Friday, April 29, 2011

Miles Davis: Live Electric

Tonight and tomorrow at The Writer's Center, through the use of film footage and excerpts from seminal recordings like “Live-Evil” and “On the Corner,” poet, music critic, and The Writer’s Center workshop leader Reuben Jackson will discuss this rich, influential, and still controversial chapter of Miles Davis’ career. Friday, April 29 focuses on 1968-1975 and begins at 7:30 P.M. Saturday, April 30 focuses on 1981-1991 and begins at 7:30 P.M.

Here's a great live version of Davis during this period as a warm up:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: Orientation by Daniel Orozco

On May 2 at 7p.m., Daniel Orozco will read from his new collection of stories at our Pen World Voices event, together with Sudanese author Leila Aboulela and Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri. Purchase your tickets for that event here. Here's Caitlin Hill with her review of Orientation.

Daniel Orozco’s Orientation and Other Stories
(Faber & Faber, 2011)
162 pages, paper

Reviewed by Caitlin Hill

Orozco’s debut collection unsettled me. I read the collection in one sitting and then sat still for several moments, trying to understand what I had just experienced. My first impulse was to decide whether I liked the collection, before I remembered that is never the point. In this case, however, I had no ready answer, and I became consumed by it. I’m still not sure if I “liked” Orientation, but I am sure I will read it again, I am certain I will recommend it, and I won’t soon forget its stories.

Orientation is in keeping with a long tradition of the American (post-indigenous) form of short-storytelling: subjects and situations we recognize, without a lot of drama or glamour. The settings are often quite simple—office spaces, supermarkets, apartments, loading docks, California—and, more often than not, what happens in the course of the story itself is unremarkable; that is, the plot is nothing extraordinary. The thoughts, experiences, and words that come from Orozco’s characters are so deeply rooted in verisimilitude that, at times, I realized I was pushing through a story very quickly, because I would move through the characters’ responses without second-guessing a thing.

I should clarify: this is not to indicate that Orozco’s stories or characters are merely predictable. On the contrary, his stories, and the people with which Orozco populates said stories, are inevitable. It is the goal of all writers, or should be. I knew what his characters would do or say almost innately. Even while reading something shocking, even while noticing that Orozco hadn’t done what a lesser writer would have done, even while the writer/editor/critic was in the back of my mind unraveling the craft, the reader in me was totally absorbed and comfortably settled in for the ride, assured that everything that was going to happen was perfectly set up and unavoidable. The shocking didn’t utterly shock. The surprising evoked a small euphoria of self-satisfaction that usually only creeps up when I guess the motive, but perhaps not the murderer, in a mystery.

We are repeatedly told to attempt to capture “the human condition” when we sit down to write—especially fiction, especially short stories. I’ve never hung off the side of a suspension bridge, as one of Orozco’s characters, Baby, does in The Bridge; I’ve never worked as any kind of painter, much less a high-risk one, helmeted and cocky. But I’ve been haunted. I’ve been nicknamed against my will. I’ve inflated the importance of lesser things in an attempt to relieve the pressure of the incomprehensible. Who hasn’t felt the precariousness of their perch? How could a man I can’t imagine relating to in any real sense be so clearly a mirror for me? We don’t even get any interiority from Baby, his story is told at a slight remove, but I know that guy.

In my personal favorite story (and I do maintain that I’m allowed to have a favorite story even while still trying to decide if I “like” the collection), Officers Weep, Orozco uses the structure and form of a police blotter to reveal the strange goings on during an officer duo’s shift:

300 Block, Galleon Court. Tall Ships Estates. Criminal trespass and public disturbance. One-armed magazine salesman kicking doors and threatening residents. Scuffle ensues. Officers sit on suspect, call for backup, ponder a cop koan: How do you cuff a one-armed man?

Orozco uses humor throughout, both to alleviate the tension and to lull the reader into a false sense of security, and this story highlights that duality best. Police officers have dangerous jobs; something must give. Yet, even while laughing, you can't actually relax because you don't know what will happen next. The thread of someone stealing a treasured chainsaw and wreaking havoc throughout the area provides a compelling through-line and an “in” for the reader, utilizing a subtle dramatic irony to hold us through the seemingly random events and help us feel like cops ourselves: recognize a pattern, follow the right track (if it were a game of Carmen Sandiego, we’d see a 10-ton weight drop out of the sky and feel the thrill of knowing we were close).

And Orozco brings the story a level further by choosing the predictable: the cops are falling for each other; the cops use humor to de-escalate tense situations; the cops humorously decide to avoid a certain repeated domestic disturbance; the cops revel in beating protestors; the cops are what we expect cop characters to be from all we’ve seen and heard of them. Yet, Orozco’s choices don’t feel cliché. It’s as if he doesn’t say to himself, “Okay, a male and female cop as partners. I can’t let them fall in love, because everyone makes them fall in love.” He knows that the manner in which he chose to write this piece makes it unique, so he’s permitted to indulge in other ways, with care. He writes their story, and if they begin to find one another attractive, hell, they’re only human.

And they are oh so human. All of his characters are, to the point of discomfort.

So, will you like this collection? I don’t know. In point of fact, I rather hope you don’t. How can you “like” it when someone writes down the thoughts you’re not so proud of, the wanton desires and judgments you pass, daily? How can you “like” your weaknesses picked apart on the page? How can you “like” the reminder of how unremarkable we are, how similar in our damage, how typical in our fallibility and fear?

If Orozco’s done his job as well as I believe he has, you will feel his stories slip between your ribs and ingest your gut whole, like a California rattlesnake. With no room for ego, you’ll feel devoid of pain, but certain that you have just experienced something horrifically true and devastatingly real. You’ve finally gone through your own orientation. Welcome to the team. “That’s my cubicle. I sit in there.” See you at lunch.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: Martin Espada's The Trouble Ball

The Trouble Ball
By Martin Espada
(W.W. Norton, 2011)
66 pages, cloth

Reviewed by Sunil Freeman

Recently a poet friend complained about the disconnect between what’s happening in the world today–-with housing foreclosures, unemployment, labor struggles, environmental disasters, and ongoing wars-–and the broad picture as depicted in most contemporary poetry journals. She pointed to a shelf and said the poems there, good as they often are, rarely reflect the state of contemporary society.

There are exceptions. We agreed that many fine poets write about people left out of the American Dream. Jim Daniels and David Salner write powerful poems that honor working class lives. Patricia Smith, Philip Levine, Yusef Komunyakaa, and several others come to mind. And, of course, there is Martin Espada.

Espada’s eleventh collection of poetry, The Trouble Ball, continues his tradition of poetic witness in books such as The Republic of Poetry, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The opening title poem is a tour de force, revisiting a day in 1941 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, when Espada’s 11 year old father, hoping to see the legendary Satchel Paige pitch, learned that Blacks were not allowed to play major league baseball.

It was then that the only brown boy at Ebbets field felt himself
levitate above the grandstand and the diamond, another banner
at the ballgame. From up high he could see that everyone was white,
and their whiteness was impossible, like snow in Puerto Rico,

I resist the urge to quote the entire poem. Along the way, Espada shares a treasure trove of baseball lore, including the names of pitches associated with Paige:

. . . he told the secrets of a thousand pitches: The Trouble Ball/ The
Triple Curve, The Bat Dodger, The Midnight Creeper, The Slow Gin Fizz,/
The Thoughtful Stuff. . . .

Anger is tempered with a streak of defiant humor in “A Traveling Salesman in the Gardens of Paradise.”

