Poison Pen Reading Series

The Poison Pen Reading Series holds events in a bar called the Poison Girl Cocktail Lounge. The series has been going for twelve years, just a little longer than Houston VIP Slam (which I featured last week), but functions in a very different way. The series brings three writers together who read on the outside patio of the lounge. Audience members get to relax in a space under the stars and listen to literary works from writers from Houston and beyond.

The readings are usually hosted by Scott Repass, one of the owners of the lounge, and start at 8:00 PM on every third Thursday of the month. The featured readers vary for each event, but most times, audience members will get the opportunity to hear from at least one writer from the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, a writer from the Houston literary community, and a visiting writer from outside of Houston. Writers share work from all genres including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

I have been to many Poison Pen readings and have had the pleasure of being a featured reader, the last time was this past July when I was honored to share the stage with poet Natasha Carrizosa and fiction writer Robert Liddell. The readings are always jam-packed, standing room only in most cases, so if you plan to attend, get there early for a drink and to find a good seat for the reading. It’s worth it.

The Poison Pen Reading Series at Poison Girl in Houston.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Houston VIP Slam

I would like to take time to focus some attention on a few of the literary organizations helping Houston shine bright. Houston VIP Slam, currently led by Houston’s poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, is a slam team that provides community for writers who want to take their stories to the stage. Houston VIP has just celebrated ten years of their program and they show no signs of stopping.

I have been a big fan of their work and dedication for quite a while and the format for their monthly slam is so inclusive and so necessary for community building. Each slam is scheduled for the last Saturday of the month and begins with a writing workshop, a unique structure that provides time and inspiration for new work to be created. Local poets and anyone in attendance for the slam are invited to participate in a series of writing exercises led by the night’s emcee. The workshop usually takes place between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM.  The slam begins at 8:00 PM and concludes with a featured poet taking the stage to wow the crowd. 

Houston VIP holds twelve slam events for the year, with one poet winning each slam. The winning twelve poets then move on to compete in the Grand Slam at the end of the season for a spot on the Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. The top five poets from the Grand Slam represent Houston at the annual National Poetry Slam.

The next workshop and slam will be on December 14 featuring Rudy Francisco. If you’re in the Houston area and looking for something to do on a Saturday night, go by. It is truly a beautiful experience. 

The 2018 Houston VIP National Poetry Slam Team. (Credit: Christy Lee)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

The Colony Summit

Hey mi gente! This week I wanted to spend a little time putting a spotlight on what community building through writing can look like. Here in Houston, we have writing groups that focus on poetry or fiction, and those are excellent workspaces being put together, but there is a need for information about the world around writing and publishing for writers of color. Enter the Colony Summit—a space and group designed to be a resource for writers of color in the Houston area.

The idea is super simple: Give writers of color a space to meet, provide some snacks, some ideas, some experts, and some resources and let these writers ask questions. Tintero Projects, a group I started for emerging Latinx writers, has a hand in organizing these events, along with support from VIP Arts Houston, Houston Public Library, My Brother’s Keeper, Houston Department of Health, and the Mayor’s Office of Education.

This project is still fairly new. So far it’s been a year of meetings. The Colony Summit meets quarterly and so the meetings are always packed. This all began as an idea batted around by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, the current poet laureate for Houston, and me about a year ago. We both felt more needed to be done to gather all the writers of color up in the city and get folks talking to one another about where they are in their writing and what ways we could provide support. For example, some writers don’t know about submissions to literary journals or how to create a Submittable account for submissions. Others want to know about fellowships and residencies, or are just searching for community.

Our last Colony Summit meeting was on November 9, but be on the lookout for the next one. If you are in the Houston area and want to check out a session, don’t hesitate. Look for @vipartshouston on Instagram for announcements and more information.

