2016 National Book Festival

Today at the Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital, the Library of Congress is hosting the 16th annual National Book Festival. One of the preeminent literary events of the year, the National Book Festival hosts writers from various genres and backgrounds to celebrate the literary arts.

This year’s special guests include Stephen King, Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oats, Michael Cunningham, Loius Lowry, and more. Young and old literary fans have more than enough to do with the children’s guide, filled with events tailored for younger audiences, and speaking events and signings are taking place for readers of all ages. Stephen King makes his debut at the Festival on the main stage at a sold out ticketed event, but all other presentations do not require tickets.

The National Book Festival was started by Laura Bush and then Librarian of Congress, James H Billington. The festival has taken place every year since Sept. 8, 2001. Co-Chairman of the National Book Festival Board, David. M. Rubenstein has been the festival’s benefactor since 2010, and in 2013 pledge to fund the festival for the next five years.

For those not at the Washington Convention Center, PBS Newshour is hosting a livestream that can be seen here. Social media is also keeping track of the festival with the hashtag #NatBookFest

National Book Award Longlist

This week, The National Book Foundation announced the 2016 Longlist nominees for fiction, non-fiction, young people’s literature, and poetry. The news was announced on the organization’s website and in partnership with The New Yorker. Nominated books include Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Viet Than Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies, Kevin Young’s Blue Laws, Sara Pennypacker & Jon Klassen’s Pax. A complete list of nominees and judges by category can be found on the foundation’s website.

The finalists in each category will be announced on October 13th, 2016 and the winner for each category will be announced on November 16th, 2016. Each winner will win $10,000 while each finalist will receive $1,000.

Since 1950, The National Book Award has been a prestigious honor among the literary community beginning out a desire for an award system for writers by their contemporaries. Past recipients of the award include William Faulkner, Rachel Carlson, and Ralph Ellison. In 1996, the category for Young People’s Literature was added, and in 2013 non-writers were permitted to be judges for the award.

The National Book award is seen as a launching board for a writer’s career, offering recognition across the literary community as well as a public spotlight for emerging talent.

Go Back to School this Fall

Most Maryland schools are already in session, but for those who want to become students of the arts, there are still several workshops open for enrollment.

The Writer’s Center

For the past 40 years, The Writer’s Center has been a valuable resource for writers in the area, offering a variety of courses each season. Choose from a selection of courses from short story workshops, poetry, genre fiction, and more. Members of The Writer’s Center receive a discount on courses. A full list of courses can be found in the fall catalogue.

The Maryland Writer’s Association

If you are interested in finding a community while getting feedback on your work, The Maryland Writer’s Association has a listing of critique groups (both online and in person) throughout Maryland. The groups vary by genre and level of experience, so you will most likely be able to find a group that matches your interests. For a complete listing by county, look here.

The Columbia Association

Those interested in the visual arts are in luck. The Columbia Association’s new fall catalogue is here with courses in acrylic painting, ceramics, jewelry making, and much more. With a wide variety of courses, exhibits, and lectures, there is something for everybody. See the online catalogue here.


Don’t forgot that Little Patuxent Review offers resources through our Concerning Craft Archive and LPR in the Classroom programs.

Celebrating 10 Years in Print

This past Sunday, Little Patuxent Review celebrated 10 years of publication by hosting a reading at The Writer’s Center. Thank you to The Writer’s Center and everyone who attended and made the event a success.

Readers included Steven Leyva who introduced each speaker, but also read a selection of his own work, several poems and a selection of an early manuscript. Steven Leyva is also the co-creator of Kick Assonance, and his work has been published in the Light Ekiphrasis, Welter, and The Cobalt Review. Currently, he is the head Editor at Little Patuxent Review.

Emily Rich, who has written for r.kv.r.y, the Delmarva Review, and The Pinch, read a non-fiction selection from her piece “Retrieving my Belongings,” currently only available in the Delmarva Review. Her work has appeared in the 2014 and 2015 Best American Essays and she is the current Non-Fiction Editor of Little Patuxent Review and an editor for the Delmarva Review.

Also reading was new Fiction Editor, Lisa Lynn Biggar, and Desirée Magney, board member of Little Patuxent Review. Both read longer selections of their work. Lisa Lynn Biggar’s work has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review , and Newfound, and she currently teaches English at Chesapeake College. Desirée Magney is a former attorney and writes poetry and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in bioStoriesBethesda Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Jellyfish Whispers, among others.

Joseph Ross closed the event with a reading with various poems, including “If Mamie Till was the Mother of God,” winner of the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize.

We hope to see you all again for Little Patuxent Review’s 11th anniversary.

The Meaning Behind Our Words: Joseph Ross’s Thoughts on Poetry

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry, Meeting the Bone Man (2012), Gospel of Dust (203), and Ache (2017). His poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review poetry prize and his work has appeared in Poet Lore, The Los Angeles Times, and Beltway Poetry, among others. He and other will be reading at The Writer’s Center on Sunday, August 21st to celebrate LPR’s 10th anniversary.

