Last year, love was all you needed to enter the Common Good Books annual poetry competition. This year, love is not required---but you do need to revive the lost art of letter-writing.
The theme of this year's competition is "Dear You," and the bookstore is looking for poems in the form of letters--and they don't have to be nice ones, either. (Just poetic.) (And to real, living people.)
Proprietor Garrison Keillor has upped the prize money to $5,000, which will be divided into three $1,000 grand prizes and four $500 prizes for "poems of merit." This surely makes the bookstore's competition one of the most lucrative in the country for a single poem. Last year's competition, with prizes of $4,000, drew more than 1,000 entries.
Here are the rules for this year's competition:
1) The contest it open to anyone living within the United States.
2) Entries must be a single poem, in the form of a letter to a real, living person.
3) Entries must be original work, previously unpublished, and the author must have full rights to the material.
4) Only one entry per person.
5) Entries must be mailed to Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, MN 55105 and postmarked no later than April 4, 2015.
Winners will be announced at noon on Sunday, April 19, at a celebration at Macalester College's Weyerhaeuser Chapel.
The Folio Prize short list was announced today, a stellar lineup of novels from around the world. The prize carries an award of 40,000 British pounds; the winner will be announced March 23. Last year's winner was "The Tenth of December," by George Saunders.
Here's the list, with links to Star Tribune review when available:
"10:04," by Ben Lerner
"All My Puny Sorrows," by Miriam Towes
"Dept. of Speculation," by Jenny Offill
"Dust," by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
"Family Life," by Akhil Sharma
"How to Be Both," by Ali Smith
"Nora Webster," by Colm Toibin
"Outline," by Rachel Cusk
The short list was winnowed from a list of 80 titles nominated by the Folio Prize Academy. Judges included William Fiennes, Rachel Cooke, Moshin Hamid, A.M. Homes and Deborah Levy.
Charles Baxter looked around at the crush of people inside Micawber’s Bookstore, a standing-room-only crowd, and he suggested that maybe he should cut his talk a little short. All those people standing, in winter coats and boots, it can’t be comfortable.
Nobody seemed to think that cutting things short would be a good idea.
Baxter, winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story and a finalist for the National Book Award for his novel “The Feast of Love,” was at Micawber’s to launch his new book, “There’s Something I Want You to Do.”
Baxter wrote the book—a collection of ten stories, five about virtues, five about vices—after going through what he called a “dry patch” when he wasn’t writing much of anything. “I started going through some old notebooks,” he said, “and I came across some old pages from 30 years ago. This is how old they were—they were typed.”
The pages were from a story he had started and discarded, and as he read it he thought it was one he could finish now. He changed the locale from Michigan (where he had lived) to Minnesota (where he now lives). One of the characters used the word “loyalty” to talk about his father, and that became the name of the story.
The next story ended up being called “Bravery,” and, “I thought that was very odd,” he said. “I seemed to be writing stories about virtues.” He talked to his editor about writing a collection of stories called “Virtues,” and his editor said, "I think that’s a very bad idea."
In the end, Baxter put together a collection of stories about both vices and virtues. Not all vices and virtues, and not necessarily the most common ones. “Just the ones I’m interested in,” he said.
The title had a different genesis. In “Hamlet,” “the whole play essentially starts because the ghost of Hamlet’s father says, ‘There’s something I want you to do.’" Baxter said. "The same is true for ‘King Lear.’” That request sets things in motion—and the higher the stakes of the request, the more dramatic the story.
Baxter looked out at the crowd and met the eyes of his brother, who was in the audience. “Since my brother is here, I can tell you that that phrase is also one that my mother used, over and over and over again.” And everybody laughed.
When he read, Baxter didn’t first read from the book but from an excised scene from one of the stories, “the equivalent of the DVD deleted scenes,” he said, or the director’s cut of a movie. The scene, originally in the story, “Chastity,” was both funny and poignant, an encounter between the main character of Benny and Benny’s mother, a cigarette-smoking-yoga-practicing woman whose divorce either “liberated or destabilized her, Benny wasn’t sure which.”
