 in Black Earth, Wisconsin.

To apply, submit a letter of intent to blackearthinstitute@gmail.com. Upon acceptance of the letter, BEI will notify applicants and request a full interview. Complete submission guidelines can be found on Black Earth Institute’s website.

Founded in 2005 by author and professor Patricia Monaghan and physician and social activist Michael McDermott, the Black Earth Institute focuses on “re-forging the links between spirit, earth and society” through art and “bringing artists together to foment change.” Previous fellows have included LaTasha Diggs, Annie Finch, Roberta Hill, Tom Montgomery Fate, and John P. Briggs. Fellows have participated in panels at various art and environmental events, including the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, and the Iowa State Wildness Conferences.

Poetic Vibes at Hillsides

Read more from Readings & Workshops Blog

Posted 2.23.15 by RW Blogger

For six years and counting, Poets & Writers has supported poetry writing workshops at Hillsides, a home and school for foster youth in Pasadena, California. The partnership began when Hillsides school librarian Sherri Ginsberg expressed an interest in holding a creative writing workshop series for students in the library. P&W staff suggested Brendan Constantine, who for three years worked his poetic magic on her students. In 2012, Mike Sonksen stepped into the role of workshop leader, forming a close bond not only with the students, but with Ginsberg as well—so much so, they cowrote this post!

Sherri Ginsberg and Mike SonksenMike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, is a third-generation Los Angeles native acclaimed for his poetry performances, journalism, and as a mentor for teen writers. His books include I Am Alive in Los Angeles (iUniverse, 2006) and Poetics of Location forthcoming from Writ Large Press. His weekly KCET column, L.A. Letters, celebrates literary Los Angeles. Sonksen recently completed an interdisciplinary MA in English and History at California State University Los Angeles and teaches at Southwest College.

Sherri Ginsberg has been a librarian for over thirty years, and has designed libraries and written book reviews. For nearly nine years she has worked at Hillsides, bringing in authors, musicians, magicians, and many others as guest speakers. One of her favorite workshops is poetry with Mike the Poet.

Sonksen: Dating back to September 2012, I have been visiting Hillsides in Pasadena to teach poetry workshops in the library with the teens who attend there. Each week I bring a different poetry exercise. Sherri is always there to offer students an encouraging word or a book recommendation. We have greatly enjoyed working together. The fruits of our collaboration have led to several on-campus readings and the publication of a few chapbook anthologies.

Ginsberg: Mike has been coming to our library for over two years now and has a "poetic" touch with our very challenging students. The kids are always excited to see him and ask for him when he hasn't been around for a few weeks. He appears and they start writing. It always enhances our program since these kids are extremely reluctant, not only to write poetry, but to put any of their thoughts on paper. We are thrilled with this program.

Mike entices the students to write some very cool poetry that we wanted to share. For privacy, the names have been removed from these excerpts: 

Drawing of Mike SonksenIf I was invisible
I would scare people and get into concerts
without being seen by security.

Me against the world
against stress
the strain
Maybe I need to just let go,
to let it flow.

Dogs are great
without hate
never fish without bait
because love is stronger than hate.

My mom tries to hold on to the little kid
but I know she's gonna hurt
the day I tell her I gotta go.

The care she had for me was unconditional.
Her face was so beautiful.
I miss the spark in her eyes that would look into mine
to say how much she loved me.
I feel the hardest
I cry the heaviest
My tears draw blood
and glow brightest
I'm terrified of my past

Sonksen: The Hillsides students write very powerful words, and I am always thrilled after one of our afternoon sessions. What started in the fall of 2012 with a five-week session has evolved into a workshop that we have continued over the last two-and-a-half school years. After we finish each five-week session, I usually come back a few weeks later to start another round. I am thankful for Poets & Writers’ sponsorship of these workshops, and for introducing me to Sherri Ginsberg and Hillsides.

Photo (top): Sherri Ginsberg and Mike Sonksen. Photo (bottom): Student drawing of Mike "the Poet" Sonksen.