Writers at a recent Colony Summit meeting.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Comité Permanente Reading Series

This week I wanted to spotlight a beautiful, new reading series that is run entirely in Spanish, known as Lecturas en Español de Comité Permanente (the Permanent Committee Readings). Comité Permanente is organized by the brilliant students currently studying in the PhD program in Spanish with a concentration in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, the first program of its kind in the United States.

A small group of students, many of whom are prize–winning authors from Latin America, got together to create some space for Spanish-language writing and reading outside of the confines of the program. Founding writers and organizers include Ana Emilia Felker, Mauricio Patrón Rivera, and Raquel Abend van Dalen. Officially this group is hard to find, outside of Facebook where members of the organizing committee post invites to readings and Instagram where you can find them @comitepermanente.

Comité Permanente provides a space to celebrate the writings of people in the UH program, but also invites Spanish-language writers and readers in Houston to enjoy good writing. They have even incorporated an open mic into their events to welcome writers of any age to share their work.

I was happy to inform them about the Readings & Workshops mini-grants, which have helped fund their readings. So far I have had the chance to check out two of their readings with open mics and am looking forward to what comes up next! If you are in the Houston area, and are looking to catch something new, please head into the Montrose area and check out the next Comité Permanente reading, which are currently held at Inprint.

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

Indie Bookstores in the HOU

Hey mi gente! This week I want to draw your attention to some indie bookstores here in Houston, the HOU.

Indie bookstores are independently operated as a small business and I am proud to say we have many in town that help build the literary fabric of the city. These spaces are important and special because they help bring authors into town and invite locals to see and hear new voices. Indie bookstores inform and build community with every reader that enters their doors.

Here are a few shops in town that I often frequent:

Brazos Bookstore is a solid space to find anything current and fresh, and the go-to spot for readings from local and national writers. They do an amazing job at keeping up with a special section for books by local writers.

Casa Ramirez is located in the heart of the Heights, in the Northside. Although it’s not technically a bookstore, Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery has always served as a cultural pillar providing a space for community and art. Casa Ramirez houses folk art, pieces by local artists, Dia de los Muertos events, Mexican artisan work, and a large selection of books written by Latinx writers, from children’s books to short story anthologies. They also host poetry readings, author talks, and storytelling events.

Kaboom Books is a used bookstore in Woodland Heights just above Downtown Houston. I love this space because, although it focuses on used books, they have a great outside patio to host readings featuring writers with new work. Many local literary organizations have used the space for book launches and the shop owners are always all about it.

Murder By the Book is a beautiful, small shop that focuses on thriller, suspense, and mystery genres. They regularly host author readings and Akashic Books’ Houston Noir celebrated its launch party there this past May.

To find indie bookstores in your area, check out the Literary Places and Reading Venues databases.

Saeed Jones reads for a recent event at Brazos Bookstore.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Pass It On

Hey mi gente! This week, I am highlighting a unique literary event in Houston, Plus Fest: The Everything Plus Poetry Festival, and its mini-fest events known as Pass It On.

Three years ago, poet Emanuelee Outspoken Bean created Plus Fest, a one-day event to celebrate and highlight raw, innovative spoken word poetry. In addition to poetry slams, the interactive literary experience includes poetic photo booths, art installations, and speed-writing buskers. The number of artists on hand is massive and the bridges built between poetry and other art mediums is impressive.

Pass It On is a secondary, smaller event series created, and often hosted, by Bean that serves to give people a taste of what they will get at the larger festival. It’s a smart undertaking and gives more poets opportunities to perform and share their work.

I was able to attend a Pass It On event in October that featured local poet Xach Blunt and music from DJ Elevated, another local, who set the mood. Xach was on hand with his latest chapbook, Misfits & Bangers, and four guest poets shared work. There was also a culinary twist, as a local up-and-coming chef sold gumbo throughout the event. It was a thrilling night with a great vibe, all about building community and enjoying beautiful poetry.