I quit one day, when the cops spotted me reading maps
spread across the steering wheel, and held me for hours
in the parking lot, suspected for stealing my own car.
The little cop wore sunglasses in the rain, asking repeatedly,
If I was wanted by the police. I don’t know, I said. Do you want me?

Other poems shed light on the brutal U.S.-backed Chilean regime of Augusto Pinochet. “The Swimming Pool at Villa Grimaldi” depicts torturers teaching their children to swim near where political prisoners are held.

Here the guards and officers would gather families
For barbeques. The interrogator coached his son:
Kick your feet. Turn your head to breathe.
The torturer’s hands braced the belly of his daughter,
Learning to float, flailing at her lesson.

“Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez Have Been Deported, Leaving Six Children Behind with the Neighbors,” is based on an item in an email newsletter calling for donations of shoes for children aged 5 to 17.

Although Espada’s poems are clearly fueled by anger at widespread injustice, The Trouble Ball is also suffused with tenderness. “Isabel’s Corrido” recalls a “wedding” of convenience so an undocumented young woman “from a village where the elders/ spoke the language of the Aztecs” can live legally in the U.S. “People Like Us Are Dangerous” honors the boxer Carlos Ortiz even while showing him long after his glory days. Several poems celebrate the lives of people who have died, including Alexander “Sandy” Taylor, cofounder of Curbstone Press, and Howard Zinn.

Espada is an activist poet; I think it's in that spirit that he includes a generous section of notes that offer additional context to his poems and invite further study. A brief blog review can only give a snapshot view of the riches in this powerful collection. There will always be a place for well-written poems about starlit evenings, lost loves, and reveries of childhood, but poetry would have no meaning in society if it did not also include the work of poets like Martin Espada who look beyond the surface glitter of contemporary culture, who bear witness, and bring us the hard news from this all too real world we live in.

[Note: David Salner reads at The Writer's Center at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24.]

The Happy Writers

Joey Tuccio, a Facebook fan of ours, asked if he could share news of his company, The Happy Writers, with the TWC community. I said sure because I was curious. After all, "happy" and "writers" makes for an interesting conversation. I need to preface this post by stating that, while I'm, er, happy to post this information, it's not an official endorsement. Here's Joey:

After scouring the web for script consulting services, I was shocked to find that only a handful of these consultants actually live in Los Angeles. I'm sure the people living in Ohio are nice people, but how much do these people actually know? And furthermore, how connected are they? So I decided to start my own. I have covered scripts and books at such companies as Seed Productions (Hugh Jackman's production company), Smoke House (George Clooney's), Josephson Entertainment, Bold Films, Future Films and Gilbert Films.

My company, The Happy Writers, is composed of a very small, hand selected group of consultants that not only have impressive credentials, but a strong network of contacts that could potentially help you. We not only consult on your project, but we offer the opportunity to hand deliver good, commercial projects to our contact of agents, managers and/or production companies. Most consulting services offer basic coverage, which includes a page of synopsis plus a page of comments. But since you the writer already know the synopsis, you page hundreds of dollars for a page of comments, that usually don't offer any advice on HOW to make it better.

At The Happy Writers we offer 6-8 pages of notes on how to make your screenplay shine, plus you can email me as much as you want before or after your consultation. Our goal is not to take your money and run, but to be with you every step of the way so I can assist in making your dreams a reality. Check us out at Happy Writing!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Story/Stereo Tonight! 8p.m. at The Writer's Center

Story/Stereo #12 is tonight at The Writer's Center. Here's the lineup. Hope to see you there! It's an 8p.m. start as always, and it's free. Spread the word.

Emerging Writer Fellows:
Andrew Foster Altschul is the author of the novels Deus Ex Machina and Lady Lazarus, and co-editor, with Stacey D'Erasmo, of a forthcoming anthology, The Long Haul. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Esquire, Ploughshares, McSweeney's, Fence, One Story, StoryQuarterly, and anthologies such as Best New American Voices and O. Henry Prize Stories. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, he is currently the director of the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University and books editor of The Rumpus.

Eli Hastings is a Seattleite who works in social services and the arts. Currently he is pursuing an M.A. in Psychotherapy and working hard on a wild, edgy YA novel. His first book, Falling Room, was published in 2006. He's placed fiction and nonfiction in over a dozen journals and magazines, including Cimarron Review, Third Coast, and YES! Magazine and has been anthologized several times. He's won awards and been nominated for a Pushcart and four of his short stories are in pre-production as a feature film at Westbound Films. Hastings blogs and links to some published work at Really he just likes to throw things with his toddler, Paxton.

Musical guest:
Amy Domingues is a cellist, viola da gamba player, teacher, and composer residing in Arlington, VA. Ms. Domingues is active as a chamber musician in various classical ensembles and also as a recording artist in her own right. She has released two cello-driven folk-rock albums under the name Garland of Hours and has contributed her skills as a session musician on over fifty records by indie-rock, electronic and classical artists. In 2003, she co-composed the score to the Oscar-nominated documentary The Weather Underground with her Threnody Ensemble colleague Dave Cerf. Amy enjoys being a touring musician, having performed many times in the US, UK, Europe, and Japan. In addition to her work in Garland of Hours, she is an active performer of the viola da gamba and is currently pursuing a Masters of Early Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

PEN World Voices at The Writer's Center, May 2

Just about ten days remain until our PEN World Voices event at The Writer's Center. Moderated by writer (and president of the Pen Faulkner Board of Directors) Lisa Page, the event features three fabulous authors (see below).

There's still time to purchase your ticket today! Members/Students (with a valid ID) $5; Non-members $10. Purchase your ticket right here at or by calling TWC at 301.654.8664.

Lisa Page is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Washingtonian, Playboy, The Crisis, Savoy, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post Book World, and other publications. She is also included in various anthologies. She is President of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and teaches writing at George Washington University.

Leila Aboulela won the first Caine Prize for African Writing. Her new novel Lyrics Alley is set in 1950s Sudan and is inspired by the life of her uncle, the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela, who wrote the lyrics for many popular Sudanese songs. Leila is the author of two other novels: The Translator, one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year, and Minaret; both long-listed for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. Her collection of short stories Coloured Lights was short-listed for the Macmillan Silver PEN Award. Leila’s work has been translated into twelve languages and included in publications such as Granta, The Washington Post, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. BBC Radio has adapted her work extensively and broadcast a number of her plays including The Mystic Life and the historical drama The Lion of Chechnya. The five-part radio serialization of The Translator was short-listed for RIMA (Race In the Media Award). Leila grew up in Khartoum, lived much of her adult life in Scotland, and now lives in Doha.