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

Forgiveness

Creative Nonfiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.19.15 by Writing Prompter

Forgiving someone can be difficult, and at times might seem impossible. We’ve all been asked to overlook mistakes, understand the blunderer’s side of the story, and trust that her intentions were pure. But when was the last time you listened to your own pleas and forgave yourself? If there’s something from the past that still upsets you, write a letter to yourself asking for forgiveness. If you feel you’ve achieved inner peace over an issue, write about what the journey was like to get to that state of mind.

Technology

Fiction Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.18.15 by Writing Prompter

This week, dream up some technical advancement and incorporate it into the story you’re working on. It could be an improvement on something in use today, like smartphones or television sets, or it could be something completely new. Perhaps one of your characters is prescribed an experimental new medication that improves his memory. Write about how this new technology affects him and the potential impact it has on society as a whole. 

Noah Warren Wins Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 2.17.15 by Prize Reporter

Noah Warren of New Orleans has won the 2015 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for his debut poetry collection, The Destroyer in the Glass. He will receive a fellowship at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut, and his collection will be published by Yale University Press in April 2016. The annual prize is given for a debut poetry collection by a poet under the age of 40.

Carl Phillips, the series judge since 2011, chose Warren’s manuscript from over five hundred entries. “The Destroyer in the Glass impresses at once with its wedding of intellect, heart, sly humor, and formal dexterity, all in the service of negotiating those moments when an impulse toward communion with others competes with an instinct for a more isolated self,” says Phillips. “The poems both examine and embody the nexus of joy and sorrow, of certainty and confusion, without which there’d be none of the restlessness that makes us uniquely human.”

Warren, who was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, graduated from Yale University in 2011. He is the recipient of Yale University’s Frederick Mortimer Clapp Fellowship, and has published work in AGNI, Poetry, the Southern Review, and the Yale Review.

Warren is the 110th winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, which is the oldest poetry prize in the United States. Past winners include John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, and Jean Valentine. Ansel Elkins won in 2014 for her collection, Blue Yodel, forthcoming from Yale University Press in March.

Photo: Noah Warren, Credit: Ana Flores

Names

Poetry Prompt

Read more from The Time Is Now

Posted 2.17.15 by Writing Prompter

This week, write a poem about your name. When you were born, you were given a name before beginning to develop a sense of self. Have you grown into your name, or have you always resisted it? Knowing who you are today, where you’ve come from, and where you see yourself going, would you choose a different name for yourself?

Tim Kahl and Sacramento Poetry Center

Read more from Readings & Workshops Blog

Posted 2.17.15 by RW Blogger

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in the Notre Dame Review, Prairie Schooner, Mad Hatters' Review, Indiana Review, Metazen, Ninth Letter, Sein und Werden Review, the Really System, Konundrum Engine Literary Magazine, the Journal, the Volta, Parthenon West Review, and Caliban, among others. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog the Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. Kahl is editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song, and the vice president and events coordinator of the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has a public installation of his poetry in Sacramento, California called In Scarcity We Bare The Teeth. He currently houses his father's literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann's book of photos of Chile, 1932.

Tim Kahl

What makes your organization and its programs unique?
The Sacramento Poetry Center is a community-based literary arts organization that has been in place for over thirty years. We provide Monday night readings on a weekly basis as well as specialized readings that are organized on a come-as-they-may basis (as we have for Sacramento’s Beer Week, or the poetry/jazz/visual arts reading at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, or for UC Davis’s MIND Institute to support autism research). We also organize a number of outreach programs for youth literacy and guidance and counseling for youth. One night a week there is a workshop sponsored by the center geared towards making line edits. There are other privately-led workshop groups that use our space during weekday evenings.

The thing that makes Sacramento Poetry Center unique is that it provides readings with a different host every week so that the range of work varies significantly from week to week. For this reason, we are pretty much free of any ideological or aesthetic biases. As long as you have an inkling for how to read and perform your work, you will be considered for a feature and can always participate at the open mic that is generally part of the Monday night reading. We maintain our programming free of any educational institutional support, and our events are almost always free.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
A special event that Sacramento Poetry Center sponsored was the West Coast premiere of Stephen Dunn’s book Lines of Defense. Over two hundred people packed the spacious entryway at the Sacramento County Public Library to hear Dunn and others give a reading.