Emanuelee Outspoken Bean, founder of Plus Fest: The Everything Plus Poetry Festival in Houston.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Ink Well: The Podcast

This week I want to introduce you to Ink Well, a Houston-based podcast that I cohost which interviews established and emerging writers from across the United States. Presented by Tintero Projects and Inprint, the two organizations collaborate to make suggestions for writers to interview, Inprint provides the recording space and the producer, Tintero Projects founders Jasminne and yours truly cohost and interview guests, and ta-da, you get a podcast series, which is currently in its third year.

With the series, we hope to find ways to showcase international, national, and regional voices talking about the writing landscape. We especially want to feature writers of color and Southern voices from the Gulf Coast to offer them an opportunity to share their work and thoughts on writing.

Our inaugural episode welcomed poet Analicia Sotelo, whose debut poetry collection, Virgin, was selected by Ross Gay as the first winner of the Jake Adam York Prize. Since then guests have included Ching-In Chen, Rigoberto González, Daniel Peña, Samanta Schweblin, and Carmen Giménez Smith.

If you’re looking for something to occupy you on a long commute and want to hear brilliant voices talking about all things literary, give Ink Well a listen. I hope you’ll be introduced to some new inspiring voices.

Ink Well podcast cohosts Jasminne and Lupe Mendez.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Poetry Fest in Houston

Good day mi gente. October has been a busy month for Houston writers. I wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to the Houston Poetry Fest. The thirty-fourth annual event was held at the University of Houston–Downtown campus over three days, from October 11–13, with readings, panel discussions, and lectures. Featured guest poets included Gayle Bell, Sharon Klander, Alex Lemon, Kevin Prufer, and Michael D. Snediker, who read from their work. Joining them at the readings were “juried poets,” who are selected by judges through a submission process.

In addition to the main event, satellite readings were also held before and after the festival dates in the city, offering writers and attendees more opportunities to participate in the literary festivities. The satellite readings included a “Salute to LGBTQ+ Poets,” a Sylvia Plath tribute, bilingual events, and a youth poetry slam. Although I wasn’t able to attend this year, it is great to see the Houston Poetry Fest expanding and still going strong.

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

Writers for Families Together

This past September, the Writers for Migrant Justice campaign readings focused on raising funds for detained and formerly detained migrants on a national level. Here in Houston, we want to continue this effort on a local level. On October 3 the Houston Writers Coalition organized a second reading, Writers for Families Together. The goal was to raise money for two local organizations—Familias Immigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha (FIEL) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)—which both aid immigrant families facing human rights violations at the Texas–Mexico border.

There were over seventy people in attendance at the reading, which was held at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Museum District. It was a blessed evening as we got to hear from over thirty writers—including poet and teacher Natasha Carrizosa, translator and former Houston poet laureate Robin Davidson, slam poet Loyce Gayo, novelist Daniel Peña, and myself—reading in English and Spanish. It was a truly beautiful night and we hope to continue efforts to support and aid immigrant families in our community.

The flyer for the Writers for Families Together Houston reading.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Readings in Town

Recently I had the chance to attend a couple of readings that blew me away. There is a new Spanish-language reading series presented by Inprint and Tintero Projects called Escritores en la casa. The September event featured Rose Mary Salum, founder and editor of the bilingual magazine Literal, Latin American Voices. The Inprint house was packed and the audience asked thoughtful questions during the discussion that followed the reading.

I was also able to attend a P&W–supported event with poet Ilya Kaminsky reading from his newest collection, Deaf Republic. Sponsored by the University of Houston’s creative writing program, the monthly Gulf Coast reading series invites students from the program to read with a featured visiting writer. Kaminsky held the audience’s attention with a haunting selection of his book, a lyric narrative-in-poems set in a time of war. The event took place at the beautiful Lawndale Art Center, which hosts art shows and is a spectacular space for readings. It was one of the most unique readings I have ever attended.

Hear Kaminsky read from Deaf Republic in Episode 24 of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

Ilya Kaminsky reads at the Gulf Coast reading series in Houston.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

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