Daniel Orozco’s stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, as well as in publications such as Harper’s Magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, and Story Quarterly. He was awarded a 2006 NEA fellowship in fiction, and was a finalist for a 2006 National Magazine Award in fiction. A former Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford, he teaches Creative Writing at the University of Idaho

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, born in 1978, has a Tunisian father and a Swedish mother. He grew up in Stockholm, studied literature in Paris, and was an intern at the United Nations. In 2003, his novel One Eye Red was published to enormous acclaim and received the Borås Tidning Award in 2004 for best literary debut, Sweden’s most illustrious award for a first book. Montecore was awarded Sweden’s highest honor for a young novelist, the PO Enquist Literary Prize, in 2006. Khemiri lives in Stockholm.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mark Twain: The Return of Halley's Comet by Donald Bliss

At our May 1 Open Door Reading, The Writer's Center will host a staged reading of "The Return of Halley's Comet," by Mark Twain's publisher's great great grandson Donald Bliss. Here's a piece Donald wrote for the Workshop & Event Guide:

Over one hundred years after his death on April 21, 1910, the Autobiography of Mark Twain is on The New York Times (NYT) bestseller list. From 1906 to 1909, Twain dictated (mostly from his bed, clad in a Persian silk dressing gown, propped up against snowy white pillows) some 5,000 pages (a half a million words) of rambling thoughts and memories, jumping around in time and place, replicating the thought process of the human mind. Amid the insights into historic events, like imperialist America’s occupation of the Philippines and tender moments of love and loss, are score-settling vendettas against statesmen and former colleagues—Theodore Roosevelt and my great-grandfather, Elisha Bliss, Jr., among them. Twain embargoed the unexpurgated version because “it is too shocking for today’s taste. There may be a market for it a century from now.” Not according to Garrison Keillor, who wrote in his NYT review that the book “is a powerful argument for writers’ burning their papers.” Other reviewers were ecstatic—“America’s first blogger,” “A prose paean to Twain’s enormous energy level,” “beautifully unorganized genius,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.

Then, precipitating a national debate, Auburn professor Alan Gribben offered up a sanitized version of Huckleberry Finn—the novel, according to Ernest Hemingway, from which all American literature comes. The “N” word (used 219 times) is replaced with “slave,” and “Indian” substituted for “Injun.” Gribben wanted to make the book less offensive to younger readers in today’s politically correct environment. Originally banned by the Concorde Library, it continues to be black-listed in some school districts. The uproar was deafening. The NYT editorialized: “We are horrified…it suggests that understanding the truth of the past corrupts modern readers, when, in fact, this new edition is busy corrupting the past…doing irreparable harm to the truth of [Twain’s] work.”

Last year—the 100TH anniversary of Twain’s death, the 175TH of his birth, and the 125TH of the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—a dozen books about Mark Twain were published, each offering a unique insight into America’s first global celebrity. Mark Twain is many things to many people: a western humorist, a Mississippi River pilot, a scathing satirist and irreverent moralist, a New England progressive, a peripatetic globe-trotting public speaker, and “the Lincoln of our literature” (according to his literary mentor William Dean Howells, the Atlantic editor). Known for his quotable quips and witty wisdom, Samuel Langhorne Clemens—aka Mark Twain—suffered enormous personal tragedy. Growing up, he witnessed the death of three siblings and his father, causing him to quit formal school at 11 and begin work as a printer’s devil—“a poor boy’s college education,” according to Ben Franklin. As an adult, he suffered the loss of three of his four children and his beloved wife, Livy. He went through the humiliation of bankruptcy. He once said that “the true source of humor is not joy, but sorrow.” His well-spring was bountiful.

For those of us in the national capital area, there is a lesser-known dimension of Twain that continues to reverberate through the corridors of power. His caustic commentary on the corrupting influence of money in politics remains as relevant today as any cable TV talking head, Sunday morning roundtable, radio talk show host, or political blogger. He actually served as the legislative aide to a senator in 1867–68, but his propensity to satirize congressional misfeasance and speak truth to power were not well-received by his boss. He once dutifully answered a letter from a constituent seeking a post office for a town in Nevada, writing for the senator: “You don’t need a post office. A jail or brothel would do far more for the local economy.” He was fired in less than two months but contin-ued as a journalist in the capital, reporting on the radical Republicans doing battle with the inept, tin-eared President Andrew Johnson over reconstruction of the South, civil rights for the freed slaves, and eventually impeachment. When he left Washington in 1868, he took with him a “gold mine” of stories about Congress and government that would fuel his writing for years to come.

While living in Washington (at Fourteenth and F Streets, NW), he had received a letter from Elisha Bliss, Jr., asking if he would be interested in writing a book about his tour of Europe and the “Holy Lands” on the Quaker City ship. The book would be based upon articles he had written for New York and California papers. Twain traveled to Hartford to negotiate a contract for Innocents Abroad, which was to become a best seller and launch his career as a great American writer. A draft of the book was circulated to the directors of the American Publishing Company, the most successful of the subscription publishing houses that flourished during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The directors reacted with horror. Accustomed to reverent prose of a serious nature, they were shocked at the satire of religious institutions and European customs and traditions. For the first time, an American writer viewed our European heritage not as a grateful stepchild but from the perspective of a common sense democrat who could distinguish between stale tradition and high art. The directors pleaded with Twain to release them from their contract, but Bliss confronted the Board, threatening to take the book elsewhere. They backed down. Twain felt that Bliss never properly compensated him for the fame and fortune he brought to the publishing house. In his Autobiography, he calls Bliss a “rat-eyed professional liar and scoundrel,” who “told the truth once, to see how it would taste, but it overstrained him and he died.” Yet, in his old age, Twain had compassion for him and would “send him a fan” if he could.

In 1873, while living in Hartford, Twain was to collaborate with Hartford Courant editor Charles Dudley Warner in writing his first novel, The Gilded Age. Based on his Washington experience and the daily disclosures of Grant Administration scandals, the book gave the name to that epoch in American history when speculation in the financial markets ran ram-pant and the robber barons and industrial tycoons co-opted Congress. Illustrating the close working relationships between lobbyists, legislators, and financial speculators, the novel offers insights that ring true for contemporary critics of congressional practices. A fervent believer in American democracy, Twain was a lifelong critic of its imperfections—the polarization of political parties, the apathy of voters, the abuse of legislative and executive power, American imperialism abroad, and the precipitation of “unjust wars.” As recent events have renewed the public’s interest in the work of Mark Twain, it is timely to revisit his commentary on American politics, government, and foreign policy. They continue to have an uncanny relevance to the challenges we face today. 

Donald Tiffany Bliss is the great grandson of Elisha Bliss, Jr. For several of his last novels, Puddin’head Wilson and Following the Equator (after the failure of his own publishing firm Webster & Co.), Twain returned to the American Publishing Company, then managed by Frank Bliss and Walter Bliss, the author’s grandfather. Bliss has co-authored Counsel for the Situation: Shaping the Law to Realize America’s Promise (2010) and authored The Law of Airline Customer Relations, Stability, Security, Safety and Service (2002).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Miles Davis: Call it Anything, April 29-30 at The Writer's Center

On Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30 (at 7:30) at The Writer's Center, poet, radio commentator, and music critic Reuben Jackson, the former curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s Duke Ellington Collection, will use two nights at The Writer’s Center to re-examine and celebrate the astonishing variety and subtlety found in Davis’ studio and concert performances from his “Electric period.” The Friday program will focus on the years 1968-1975; Saturday will look at 1981-1991.

Legendary trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis (1926-1991) once told a reporter: “I have to change. It’s like a curse.” This career-long artistic constant was never more obvious during what has been dubbed his “electric period”—in which his probing, declamatory, and wistful sound wed itself with some of the most daring, restless, and controversial music any artist has ever produced, a period in which his “round, Midwest sound” continued to lead his ensembles through an ever changing landscape of sound and silence. Register for this free event at

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 National Finals of Poetry Out Loud, April 28-29, 2011

It's National Poetry Out Loud time again! We hosted a regional competition a few months back. Here's a press release from the NEA on the upcoming finals in DC.

