Archive June 2021

How Houston Leads the Way: A Finale

Hey gente, happy summer! This will be my last post on this blog as the literary outreach coordinator in Houston. It’s been a pleasure sharing news and highlights over the last two years, and calling attention to all the ways that Houston is a major literary city. Things are always happening in the Bayou City and here are a few more folks and events to mention.

All the Books
I wanted to take a moment to talk about some Houstonians who have books coming out in the near future. Ayokunle Falomo’s collection AFRICANAMERICAN’T and Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman’s collection The Raven, the Bayou and the Willow will be published by FlowerSong Press, due out sometime in 2022. J. Estanislao Lopez’s debut collection, We Borrowed Gentleness, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in October 2022, and lastly (and as a way to welcome a new Houstonian to her new town) I’m happy to share that Ariana Brown’s debut collection, We Are Owed, will be released from Grieveland Press in July.

More Reading
Shout-out to powerhouse essayist Icess Fernandez Rojas as she interrogates and speaks truth to power about the lack of Black representation in Latinx Hollywood and offers an analysis of the new film, In the Heights, in her essay “When They Forget About Us… Again” published in Sofrito For Your Soul.

Live Events
I am excited to see all the things Houston has to offer as readings are starting to come back in front of live audiences. Last Saturday, Write About Now held their first live event since the pandemic called “Mics + Murals,” a collaborative reading with live painting and music copresented by the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.

One foot in front of the other and let’s walk together to see where the words take us.

Write About Now Mics + Murals event at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston.
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Two-Year Reflection: Detroit

It’s impossible to sum up everything that has blossomed since taking on the role of literary outreach coordinator (LOC) in Detroit in April of 2019. Onboarding at the offices of Poets & Writers in New York City seems like a distant point along an intricate timeline layered with colorful stories and discoveries. In this role, I have seen the literary community of Detroit grow and transform with support from the United States of Writing initiative. One huge highlight was the Project Grants for BIPOC Writers. These grants have opened a world of opportunity for local writers to engage with communities, whether in-person or virtually, through writing workshops, readings, and discussions.

Another highlight: The Detroit Writers Circle workshops that acted as informational and inspirational spaces, allowing me to put my own facilitation skills on the forefront. These activities paired with visits to many venues and organizers have made this an experience that I will be drawing from for years to come. There are also spaces like Room Project and Detroit Writing Room that helped enhance our efforts to connect with writers, and the countless individual artists and writers I have met and gotten to know better along the way.

As we end this season of exploration and growth, my LOC work will be taking a planned hiatus. How has it been two-plus years already? How were we able to grow even in a pandemic? How did we remain focused in the midst of police brutality and political unrest? It’s because our focus is the community. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

I keep asking myself what was the best part of it all? What really recharged me were the interviews with writers that were included in this blog. The opportunity to lift up the amazing literary talent coming out of Detroit is something that is close to my heart, and I appreciate the opportunity to have done so through this blog. There are a wealth of writers who I still haven’t had the chance to connect with, and that makes me even more excited: to know there is still more work to be done and more talent to lift up. I’ve enjoyed my time as literary outreach coordinator and thank all of you!

If you’d like to find out more about mini-grants for writers, read more about the Readings & Workshops program and their guidelines.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Jane Wolfe of Melba’s: Po’boys and Books

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being a featured author at Melba’s in New Orleans as part of their Eat and Read series. Melba’s has been a unique leader for literacy in the city, offering customers free books with their lunch purchases. Authors read from and sign their books, and engage with customers and staff. Over the years authors have included Sarah Broom, Melissa Rogers, and Colson Whitehead. By combining food and books, folks are united in reading and eating. Melba’s literacy program has the support of the Clinton Foundation, and Bill and Hillary Clinton have even come to visit. It’s an amazing experience to see customers with a book in one hand and a po’boy in the other. I spoke with the woman behind it all—Jane Wolfe—about her love for New Orleans and literature.

How did the literacy program at Melba’s get started?
In 2007, as an older student, I entered academia to acquire a college degree. My graduate advisor was Jonathan Walton and in 2018, he visited New Orleans with his family. We had a book giveaway at Melba’s for his book The Lens Of Love: Reading the Bible in its World for Our World.

In the middle of the book signing, Jonathan looked up and said, “Jane, this is so needed to get these books into the hands of everyday people!” At that moment, I came to understand how I could help literacy in New Orleans.

