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2014 Gell Prize Winner Announced!

Poet Stephen Dunn has chosen Michael Colonnese as the winner of the 2014 Kenneth & Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize for his book-length manuscript Double Feature. Michael Colonnese has worked as an advertising copywriter, as a chemical salesman, as a vegetable farmer, as a real estate agent, as a lobster fisherman, as a house painter, as a day laborer, as a Pinkerton guard, as a beer-truck driver, and as a soundman and editor for a documentary film company. He holds a Ph.D from SUNY Binghamton, and currently lives in Fayetteville, NC, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Methodist University and serves as the Managing Editor of Longleaf Press.

The prize includes a $1,000 honorarium,publication by Big Pencil Press in the fall of 2014, and a week-long residency at Writers & Books’ rural retreat center, The Gell Center of the Finger Lakes. Mr. Colonnese is a resident of Fayetteville, NC.

Stephen Dunn is the widely acclaimed author of fifteen books of poetry, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2001. In his Foreword to Double Feature, Mr. Dunn writes, “Double Feature is a terrific book, mature in its orchestration of effects, and in its subtly rendered judgments.”

The Kenneth & Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize is awarded each year to a poet with an outstanding unpublished manuscript, and is judged by a distinguished poet. The prize honors Dr. and Mrs. Gell, the benefactors who donated to Writers & Books the property that is now The Gell Center of the Finger Lakes. Past winners of the prize include Hayden Saunier for her book Say Luck, selected by Laure-Anne Bosselaar; Bethany Reid for her book Sparrow, selected by Dorianne Laux; and Jay Leeming for his book Miracle Atlas, selected by William Heyen.


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How scandalous is your reading history?

“Book banning” began as early as 500 B.C.E with the Roman Empire. Since, censorship has seen many transitions. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, centuries defined by their tumultuous political and religious happenings, book burnings were common. Authors and publishers could even be hung  or flayed for what they printed. Revolutionaries the likes of John Milton played a large role in promoting free press in the mid-seventeenth century, risking their lives and, sometimes more importantly, their reputations. (See John Milton’s influential tract Areopagitica for a poignant argument on the benefits of demolishing England’s strict censorship of ideas and how such an act would promote fluent literature.)  Many of the precedents set by these brave pamphleteers helped to establish the freedom of press that we enjoy today.

While we may not have been exposed to the degree of censorship to which John Milton and others were accustomed for several centuries, you would be surprised by what books were banned in our own country’s recent history and why.

In three installments, we will provide short lists of some of the most surprising banned books, just in time for our banned book celebration at our forthcoming First Friday event (June 6th!).
And so we ask, how scandalous is your reading history?

1. Candide by: Voltaire (1759)
 Candide was confiscated by the US Customs in the early 1930’s for its “obscenities.”

2. The Canterbury Tales by: Geoffrey Chaucer (published late 14th century)

Despite being in circulation for centuries, the United States banned this book under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act (1873).

3. The Grapes of Wrath by: John Steinbeck (1939)
California banned this novel, mainly because it portrayed individuals native to the state in an unflattering light.


4. Ulysses by: James Joyce (1922)
Temporarily banned in the United States in the early 1930’s for its sexual content. It was also banned in the UK and restricted to those over the age of 18 in Australia.

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by: Mark Twain (1884)

In the year following its publication, Twain’s work was banned, labeld “trash suitable only for the slums.” The main objections with this formative book  were its overt racial overtones.

6. Beloved by: Toni Morrison (1987)

Like many of this Pulitzer-prize winner’s remarkable works, Beloved was banned because of its violence, sexual content, and dealings with bestiality.

7. The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger (1951)

Referenced as “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “foul,” and “filthy”, this book and it’s central character, Holden Caufield, are notorious for the censorship surrounding them.

8. The Great Gatsby by: F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Depicting the sensuous, extravagant life lived by the Lost Generation, contemporaries didn’t take too kindly to Fitzgerald’s implied opinion on the futility surrounding the upper class at the time. Given the mild language, alcohol abuse, and sexual references which litter the book’s pages, it wasn’t difficult to get this great American novel banned upon its publishing.