Joseph was willing to give some insight into his work and his thoughts on poetry.

With three books of poetry under your belt, one of which releases in early 2017, what do you believe are the signature traits of your poetry?

When readers explore my work, I hope they discover three main traits; I hope they find poems that say something, use surprising language, and are moving. To me, these are the marks of a strong poem. I teach these three traits to my students and they  seem to help them make meaningful poems.

The poems I love most are poems that keep opening up to me—and with whom I keep opening up—sometimes over many years. I can love a poem for its language, but if it really doesn’t say anything—or if I can’t understand it—then it’s not going to matter as much to me as a reader. After taking time with a good poem, a reader has at least some sense of the poem’s meaning. That meaning, if the poem is really good, can deepen and even shift in time.

The language of a poem cannot be common or ordinary and it certainly cannot be predictable. Surprising language can evoke strong emotions and helps the reader see things. It can take the reader deeper than literality and into meanings richer and more complicated than fact. A good poem only achieves this after a lot of work on the part of the poet.

Finally, I believe a good poem moves the reader. I think of Ross Gay’s amazing poem “A Small Needful Fact” about the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York Police Department. His poem describes the fact that Garner worked “for some time for the Parks and Rec” and he goes on to say in that work Garner probably planted flowers. He closes the poem with a reference to what the consequence of that kind of work might be, also referring indirectly to the words Garner spoke as he was dying in police hands. Eric Garner is remembered for saying, “I can’t breathe.” Gay ends the poem by telling us that Garner’s work might have made it “easier / for us to breathe.” This poem moves me profoundly. It evokes a sorrow in me, but it also makes me angry. It makes me want to change things in my country. Ross Gay’s poem achieves this in the quietest and gentle way. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming away from this poem unmoved. A good poem does this. It moves us.

How do you approach your work from a craft standpoint? Does the form or the subject inspire you first?

As you might predict from the last response, a poem’s subject gets me started. I see something, I read something, I feel something, and then I want to write about. To me, that’s the poem’s core. From there, the poem’s form supports what the poem tries to do. I sometimes see young poets using a dozen poetic devices in one poem. It’s like they’re trying to show me they can rhyme, use alliteration, assonance, and metaphors all in one poem. To me, that’s getting it backwards. If a poem needs to say something, then the form and devices it uses are merely tools to help it say what it needs to say. In my view, form and craft support the poem. Not the other way around.

Here’s an example that might help. In Ache, a book of poems coming out in March 2017, I have a series of poems about John Coltrane songs. One poem is about Coltrane’s epic composition “A Love Supreme.” This amazing song contains four sections and the whole song is built around a four-note sequence. In writing a poem that responds to Coltrane’s song, I thought it might help the poem give the reader an experience of “A Love Supreme” if the poem itself mirrors Coltrane’s container, his four sections, using his section titles as well. To me, that small echo, helps the poem do what it needs to do.

A final word about craft. I discovered a few years ago that when I drafted poems using two-line stanzas I could see the possibilities for interesting line breaks and surprising language more easily. I’m not sure why this works for me but it seems to. These days, I almost always draft in two-line stanzas and while the poems don’t always stay that way, they often do. There’s no right or wrong way to write a poem, this just seems to work for me.

Many of your poems touch on social issues from race to LGBTQ rights, with poems like “If Mamie Till was the Mother of God” and “For David Kato: A Love Poem.” What role do you think poetry plays when engaging with social justice issues? What unique entry point do you think poetry has?

Poetry plays many roles in our world today. So, within various struggles for justice, poetry plays crucial roles. Sometimes writing a poem simply helps the poet sort through thoughts and feelings, towards clarity. Sometimes a poem moves readers in such a way that it fires them up to get more deeply involved in a particular struggle. Sometimes hearing a poem read beautifully moves you to tears. This might deepen one’s experience of the poem’s topic and might further move that listener to make a deeper commitment to that specific struggle.

Consider the simple and clear questions in Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem.” When I first read that poem back in high school, many years ago, it gave me my first opportunity to see the damage and destruction of “a dream deferred.” I don’t think I understood the deadening and explosive results of holding Black people down until I studied that poem carefully. That poem enlightened me and moved me. I am diligently mindful of poetry’s power as I teach my American Literature students these days. When students or readers are ready, a poem can transform the ways we think and feel about the world.

I should say too that I don’t think we need to make poetry responsible for healing the world. It probably can’t. But I know we should never underestimate the power of a strong poem to move its readers into action and sacrifice.

What do you hope is conveyed through your work?

I hope readers might feel this idea pulsing through my work: that although our human capacity to hurt each other is obviously great, our human capacity to love is greater still. I hope both of these realities are conveyed in my work. But we must not flinch when exploring our ability and willingness to make others suffer. I believe a deep understanding of the depths of our cruelty can lead us into lives that build a more just and peaceful world.