WASHINGTON, DC – From Fairbanks, Alaska, to Knoxville, Tennessee, 53 students from across the country will converge on Washington, DC on April 28-29, 2011 to compete in the National Finals of Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, the nation's largest youth poetry recitation competition. These young competitors advanced from a field of more than 365,000 students who tested their skills in poetry recitation in more than 2,000 schools nationwide. The top finalists and their schools will receive $50,000 in awards. Award-winning actress Kerry Washington, a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, will host the Friday evening finals. Guest judges for the National Finals are poets Valerie Martínez, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and Brian Turner, actress and author Amber Tamblyn, playwright/actress/director Aditi Brennan Kapil, and Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Now in its sixth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation which encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools students across the country. Poetry Out Loud gives students an opportunity to master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

The 53 champions will gather at the Poetry Out Loud semifinals on Thursday, April 28, from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the historic Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U Street, NW, Washington, DC. Nine finalists will advance to the National Finals, also held at the Lincoln Theatre, on Friday, April 29, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are required. Both the semifinals and the finals can be viewed remotely through a one-time-only live webcast. Follow Poetry Out Loud on Twitter at @PoetryOutLoud and @NEAarts, hashtag #POLnews. For more information on the event and webcast, visit or call 202-682-5001.

"Our research shows that young people who get arts education today are much more likely to be the arts participants of tomorrow," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "Through Poetry Out Loud, we've heard many stories from students who talk about falling in love with poetry ... for life."

"To memorize a great poem is to make a friend of it for life," said Poetry Foundation President John Barr. "From the stage, the participants in Poetry Out Loud recite their poems with a joy all their own. We, the audience, listen and are moved."

Poetry Out Loud Partnerships
The National Finals are the culmination of efforts by many partners. As national partners, the NEA and the Poetry Foundation have contributed support for administration of the program, educational materials, and awards for both the state and national finals. State arts agencies have implemented the program in high schools nationwide and organized state competitions, often in collaboration with local arts organizations. Poetry Out Loud National Finals are administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Schools that are interested in registering for next year's Poetry Out Loud should contact their state arts agency. More information is available at

Educational Materials
The NEA and the Poetry Foundation provide free, standards-based curriculum materials for Poetry Out Loud, which include poetry anthologies containing more than 650 classic and contemporary poems, a teacher's guide, video footage of performances from the National Finals, and audio tracks about the art of recitation. Schools are welcome to download these resources at

Contests and Awards
Using a pyramid structure, Poetry Out Loud starts with classroom and schoolwide activities and contests between September 2010 and February 2011. State contests were held by mid-March; the 53 champions of contests in every state, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC compete at the National Finals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals will present a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the purchase of poetry books. Awards include $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion, and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. Each state-level final has awarded $1,000 in cash awards to the champion, runner up, and their schools. In total, Poetry Out Loud will award more than $100,000 to state- and national-level winners.

Fast facts about Poetry Out Loud 2010-2011

•Total participating students in the 2010-2011 school year: 365,855
•Total participating schools in the 2010-2011 school year: 2,255; Total participating teachers, 5,020
•Total number of students nationwide who have competed in Poetry Out Loud over the past six years: 1.2 million.
•States with the highest number of participating students in 2011: California, Florida, Washington .
•Participating State Schools for the Deaf or Deaf and Blind: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Oregon.
•Most frequently performed - and now retired - poem from the Poetry Out Loud anthology: "Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou.
# # #

About Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation supports the richness and diversity of the region's arts resources and promotes wider access to the art and artists of the region, nation, and world. To learn more about MAAF and its programs and services, visit

About the National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at

About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit

Friday, April 15, 2011

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness

From our friends at Split this Rock:

Call for Proposals: Panels, Workshops, Group Readings
Deadline: June 30, 2011

"We are the ones we have been waiting for." —June Jordan

Split This Rock invites proposals for panel and roundtable discussions, workshops, and themed group readings for our third national poetry festival, scheduled for March 22-25, 2012, in Washington, DC.

As people's movements erupt here at home and throughout the world in response to political repression and environmental degradation, the festival will consider the relationship of poets and poetry to power and to the challenges to power. We are especially interested in proposals that address these questions.

In this vein, Split This Rock welcomes proposals that celebrate the legacy of poet-activist June Jordan, as 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of her death. See the guidelines for more on June Jordan’s impact and Split This Rock.

Visit for details on developing and submitting your proposal, guidelines, and the application form. Applications are due June 30, 2011.

Please sign up for our email list or find Split This Rock on Facebook to stay up-to-date on festival announcements, ongoing programs, and opportunities to help out. We look forward to reading your proposal!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Steven Levy: How Google Shapes Our Lives

On Friday at The Writer's Center, as part of the Bethesda Literary Festival, join senior writer for Wired magazine, Stephen Levy, as he talks about how Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives in his new book, In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. This one starts at 7:30 and is, of course, free. Register here.

Steven Levy is a senior writer at Wired, and was formerly senior editor and chief technology correspondent for Newsweek. He is the author of six previous books, including Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which was voted the best sci-tech nonfiction book of the last 20 years by readers of PC Magazine, and Insanely Great, the definitive account of the Macintosh computer. A native of Philadelphia, Levy lives in New York City with his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Teresa Carpenter, and their son.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poet Lore Continues Rich Tradition, Launches Spring/Summer Issue

Come to The Writer’s Center on Sunday, April 17 (2:00 P.M) as we launch Poet Lore’s Spring/Summer issue with a free reading, featuring three poets—Melanie Figg, Janice Lynch Schuster, and R. Dwayne Betts—published in the issue. Poet Lore has been published by The Writer's Center since 1981.

One of the biggest issues in the long history of the journal, it includes work by Virginia Bell, Inez Rivera, James McKean, Fred Yannantuono, and Gary Fincke. The issue also features veteran poet Sandra Gilbert introducing emerging poet Diana O’Hehir, book reviews, and the transcript of Grace Cavalieri’s radio interview with Lucille Clifton—Clifton’s final interview before passing away in 2010.

“It’s [a] sense of community,” editors Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller write in the introduction, “among individuals that we hope to create with each new issue of Poet Lore—a community defined not by sameness but by enriching differences. In the [issue], 76 poets offer insight into our own cultural moment—which, like all cultural moments, is both promising and ominous.”

What Poets Have to Say About POET LORE:

“POET LORE published my first poem in its 100th volume, and ironically what I remember most about that issue are the book reviews. It is a rare gift to find a journal that publishes excellent work and insightful reviews, but this is only to be expected from a journal that has proven itself ahead of the literary curve again and again.”—Dwayne Betts

“POET LORE was the first magazine to ever publish my work way back when I was a college basketball player in South Carolina.”—Terrance Hayes (nominated for a National Book Award this year)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Extraordinary Renditions: An Interview with Andrew Ervin

Here's my interview with Andrew Ervin, as promised in yesterday's post on this same book.

Andrew Ervin grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has lived in Budapest, Illinois, and Louisiana. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Fiction International, and the Southern Review, and his criticism has appeared in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, USA Today, and The Believer. Extraordinary Renditions is his first book. Learn more about him at

(If you'd like a primer on Hungarian literature, by the way, Ervin wrote a great piece last year at Publishing Perspectives.)

Kyle Semmel: I want to start with the composition of this book. It's not every day you stumble on a collection of linked novellas. What is the genesis of this book? Did you always plan to write linked novellas, or was there another idea behind it?