9. Leaves of Grass by: Walk Whitman (1855)
A highly misunderstood work, those who first came across Whitman’s book of poetry after publication found the sensuality surrounding his poems to be disturbing and objectionable. It didn’t take long for it to be pegged as “filthy,” and many prominent book-sellers strongly advised patrons against purchasing what would become one of the most momentous works of American poetry to date.

10. Where the Wild Things Are by: Maurice Sendak (1963)

While today we know this story to be a childhood favorite, upon it’s publication, it was ill-received due to its disturbing nature.

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June Events

June is chock-full of awesome events! For more information, contact our front office at or 473-2590 x107. You could also check out the events section of our website. 

  • June 5 – Book Thieves: The Book Thieves is Writers & Books’ “Young Professional” Book Club, now entering its fourth year. Anyone fitting into the young professional niche is welcome to come join our discussions. This month, we’ll be discussing March by Geraldine Brooks.
  • June 6 – First Friday, Banned Books Projection: Inspired by Beau Beausoleil’s Al-Mutanabbi project and his partnership with the Rochester Public Library, Writers & Books will be having a special projection examining banned books in American and the history of censorship. Join us also for an open mic from 7:00-9:00.
  • June 7 – Colorful Dances with Rosalie Jones/Daystar: Don’t Miss this Special Event! The ‘colorful’ dances of Native Americans are very often viewed on the basis of their surface appeal and without cultural understanding. This presentation by Daystar/Rosalie Jones (Little Shell Chippewa) will present several Intertribal dances (the Shawl and Jingle, the Grass and the Hoop Dance) as forms of visual storytelling. The cultural origin and the story associated with each dance will be connected to its cultural and historical meanings. The community Round Dance will close the presentation.
  • June 10 – Genesee Reading Series: Now in its 31st year, the Genesee Reading Series presents writers from the greater Genesee Valley region reading in the Writers & Books Performance Space. This month, join us for readings by Louise Wareham Leonard and Jennifer Pashley.
  • June 11 – Satire Circle: Ever dream about being the next Jon Stewart or Dorothy Parker? Do Stephen Colbert and SNL speak to your dueling idealism and skepticism? We modestly propose a gathering of local satirists (seasoned or aspiring) for a monthly Satire Circle. Bring a laptop or a pen for lessons, writing time, peer feedback and lots of fun.
  • June 12 – Bertrand Russell Society: The Bertrand Russell Society was formed shortly after Russell’s death in 1970. Russell (1872-1970) worked in fields such as mathematical logic; philosophy; social, religious, and educational reform; anti-war protests and politics. An accomplished writer, Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. This ongoing lecture series promises to enlighten and entertain. Monthly meetings are open to everyone, not just to members of the society. Join us this month for a lecture and discussion by John Walsh on Mitt Romney’s Supernaturalism.
  • June 12 – Visiting Writer Workshop with Janie Chodosh: Join Janie Chodosh, Pittsford native and Young Adult author of Death Spiral for a one-night workshop and discussion. Death Spiral is praised as “a smart, surprising novel featuring an in-your-face heroine sure to appeal to teens and adults alike,” and is published by The Poisoned Pencil. In this one-night workshop, class participants will be given several fun prompts to spark their imaginations. After time to write and read out loud, Janie will discuss her book, this exciting new press, and answer questions. This workshop is open to all students, including teens who are serious about their work. Copies of Death Spiral will be available for purchase after the class.
  • June 19 – Words on Walls Summer Kick Off! Join us for this unique collaboration with Writers & Books and Rochester Love Notes! Details coming soon.
  • June 21 – Best New PoetsJoin us in celebrating America’s young and talented poets. Entering its ninth year, Best New Poets has established itself as a crucial venue for rising poets and a valuable resource for poetry lovers. The only publication of its kind, this annual anthology is made up exclusively of work by writers who have not yet published a full-length book. The poems included in this eclectic sampling represent the best from the many that have been nominated by the country’s top literary magazines and writing programs, as well as some four thousand additional poems submitted through an open online competition. The work of the fifty writers represented here provides the best perspective available on the continuing vitality of poetry as it is being practiced today.On Saturday, June 21 from 7:00-9:00, Writers & Books will be hosting four of the poets featured in Best New Poets, Cori Winrock, Derek JG Williams, Michelle Bonczek Evory and Peter Mishler. Join us to hear their fresh, inspiring work and to celebrate their young talent. Copies of Best New Poets will be available after the reading.
  • June 26 – History Reading GroupJoin Writers & Books’ history buffs as they explore the big issues and personalities of history. We do not choose particular books, but only subjects. You can read any book or other material on the subject and join the discussion.
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Rochester Love Notes

