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

5.19.20

Last week I started off a series of posts featuring some of the ways the Houston literary world has been rising to the occasion with innovation and community in mind during the pandemic. I covered University of Houston’s CoogSlam, and this week I want to give some love to Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery.

I’ve mentioned Casa Ramirez before which makes them being on this list maybe a little overindulgent but if you are like me, you celebrate your elders when they keep things fresh. Casa Ramirez is doing just that. For the most part, Casa Ramirez is like any staple small business here in Houston, but what makes this space unique is that the couple in charge, Macario Ramirez and Chrissie Dickerson Ramirez, are good luck charms for every Latino in the city.

If you are an artist or writer, fan or hobbyist, Casa Ramirez is like a shrine. If you have a literary event there, having your book in their shop makes it destined for success. I have seen it with my own two eyes. It might be a “folk art” gallery, but don’t let the Ramirezes fool you—they are book lovers and carry an extensive bookstore inside the shop with all the texts to build up an ethnic studies library in Latinx lit.

That said, the stay-at-home orders in Houston have been devastating to businesses and now that Texas has chosen to slowly open up this month, so has Casa Ramirez—but with new safety measures. The shop has created a “retail-to-go” shopping experience: Patrons get to peruse all the art and books with a “curator” by their side to answer questions and make recommendations. Only one person, one couple, or one family is allowed in the shop at a time and you must wear a mask (employees also wear masks). You have access to the whole bookstore and gallery area for thirty to forty minutes, buy what you want and then, boom, you are out the door. The shop has limited hours from noon to 4:00 PM every day.

From what I have heard, they’ve had a line a block long every day. Leave it to Casa Ramirez to lead the way. Check out their Facebook page and their Instagram, @casaramirezfolkartgallery, to see what they have going on.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
5.12.20

First off, I’d like to share some cheer with a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of the world. You change the world, moms—don’t ever forget it.

As we all continue to adjust to life in the COVID-19 era, I wanted to include in this blog some of the ways Houston has been rising to the occasion to work its literary magic. This month, I will be writing about three different spaces and organizations that have been adapting their programs and events for the virtual world.

Today I’ll focus on the University of Houston’s CoogSlam—the name is a nod to the university mascot, the cougar, and slam poetry. The group is less than three years old and has already garnered national attention with its slam team for the collegiate competition known as CUPSI, the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

Before the University of Houston made the decision to keep its doors closed for the rest of the spring semester, CoogSlam was hosting writing workshops and a weekly slam and now, they have seamlessly adapted to the virtual world and continued their work. CoogSlam offers writing workshops on Wednesdays and has an open mic on Saturdays, all online. Writers and spectators can join from a link to a Google form available on their Instagram page, @uhcoogslam. The rest is a purely, magical experience. Just this past week, CoogSlam hosted an open mic featuring the talented Ryan McMasters, and from what I have heard it was stupendous. I can’t wait to see who is featured next.

You can also follow CoogSlam on Twitter, @uhcoogslam, for their latest news and events. They are doing big things and representing the city in such a humble and honest way. It is a delight to see what they do.

Participants in a recent online CoogSlam writing workshop.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
5.5.20

As we enter into a new month of the coronavirus pandemic, we are in a new phase of transition as some states are reopening businesses and outdoor spaces. In Houston, there are some restaurants open with limited capacity and the Galleria mall even opened with limited hours. All this change can leave us feeling turned around and unsure. But one thing is for sure, the literary community is here for us and there are plenty of things to do online to keep us busy and provide some calm in these times.

Here is my countdown of five Houston-based virtual literary activities for you:

5. Feel like listening to a literary podcast? No sweat. Ink Well: A Tintero Projects & Inprint Podcast just released three new episodes (one with Carolyn Forché), all recorded just before the lockdown.

4. Have kids at home and you want them to get into some writing? Check out Writers In the Schools’ website for Quick WITS, fifteen-minute mini-workshops for K-5 grade students.

3. Want to check out some readings by some of your favorite authors? Head over to Inprint where they keep a full collection of readings from both the Margarett Root Brown and Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People series.

2. Do you want to hear from authors in Spanish? Then check out Literal magazine’s YouTube channel, where they keep a series of interviews with writers from Mexico, Central America, and South America.

1. Lastly, make sure you register for Glass Mountain’s Strikethrough, a four-day virtual writing workshop for emerging writers from May 25 to 28, which is in lieu of their annual Boldface writing conference.

Enjoy and let me know what caught your attention. Hit me up on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.28.20

Hey, mi gente. I want to get right to the point and keep up the flow of discussion on the publishing houses here in Houston. Throughout the month I’ve written about Arte Público Press, Mutabilis Press, and Bloomsday Literary, so I’ll keep it going today and introduce you to Calypso Editions.

