Mary Beard as our Virgil

September 21, 2016, by

Smaller Mary Beard photo 1 IMG_7189On first meeting celebrated historian Mary Beard, I was struck by two observations. 1) She has the most impeccable, chirpy, and patrician British accent I’ve ever heard, and 2) she wears the flyest kicks—gold-colored, metal-studded sneakers—I’ve ever seen. Her life’s work bears this dual legacy. She is an Oxbridge-trained professor of classics and author of over a dozen well-received books, as well as an approachable public intellectual, who writes a popular blog and frequently appears on “telly” as a commentator on all manner of news stories.

Mary Beard read at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston on Sunday, September 18, as part of a partnership with Brazos Bookstore. Before there were such categories as “creative nonfiction” or “memoir,” there were chronicles of the time, and Romans documented activities both contemporaneous and ancient. She presented an engaging talk, complete with photo documentation, on the subject of her newest history SPQR.

Beard first described her personal investment in Roman history by detailing a visit in 1973 to the eternal city. What struck her most was not the ancient remains or the Renaissance art, but the SPQR emblem still stamped on manhole covers, door handles, and garbage cans. Representing the Latin phrase for the Roman Senate and People, it is the longest running acronym in the history of the world. Continue reading

Indie book presses are continuing to find great new talent

January 11, 2016, by

Indie book night imageAnother exciting evening of literary fun awaits Houstonians tonight as Brazos Bookstore presents Indie Book Night. Inprint blogger Erika Jo Brown interviewed Brazos’ Ben Rybeck to get a sneak peak on tonight’s event.

ERIKA: What can an attendee expect from Indie Press Night? What’s on the program?

BEN: For this event, editors from five different independent publishers (Archipelago, New Directions, Open Letter, Restless Books, Tyrant Books) will gather to drink beer, eat snacks, and talk with attendees about upcoming releases. Will there be hobnobbing? You bet. Networking? Duh. Jump rope? No. As ever, we’ll have books for sale—but wait (as they say), there’s more! The publishers will have some giveaways and prizes too. So basically, attendees can expect, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a hella wicked time.

ERIKA: How might attending this event satisfy a New Year’s resolution?

BEN: Come meet some editors—and then, years later, when you run into them at AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference) as you hunt around for a home for your novel in which somebody walks and thinks for 200 pages…well, maybe the editor will remember your name! So if your New Year’s Resolution is to get a book published (or at least get a personalized “no”)—but I guess I shouldn’t make any promises. Just come! Continue reading

Jockeying the Book-Signing Line

November 9, 2015, by

11.. Line for book signing at Danticat & Woodrell reading RM2_2877
As the 2015/2016 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series continues tonight with a sold out reading by Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie and a long book signing line expected to follow, Houston writer Sam Dinger gives us his take on how he prepares for the magical moment when he gets to meet one of his favorite authors.

I just rushed out the back of the room to get a good spot in the book signing line. I’m holding a clean, new copy of the new book. There is paperdust on the edges of the pages. There are something like a million of us in this line and it’s looking like I won’t have the chance I hoped  to have a meaningful interaction with this writer I love, or want to love, or, let’s face it, whom I want to love me. But all hope isn’t lost. I remember that there are things I can do. I have a plan.

In the many book signing lines that I’ve stood in, I’ve developed a list of things that I do to up my chances for any of the above hopes–that is, for the chance of a meaningful interaction. Some of them are simple and small, others require a little something more. Continue reading

Reflections on Geraldine Brook’s The Secret Chord

October 19, 2015, by

This is the second of a two-part review of special events at Christ Church Cathedral, in partnership with Brazos Bookstore.

24611425In his witty introduction to Geraldine Brooks’s reading, Benjamin Rybeck jokingly accused her of not actually writing her own books. More likely, she traveled back in time to chronicle the rich historical backdrops and singular adventures of her characters.

When she approached the stage, Brooks gamely replied: “I wish I were a time traveler then I could go to Scotland and meet a hunky guy in a kilt.” It was just the sort of improvisation that you attend readings for—to witness the spirited mind of your favorite author (and to hear it in her slight Australian accent).