It was the following scene—a scene that takes place on the Washington Avenue Bridge, a scene that remained in the story—that was pivotal to Baxter. He read aloud the key sentence: “Irony was the new form of chastity and was everywhere these days. You never knew whether people meant what they said or whether it was all a goof.”
“And that’s the sentence that made me know I had a book,” he said.
And then questions, answers: He discussed that “dry patch” (“I like to think every writer experiences this. It feels a little like depression," he said, when no topic or subject seems appealing to write about. "It just feels like luck when a subject arrives and you think, ‘That’s something I can do. That’s something I want to do.’”) and themed collections (“You write these stories and you find out sort of belatedly what you’re writing about. My second collection, ‘Through the Safety Net,’ was about people who have had the rug sort of pulled out from under them. Though I didn’t realize until I was about three-quarters through it that that’s what it was about”) and about which is easier to write about, vices or virtues (“Oh, vices. Vices are much more interesting. Misdeeds—they interest us”).
The bookstore grew warm, those standing shifted from foot to foot, but nobody wanted to leave. Baxter wrapped things up. He looked out at the crowd, at his brother, his daughter-in-law, his students, his colleagues, his fellow writers, and his friends.
“I’m going to be on this book tour for some time,” he said, “and I just have to say I don’t expect ever to be in a room with so many people I care about. So, thank you. Thank you.”
"Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota," the new anthology edited by Alexs Pate along with co-editors Pamela R. Fletcher and J. Otis Powell!, will be launched into the world Thursday evening at the Minnesota History Center.
This collection of writing by 43 black writers was, Pate says in his introduction, "the culmination of a dream."
"What would a collection of works by African American writers who've lived in Minnesota for significant portions of their lives look like?" he writes. "How much would we talk about the weather? About isolation?"
And so he gathered together poems, essays, stories and recollections from Gordon Parks, and Nellie Stone Johnson, and Kim Hines, and Carolyn Holbrook.David Haynes is here, too, and Tish Jones. Anthony Peyton Porter writes about delivering the Star Tribune back in the day ("As far as I know, I'm the only person to have subscribed to, written for, and delivered the Star Triubne. I once delivered an edition with one of my book reviews, quite a sensation, as I recall.")
And Clarence White writes about applying for a job at the Ford plant, an activity that sends his memory back to growing up in St. Cloud. ("The teachers expected little of me. They also expected little of my siblings, yet we now have four master's degrees among us.")
The book launch will run from 6 to 8 p,m, on Thursday, Feb. 5, at the history center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W.
Alexs Pate, Tish Jones, Philip Bryant, E.G. Bailey, Taiyon Coleman, Shá Cage, and J. Otis Powell‽ will all be there.
There will be refreshments, a cash bar, a reading, and a book signing. It is free and open to the public.
The executive director of the country's largest literary center will step down from her job in August. Jocelyn Hale has run the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis since 2007, and served on its board of directors for five years before that.
"I love this place," Hale said in an interview this morning. "I used to come here and take writing classes. I'll always be cheering it on."
Hale, 51, will see the Loft through the mammoth AWP convention in April--the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is the largest writers conference in the country, expected to bring about 17,000 writers, editors, publishers, students and professors to the Twin Cities--and plans to leave after the Loft's 40th anniversary celebration Aug. 21 and 22.
That anniversary, she said, seemed a good time to introduce a new executive director.
During her eight years as executive director, the Loft successfully completed a major endowment drive, launched a significant online learning curriculum, increased its outreach to children and communities of color, and expanded its free programs.
"We now have online students all over the country," she said. "In Tel Aviv, London, Mumbai!"
Hale gave all credit to her staff. "I know how to hire good people," she said, "and then get them what they need to do their jobs."
Hale is not retiring, but now that her children are all in college she said she and her husband will travel, and she will explore her options. Her job will be posted on Friday.
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