Calypso Editions is the city’s main publishing house focused on translation—getting books written by foreign authors into English. In addition, they publish books of poetry and fiction written in English and are committed to “providing a space for talented, new voices.” One of the main things that has always caught my attention about Calypso Editions is that it is a cooperative! That’s right—it is a nonprofit press that is artist-run, which makes their publishing choices all the more engaging and remarkable.

They are also a community-oriented publishing house. Back in 2017, when PEN America planned out the Writers Resist reading in New York City, Calypso Editions was one of the first organizations that was willing to stand with Houston writers as we planned our own Writers Resist events.

On May 1, Calypso Editions will release The Child Who, a book by Jeanne Benameur, translated from the French by Bill Johnston. This work of poetic prose explores the worlds of a young boy whose mother has disappeared, his father, and the boy’s grandmother. As always, Calypso Editions hopes to introduce yet another wonderful voice to a new audience of English-language readers.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.21.20

I keep reading about independent bookstores closing due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and I’ve also been thinking about the state of small presses during this time. With this in mind, I am glad to have the opportunity in this blog to present to you more of the publishing houses that make Houston tick.

I started the month by featuring Arte Público Press and Mutabilis Press, so I’ll keep it going and introduce you to the rookie on the block, Bloomsday Literary.

Bloomsday was established just about five years ago, and in that short time they have made a strong mark on the publishing world. Their latest publications include former Houston poet laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton’s Newsworthy and Jabari Asim’s Stop & Frisk: American Poems, both hard-hitting books on contemporary themes that we need in this day and age.

On top of publishing amazing works of literature, Bloomsday hosts and runs F***ing Shakespeare, a podcast series where they talk all things literary with writers from all over the country. The podcast is a refreshing way to advocate for writing, interview authors, and highlight the work of wonderful writers like recent guests Jericho Brown, Edan Lepucki, and Phong Nguyen. I secretly want them to invite me to be a guest!

Coowners Kate Martin Williams and Jessica Cole, along with chief creative officer Phuc Luu run Bloomsday and they are delightful folks. They are always on the literary scene around these parts hunting around for the next writer to make shine bright.

Get your hands on their books and listen to their podcast interviews archived on their website.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.14.20

Last week I started highlighting the publishing houses here in Houston by looking at Arte Público Press. Today I want to write about Mutabilis Press. This nonprofit literary press is all about supporting the poetry world, especially poets in the greater Houston area.

The press was founded in 2003 by poet and artist Carolyn Tourney Florek and is a great source of literary work, including first books from some of the best poets that Houston has to offer. I personally own Why Me? (Mutabilis Press, 2009), the debut collection of poetry by Inprint founder Rich Levy, and it’s a great collection. Mutabilis also publishes poetry anthologies and makes it a point to find ways to gather as many Houston area poets as possible to write on a variety of themes. Their latest anthology, Enchantment of the Ordinary, edited by Galveston poet and dear friend of mine John Gorman, collects poems from Houston area authors with a connection to the state of Texas. I love the idea behind this anthology.

It is a blessing to be able to thumb through the anthologies and poetry collections published by Mutabilis and find the names and words of poets who I call friend. If you have the means to support this wonderful press, please take a look at their catalog and order books from them directly or from your local independent bookstore. Either way your purchase helps keep the lights on for these publishing houses.

Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.
4.7.20

It gives me great pleasure to highlight the many aspects of the literary world that exist here in the Houston area through this blog. I feel it is important to keep this work going, especially now during this global crisis, to provide a sense of community as well as a little break from the news.

Starting this month, I’ll be writing about some of the publishing houses here in Houston, including Arte Público Press. Founded in 1979 by Nicolas Kanellos, Arte Público Press is the largest and most established publisher of Latino literature in the United States. Housed at the University of Houston, where Kanellos is a professor of Hispanic Studies, the press has helped launch the careers of notable authors like Sandra Cisneros, whose debut novel, The House on Mango Street, was published by the press; Miguel Piñero, who cofounded the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City; and Obie Award–winning playwright Luis Valdez.

The press also launched the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Program to catalog lost Latinx writings from the American colonial period through 1960. They then branched out into bilingual books for children and young adults with their imprint Piñata Books.

Arte Público Press continues their mission to bring Hispanic literature to more audiences through their programs and books. They publish thirty books a year, so if you got the time, take a look at their massive catalog and consider ordering some of these wonderful books (including the recent release of Richard Z. Santos’s debut novel). Trust me, it’ll be worth your while.

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

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