The Mark Blog

Writers’ Reel: Celebrate The Freedom To Read!

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event that highlights the value of free and open access to information. In this Association of American Publishers video, authors Junot Diaz, James Patterson, John Green, and others share the banned books they are reading.
“Every time we ban a text, we’re basically tearing up a page from the book of our democratic culture.” – Junot Diaz
Join the conversation on twitter at @PENUSA as we tweet all week under the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek.





Bookmark This: Poet Terrance Hayes On Resisting Styles

This week, poet Terrance Hayes was named a MacArthur Fellow. His collection of poems include Wind in a BoxLightheadMuscular Music, Hip Logic, and the forthcoming How To be Drawn (March 2015, Penguin). In this Hot Metal Bridge interview, Terrance discusses how he became a poet, how he doesn’t believe in rigid styles, and how the “perfect poem” doesn’t exist.

“I don’t sit down at the desk and say, 'I’m going to write a black poem, a narrative poem.' When you look at anybody’s bookcase, there are so many styles. When I’m working, I just try to write whatever the poem requires.”

Click here to read the full interview.



Writers’ Reel: Three Authors Tackle Grief Through Art


This week we look at how three authors wrote wrote about the lose of loved ones.

Poet Edward Hirsch recently spoke to NPR on his book-length elegy, Gabriel, a narrative poem about the unexpected death of his 22-year-old son. In the interview, Hirsch argues that there is no “right way to grieve.”

“As soon as something happens to us in America, everyone begins talking about healing. But before you heal, you have to mourn. And I found that poetry doesn't shield you from grief, but it does give you an expression of that grief.” – Edward Hirsch

Listen to the rest of his interview here.

Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Meghan O’Rourke both wrote first-person accounts about losing a loved one. In this 2011 New York Times article, the authors explained how they used writing as a way to find solace.

“Profound losses leave us paralyzed and mute, unable really to comprehend them, still less to speak coherently about them. – Joyce Carol Oates

Click here to read the full interview.


Bookmark This: Stock Your Library With These Short Novels

Everyone is always pressed for time. If reading that epic 700-page tome is bringing you down, Electric Literature has the perfect list of 17 short novels you can read in a day. From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of A Death Foretold to Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, there is a short literary gem waiting to be picked up by you.
“One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, this underrated book is a wild roller coaster of dark comedy, surreal images, and just plain brilliant writing.” – Lincoln Michel on The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

Click here to get reading: 



Writers’ Reel: Happy Birthday, Leo Tolstoy and Roald Dahl!

Today marks Leo Tolstoy’s 186th birthday and this Saturday will mark Roald Dahl’s 96th birthday. Let’s celebrate the two great authors with a double dose of Writers’ Reel. First, listen to Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Questions,” published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By and Other Tales

“It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
 time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
 listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
 was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything 
he might undertake.” 

Listen to the full story here:

Next, listen to Dahl, author of many great children’s books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, explain how he evaded war and chose the path of writing:


Bookmark This: Steve Almond on The Problem of Entitlement


Author Steve Almond's recent essay for Poets & Writers, "The Problem of Entitlement: A Question of Respect," tackles a common problem with MFA students and young writers in general. He writes that students are unable to study literature purely for craft without the belief that each piece is meant to entertain them as customers. 
"Entitlement operates at a more basic and often unconscious level. It’s a kind of defensive snobbery, a delusion that the world and its constituent parts—whether a product or a piece of art or a loved one—exist to please you."

Writers’ Reel: Remembering Charles Bowden

On Saturday, August 30, 2014, nonfiction author, journalist, and essayist Charles Bowden passed away at the age of 69. Known for his investigative pieces on the Mexican border city of Juarez, Charles’s books include Murder CityDown by the River, and Blues for Cannibals. In 2011, PEN Center USA awarded the writer with the PEN Center USA First Amendment Award Award. Watch Charles speak frankly on his creative process in this video.