Andrew Ervin: The formal decision—three novellas, as opposed to one linear novel—was meant to reflect the thematic concerns of the stories. The typical long novel has one central and hierarchic authority that moves the plot through the paces of Freytag’s triangle (in much the same way, I might add, that a bereaved widow will pass through Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief). There’s unity to it, and a march-step progression toward some kind of resolution. Extraordinary Renditions however is in many ways about disrupting authority, so I wanted to find a way to move away from the traditional linearity.

The three novellas are set on the Ides of March, the day of Caesar’s assassination, and each looks at different methods of freeing oneself from imperial authority. Of course, the fact is that reading is a linear activity; the words travel left to right across the page, one after the other (at least in English) there’s no real getting away from linearity entirely. The order of the novellas alone creates hierarchy, sure, so I understand the limitations, yet it was important to me to at least attempt to undermine the traditional, monolithic authority with a polyphonic interplay of voices. In this case, the voices are those of an elderly Hungarian survivor of the Holocaust, an American soldier stationed in Mitteleuropa, and a young violinist finding her way in the new world order. Disharmony has its own beauty.

KS: Speaking of beauty, at least from a writer's point of view, one of the remarkable things about this book is how each novella is told in such radically different voices, from an aging musician's stoic formality to an outcast military man's rage and a young woman's almost sad morose-ness-turned-wonder. Can you talk about how you wrote these stories? Did you complete each novella before beginning the next, or did you jump back and forth?

AE: That’s very nice of you to say, thanks. I almost always write my first drafts in first person and it take me an awful long time to finish a draft. During that time, I don’t research the character or setting in the traditional ways—going to the library and looking shit up—but instead I listen to the music that my first-person character would listen to. I read the magazines she would read, make playlists of her favorite music, watch the TV shows or movies that would appeal to her. I can gain a fuller understanding that way, one that originates inside the character rather than gets based on superficial or exterior details. Those come later.

I also find it difficult to transition between projects, maybe because each one is so tied to a particular voice and worldview. (That’s true too of book reviews and grading student papers. I enjoy doing those things most of the time, but it takes a good amount of time to segue back to the character I’m working on.) Once I had these three novellas more or less done, the voices where I wanted them, I was able to go back to them with a bit more distance and move between them more easily.

Some people have found it surprising that I wrote “Brooking the Devil” first (it was published as the second novella in the book). I found the character of Brutus a long time ago, in an undergrad workshop with Madison Smartt Bell. It took me years, literally, to figure out what I wanted to do with him. “The Empty Chairs” was the second one I wrote (it’s now third), and with those two stories I thought I had a complete book. Fortunately, a few very smart people read it and persuaded me it needed a third novella to tie everything together. One person suggested writing it about the bartender Jimmy, but the composer Harkályi was a lot more compelling to me. His story, “14 Bagatelles,” ended up being my favorite of the three, I’m pretty sure.

KS: Each novella does a remarkable job of portraying Americans living in Hungary at the same time they're true to, and respectful of, Hungarians and their culture. How difficult was it to write about a foreign culture and balance the storytelling with the sense of place?

AE: Characterization and setting are intimately related, of course. I used to have a great deal of trouble writing about a place until I’d left it and my thoughts could congeal into something sensible. Shortly after I arrived in Budapest in 1994, I started work on a novel about Americans living there. But I had absolutely nothing to say. I knew I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t really know what that meant. It was only when I moved back to Philadelphia in 1999 that I could start to make sense of everything I experienced over there, but even then it took a few years (and quitting a horrible job) to be able to begin what would become Extraordinary Renditions.

Shortly after its publication last year, I got an angry email from a Hungarian reader in Canada. She was livid about my depiction of post-communist Budapest: the pollution and graffiti and public drunkenness. That was how one of my characters viewed the city, and maybe it wasn’t as respectful—to use your word—as she might have wanted. But the conflation with my characters’ opinions with my own came as a real shock. Maybe I was naïve? But it was easy to balance story and place because my characters were all foreigners and thus stand-ins for readers I wanted to escort around an exotic location they might not have seen otherwise.

KS: Have you gotten responses from other Hungarians?

AE: Not a great deal. Some of my friends have enjoyed it a lot, or so they say. My father-in-law is a published author in Hungary. I sent him a copy months ago; he even came to visit the States recently and never said a word about it. It’s tempting to read a response into his non-response.

KS: You mentioned studying with Madison Smartt Bell. Who were your other early influences?

AE: If I had to cough up some specifics, I’d say that my main creative influences have been Terry Gilliam, Kafka, Joyce (who is all over Extraordinary Renditions), Gaddis, The Golden Bough, Moby-Dick, Leaves of Grass. Bartók. I’ve learned enormous amounts from reading A.M. Homes. She is fearless, and she’s probably the only living author who I’d be too geeked-out nervous to talk to if I saw her in public. There isn’t a better writer at work right now. But, again, each character has his own set of aesthetic inspirations.

Shortly before I moved abroad, while I was still an undergrad, I sent a series of letters to the English author Julian Barnes. I asked for advice, tried to pawn off my own horrible early stories on him, and so on. His replies were always thoughtful and unfailingly polite, even in the face of my sophomoric and ham-handed invasions of his privacy. One of the things he told me has been vitally important to my development (such as it is) of my writing: Barnes told me to write for myself and for that part of myself I see in the people closest to me. That is still how I think of my audience, and his advice informed my treatment of Budapest. I love that city. I still have family and very close friends in Hungary. Beneath the polluted surface, Budapest is the most amazing city in the world, and I hope my love of it comes through in Extraordinary Renditions, even if indirectly. And, if Mr. Barnes is out there reading this: please forgive me for being such a little snot.

KS: Have you sent him a copy of Extraordinary Renditions?

AE: No, I’m mortified now to think of the ways I pestered that man. I’ve enjoyed his recent work a great deal, though. He’s one of those people—like Ha Jin, maybe, or Jim Shepard—who gets a ton of attention but whose genius, as expressed in body of work, still isn’t fully appreciated. These people are treasures, every new book an event to celebrate.

KS: What's next? What are you working on now?

AE: I have two projects nearing completion. One's a novel titled Orwell on Jura, about a man who attempts to get off the grid by going to live in the house—on a remote island in Scotland's Inner Hebrides—where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. It started as an independent study project with Richard Powers while I was in grad school, and I've made some dramatic formal changes recently that have me feeling very excited about it. In short, I removed the first 1/3 of the novel and turned it into a series of flashbacks, so that I could actually start the book on Jura instead of in the character's native Chicago. The other one is a collection of stories tentatively called "Distortions" (as opposed to Walter Benjamin's Illuminations). Most of the stories have already appeared in various magazines, and there's one forthcoming in the next Conjunctions. I've decided to anchor the book with a strange five-story cycle titled "Down the Shore," and the last two of those are a struggle to finish. It feels like I'm writing another novella, which is not something I ever would have predicted I’d do again, but each of the five parts should ideally stand alone too. It's been quite a challenge and "Down the Shore" is rather violent, so I'm looking forward to not living with this character, Zach, very much longer. Finally, this summer I plan to begin work on a huge novel I'm thinking of as Shackamaxon, with six storylines set in Philadelphia and organized--chapter by chapter--as a sestina. I'm a little bored of the origin-myth trope that's everywhere these days, but I am thinking that one or two of the storylines will be historical fiction. At least that's the idea. We'll see.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Half Book Review: Tim Horvath On Extraordinary Renditions

Today and tomorrow we'll be featuring Andrew Ervin's collection of novellas, Extraordinary Renditions. Tomorrow I'll post my interview with Ervin, but today we start with a new kind of thing, a half review. What is a half review? I'm making it up, but I see it as a discussion of a book in response to a book review. The half reviewer is Tim Horvath, the author of a novella, Circulation, which can be ordered from sunnyoutside press or found in some libraries. His collection of stories will be published by Bellevue Literary Press in 2012. He teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Chester College of New England, Grub Street Writers, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Tim Horvath's post originally appeared on Goodreads, and he graciously allowed me to post it here (only slightly altered).