Brooks started with a few words about reading at a church, mentioning that she was rereading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, one of her favorite books, which centers on the minister John Ames. She also noted that temple is the place where King David, the main character of her new book The Secret Chord finds “solace and peace.”

In researching the second Iron Age in Israel, Brooks endeavored to replicate aspects of life as it would have been lived—and experienced the origins of several Biblical idioms. She literally “separated the sheep from the goats” and learned how to “be a good shepherd.” Continue reading

David Eagleman talks about the The Brain: The Story of You

October 15, 2015, by

IMG_4450Last week brought two bright stars of the literary world—David Eagleman and Geraldine Brooks—to Christ Church Cathedral, in partnership with Brazos Bookstore.

From one perspective, the writers could not be more different. Eagleman is a neuroscientist who directs a research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of historical fiction. Yet both explore notions of society, time, vision, and humanism in their writing. And their books have been translated into dozens of languages.

This is the first of a two-part review of the special events.

In Reverend Art Callahan’s welcome to David Eagleman’s reading, he quipped that “at church, we do not leave our brains at the door.” This was a perfect prologue to a fast-paced, multimedia event that held the audience (and their brains) rapt.

Eagleman is clearly passionate about the public understanding of science. He’s written for The New York Times, Discover Magazine, Atlantic, Slate, Wired, discussed new trends on NPR and BBC, and serves as an editor for several scholarly journals. Continue reading

Ben’s Hyperbolic Brazos Bulletin

October 6, 2015, by

One of the hot spots of Houston’s literary life is Brazos Bookstore. We are thrilled to have Ben Rybeck join An Open Book as a regular contributor to give us an update on all the exciting happenings with the store. 

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Using the time-honored tradition of exaggeration to combat the notion that only quiet, studious things happen at bookstores

IMG_4485Here at Brazos, we do many quiet things. We take books off shelves, we put books on shelves, we carry books in our arms, we sit and read books old and new, we take out the trash (usually not full of books), we drink water, we whisper to well-mannered customers about Jonathan Franzen and Alice Munro…

But then, sometimes, the store literally explodes (clarification: not literally) with excitement—and by sometimes, I mean this happens always, all the damn time. Consider October, for example, when we’ll host Houston’s own neuroscience rock star David Eagleman (10/8); a poetry night with Nick Flynn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Gregory Pardlo (10/19); and other mind-altering literary luminaries like Sloane Crosley (10/16), Eileen Myles (10/24), and Richard Ford (10/26). Plus, we’ll have works of literary horror on display leading up to Halloween. (If you stare at the display for long enough and say “Brazos Bookstore” three times…well…look out behind you.)

But, as they say on infomercials, wait—there’s more! Here are three highlights of our October programming sure to literally blow your mind, literally (see earlier clarification re: use of the word “literally”). Continue reading

The personal essay is alive and well

August 4, 2015, by

2_Speaker and audience GOODIt’s a decent crowd at Brazos Bookstore, on a Thursday evening in late July. Wine, beer, and water are on offer, and cheese and crackers. It’s festive, convivial, the usual gracious Brazos atmosphere for a reading—with the exception that we aren’t gathered to listen to a single visiting writer. Instead, unusually, we’re here to listen to each other.

Brazos has graciously agreed to host a group reading by the members of Erika Jo Brown’s Inprint personal essay workshop. They’ve been meeting under Erika’s guidance for two months this summer to think about and experiment with the craft of this varied, extensive form, which (as Erika points out in her course description) can be both “intellectually rigorous and exploratory.” These folks are used to reading to each other, sharing and responding to each other’s work, and considering examples by selected essayists to help them think about such matters as “narrative arc, emotional ‘stakes,’ concretizing details, dialogue, point of view, characterization,” and  more. They’ve been working, three hours a week for eight weeks at Inprint House. Now they’re going to take a big step outside the intimate confines of the workshop and strut their stuff publicly.

