United States of Writing

United States of Writing is an initiative to expand our core programs to better serve writers coast to coast. This year, we’re piloting United States of Writing in Detroit, Houston, and New Orleans with plans to expand in the coming years.

Follow our literary outreach coordinators—Justin Rogers in Detroit, Lupe Mendez in Houston, and Kelly Harris in New Orleans—as they report on the literary life in three storied American cities.

United States of Writing is supported with a generous grant from the Hearst Foundations and additional support from Amazon Literary Partnership.

Reports From Houston

11.19.19

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 minigrants, 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.
11.12.19

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.
11.5.19

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.
10.29.19

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.
10.22.19

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.
10.15.19

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.
10.8.19

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.
10.1.19

¿Que dice la buena vida, mi gente? On September 4, I joined the Houston Writers Coalition—a newly formed group of activist writers, professors, and creators—for an event supporting the Writers for Migrant Justice campaign. Organized by poets Christopher Soto, Jan-Henry Gray, Anni Liu, and Javier Zamora, the campaign brought writers together in more than forty cities across the United States to protest the government’s immigration policies and raise funds for the Immigrant Families Together Project, an organization that provides legal aid to undocumented families.

Here in Houston we participated by hosting a marathon reading—simply put, a reading with no introductions, prefaces, book signings, or discussions, just our words. Over forty writers gathered at the Holocaust Museum Houston, each of us reading an original piece or a piece from a notable writer on the topic of immigration. We raised a good deal of money for the campaign and auctioned off two mini-libraries, which each included a set of books signed and donated by local authors.

There are a few moments when a writer can say that they can make a direct impact outside of the written word, and that day, as we held simultaneous readings in multiple cities, writers stepped up to the plate and stood up for a just cause.

It was breathtaking.

Farnoosh Moshiri reads at the Writers for Migrant Justice event in Houston. (Credit: Lupe Mendez)
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.24.19

¿Que dice mi gente? In my last report, I talked about what I experienced this summer since taking on the role of literary outreach coordinator in Houston.

In July, I got a healthy dose of poetry from the Public Poetry reading series. Public Poetry is a program run by local poet and founding director Fran Sanders. Their programs and projects aim to bring poetry to audiences all across this brilliant city.

Presented in partnership with the City of Houston and the Houston Public Library, Public Poetry readings happen the first Saturday of every month at 2:00PM at four libraries a year, three consecutive months at each library. On July 6, I attended a beautiful reading featuring poets Calvin King, Autumn Hayes, Katherine Hoerth, and Melissa Studdard at the Bracewell Neighborhood Library on the south side of town.

In August, I got to take up some table space reppin’ Poets & Writers at the magazine launch for Defunkt Magazine. It was an honor and a pleasure to be on hand to catch the literary work and art at the launch for their first issue.

Defunkt describes itself as “a magazine which showcases compelling, accessible, and culturally relevant work—anything the mainstream is ignoring or marginalizing.” So far, I think they are living up to the name. They have rolling submissions and are currently accepting poetry and prose for their next issue. If you’re looking for more journals to submit to, check out the vetted and extensive Literary Magazines database.

Okay mi gente, check in next week and for all things September!

Lupe Mendez with Joshua Nguyen at the Defunkt Magazine launch event.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
9.17.19

¿Que dice mi gente? I’m really excited to fill you in on what went on here in Houston this summer. We do a lot. Seriously.

I celebrated with the nonprofit organization Inprint as they formally announced the readers for the 2019/2020 season of their Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. This is one of the city’s dopest reading series—always a treat—and they do it up. This year to unveil their line-up they hosted a happy hour mixer for the public at the Night Heron, a slick little spot in town.

The season runs from September 16, 2019 through April 27, 2020 and features ten renowned authors, including Colson Whitehead, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Natalie Diaz. I plan to be in attendance and will bring you more on the series.

I also traveled back to my hometown of Galveston for Speak Up, Speak Out 2019, an annual regional youth poetry slam hosted by Iconoclast Artists. The daytime event kicked off the summer nicely. Al puro cien. I was invited to serve as a judge and witnessed a lively slam. Several teams from different parts of the state were on hand for the competition (shout-out to the slam team at César E. Chavez High School!). It is so refreshing to get a chance to see youth take the stage and show their poetic “teeth” in the literary world. This community is vibrant and I look forward to sharing more from Houston.

The 2019/2020 Margarett Root Brown Reading Series poster.
 
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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