With Visalia’s schools underway already, and many others gearing up to start, here’s hoping the students have a better year than those in several debut novels.

In If We Were Villains (Flatiron Books, April) by M.L. Rio, the seven students who have survived the cut into their fourth-year at a classical conservancy fall into their familiar Shakespearian roles both on and off stage. As life imitates art, they find themselves living a tragedy, wondering whether any of them can survive the shocking loss and if they have now all been cast as villains.

In Born on a Tuesday (Grove Press, May 2016) by Elnathan John, Dantala escapes from the political violence of a Nigerian street gang to the sheltering arms of a kindly sheik who runs a mosque and a school. There he meets an intriguing girl and befriends another young boy who, like Dantala, is an eager student and a quick learner. Their peaceful schooling begins to unravel as Dantala discovers violent jihadists on the school staff.

Poems by Fresnan Jennifer Fenn have been published in at least 15 different journals including Song of the San Joaquin, The Poeming Pigeon, Brevities, DAD’S DESK, and The Homestead Review. You can read some of her poems that appeared on Medusa’s Kitchen here: medusaskitchen.blogspot.com/2017/01/becoming-river.html.

Her poem from the video documentary “Homeless in Modesto” appears on the website at: modestocahomelessdocumentary.org/jennifer-fenn.

She also has two self-published chapbooks—Blessings and Song of the Katabatic Wind. Jennifer is a graduate of Edison High School and California State University, Fresno. She teaches at CSUF.

Kenneth Chacon went from being a Northside Fresno Bulldog gang member to being an instructor at Fresno City College who wants to help others in need, as his mentors did for him. His book, The Cholo Who Said Nothing and Other Poems, published this year, takes him from poems written during his drug-filled gang days into his spiritual redemption. His poems have also appeared in the San Joaquin Review, Cimmaron Review, Poetry Quarterly, Border Senses, and others. His work has been praised by Central Valley poets Tim Z. Hernandez, Lee Herrick, and Corrinne Clegg.

The deadline for the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest is Sept. 30. The Tom Howard contest accepts poems in any style or genre. The Margaret Reid contest requires a poem that rhymes or has a traditional style. The prize for each contest is $1,500. Ten poems will receive honorable mention awards of $100. All 12 winners will be published online by Winning Writers. Length is limited to 250 lines. Entry fee is $12 per poem. Details and submissions at: winningwriters.com/our-contests/tom-howard-margaret-reid-poetry-contest.

The entry period for Persea Books’ Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize is from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. The contest is open to women who have not published a full-length book of poems and are U.S. citizens or live in the U.S. The winner receives $1,000 and publication, along with an all-expense paid residency at the Civitella Ranien Center in a fifteenth-century castle in Umbertide, Italy. This year’s winner is Emily Van Kiey for her collection, The Cold and the Rust Smell. Details at: perseabooks.com/poetryprize.php.

A Weekend for Words, sponsored by the Southern California Writers’ Conference, will be held Sept. 22-24. This conference is specifically tailored to provide comprehensive feedback for the attendees. The conference has facilitated more than $4 million worth of first-time authors’ deals since it began in 1986. The conference is limited to 150 attendees. Special speakers include Kelly Abbott, Greta Boris, and Michelle Stevens. Full conference fee is $425. Details at: writersconference.com/la.

The Friends of the Library are sponsoring a “Meet the Author” event on Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. in the Visalia Branch Blue Room. Check on the library’s website at tclnews.blogspot.com for more information. The visiting author on July 8 was Anna Marie McLemore.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)