“If you can write, it’s a gift. If you can compose music, it’s a gift. You can study, get better, but it’s still a gift. If you betray a gift, just use it to make money, it goes away. It’s a sin to do that.” 



Bookmark This: Brandon Jordan Brown on the Legitimacy of Art

2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Brandon Jordan Brown writes about his love for poetry and the confidence boost he received when he was awarded the fellowship. 
You can still be a part of our Kickstarter Campaign and help poets like Brandon Jordan Brown. Only 30 hours left to pick up some very cool rewards!
“When I was first considering applying for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, I already knew that I had things I wanted to say. I knew that words meant something, that when you strung them together with care and integrity, they became something big and strong and clever and frightening and sometimes ugly, but always holy. Always meaningful. Always poetry. 
Sometimes I have to remind myself that poetry is legitimate. I need encouragement and reminders to talk myself into opening the laptop that was given to me by a friend because I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. These reminders can come to me in the form of a lady pulling up in her car across the street from my house, popping her trunk and yelling “Tamales!” Other times, they come as I remember my grandfather quoting lines from poems that helped him make sense of the world around him. Maybe a poem will be born from the temporary fascination with the blood and bits of apple that mixed in my childhood friend’s mouth when I accidentally hit him in the face with a golf club. But these reminders all share a common thread – they appear as I am living my life in my world in the only way I know how: by being me. And these reminders, when weighed and filtered and turned over in my hands, become art, and I feel it. And sometimes other people are kind enough to spend some time with my art, and they feel it too. And we can connect over that feeling. And that is legitimate.
Whether we realize it or not, everyone is searching to make meaning out of things: the sights, sounds, and memories that we encounter. And this isn’t because we are writers (at least not completely). It is because we are human beings. 
Being accepted into this fellowship has given me the confidence and opportunity that I needed to call myself a poet. I was fully convinced to follow through with the application process after an Emerging Voices panel discussion at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, California. Every alum, mentor, and current fellow spoke out about the benefits of this program and how it absolutely provided what they needed to take their writing to the next level. I spent what seemed like endless nights after work, hunched over my application and writing sample at my dining table. 
When I was granted the fellowship, I remember telling people that it didn’t feel real, that I had tricked someone, that soon people would see more of my poetry and realize they had invited some imposter into their program. But time and time again, during author evenings and through talking with alumni, I have been affirmed and reaffirmed as possessing the talent and ability to continue making meaning of my world, ‘tapping people on the shoulder,’ and inviting them to look at a few pages or listen to a few words. 
It feels nice to be reminded sometimes that art is worth it. And it’s amazing what it does for a young writer to be told that they are legitimate.”
Brandon Jordan Brown was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in the South. He moved to California to pursue his MA in theology and currently lives in Los Angeles. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Day One, decomP, and The Bakery, and he is writing his first book of poetry, Viking Ships in Los Angeles

