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How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito

The minute I finally learned to read, I was hooked on words. I was like a staggering lost child who had crawled out of the Mohave desert and couldn’t stop gulping water from the first faucet I found. I checked out stacks of books at the library and read anything I could get my hands on, including the back of the Cheerios box as I sat at the breakfast table.

So it’s no surprise that when I went to Chipotle yesterday, I immediately glued my eyes to the copy written on my to-go sack as I chomped down on my burrito.

“Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” George Saunders

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Huh? What’s George Saunders, the short story writer extraordinaire, doing on my burrito sack?”

This is what: Saunders and 10 other writers are part of a Chipotle campaign called Cultivating Thought — Author Series. The campaign was the brainchild of Jonathan Safran Foer, a featured author and curator of the project.  It’s meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read. The idea, Foer said in a video on the website, was not for the campaign to be any sort of marketing tool. He goes on to say that, “….in the scheme of corporate America, this is not a massive investment of any kind. But it might have really beautiful payoffs.”

Other authors include Toni Morrison, who wrote the essay, “Two-Minute Seduction,” comedian Sarah Silverman, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, and Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side.”

The essays on Chipotle’s bags and cups are meant to, “create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.”

Besides the essays, the paper bags and cups feature original art. For a bite of inspiration, go to cultivatingthought.com to see the artwork, author bios, Q&As with the writers, and their essays.

Polish your prose and enter a writing contest

Sending your writing out into the world is a good way to get recognition for all your hard work. My blogging partner Carol Despeaux should know. She was notified in December that she’d won 7th place in the Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards. Congratulations Carol! She’ll be receiving $50, recognition in Writer’s Digest magazine and promotion on WritersDigest.com, and a copy of the 2014 Poet’s Market.

To inspire you, I’ve listed several contests with upcoming deadlines. For information about other contests, check out writing magazines, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Writer’s and Poets.

Ruminate magazine

Award: VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

Deadline: Feb. 15, 2014

Entry Fee: $18

Website: www.ruminatemagazine.com

Ruminate’s annual VanderMey Nonfiction Prize winner receives $1,500 and publication in the summer 2014 issues of the magazine. The runner up receives $200 and publication. Submit an essay or short memoir by Feb. 15. Visit the website for guidelines.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association

Award: First and second place is awarded in 12 categories, including children’s, middle grade, nonfiction/memoir, poetry, and various other genres

Deadline: Feb. 21, 2014

Entry Fee: $35 per entry for PNWA members, $50 per entry for non-members.

Website: PNWA Contest

Each entry receives two critiques. Winners are announced at the Summer Conference in front of writers, agents, and editors. First-place winners receive $700 and second-place winners receive $300. For contest rules and submission guidelines, visit the website.

Association of Writers & Writing Programs   

Award: Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, Novel, Creative Nonfiction

Deadline: Feb. 28, 2014

Entry Fee: $30 ($20 for AWP members)

Website: www.awpwriter.org/contests

Two prizes of $5,500 each and publication by a participating press are given annually for a poetry collection and a short story collection. In addition, two prizes of $2,500 each and publication by a participating press are given annually for a novel and a book of creative nonfiction. Submit manuscripts online by Feb. 28. visit the website for guidelines.

Colorado Review

Award: Nelligan Prize (short story)

Deadline: March 14, 2014

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://nelliganprize.colostate.edu

The Colorado Review awards a prize of $2,000 and publication annually for a short story. Current and former students of Colorado State University are not eligible. Submit a story of any length with a $15 entry fee by March 14. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for guidelines.

The Bad Sex Scene Award: how NOT to get nominated

London’s “Literary Review” has just announced its winners for the 2013 Bad Sex Award—Britain’s most dreaded literary prize.

The prize is meant to “draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel and to discourage it.”

This year the nominees included author Amy Tan’s, “The Valley of Amazement,” for this line: “He flayed against me, until our bodies were slapping, and he took me into the typhoon and geologic disaster.”  Read more

Write a postcard to spread global understanding

The written word is a powerful way to increase empathy and understanding on a global scale. Writers can be activists in many ways. One of those opportunities is through a program started by Peace Corps volunteer and teacher Matthew Borden.

Borden started a project called Postcards to Java as a way to help his students practice their language skills and learn more about people in other countries. The project is designed to address Peace Corps’ three goals. The Peace Corps focus on Java is English education and the program provides students with the opportunity to practice their language skills.

The students hope to receive postcards from all 50 states and from all over the globe. Participants are asked to write students a postcard in English. The students read the postcards and then write back. One international stamp in the United States only costs $1.10.Postcards to Java_children Read more

Young People’s literature gets a boost from the National Book Foundation

For the first time in its history, the National Book Foundation has announced the 2013 Young People’s Literature Longlist for the National Book Award. This is the first time the National Book Foundation has announced a “longlist” of ten titles for each National Book Awards category. The list includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The Longlist for Poetry will be announced today, the Longlist for Nonfiction on Sept 18, and the Longlist for Fiction on September 19. The short list of five finalists in each category will be announced in mid-October.

The nominees for Young People’s Literature address important contemporary issues, including the immigrant experience, coming of age as an LGBT teen, and the impact of technology on civilization.

Personally, I’ve read some great books for young people and I’m excited this category is doing more to recognize the incredible talent in the field.

One example is Lisa Graff’s nominated book, A Tangle of Knots,which takes place in a slightly magical version of our world, where most everyone has a special talent—something he or she is uniquely gifted at, often to a supernatural degree. Read more

Energize your writing by entering a contest

Writing is its own reward, but it’s good to submit to contests to see how your work rates. It can give energy and focus to your writing, and if your submission wins, you might catch the eye of an editor or agent.

See the list below for several upcoming contests. For a more detailed list, visit Poets & Writers online.

Flash Fiction
Gemini Magazine
Deadline: August 31, 2013
Entry Fee: $4 ($3 for each additional entry)
Gemini Magazine, Flash Fiction Contest, David Bright, Editor. P.O. Box 1485, Onset, MA 02558. (339) 309-9757, editor@gemini-magazine.com.

Gemini Magazine awards a prize of $1,000 and publication annually for a short short story. Submit a story of up to 1,000 words. Call, e-mail, or visit the website for complete instructions. Read more

Chicago library scene of surprise marriage proposal

You would expect these things to happen at a library: books checked out, classes taught, children’s story hour, and a book sale. But how about a marriage proposal?

That’s what Jason Methner did to propose to his girlfriend Molly Lipsitz. He wrote a children’s book, called “A Hare-y Tale,” about his relationship with her that featured her favorite stuffed animal (a  bunny), a tortoise, and a marriage proposal. He had the book printed, then placed it in the children’s section of the Harold Washington Library in Chicago.

Both Jason and Molly are fans of books and libraries, so it seemed like a creative and fitting place to pop the question. He made up a story to get her to the library, helped her find the book, and then got down on one knee and proposed. She said yes.

Photographer Aparna Paul Jain was in on the surprise proposal and snapped Lipsitz’s reaction when Methner popped the question. (photos courtesy of Aparna Paul Jain.)

For more details, read about it in the Huffington Post.

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