The traditional review could be a slam of the gavel, anointing with glow or burying with tepidness, and often somewhere in the middle. Once upon a time, when one read a review with which one dissented, the reaction might be slamming down one's coffee in outrage, reading passages out loud in disbelief to anyone lucky or unlucky enough to be in earshot. Occasionally, the author her or himself would fire back in in the letters page a week later, and generally the conversation stalemated there. Nowadays, though, it makes sense to put forth one's dissent, to keep the conversation alive. And thus, the para-review (not to be confused with the Paris Review).

After mopping up his spilled coffee, Tim did precisely that, seeking to reconcile a reviewer's impressions with his own, vastly different take on things. (Only the term I'm going with is the "half review", at least for now.) Here's Tim:

This is a quintessential example of a book review being misleading, specifically Robert Hanks's in The New York Times Book Review. I'm a fan of the NYTBR in general--witness the great pieces in this same issue by Dale Peck on Bernhard or Ed Park's fine survey of single sentence novels, or Justin Taylor's thorough, rigorous take on Barry Hannah; I was practically weaned on TBR, frankly. Unfortunately, Hanks misses the mark--or rather, fortunately for us, because Hanks makes it seem as though Extraordinary Renditions isn't worth reading, which it assuredly is.

Hanks's points of contention just aren't borne out in the book. Consider his claim that "gratuitous cultural references are dropped with embarrassing freedom: on the first page, Harkalyi [a composer] hobnobs with the great Hungarian composer Zoldan Kolady, 'his old friend and mentor'; later, Brutus, a former philosophy student, reads Frantz Fanon, Paul Ricoeur, Marx, and Shakespeare." So one composer is interpersonally linked with another--is this really implausible? Brutus has read three philosophers and...Shakespeare? What truth, exactly, is being stretched? What makes these gratuitous? In fact, Ervin makes it clear that Brutus has read his Shakespeare, as has the superior officer who threatens him and invokes Julius Caesar ominously as a means of intimidating him. This, in fact, is among the details that coalesce to make him a "plausible character," not merely a bearer of themes, as Hanks would have it.

What about Hanks's other digs? He calls the Brutus chapter "incongruously thrillerish." How about the fact that 60 pages into the book we're introduced to an brand-new storyline that gets our pulses pounding and sustains that level of suspense and reader engagement for its 70-odd pages, complete with the twists and turns one hopes for in a thriller? The book's ability to switch gears here is inextricable from its successes.

Hanks writes that Ervin's invocation of the concentration camp of Terezin "feels more like a clumsy attempt to persuade the reader of the author's seriousness than a genuine attempt to grapple with the horror of the Holocaust." Yes, that is, if one ignores the entire characterization of Harkalyi, the composer-protagonist of part one, whose very musical trajectory has been shaped by what happened at Terezin. In fact, what sets the story apart from previous Holocaust narratives is its grappling with the specific conditions at Terezin through the prism of Harkalyi, another "plausible character[.]"

One final point to take issue with is Hanks's assertion that Brutus's narrative "is written in a flat-footed ghetto speak that, with its swipes at 'the Man' and 'the pigs,' is more reminiscent of '70s blaxploitation movies." A simple quote or two from the chapter will serve to dispel this mischaracterization of the style. From the section: "The disembodied Voice of America also provided five minutes of English-language news at the top of every hour. It spoke of the lingering effects of a cyanide spill that had polluted the Tisza River and 'devastated the livelihoods' of fishermen and chefs of Szeged's famous fish soup; there was an update on the ongoing debate, unresolved after a decade of legal mumbo jumbo in the Hague, about a dam on the Hungary-Slovakia border; and of course there was talk of more summits and of bright prospects for eternal peace next door in the once and future Yugoslavia." Or how about, "He took exception to the army's division of labor, and, as an intellectual exercise, even flirted with Marxism now and then, but had yet to consummate the relationship." All this, mind you, is in Brutus's perspective, his free indirect speech. If this sounds like the screenplay of "Blacula" to you, well, I can't help you. Perhaps Hanks is referring to some of the dialogue, such as "Me and the boyz will be moving into her house and there's a room for you when you come home. James put all your books in boxes and they're already over there in the basement up on some wooden pallets for when it floods."? But even this--the use of the slang "boyz" does little to conjure up the cartoonish stereotypes and funky soundtracks of the Blaxploitation genre; when slang is deployed here, it is generally strategic and understated.

Ervin's book isn't perfect; I find Brutus's voice to be less credible than Harkalyi's, for instance, less fully inhabited. And while Hanks takes issue with the book's structure, all he does is make light of the ambiguity as to whether it is a novel or short stories. A more worthwhile question to ask is whether the book might have been more effective if its storylines had been intertwined, if we shifted back and forth between them, drawing out the suspense and allowing the contrapuntal nature of its themes to hang in the air longer and with greater frequency. I'm not sure of the answer to this, but it would've been an interesting critical angle to pursue, rather than simply scoffing at the structure.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Annapolis Book Festival at the Key School

Tomorrow is the Annapolis Book Festival.

At this event we'll be featured on two panels: "How to get Your Book Published" with Barbara Esstman, Laura Strachan, and Michele Wolf; and "Writing the Book Within" with James Mathews, Solveig Eggerz, and Rose Solari. Learn More about these panels and the festival right here.

I'll be there. Say hello.


Open Door: Erika Meitner & Candace Katz/ Call for Judges

Happening at this Sunday's Open Door Reading at 2:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center: Erika Meitner reads poems from her latest collection, Ideal Cities. She is joined by novelist Candace Katz, author of Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Observations. This event is free.

And TWC is looking for volunteers to judge our three upcoming contests: Emerging Writer Fellowships, Undiscovered Voices Scholarship, and the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize. If you're interested, please e-mail me at kyle(dot)semmmel(at)writer(dot)org. Preferably by next Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Story/Stereo 12 Features Emerging Writer Fellows, Musician Amy Domingues

BETHESDA, MD (April 6, 2011)—Emerging Writer Fellows Andrew Altschul (Deus Ex Machina) and Eli Hastings (Falling Room) join cellist Amy Domingues at Story/Stereo 12. Domingues’ appearance at The Writer’s Center represents the first time a classical performer plays Story/Stereo, the event series The Washington Post calls “consistently excellent.” The Writer’s Center’s Emerging Writer Fellowship program—for which Story/Stereo is the showcase event—receives funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts. Domingues will play “A Night of Baroque Music” for the Viola Da Gamba, an early sister instrument of the cello.

What: Story/Stereo: A Night of Literature & Music
When: Friday, April 22, 8:00 P.M.
Where: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815
Admission: FREE (Register here)
Details: Contact 301.654.8664 for details, or visit

In this video, EWF Andrew Altschul talks with Joshua Ferris, Hannah Tinti, and PBS on the current state of books:

And here, Amy Domingues performs:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Indie Bookstore Alert! One More Page Books in Arlington, VA

Today's post comes from Alma Katsu. She told me about a great new Indie bookstore in Arlington, and I encouraged her to write about it for FPP. Next time I'm in Arlington I'll be sure to check it out. If you, Dear Reader, want to highlight the work of an Indie bookstore, let me know. Here's Alma.