The following blog post is written by Tanya Zwahlen, Ana Liss, and Laura Fox of Rochester Love Notes.  

The art of writing a good love letter has, by and large, been lost to the growing convenience of electronic correspondence and the increasingly hurried, helter-skelter backdrop to today’s commonplace lifestyle. But besides being an art, letter-writing can be therapeutic to the writer, who must pause to consider the spectrum of their feelings, deduce how best to convey them in words, and then – voila! – express them on paper. Ultimately, though, a love letter is intended to let the recipient know that he or she is loved – and what can be more therapeutic than such a feeling?

That brings us to today’s post, which is about a project called Rochester Love Notes.

As Rochesterians, we have long observed that our City has been subject of scathing criticism and eye-rolls for everything from economic decline to brutal winters. Despite the negative sentiments, though, there is a population numbering in the thousands living all over Earth that love Rochester with a burning passion – natives, relatives of natives, one-time visitors, colleagues, and friends. They love her history, her bicycle paths, her Public Market, her quirky bars, her boisterous summertime festivals, and her four beautiful seasons.

So we launched Rochester Love Notes in the fall of 2013 knowing that (a) Rochester could use a reminder that she is loved, and (b) lovers of Rochester could use an excuse to express themselves.

“Rochester is a girl who doesn’t realize she’s hot” became the tagline for our project, which provides a platform for those who love Rochester as well as those who struggle in their relationship with her to write her love notes (we started out the easy way, by allowing letter-writers to submit their notes by email). These words of encouragement, we believe, are positively impacting the way that Rochester views herself.

So we hereby invite you, the avid writers and star wordsmiths of Rochester, to show your City that you care for and respect her by telling her how you feel. What is your most cherished memory here? How has Rochester impacted your life – or a family member’s, or a friend’s – for the better?

The process is simple and democratic – send Rochester a love note at (you may also email us a high-resolution photo of your handwritten note along with a transcript) and we’ll post it. Include some information about yourself if you like – your name, what you do, how long you’ve lived in Rochester, where you live now and even your twitter handle (find us at @RocLoveNotes) if that’s how you roll. Of course, secret admirers are always welcome. Rochester would also love to receive a photo with your love note – of you, your family, your favorite slice of life in the City, anything goes.

To get you started, here are just some of our favorite excerpts from notes we’ve received to-date:

  • “I’m crazy in love with you Rochester, scars and all. You are without a doubt the woman worth fighting for.” – Love Note #20
  • “I love you, you hot little secret, Rochester! And I miss you all the time.” – Love Note #19
  • “We’ve had our struggles, but I know that you will persevere.  Our neighbors rely on you just as you rely on them.  So let us redeem our spirits, and look forward to the good days that are still to come.” – Love Note #17
  • “You’re without doubt the most underappreciated girl I’ve ever met. Your personality is second to none, undoubtedly a consequence of your perpetual under appreciation.” – Love Note #15

So please join the chorus of voices showering love and affection on a City that’s more than worth the effort. In the process, you just may find that there’s some love in it for you, too.

P.S. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement about our collaboration with Writers & Books this coming summer!