You can spot the essayists—they’re the restless ones with papers in their hands. The rest of us—friends, family, and curious others who found the reading on the Brazos schedule—are here to support them and listen to a sample of their work. Continue reading

Blue Sun, Yellow Sky: An Interview with Jamie Jo Hoang

June 29, 2015, by

Jamie Jo HoangWe are always thrilled when former students of Inprint Writers Workshops write us with the news that they’ve finished a book that they started in one of our classes. Jamie Jo Hoang is one such young writer, and her self-published book Blue Sun, Yellow Sky, is about an artist who develops a condition which will rapidly lead to blindness, and her journey to accept her condition. The book is available locally at Brazos Bookstore. Inprint asked Jamie Jo to tell us more about herself and her writing.

Inprint: Please tell us how you got your start in creative writing.

Jamie Jo Hoang (JH): For most of my life I have been a listener. I listened to the stories my grandmother told while she chewed tobacco on the front stoop of our small apartment building in Orange County. I listened to the stories my parents told of their escape during the Vietnam War. And I heard the stories of others come to life in books I found at the local library when I was kid. Then during my freshman year of college at UCLA, I applied for admission to the School of Film and Television, and it was there that I really learned the craft of creative writing.  I continued taking writing classes after college and Blue Sun, Yellow Sky began in an Inprint class taught by Aja Gabel. That Inprint class is also where I met two of my best friends (a.k.a. my creative writing soundboards) Shawn and Ellen. Continue reading

Houstonians celebrate Shakespeare, the long and short of it

June 23, 2015, by

IMG_4691On a sunny, breezy Friday, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers gathered at Brazos Bookstore to celebrate its partnership with the Houston Shakespeare Festival (HSP). This summer, the bookstore is hosting a series of Bard-tastic events, including dramatic performances of Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquys, and two informal book club gatherings that offer a sneak peek into HSF’s repertory productions of Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice.

The first event, all about sonnets, was emceed by Jim Johnson, HSF executive director and UH professor of voice and dialects, who presented a theatrical dish fit for the gods. Throughout the evening, he also explicated interesting tidbits for the audience’s edification.

Readers included Suzelle Palacios, a BFA alumna from UH, who’s heading to the Old Globe MFA program this fall; Kat Cortes, a current MFA student at UH, who’s teaching with the HSF conservatory, an intensive two-week program for high school students; Liz Wright, Brazos bookseller, who participated in Wellesley College’s Shakespeare Society for four years; and Carolyn Johnson, Houston-based actor and director, as well as Jim Johnson’s wife, their partnership proving that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

The evening kicked off with the classic sonnet 18, which asks the age-old writerly question: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? This selection was followed by early sonnets 1 (From fairest creatures we desire increase / that thereby beauty’s rose might never die) and sonnet 2 (When forty winters shall besiege thy brow / And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field). Johnson explained that these “fair youth” sonnets expound on the theme of procreation and illustrate that the course of true love never did run smooth. Continue reading

On the road with Inprint

June 19, 2015, by

BEA logoLike physicians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and fans of anime, those in the literary world have their own conventions—that is, annual conference where those in the field share new ideas. (Here, I do not mean “convention” as in a distinct protocol of behavior, although that argument can, of course, be made….).

AWP is the bad boy of literary conventions, where thousands upon thousands of creative writers descend upon a hip city, ostensibly to attend professional development panels and hawk their books. In reality, carousing, quaffing, cavorting, capering, and kvelling are top priorities on the itinerary.

BEA (BookExpo America) is AWP’s sophisticated, practical cousin. From a creative writer’s perspective, this conference has a 401K and knowledge about fine wines. It’s less about hysterical events in a writer’s life that result in a book, and more about packaging and marketing that book once it’s written—the business and politics of publishing.

As a creative writer entrenched in the former convention, I spoke with Rich Levy, Inprint’s Executive Director, about his recent travels to BEA in New York, to see how the other half (of the book world) lives.

Erika: Why does Inprint visit BEA?

BEA gives us the opportunity to connect personally with publicists at major publishing houses.

Rich: BookExpo America is the publishing industry’s national trade show, which primarily serves independent book sellers, always held in May. Although we are somewhat fish out of water there, BEA gives us the opportunity to connect personally with publicists at major publishing houses. We meet with them (1) to tell them about the Inprint Margarett Root Continue reading