Members of The Writer’s Center living in Northern Virginia should be sure to visit a new independent bookstore in Arlington: One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland St, #101, Arlington VA 22213). There is good reason for writers and readers to get to know the store: for one thing, owner Eileen McGervey is a big fan of supporting local, from the other businesses in the area to local writers. She has a steady stream of author events: Ellen Crosby, Brad Parks and Richard Thompson are among the first writers to appear at the store since its January 2011 opening, with more presenting every month.

Another reason to visit is that One More Page Books is a jewel box of a store. McGervey and her staff have an instinct for pulling together tempting choices, whether it’s with books, wine or chocolate. The adult fiction shelves are better than the library, seemingly edited down to a rich collection of books you’ve been meaning to read or ones that are already favorites (I don’t read as much non-fiction so I can’t comment on that section.) She aims for a broad selection that’s just plain good, not restricting herself to only the bestsellers’ list, to give her local customers, who come back often, a variety of intriguing choices. McGervey is a mystery fan, so look for the selection there to be particularly good, and the store hosts a mystery book club every Tuesday night. There’s also a children’s section with miniature table and chairs, and a story hour every Saturday led by one of the staff.

Then there’s the wine. I had stopped drinking wine a long time ago but McGervey’s selection has tempted me back. Sign up for the mailing list – or even better, follow the store on Facebook (One More Page Books & More) or one Twitter (@justonemorepage) – and find out when the next wine and chocolate tasting will be held, because there is no better way to sample a variety of their well-edited wine offerings.

I initially went to One More Page Books to drop off an ARC of my novel but find myself heading over to One More Page Books every couple weeks, not because there aren’t any bookstores closer to home but because it’s a great place to hang out. Not only are the staff a lot of fun to talk to – naturally, being booklovers and deep readers – but several area book bloggers hang out there, too.

So, there you have at least a half-dozen reasons to get to know Eileen McGervey and One More Page Books. The best reason is that you’re just going to love it. It’s like book heaven.

Photos: Brad Parks and Jenn (Top). Brad Parks (Bottom). Credit: Eileen McGervey.

About Alma Katsu:
Alma has written about Social Media for Writers on FPP, and about the Virginia Festival of the Book. She is the author of The Taker, due to be released in the UK in April 2011 and in the U.S. in July 2011. Learn more about her at her Web site:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program

A brief post today. Here's an opportunity for writers of all stripes:

The Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program for fiction and nonfiction of any genre. Awards: $1500, and two runner-ups who will receive $1000 each. Winners and finalists will be reviewed by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. This year's judge is NPR's Alan Cheuse. Entry fee: $25. *Deadline:* December 1st, 2011. More info here.

The Santa Fe Writers Project Poetry Awards is accepting poetry of any length or genre. The grand prize is: $1000. This year's judge is poet and Writer's Center workshop leader Rose Solari. Entry fee: $25. *Deadline:* September 1st, 2011. More info here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Welcome to K.C's Corner

by Kelley Coyner

In an effort to cover more nonfiction on this blog (which I admit I don't do regularly), I've enlisted the help of member Kelley Coyner. She will post on the topic on the first Monday of every month (at least at the start). BUT there are ways for you to get involved too. Take it away Kelley.

Late one night my husband came upon my father digging through a bookshelf of history, biography, and travel logs like “a raccoon rummaging for food. “ I was not there, but I imagine that had my husband come upon Dad a bit later he would have found him in a corner of the living room with a circle of books around his chair splayed open on the floor. Dad would have scribbled in the margins and dog-eared pages. He likely chased Tim down with a word or a phrase or an entire chapter to share from a book.

Tim will tell you that the passion for good writing runs strong in the Coyner bloodlines as does the propensity to “ransack others’ bookcases to find something to read.” I am an omnivore in my reading, but a writer of nonfiction. My father was a poet, but preferred read nonfiction.

In many ways Washington is a mecca for nonfiction writing. As a lawyer, political appointee and policy wonk I have had plenty of chances to write nonfiction. Now Kyle’s now offered a “corner” of First Person Plural to blog about nonfiction. KC’s Corner will feature a range of genres including biography and history, nature and environmental writing, and long-form journalism, essays and flash nonfiction. I plan to blog about readings and conferences, trends in nonfiction publishing, ethics, and more. The editorial calendar is evolving, but here is the path I have sketched through summer:

Evolving Editorial Calendar
To begin some structure to KC’s Corner and related posts, I have charted out several months of subjects. I would like to feature some guest blogs each month. I hope to tie those to the main theme. This is the first cut. Stay tuned for details.

April : Flash Nonfiction
May : Biography
June : Nonfiction Beach reading
July : Nature/Environmental Writing
August : Travel Writing

Will you do one thing to help get this off to a running start?

• Comment here with a blog topic, a title of a favorite book on nonfiction writing, or a tip on upcoming reading, workshop, or conference on nonfiction;
• Guest blog about your work in progress, a local nonfiction event, or an interview of another writer;
• Send a work of flash nonfiction; or
• Review a new work of nonfiction.

Will you share this post with fellow writers?
Contact me (coyner.kelley AT with your ideas.


Kelley Coyner’s nonfiction writing includes The Viva List Latin America: 333 Places and Experiences People Love (contributing writer and editor), and articles in Americas, Mothering, Library Sparks, and Comet Magazine. She served as the (nonfiction) Writer in Residence at the American school in LaPaz. (By day she writes strategic plans, policy briefs and blog posts for public policy blogs.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

PEN World Voices Festival Goes on Tour, Stops at The Writer’s Center May 2

From May 1-3, 2011, the PEN World Voices Festival, which takes place each spring in New York City, is once again extending the reach of this powerful week-long celebration of literature by taking the Festival on the road with the PEN World Voices Festival Tour. Thirteen up-and-coming international writers will participate in events in twelve cities in a dynamic cross-cultural literary exchange. As the sole tour location in DC, The Writer’s Center hosts Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, and American writer Daniel Orozco in an event moderated by the President of the Pen/Faulkner Board of Directors, Lisa Page.

7pm The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD, 20815
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Montecore
Daniel Orozco, Orientation: And Other Stories
Leila Aboulela, Lyrics Alley
Moderated by Lisa Page, President of PEN/Faulkner

Price: Members/Students (with a valid ID) $5; Non-members $10.

Visit this page at for information or to purchase your ticket.
For additional details call 301.654.8664. Seating is limited; please register early. High resolution images of the authors are available upon request.

PEN is working with some of the most esteemed literary centers around the nation—including sister centers PEN/New England and PEN/Faulkner—to reach out to local audiences. In Iowa City, events are being held in collaboration with Prairie Lights and UNESCO City of Literature; in Pittsburgh with the unique literary refuge, City of Asylum; in Minneapolis, the Loft Literary Center; Open Letter Books, the publisher of literary translations, in Rochester; Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo; in Chicago, with 57th Street Bookstore; The Writer’s Center in Washington, D.C., Penn Bookstore in Philadelphia; Harvard Bookstore in Boston; Powell’s Bookstore in Portland; in San Francisco, with the literary journal ZYZZYVA, and The Friends of the San Francisco Library; and Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle. Established writers such as Sherman Alexie and Aleksandar Hemon have been recruited to help introduce these promising new writers to new audiences.

