By Deb A.
The world's richest short story competition—this year's winner of the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award will take home around $38,000—closed for entries this past week. While writers around the world cross their fingers, British public radio has an incentive for the next generation of authors to start typing.
BBC Radio 2's 500 Words is the world's biggest short story competition for young people. Open only to UK residents aged 5–13, it nevertheless attracted nearly 135,000 entries last year, and more than 800,000 stories altogether since its inception in 2011. The rules are simple: Children can submit one original story that is no longer than 500 words. And mixing up your and you're is no tragedy: Spelling, grammar, and punctuation don't count. Originality, plot, characterisation, language, and enjoyment do.
Created to foster a love for reading and writing at an early age, the competition offers some fantastic prizes for the winners of each age group (5–9 and 10–13). Gold Award winners will receive a stack of books as tall as the competition's chair, former Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans (that's 1.88m); 500 books for their school library; and a tour of a BBC children's TV show. Silver Award winners will take home the Honourary Judge's height in books; a quick search for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall's height yields 1.73m. Entrants should make sure to eat their vegetables, as a Bronze Award will earn them their own height in books. All six winners will also receive an illustration of their story by an acclaimed children's illustrator.
Every entry has been sent to the Oxford University Press since 2012, creating a corpus of 328 million words and counting. An analysis of the data showed that last year, the environment, gaming, women in history, and unicorns were all popular themes. Plastic, used to indicate pollution, was the word of the year.
The 2019 submission deadline is March 7; aspiring authors can find learning resources as well as inspiration (for instance, David Walliams's enthusiastic reading of last year's Gold Award winner for ages 5–9, Evan Boxall's The Poo Fairy) on the 500 Words website.
For slightly older short story enthusiasts, 500 Words is also looking for UK teachers and librarians to act as volunteer judges and whittle down the entries to a long list.
By Deb A.
There is something slightly different about the coverage of the 2019 winner of one of Australia's most prestigious literary prizes; it is as though there are too many angles to address at once. The Victorian Prize for Literature honours the best in Australian writing, but the winning book was not written by an Australian citizen or permanent resident. It did not take shape in a traditional way: It was neither scribbled into a notebook nor typed into a laptop. No; the winning author, Behrouz Boochani, is a Kurdish-Iranian refugee living in detention on Manus Island. He wrote his non-fiction book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, in Farsi and primarily on WhatsApp, sending his work message by message directly to his translator to ensure it would not be destroyed.
The Wheeler Centre, which organises the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, called No Friend But the Mountains "a voice of witness, an act of survival, a first-hand account, a cry of resistance, a vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile," It made an exception to its rules on the recommendation of its judges so that Mr. Boochani could enter the competition, noting that the story of asylum seekers on Manus Island is an Australian story and therefore including No Friend But the Mountains for consideration was in the spirit of the awards' intention. The Australian government did not make an exception to its rules, however; Mr. Boochani was not allowed to accept his prize in person in Melbourne. Instead, his translator, Omid Tofighian was there in person, watching the author deliver his speech via video link.
"This award is a victory," Mr. Boochani told the audience. "A victory for human beings, for human dignity, A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers."
Mr. Boochani is a journalist who fled Iran after several of his colleagues were imprisoned. He has chronicled life in detainment for The Guardian and filmed and codirected a documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, on his phone. The centre where he was originally detained was closed in 2017; since then, he has lived in facilities that Amnesty International described as "moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another." Upon receiving the Victorian Prize for Literature, he told The Guardian that his "main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years."
Follow Behrouz Boochani on Twitter: @BehrouzBoochani
By Deb A.
The first ICYMI of the 2019 is all about gratitude and celebration. Read on!
... to Lin-Manuel Miranda and three Hamilton collaborators, who are saving New York City's Drama Book Shop, (New York Times)
... to Simon Beattie, founder of the gorgeous We Love Endpapers group, and to The Guardian for helping the world discover it.
... to Georg P. Salzmann (1929–2013): With recent surveys showing that 5% of British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened and that 20% of young Canadians don't know or aren't sure what the Holocaust is, it's heartening to return to the story of Georg Salzmann, who spent nearly 40 years collecting around 12,000 books banned by the Nazis. (BBC)
... to Wyatt Walker, college basketball player and man with the arm that will save an ancient Roman statue. (Hyperallergic)
... to Jayant Kaikini and translator Tejaswini Niranjana, winners of the 2018 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for No Presents Please. This is the first time that the award has gone to a translated work. (The Indian Express)
... to Hannah Sullivan, who won the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for her debut collection, Three Poems. (Faber)
... to Duncan Murrell for winning the Ocean Art Underwater Photography Contest with his "Devil Ray Ballet". (Lonely Planet)
By Deb A.
The Washington Post and the Financial Times have already gotten a head start on end-of-year recommendations, offering up their picks for the best poetry books of 2018. But not every poet can win a Grammy like Leonard Cohen, whose The Flame is a must-read according to the Financial Times, or be hailed as a "Living Legend" by the U.S. Library of Congress like Ursula K. Le Guin, who made the Washington Post's list with So Far So Good. Which is why some Columbia University students set their sights much, much lower, on the 33rd annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.
Held by the university's Philolexian Society, a literary and debate society that aims to "promote wit and humour on campus," the contest honours Alfred Joyce Kilmer and his meticulously rhyming contributions to the poetic canon. Nearly 40 contestants took to the stage this year, unabashedly embracing terrible metaphors, obnoxious rhymes, and pretentious language in their efforts to drive the three professors judging the proceedings to despair.
There were limericks. There was performance art. There were several modern takes on old classics. The winner was freshman Dylan Tymel and his "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus", in which he recruits a "sweet, rotten, rhymeless" orange to provide the necessary imagery.
Your pith in my nails
As I peel you, stinging juice
Squirts into my soul
(From "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus" by new poet laureate Dylan Tymel)
(If that strikes your fancy, you might want to check out some past winners.)
As per tradition, the event ended with everyone in attendance reciting Joyce Kilmer's "Trees":
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
By Deb A.
What makes a book difficult, and is that a bad thing? (The Guardian)
The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation has announced its shortlist for next year's prize.
Behind the scenes with the impressive list of celebrities reading children to sleep on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. (BBC)
Jawohl! The Deutsche Welle has put together a list of 100 must-reads translated from German into English.
Artist Tania Willard's recent work turns the wind into a poet. (CBC)
The science is in on how to become a successful artist. (artnet; full study, published in Science, available here)
The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books are here!
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