Our annual conference in mid-April is an all-day affair that features workshops, lectures, and discussions by many prominent academics who come to lead these small group sessions. After the workshops in the morning and early afternoon, lunch is provided, and the main presenters give a combined short reading in the late afternoon. Energy and enthusiasm is always high for this event. It tends to sustain the energy of attendees for weeks.

The Tule Review is our semiannual literary magazine that features writers from across the country and has organized events to feature those readers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as Sacramento.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
There was an evening when Kate Greenstreet came to perform her poems for her book The Last 4 Things. I didn’t realize that she likes to “get in character” for her readings and channel the voice that is speaking in the book. Often for books that are more conceptual, or at the very least not very narrative, I like to ask the author some questions about the overall project of the book—about craft and more—in order to help both writers and non-writers in the audience have a better understanding of the work. As I did this with Kate (unwittingly getting in the way of her channeled character), she started to shoot darts at me with her eyes. I didn’t quite understand why I was off-target with these kinds of questions. Other writers had gladly fielded them before.

After the reading, Kate informed me where she was coming from, and I apologized for my misunderstanding. The next time she came, for her book Young Tambling, I stayed out of the way and was treated to her mysterious manner of creating the live voice behind her work on the page. I was surprised by the different feel to her reading. There was a general feeling of her embroiling the audience in a circumstance of mysterious pronouncement. These were poems on the page in a book, but she had transformed the reading into a piece of theater that had provocatively aligned itself with the audience. The fourth wall had disappeared. I found myself riveted, entranced, and I wondered how that happened, how she did that.

How do you find and invite readers?
All kinds of ways. We are continually receiving solicitations from writers and poets throughout the country who are passing through town (Sacramento is a little over an hour away from San Francisco) or are setting up book tours in general. Also, there are thematic readings that occur from time to time that a host will put together. For these, the host will actively seek readers who might have something to offer for the theme of the night. Sometimes the readings are assembled in line with the release of a local literary magazine or publication. 

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
Often I write for the “stage” as much as I do for the page. Even when I do write specifically for the page, I am fully cognizant of how a piece might be read or performed. Works that I have written in the past that weren’t explicitly aware of themselves as spoken artifacts seem dry when I look at them today. As the old poetry adage says: Ya gotta make it sing. Sometimes this means literally as well as figuratively. Put another way, in Ken Babstock’s words, “Poetry is a vocal prosthetic for people who can’t sing.” And for people who can sing? That road is open, too.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
The organization serves as primarily a support group for both experienced and inexperienced writers in the area. It gives both of these groups an opportunity to interact freely without any inhibiting and uncomfortable formal social constraints or power relations getting in the way. It makes the literary arts approachable.

We also provide financial support to other local literary arts organizations. Other literary organizations use our Facebook page to promote their events so that the site becomes something of a local literary billboard.

Sacramento Poetry Center allows poets and writers to pursue their form of literary art in the purest sense without any status-conscious posturing that might occur at some institutions of higher education. It allows for comfort and camaraderie, and it permits artists to venture to extremes without worrying about stepping on any official toes.

Photo: Tim Kahl    Credit: Penny Kline

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

Deadline Approaches for Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

Posted 2.13.15 by Prize Reporter

Submissions are currently open for the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest, given annually for a short story by a writer who has not yet published a book of fiction. The winner will receive a scholarship, valued at $2,195, to attend the 2015 Writers Workshop from June 13 to June 20 in Gambier, Ohio. The winning story will also be published in the Kenyon Review.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 1,200 words with an $18 entry fee by February 28. All entrants will receive a one-year subscription to the Kenyon Review. Ann Patchett, whose most recent book is the essay collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper, 2013), will judge. The winner will be announced in late spring.

The 2015 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, which offers workshops and readings, will be held at Kenyon College from June 13 to June 20. The faculty in fiction includes Lee K. Abbott, Caitlin Horrocks, and Nancy Zafris. Workshops are limited to ten participants each. Established fifteen years ago, the conference also offers workshops in poetry, creative nonfiction, and the art of text.

Previous winners of the prize include Amy Victoria Blakemore for her story “Previously, Sparrows” and Heather Monley for her story “Town of Birds.”

Photo: Kenyon College