World Voices Festival convenes more than a 100 of the most exciting and prestigious writers from around the world; with the Festival tour, we seek to further enrich our national dialogue with this diverse and international range of voices. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the unique ability of literature to foster human understanding and empathy is all the more important for articulating and defending peace and justice. In each city of the tour, PEN will pay tribute to readers and writers locally, nationally, and around the globe and demonstrate the necessity of a world in translation.

About PEN American Center
PEN American Center has a membership of 3,400 poets, editors, essayists, novelists, and translators and is the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary society. International PEN was founded in 1921 to dispel national, ethnic, and racial hatreds and to promote understanding among all countries. PEN American Center was founded one year later.

April Workshops, Events, and Opportunities

In what literary work was April Fool's first associated with tomfoolery? Visit TWC's Facebook page to participate in today's fun.

April certainly is a busy month. This Monthly Guide breaks it down.


Summer workshops have been posted, and WEGs sent to subscribers. (If you don't subscribe, you can pick up your copy at TWC or any one of the numerous location around time we're distributing the WEGs thanks to City Paper.

We're offering around 80 workshops this summer, and we're very excited to partner with Maryland Hall in Annapolis and the Montgomery County Campus of Johns Hopkins in Rockville to bring two great new locations into The Writer’s Center community. At our Rockville site, TWC adds these summer youth writing workshops, from documentary film production to college essay prep and playwriting (and performing!). In Annapolis, we are focusing on a handful of courses in different genres, opening the availability for creative writing courses to our northeastern neighbors! Check out the WEG and our online course listings for more details.


We now have three ways writers can earn prizes with us, and they're all open to submissions right now. If you'd like to volunteer to judge ANY of these prizes, please e-mail me, Kyle Semmel, at TWC.

Emerging Writer Fellowships:
Two weeks remain in which to submit your Emerging Writer Fellowship application (Deadline is April 15th). We welcome submissions from writers of all genres, backgrounds, and experiences in the following genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Emerging Writer Fellows will be featured at The Writer’s Center as part of Story/Stereo: our Emerging Writers Reading Series and live music fusion events. In 2010-11 these fellowships received funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. For more details about this amazing opportunity, click here.

Undiscovered Voices Scholarship (Deadline July 1):
The Writer's Center is pleased to open its Call For Applications for the 2012 Undiscovered Voices Scholarship. The Writer’s Center seeks promising writers earning less than $25,000 annually to apply. This scholarship program will provide complimentary writing workshops to the selected applicant for a period of one year, but not to exceed 8 workshops in that year (and not to include independent studies). We expect the recipient will use the year to make progress toward a completed manuscript of publishable work. In 2010-11 these fellowships received funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. For more details on this opportunity, click here.

The McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize (deadline July 15):
Thanks to the generosity of board member Neal P. Gillen, The Writer’s Center is pleased to announce that it will award $500 annually to the author of the best first novel published during a given calendar year. Conceived and funded by Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom unselfishly nourish and inspire students and fellow writers. For details on how you first-time novelists can submit your novels, click here.

APRIL EVENTS (Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and at The Writer's Center)

Leesburg First Friday (tonight!)
Research for Writers: Part I: The Art of the Interview with Jack Farrell
Part II: A Cyber Sleuth’s Guide to the Internet: Research Tools and Cool Web Sites from Idea to Published Page with Ellen R. Braaf

The best writing is rich with details that help reveal character, set a scene, or deepen plot. The goal: to engage readers emotionally. Jack Farrell and Ellen Braaf will talk about how to mine personal interviews and online sources for nuggets of information to serve your story—whether fact or fiction. $6 general admission. $4 TWC members and Leesburg residents. Register here.

Open Door Reading with Ellen Doré Watson and Carol Moldaw

Sunday, April 3rd, 2:00 P.M.
The Writer’s Center welcomes poets Ellen Doré Watson, author of Dogged Hearts, and Carol Moldaw, whose most recent collection is So Late, So Soon: New and Selected Poems. Register here.

April 9, Annapolis Book Festival
Join TWC at the Key School as we launch our new Annapolis workshops. At this event we'll be featured on two panels. Learn More about these panels and the festival right here.

Open Door Reading with Erika Meitner and Candace Katz

Sunday, April 10, 2:00 P.M.
Erika Meitner reads poems from her latest collection, Ideal Cities. She is joined by novelist Candace Katz, author of Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Observations. Register here.

Bethesda Literary Festival

Google & Our Society
Friday, April 15, 7:30 P.M.
Join senior writer for Wired Magazine, Stephen Levy, as he talks about how Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives in his new book, In the Plex. Register here.

Poet Lore Release Launch
Sun, April 17, 2:00 PM..
Celebrate the launch of Poet Lore’s spring/summer issue! The nation’s oldest continuously published poetry journal, at 122 years old, hosts readings by local poets Janice Lynch Schuster, Melanie Figg, and R. Dwayne Betts. Register here.

Story/Stereo: A Night of Literature & Music

Fri, April 22, 8:00 P.M.
Emerging Writer Fellowship recipients Andrew Foster Altschul (Deus Ex Machina) and Eli Hastings (Falling Room) will read. Musical guest Amy Domingues. Register here.

Call It Anything: Miles Davis'"Electric Period" 1968-1991
Fri-Sat, April 29-30, 7:30 P.M.
Through the use of film footage and excerpts from seminal recordings like “Live-Evil” and “On the Corner,” poet, music critic, and The Writer’s Center workshop leader Reuben Jackson will discuss this rich, influential, and still controversial chapter of Miles Davis’ career. Register here.

Open Door: The Return of Halley's Comet
Sunday, May 1, 2:00 P.M.
Join us for a reading of Donald Bliss', The Return of Halley's Comet, a play about Twain's dictation of his autobiography. Register here.

PEN World Voices at The Writer's Center

Mon, May 2, 2011 7:00 P.M.
Hosted by Lisa Page, President of the Pen Faulkner Board of Directors. Writers from Sudan (Leila Aboulela), the United States (Daniel Orozco), and Sweden (Jonas Hassen Khemiri) stop by for what will be a memorable evening of world literature.
Members/Students (with a valid ID) $5; Non-members $10. Click here to register.

The Kennedy Center would like to extend a special offer for $25 orchestra tickets (regularly priced $60–$70) for its upcoming Fragments (April 14-17). To take advantage of this offer online, click on the following link: PURCHASE YOUR SPECIALLY PRICED TICKETS ONLINE. If purchasing by phone or in person at the Kennedy Center Box Office, mention code “59254” to receive your discount.

Quotidian Theatre (which performs at TWC's Al Lefcowitz Theatre) extends this offer on its new play, "Master Harold"...and the boys: General admission tickets are $25, but only $10 for Writer’s Center members. Performances run through April 17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with an additional 2:00 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 16. The play is directed by Bob Bartlett and features actors Ben Davis, Jason B. MacIntosh, and Theodore M. Snead. Purchase tickets here.

At an Open Door Reading last month honoring Elizabeth Bishop & The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence, members Sandra Beasley and Rose Solari joined honorary board member Dana Gioia and David Gewanter in a dramatic reading of the letters. The book's editor, Joelle Biele, recorded the event. Listen to excerpts here.

Beltway Quarterly features poet, translator, and workshop leader Yvette Neisser Moreno this month.

Workshop leader and board member Ann McLaughlin's new novel, A Trial in Summer, publishes this month.

Member Jenny Rough has two essays appearing this month in two anthologies: Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved, and He Said What?: Women Write About Moments When Everything Changed.