When I think of literary spaces I think of bookstores, libraries, my favorite reading chair, or my desk, where I have sat with my laptop for hours in hopes of writing the perfect sentence, the perfect essay, or the perfect piece of literature that I naively daydream will live on for generations. Literary spaces are important, they inspire us to read, they inspire us to write, they celebrate the literary life in us, and they make public something that is a solitary act. We are lucky that Houston has vibrant literary spaces—we have some great independent bookstores and we have libraries which entice the young and old.
The newest, and perhaps most innovative literary space I have seen in Houston recently, is Antena Books/Libros Antena, a literary installation at Project Row Houses that is the creation of Houston writer and former Inprint blogger John Pluecker (or JP as his good friends call him). Physically, the installation has everything we need to engage our literary desires. There are books and chapbooks for sale, reading, or browsing. There is a sofa you can curl up on, there are chairs. There is a typewriter where you can start clicking away. There is a documentation pillar where you can leave your work so others can read it. There is a computer program you can play with called Antenets, designed by local writer and artist David Feil, featuring Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets, which lets you borrow words and phrases from Shakespeare to create your own poetry. There is a book sharing shelf—you bring a book and get to take another from the shelf back with you. And guess what? You are even allowed to write on the walls!
For the literary nerd in me, this place feels like a party. When I was there, residents from the Third Ward neighborhood stopped by as did others from around the city. Some browsed the installation, some were chatty, others were playing on Antenets, and some were buying books.
When asked what led to the development of Antena Books, JP says he wanted to create a new model for literary collaboration. He wanted to create a community-based space that is thriving, where writers and readers are working collectively, where copying and borrowing are encouraged, and where genre bending is embraced.
He also wanted to help spread the fantastic work of many of the small independent presses featured in the installation. The installation carries books from small, experimental, innovative, and interdisciplinary presses from across the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America. JP says that major publishing houses and presses have a vehicle to get their work out to the public, but most of these small presses, which are producing some of the highest quality work, don’t have the same resources. Visiting Antena Books exposed me to some of the most fascinating work coming out of this side of the globe, work I never would have seen in traditional literary spaces. And since the books and chapbooks are from small presses, and many are handmade, they feel like little pieces of art in the palm of your hand.
As part of the installation, JP is also running a Read/Write Club on Wednesdays from 6 – 9 pm. For each meeting a different book has been selected. During the gatherings everyone reads together, enjoys an opportunity to communicate with the author via skype, recordings, or in person, and then there is time to work on one’s own writing. Throughout this, copying, borrowing, and collaboration are encouraged. The gatherings are open to everyone.
Antena Books is not just for adults. JP has also developed a list of kids’ activities and many have enjoyed the installation.
The Antena temporary bookstore, reading room and lit experimentation lab is located at Project Row Houses, 2505 Holman. As part of Round 36 of installations, the space is open through June 24 from Wednesday through Sunday from 12pm-5pm. Stop by before the installation closes, meet JP, attend the Read/Write Club, or just come and write on the walls!
For more information and a schedule for the Read/Write Club click here.