Bookmark This: Andrés Reconco on Unveiling Truths

In this essay, 2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Andrés Reconco describes how, before his fellowship, he'd felt unable to share his writing -- what he calls the “beastly essence” within him. It was through the fellowship that Andrés would find his voice and a community to lean on. We are down to the wire and have just over 50 hours left to raise funding to support writers like Andrés Reconco. Click here to become a backer today!
“Before the Emerging Voices Fellowship came into my life I’d spent thirty years writing for myself, writing because if I didn’t I would feel ill, like I was suffocating from some beastly essence about me. So, I wrote to let that beast breathe, so that in return it could let me continue my life. I also read a lot because that essence was also nourished by the voice of other people’s creatures, beasts that lived inside the chest of others, the minds of others who, like me, had to write or suffocate. I could have lived the rest of my life in that fashion, simply listening to the voice of others, to the roars inside their chest, but what kind of life would that be? What kind of life is the life of one that hides desires, that denies that beast the ears of others besides a best friend or coworker who has nothing else to do but read one’s stories? The Emerging Voices Fellowship revealed truths, showed me how to reach others so that they too can listen to the roar inside my chest.
The Emerging Voices Fellowship has been the guide that I never knew I needed. It has offered me knowledge about the writing industry that I never learned in any of the creative writing classes I took. It taught me some superficial things like how to seek out an agent, how to work with an editor, what to look for in a publishing house, how to negotiate needs and wants. But most importantly it also revealed to me the bonds writers share, the struggles, the sadness and pain, and the overall suffering and self-imposed alienation. It calmed me. It set me at ease and somewhat quieted the voices inside my head that said I was not a writer, voices that, if allowed, could drown out the sounds of the beast inside my chest. This fellowship has been invaluable, a journey of discovery, both of a world outside of me and the world within. Without it, without the support of Lilliam and Libby and the rest of the PEN Center USA staff I would still be lost. Without the support of Victor, Hanne, Brandon, Maggie, and Marci, who have become my friends, my mentors, and my family, I would still be writing in a vacuum. 
Today, I am a writer. I am an artist. My voice will find an audience. It will find hearts with which to bind. It will move and inspire. That essence that threatens to suffocate me when I ignore it will go out and speak its truth to others. This is a fact. The PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship has placed the tools in my hand to make this happen.” 


Bookmark This: Margaret Spilman On Your Mentor

2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Margaret Spilman writes about her relationship with mentor Melanie Thorne. From her nervousness before their first meeting to their revealing chats on the business of writing, Margaret shares how the mentorship was by far one of the most important aspects of the fellowship.
"Everyone needs someone in their corner, someone who has been there before. Someone who can cheer them on, guide them, and give them swift kicks in the ass when necessary. When you become a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, suddenly you have this wealth of resources to grow your writing and cement your identity as a writer. One of the resources is your very own mentor to help guide you through the eight months and to be that person in your corner.
The Emerging Voices mentorship is remarkable because you get to have this person in your life, this published person who cares about what you write and how you write it, and will push you to make your stories better and better. I find that writing can be lonely work and find myself not wanting to show anyone anything until it is perfect. It’s hard enough to call yourself a writer and it can be terrifying to show anyone your work, especially when you’re stuck. There is this fear, at least for me, that someone will look at the rambling pages and raise an eyebrow and suggest maybe becoming a dental hygienist instead. Being an Emerging Voices Fellow is a stamp of approval that makes it easier to fully claim the writer moniker, but, even better than that, it gives you this mentor who you can show all those unpolished, sticky pieces to.
I didn't really know what to expect. When I had my first meeting with my mentor Melanie Thorne, I was going to have a coffee with someone who had signed up to help me, without even having met me, because of the power of the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices stamp of approval. I had a list of questions for her, trying to think of what I wanted out of the relationship, this bit of PEN Center USA matchmaking. I really didn’t need my list, because within two minutes Melanie had put me completely at ease and seemed to also be reading my mind, answering questions before I even asked them. Besides notes and guidance with specific stories, she has given me invaluable reading lists and helped me to search for flexible jobs that will leave me time to write and go to grad school in the fall. The mentorship hasn’t just been about cheerleading, it has been more about the practical aspects of being a writer: how to edit, how to network, how to make money. Really one of the best things for me as a writer has been to hang out with other writers, especially my mentor.
Melanie’s advice, guidance, and red pen have been more than just helpful, they've been energizing. It’s wonderful to be excited about getting notes back, to be excited to show someone stubborn stories that just aren’t working. Everything about being a fellow is valuable: the author evenings, the workshops, the voice class, the readings, the community of fellow EVs, but one of the things that I will treasure the most from this experience is the stack of stories that I have nervously sent to Melanie and the thoughtful notes she has given me back.”
Let’s keep the fellowship going! There’s only three more days left to meet our goal of funding the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship. Click here now to support this one-of-a-kind-program.