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

3.31.20

Now that we are being asked to stay at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and adjusting to this new terrain, most literary events have been canceled or postponed. Knowing this, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing about literary festivals and conferences, but I wanted to add a little hope for the future and highlight some great events we can look forward to that take place in Houston. It has also been wonderful to see some events and conferences, like TeenBookCon, adjusting to the current state of things and finding ways to have virtual events via social media platforms. To wrap up this series of posts, I want to tell you all about Zine Fest Houston.

Zine Fest Houston has been around since 1993, first as a small gathering in a local park in Houston where zine creators came together to share their latest issues. Since then, they have grown each year but the annual festival has always been about DIY creations. This is a space for brilliant creators to showcase and share self-published works or small print runs of literary works. Everything presented, shared, and worked on is unique and unconventional and that is the main draw to the festival. According to their website, the event promotes “zines, mini-comics, and other forms of small press, alternative, underground, DIY media and art.” The registration is free and the event is for all ages. There are tables and tables of artists and zines, panels and talks, and even zine-making workshops.

I actually sighed in relief after thinking this would be another festival that had to be canceled and seeing that, as of their announcement on Twitter in early March, the event scheduled for November 7 is still a go! This year’s theme celebrates all things transit-related and the ways transportation has influenced Houston’s culture.

Zine Fest Houston has also just organized a “Cyber Mall: Texas Zinesters & Comic Creators Directory” as a community Google sheet to support those who have lost income and opportunities to sell at festivals and events. Keep up with their news on Twitter, @ZineFestHouston.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
3.24.20

Hey mi gente, I hope everyone is hanging in during this time of worry and self-isolation. Though we may not be able to gather at the moment, I wanted to continue to highlight some of the literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. Previously I wrote about Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival, Comicpalooza, and Fade to Black. Today I’m writing about TeenBookCon, a wonderful festival that connects young readers with authors.

TeenBookCon is a volunteer committee of librarians, teachers, and fans of young adult literature who come together and plan a one-day book convention with keynote speakers, author panels, book signings, and activities for teens. This year’s event was scheduled for April 4 in Houston but has now had to cancel due to the public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Although this news is sad, the annual event really is special and the organizers are already planning for 2021.

Their mission is super simple: provide the time and space to get teen readers in touch with their favorite YA authors. There are author signing booths and TeenBookCon partners with local indie bookstore Blue Willow Bookshop, where attendees can purchase books to get signed. There are also local food trucks with plenty of food to keep everybody fully fueled. I think the best part of this convention is the energy behind it. The organizers have always zeroed in on the mission. They have amazing sponsors and don’t even charge for registration. I was sold on it the moment I read that.

And even now, they are still trying to find ways to get signed books into hands and possibly connect authors to readers virtually. They won’t let up. This is that important. This alone makes me want to support their efforts for this year and next year. Look out for updates on their Twitter feed, @TeenBookCon, for virtual event announcements.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
3.17.20

As I mentioned last week, many of us were not able to attend the AWP conference earlier this month, but it did create some special moments, not only in San Antonio but in other cities and online. Although we are in a time when many events are being canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to continue to highlight some great literary festivals and conferences we can look forward to that take place in Houston. So far, I have already covered Sin Muros: A Latinx Theater Festival and Comicpalooza, and today I want to feature Fade to Black.

Fade to Black is Houston’s first national play festival to showcase the new works of African American playwrights. It’s a brilliant lineup of national, regional, and local playwrights displaying their craft. The summer festival is jam-pack with play readings and performances read and produced by African American writers and actors, many of which are from here in Houston.

This past year’s festival celebrated their seventh season and was held last June at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH). Festival goers come in from all over the state of Texas and the country. The plays of ten finalists from a national competition are produced and performed, and there are writing workshops and playwright panels that are all part of the three-day festival. If you are a writer thinking about how to step out from behind the desk or want to engage in something performative, then this is just the ticket. In addition, the organizers have added in a Fade to Black reading series with live readings of even more plays. There is so much inspiration from this playwriting community!

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
3.10.20

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.
2.25.20

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.
2.18.20

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.
2.11.20

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.
2.4.20

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.
1.28.20

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.
1.21.20

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.

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