Reflections on #AWP20

Although Poets & Writers was not able to attend the AWP conference in San Antonio last week and the literary outreach coordinators could not have our panel discussion, it was good to see Instagram photos, tweets, and videos online of many writers I admire enjoying the conference. Thanks to those Houston writers, poets, playwrights, and publishers that made their way after the AWP Board of Directors announced that the conference would continue despite concern about the coronavirus. I was happy to see Houston gente representing at AWP—shout-out to Bloomsday Literary, Defunkt Magazine, Glass Mountain, and Writespace, as well as writers Daniel Peña, Reyes Ramirez, and Icess Fernandez Rojas!

From all the posts and messages I came across, I know three things:

1. AWP 2020 was all about engagement. There might have been fewer people and fewer panels, but all the readings and events were packed.

2. This was the birth of the #AWPVirtualBookFair—publishing houses and literary magazines that were not able to attend AWP engaged online through a community Google Doc and on Twitter and it paid off. Folks supported writers and works from publishers big and small.

3. Texas-based writers came out in full force, especially Latinx writers. I saw posts from every corner of the state in ways I hadn’t seen before at any other AWP conference. And it was glorious.

I hope this momentum continues next year for #AWP21 in Kansas City, Missouri!

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

Party Time: Comicpalooza

As we prepare for our participation in the annual AWP Conference & Bookfair in March in San Antonio, I thought I’d share some of the literary festivals and conferences that Houston hosts. Last week, I wrote about Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival, and today I want to tell you about Comicpalooza.

First, I have a confession: I am a comic book nerd. There, I said it. Some of you might read this and judge me and that’s okay. The real shameful thing is that I have never been to Comicpalooza and it looks exciting as hell!

This festival is now in its fifth year and boasts a thorough showing of comic fandom, appreciation, and literary craft. There is a slew of programming for every kind of audience, from cosplay to craft writing workshops on fantasy and noir, to open mics and DIY workshops on storyboarding for graphic novels. The festival even includes a Literature Conference with author panels, critique sessions with fellow writers, and fan roundtable discussions. The three-day event is Texas’s largest comic convention and what I love is that it’s all about community. If you’re interested, you can participate—that’s right, submissions are currently open for panel discussions and workshops. This year, Comicpalooza will be held over Memorial Day weekend, May 22–24 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Downtown Houston. So if you happen to be in town, I hope to see you there!

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

Party Time: Sin Muros Festival

Last week we took a little break and I hope you enjoyed my list of things to check out. Beginning this week, I want to highlight the big events: conferences and festivals. As many of you know, we are gearing up for a massive conference, the annual AWP Conference & Bookfair, run by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, taking place in San Antonio, Texas in March. Poets & Writers and the literary outreach coordinators—Justin, Kelly, and I—will be there so come say hello if you’re at AWP!

Keeping that in mind, I’d like to dedicate some time in this blog to celebrate the literary festivals and conferences that take place here in Houston, including Sin Muros, Comicpalooza, Fade to Black Play Festival, and Zine Fest Houston.

First up, Sin Muros! Now in its third year, Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival is a community-led playwriting festival focused on Texas-based Latinx voices and stories. The festival is put on by Stages, a nonprofit organization and historic theater in Houston, and offers a ton of access to literary craft for emerging artists. In Spanish, sin muros means “without walls” and the festival embodies this theme through its events.

Stages works with community leaders—playwrights, dramatists, poets, and activists—to put together a four-day festival for the public with many free events. Two plays (which are a part of Stages’s regular season) serve as anchors to a series of play readings and poetry readings; a generative, writing workshop (any genre is welcome); a professional development workshop for theater teachers; a children’s play; a town hall meeting focusing on issues Latinx artists face; and a poetry tent filled with booksellers, local literary organizations, and poets. Stages works with several literary and performance organizations to put the festival together, including Tintero Projects, Gente de Teatro, and TEATRX. Some of the work is in English. Some of the work is in Spanish. All of the work is Tejano.

This year’s festival over this past weekend was a great success. Every year it gets larger and larger, and I can’t wait for the next one.