In my first book, Meeting Bone Man, I hoped that trajectory came through. I opened the book with a quote from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Kindness.” She speaks of the need to “lose things” before one can know kindness. The book closes with a quote from Chris Abani’s poem, “Sanctificum.” He writes “This is not a lamentation, damn it. / This is a love song.”

Your work has been featured in many journals anthologies from Poet Lore, Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. What future projects do you have in mind?

JRLHH copy (1)

Joseph Ross on the steps of Langston Hughes’s former home

Many years ago, I immersed myself in the work and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. At Notre Dame, I taught a Freshman Seminar course and later at American University, here in Washington, D.C. about his life and work. I built a composition course around three of his books. I am convinced of the truth and rightness of his ideas. I am also convinced that if more people knew his view of the world, his commitment to nonviolence, his diagnosis of our condition—we could begin the work of healing the world, our communities, and ourselves.


So, I’m writing a book of poems drawn from three of his books which scholars call his political autobiographies: Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where Do We Go from Here? This project differs from anything I’ve done before so I have no idea where it will go, but I love the process of writing it so we shall see. The fiftieth anniversary of his assassination will come in 2018 and I would love for this book to be in the world at that time. We will see.


End of Summer Events

Before we all give in to the eventual tide of Back-to-School ads, let’s celebrate the last hurrah of summer with a literary focus. From Howard County to Washington, DC, there are several upcoming performances, exhibits, and festivals celebrating the arts, whether from local artists or the works of Shakespeare. Here is a short and sweet list of five events that should hold you over until the pumpkin lattes start rolling out.

Montgomery Portrait Artists – July 11 – August 19th

The Howard County Arts Council is hosting two exhibits of juried work of portraiture and figurative art by five artists. Howard County Arts Council was established to promote the appreciation of art and provide a space for regional artist to grow and develop their work. Admission is free.

LPR at The Writer’s Center – August 21st

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, LPR will host a reading of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda Maryland. Readers will include Steven Leyva, Emily Rich, Lisa Lynn Biggar, Jen Grow, Joseph Ross, and Desirée Magney. The reading will be followed by a reception.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company present Othello – September 16th to October 9th

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company kicks off its 15th season with a production of Othello. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has been a staple of the Maryland performing arts circle and is a leader in the community theatre with their various performances across the region and commitment to theatre education for youths. See the full 2016-2017 listing here.

National Book Festival – September 24th

The annual National Book Festival returns to Washington with events for all ages. As one of the largest literary events in the nation, the festival hosts several panels, events, readings, and special guests, including some of the nation’s most prominent authors. Stephen King has been announced as a guest for this year’s event.

Carolyn Forché – The Lucille Clifton Reading Series – October 30th

Sponsored by the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society, Carolyn Forché will be conducting a reading at Monteabaro Recital Hall, HCC Campus. Forché has been a ground-breaking voice in poetry and her body of work includes The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour.


Turning Over a New Leaf

After more than a year as a fantastic online editor for Little Patuxent Review, Deborah Kevin is moving on to new adventures. All of us as at LPR want to thank her for all her hard work improving LPR’s website, sharing interesting and informative blogposts, expanding LPR’s outreach on social media, and much more than what can be listed here. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and she will remain a part of the LPR family helping behind the scenes as a fiction reader.

At the same time, Little Patuxent Review has added some new names to the masthead. Taking on the position of online editor is Jessica Flores. Lisa Lynn Biggar is our new fiction editor and Dominique Cahn enters the role of nonfiction editor. Emily Rich has transitioned from nonfiction editor to deputy editor.

If I could take a few moments to talk about myself, taking on the post of online editor is both daunting and exhilarating. While I am excited to take on the mantle of online editor, I wonder if I can live up to the example Deborah has left behind. Deborah has been supportive in helping me transition into her former role, and I hope that I can live up to the precedence she leaves. It has only been a few weeks, but already everyone at LPR has been so kind and supportive.

I graduated from American University last year with a bachelor’s in literature. I recently completed an internship at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and my hope is to make this blog an active forum for the artistic and literary community. I enjoy any type of fiction, be it genre fiction, short stories, novels, or flash fiction.

One of my fondest memories of my undergraduate studies was the sense of community built around my university’s student literary magazine. During review sessions, everyone took time out of their own schedules, usually weekends or after class, to get together and go over submissions for the upcoming print issue. Sometimes these sessions were late at night in the middle of the week or during prime weekend hours when the campus classrooms felt deserted without the usual student body walking about. There was a sense that each piece deserved equal attention during review, but also that everyone present deeply cared about the quality of the magazine and what it represented about the work generated on our campus. Even though I am out of school, I sense a similar but even larger sense of community with LPR.

If I can foster even a sense of that type of community through this blog, then I think I’ve done my job.

Feel free to reach out to the LPR staff through comments and suggestions for future blog posts or the content you would like to see on our blog. Submissions are open for LPR’s themed Winter 2017 issue. Submit your work today.