You chronicle your personal and professional journey in your book, From GED to Harvard Then Inc. 500: How Two Teens Went From GEDs to Building the Fastest Growing Business in New Orleans (ForbesBooks, 2020). What were some of the challenges you faced in shifting from business owner to author?
Authors need time to bring thoughts to fruition. A businessperson does not operate in such a framework: There is no time for reflection in business. The greatest challenge was turning off the day-to-day operational mode of my mind that I used to succeed in business in order to write.

Beyond being a business owner, you have a masters degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. How does faith influence your writing and work?
As an older student I was given the gift of time to learn about my faith tradition. Once I understood Catholic Social Teaching I could see more clearly my place in the business world.

My two favorite classes at Harvard were “God and Money” by professor Harvey Cox and “Religion, Politics, and Public Policy” by professor Richard Parker. Their instruction put forth my faith in action at work through Catholic Social Teaching, and most importantly, helped me understand that businesses are not positioned in a society to merely make money. To learn about the world’s sacred scriptures at Harvard Divinity School, my thinking adjusted towards a global perspective. The theological degree allowed writing to come alive in ways I never thought possible.

What books are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Knopf, 2021) by Benjamin M. Friedman, Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press, 2020) by Dianne M. Stewart, 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know (Abingdon Press, 2018) by Matthew Richard Schlimm, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Avery, 2015) by Steve Silberman, and Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion (NYU Press, 2014) by Lerone A. Martin.

Photo: Colson Whitehead with staff members of Melba's at an event celebrating his novel The Nickel Boys.
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

How Houston Leads the Way Part III

Hey mi gente, thanks for joining me for another blog post, and a big thank you to all who read these posts. As my time as literary outreach coordinator comes to a close, I will continue to highlight all things literary in Houston, and how the city leads the way with great community work.

First, I would like to shine a light on all the organizations and literary journals doing the work during the pandemic and keeping the doors open: Public Poetry, Nuestra Palabra, Defunkt Magazine, Inprint, Stages Theatre, and Poetry Around Houston, to name a few. They adapted and created new ways for literature to stay alive. Some organizations flipped their live scheduled events and adapted them into Zoom or Facebook Live events while others switched to podcasts. The most important effect is that the public benefited from it all. These aren’t the only examples. So many individual artists are making waves and collaborating to make words come alive in the city, and as we approach the summer, new events are beginning to blossom and it is beautiful to see.

Speaking of, two Houston grantees from our United States of Writing Project Grants, Omer Ahmed and Joy Priest, will each be hosting events in the coming weeks. Ahmed is collaborating with Loyce Gayo to lead a three-part workshop series focused on community identity in the face of gentrification. You can check out the upcoming sessions on June 10 and June 17 which are open to all communities in Houston, not just writers. Priest and Aris Kian will be cohosting the “Poet &” reading series, which will highlight and support Houston poets who have careers or practices outside of writing, including myself! The readings are scheduled for June 15, June 22, and June 29.

And finally, a shout-out to Deborah DEEP Mouton—who keeps it ever so real, always doing the work—for being a part of the planning committee and participating in events for last weekend’s third annual Fresh Arts Summit. If you missed it, videos from the keynote kick-off event and other panels are available on YouTube through July 5.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Live Events Return to New Orleans

Now that many are getting vaccinated and New Orleans has its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since last year, I am expecting to see more in-person events happening in the city.

Arts and culture are the pulse of New Orleans and its economy. Many writers and artists have struggled during the pandemic, but this summer will usher in more outdoor events to showcase and support their work. In addition, the New Orleans Book Festival, the Louisiana Book Festival, and the New Orleans Words & Music Festival are just a few literary events that have recently announced dates for live events in the fall that you can plan to attend in person. In the meantime, you can always stop by a local bookstore to give them an economic boost and support your favorite authors. See the Literary Places database for bookstores to order books from or visit.

The pandemic showed us how technology can close the gap of social distancing and offer access to incredible virtual programming. We will likely see a combination of in-person and virtual events in the future, but I’m sure many of us are looking forward to taking part in live events, whether on a stage or in the audience. Whatever your comfort level may be for socializing, there are always plenty of ways to enjoy writing and support the literary community. Check out the Literary Events Calendar for upcoming readings, workshops, and other literary events.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.