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

Take a Break With Me

Hey gente, I hope the first month of the new year has been good to you. I just finished a series of posts about a variety of ways to take part in the literary scene in Houston that are different from attending a reading or participating in a writing workshop. Today’s post will give us a little break from events and outlets. I am going to be a little selfish and share some things that I have been reading, listening to, and watching. It’s a busy life, so sometimes you just have to dig in and enjoy things in the comfort of your own home. Don’t worry—these are all still things definitely Houston and entirely literary that offer a taste of the city and new voices. Hope you enjoy!

Lupe’s “Take a Break” List (counting down from five):

5. A video of Fady Joudah and Carmen Giménez Smith reading for the 2018/2019 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.

4. An interview with Houston author Bryan Washington for the Guardian.

3. An interview in Houstonia with Houston’s fourth poet laureate, Leslie Contreras Schwartz.

2. “Not-So-Subtle Asian Traits” by Houston writer Joshua Nguyen posted on Medium.

1. A video of the Houston finalists for the 2018 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

You can keep up with literary news at Poets & Writers Magazine’s Daily News, and check out more videos of readings and author interviews in the Poets & Writers Theater.

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

Literary Community Outside the Box: Part Five

This will be the last in my series of posts exploring the unique platforms that contribute to the literary community in Houston, which have included Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, the blogs and podcasts Dear Reader and Bootleg Like Jazz, and the ekphrastic series Words & Art. Today I want to let you know about the Afrofuturism Book Club.

Educator and Detroit native Jaison Oliver founded the Afrofuturism Book Club in 2016 with the hope of building community around a shared interest for fantasy and science and speculative fiction written from a Black perspective. The format is real chill. The group meets monthly to read and discuss short stories by authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Octavia Butler, and Samuel Delany, as well as comic books, films, and television series. I haven’t had a chance to attend a meeting yet, but I know they are happening, because every time I see Jaison post about the book club, I want to kick myself for not attending.

I know from the last invitation I saw online, the book club covered the new HBO television series adaptation of Watchmen for their January meeting. Every month is something new to enjoy! Meetings are usually held at a cozy, local coffee shop and you can sign up to find out more.

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

Literary Community Outside the Box: Part Four

This month I have been featuring a variety of platforms that contribute to the literary community, including the work of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, and blogs and podcasts such as Icess Fernandez Rojas’s Dear Reader and Terrell Quillin’s Bootleg Like Jazz.

Today I want to shout-out the work of Mary Wimple and her workshop and reading series Words & Art. I’ve known Mary and her partner Chuck Wimple for more than ten years and have had the pleasure of seeing Mary kick major can as a poet performing her work all over town. Mary is soft-spoken, so when you get a chance to see her in action, it’s dynamite. Her energy carries over to Words & Art. The series is all about community and is accessible for any writer with a passion for the arts.

The format for these events is so inviting: Mary will host a writing workshop of sorts, really it’s an art appreciation field trip to a local gallery or museum. Participants will discuss the artwork, work on writing prompts, and discuss the effect of the art on the writing. From there, Mary will set up a future date for a reading that features poetry and prose pieces based on the artwork from the exhibit that was visited. Anyone interested in reading (even if you didn’t attend the workshop) just needs to check out the submission guidelines and submit work to Words & Art by the deadline to be considered. Selected readers will be notified about a week before the event and the public is invited to attend. I attended one of these events a while back and it is powerful work. If you love art and writing, then this is a space for you.

The next deadline for submissions is February 1 and the reading will be held on February 13 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Chuck Wimple reads for the Words & Art reading series.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Literary Community Outside the Box: Part Three

This week I want to spotlight the amazing work done by the podcast Bootleg Like Jazz. It’s funny because everyone seems to have ties to Nuestra Palabra—Icess Fernandez Rojas, featured in last week’s post, is a member of the group as am I, and the creator of Bootleg Like Jazz, Terrell Quillin, better known as Q, is the Nuestra Palabra Radio Show’s producer! I have been following the work of Bootleg Like Jazz, aka #bllj, and I love the format and energy behind the podcasting. It’s an interview style format where Q focuses on the Black Diaspora, Afro-Latinidad, and Latinx culture. #bllj covers the arts, music, travel, and books.

