Read the Winning Entries in the Attic's Winter Writing Competition!

In February, we announced our Winter Writing Contest. The theme? "Unrepentant." We wanted pieces about shamelessness, moxie, brass, nerve. The writing community delivered! We received a proverbial mail basket full of strong submissions. From among them, our judges, David Biespiel (poetry) and Greg Robillard (prose), selected six winning entries - two short stories, two essays, and two poems - as well as three runners up. Without further ado, here they are! The winning pieces and their authors appear below.

Attic Institute president David Biespiel introduces Wendell Berry in New York for NBCC Lifetime Achievement Award

David Biespiel, president of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters, is seen here introducing Wendell Berry on March 17, 2016, at the New School in New York. The recipient of the National Book Critics Circle's Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016, Wendell Berry, 81, is an influential poet, essayist, environmentalist, activist, critic and farmer. For more than 40 years he has farmed a hillside in Henry County, Kentucky, where he was born in 1934. He is the author of more than 50 books, including his most recent essay collection, “Our Only World.”

Speaking to the large audience of writers, editors, and publishers, Biespiel said:

It has been my privilege to chair the Ivan Sandrof committee this year. The Ivan Sandroff award is named for a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle. The award honors significant and sustained contributions to Amerian literary culture.

How I Got Published: a Chat with Jennifer Dorner

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with poet Jennifer Dorner about submitting poems for publication. Dorner's poetry has appeared in The Timberline Review, VoiceCatcher, and is forthcoming in Verseweavers, and she has received literary awards from Willamette Writers and the Oregon Poetry Association. Dorner was a 2013-14 Atheneum Fellow at the Attic Institute. She coordinates the Attic’s popular monthly all-genre open mic, Fridays on the Boulevard, and co-founded the Vault Voices reading series.

How did you make the decision to start sending out your poems? How did you know you were ready? In 2011, I came back to writing after some time away from it. I attended classes and readings for two years until my teacher – I was taking a class then – said he thought I should send to a local online journal (VoiceCatcher). I'm so grateful John Morrison gave me that push. Later, I saw him at a reading downtown, and he gave me some advice: Take 20 of my best poems, divide them into groups of 5, and send them out.  That was in October; by January I was meeting with a friend, and spent a year sending work out.

Writing Prompt: Showing Off

This week’s prompt is “showing off.” Think wheelies and high dives; the splashiest engagement ring; the baddest car. What motivates this exhibitionist? Do they succeed in winning over their audience? Try speaking in their voice. 

Decide how long you want to write (10 minutes? an hour?). And go! 

A Visit to a Write Around Portland Workshop

We all go through phases when the words come slowly, when there are plenty of false starts and lots of jumping up to pour another cup of coffee or fetch a sweater. 

So what a relief to sit down at a table and hear someone say briskly, “OK, we’re going to do a 2-minute write.” All of us at the Write Around Portland (WAP) workshop happily took out pens and notebooks.

“You have a choice,” our facilitator, Ed, said to the group. “Before I go to sleep tonight…, or I’m happy to see…. You can write about either one. Or if you prefer, I have an envelope with alternate writing prompts that you can use instead.” There wasn’t time to agonize about it: we all put pen to paper and wrote.

A Visit to the Attic's Unique Open Mic Event

On a recent, soggy night, I took refuge at Fridays on the Boulevard, the Open Mic event that the Attic has been hosting on the first Friday of the month for the last three years. 

I arrived to find the South Library transformed with rows of chairs; soon, all the places were full and it was standing room only. "Reading or listening?" a volunteer asked me. Those who wanted to share their work put their names in a hat, and seven were drawn. 

Attic Institute president David Biespiel says why poetry matters in the New York Times

Poems Hold the Mysteries of the Present, Dreams of the Future

David Biespiel

David Biespiel's most recent book of poems is "Charming Gardeners." His anthology "Poems of the American South" is due out next month in the Everyman's Library series.

JULY 21, 2014, 11:42 AM

I write this by campfire light in the back country of British Columbia, cut off from the digital world and miles from the nearest town.

Every society we've ever known has had poetry, and should the day come that poetry suddenly disappears in the morning, someone, somewhere, will reinvent it by evening . . . 

Read the article

Associate Fellow Wendy Willis's major essay on place has been reprinted in the July/August issue of the Utne Reader.

Where Are You From?

Reconnecting to the places we live by Wendy Willis, from Oregon Humanities 

"Recently, driving home from a soccer game in the pouring rain, I looked into the rearview mirror and asked my two young and very wet daughters, “If someone from another country asked you where you were from, what would you say?”

Without a heartbeat’s hesitation, they responded in unison, “Portland, Oregon.” I drew a sharp breath. For them, it’s not even a question to ponder. When I am asked, I always say, “I live in Portland, but I’m from Springfield, Oregon—from East Lane County.” When my husband is asked, he always answers, “Harris County, Texas,” though he was born in Tulsa, has lived in a dozen states, and has bounced around the same two zip codes in Southeast Portland for more than fifteen years."

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From David Biespiel, President of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters


Letter in 2010 announcing the new Attic Institute

"Eleven years have gone by in a blink. But today begins a new era as we renew our dedication both to the word and to the world."


Interview about the founding of the Attic Institute

"All sorts of excellent pieces of writing get started and finished here. That's what it means to be a literary studio."


Essay in the New York Times on they mysteries of poetry

"Poetry connects us to our past, and poets unmask both private and civic memories, dreams, and urgencies. By harmonizing the body with the mind, serving both young and old, poetry is a guide to deliver us into a fresh engagement with our inner lives and with modernity."


Essay on poets and democracy in Poetry magazine: "This Land Is Our Land"

"America's poets have a minimal presene in American civic discourse and a miniscule public role in the life of American democracy. I find this condition perplexing and troubling -- both for poetry and for democracy."