I was lucky enough to be tapped for an interview and it was great experience. Q asks all the important questions with a great balance of information about who the artists are and what’s behind the work they are creating. Q has interviewed local writers like Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton and Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Houston’s former and current poets laureate, respectively, and writers outside of Houston like Roberto Carlos Garcia, a New York City poet and author of the collection black / Maybe (Willow Books, 2018).

The podcast started last year and puts out episodes every month. If you are looking for a fresh take on the literary world, then look no further than Bootleg Like Jazz.

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

Literary Community Outside the Box: Part Two

Last week, I highlighted the work of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, and their long-running radio show. Today, I want to spotlight local writer Icess Fernandez Rojas, a member of Nuestra Palabra. Rojas is a masterful writer and blogger who focuses her efforts on all things fiction, in particular mystery and noir. A former journalist, she is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA program and currently teaches in the English Department at Lone Star College-Kingwood.

Over ten years ago, Rojas created the blog Dear Reader, where she offers tips to fellow writers and welcomes them into her writing life. Recently, she expanded her blog into a weekly podcast of the same name. The podcast, hosted by Rojas, focuses on mental health and the writing life and acts as a guide to “help you write your best life.” Take some time, folks, to read and listen to what Rojas puts out. She is an unsung hero in our writing community.

Dear Reader: Mental Health and the Writing Life, a podcast hosted by Icess Fernandez Rojas.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Literary Community Outside the Box: Part One

Happy New Year! I wanted to kick off 2020 by focusing on what the literary community looks like outside of author readings and book events. This includes groups like Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, blogs and podcasts such as Dear Reader and Bootleg Like Jazz, ekphrastic experiences like the workshop and reading series Words & Art, and book lover groups like the Afrofuturism Book Club.

Today I want to spotlight the work of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. This group has been bringing Latino writers to the Houston area for more than twenty years, beginning with a monthly reading series in the late 1990s and organizing the Latino Book and Family Festival in the early 2000s to a literary radio program that’s been running for more than fifteen years called the Nuestra Palabra Radio Show.

The show goes on the air every Tuesday from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM CST on Houston’s local Pacifica station KPFT 90.1FM and is livestreamed at KPFT.org. It is an hour-long show that focuses on literary works, as well as local community events and political happenings in the Houston area. Nuestra Palabra founder and director Tony Diaz interviews authors of all kinds—including poets, musicians, visual artists, historians, and chefs. The show is a brilliant opportunity to check out what is happening regionally, nationally, and internationally across the Latino landscape. You can listen to their archive of shows on the Nuestra Palabra website.

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

First Friday Reading Series

Today’s post will wrap up my roundup of reading and performance series that have included Houston VIP Slam, Poison Pen Reading Series, and Write About Now Poetry.

The First Friday Reading Series is the oldest series in Houston and has been going strong for the last forty-four years, holding monthly readings on the first Friday of each month since 1975. This classic platform has seen many of the city’s strongest writers grace its podium. The reading format is super simple: Have the Inprint House host on the first Friday of the month, select a featured poet, and then get the open mic going.

The series has always been open to the public so that any and every person gets a chance to read in a beautiful setting. What could be more literary than reading in a space that was once the living room of Claudia Rankine? The readings start at 8:30 PM and usually go on until 11:00 PM. This space is always packed and there is a running joke that even the “VIP Section,” the staircase, gets full quick providing extra seating when all the chairs are taken. I always have a great time when I am able to go and look forward to getting to hear a variety of poets, those that I have known for years and new friends I’m meeting for the first time.

What I have always loved about First Friday, still hosted by Robert Clark after all these years, is that anyone who goes is either reading older poems they haven’t read in forever or reading brand new work for the first time. Writers often experiment with poems they are planning on adding to a manuscript in order to hear their words out loud and get live feedback. Whatever you want to bring to the open mic, this is the safest space to do this work in. Come on in, there is always a chair, or a staircase, waiting for you.

First Friday Reading Series audience at Inprint House.
 
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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