Chatting With Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda
June 24, 2014, by Krupa Parikh
In April 2013 award-winning fiction writer and poet Gwendolyn Zepeda became Houston’s first Poet Laureate. Zepeda was appointed to the two-year position by Mayor Annise Parker and was selected by a committee of local literary experts through a competitive process. (Inprint’s Executive Director Rich Levy was part of the selection committee.)
Gwen is a perfect fit for the role of poet laureate, an honor established to bring the love of poetry to new and diverse communities. Born and raised in Houston, Gwen is a popular blogger and the author of three novels, four children’s books, a short story collection, and a book of poems, Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners. Her second poetry collection is forthcoming. In addition to these admirable accomplishments, she works full-time, is a parent, is active in the community, and is an all-around lovely human being. If you have been out and about in Houston recently, you may have seen Gwen reading, leading a workshop, participating in a Houston Public Library program, or involved in some other poetry related activity. Gwen recently served as an Inprint Poetry Busker for Sunday Streets at Market Square.
Inprint is thrilled that Houston has an official Poet Laureate and last week I had the chance to sit down with Gwen (and her husband Dat Lam) to talk about the role of Poet Laureate and her activities. The two hours passed way too quickly. Gwen’s generosity of spirit, quirky humor, simple honesty, and humble and approachable nature make you feel like you have been friends with her for years. We had a great time and I look forward to seeing Gwen again soon.
The following are snippets from our conversation.
Inprint: You have participated in so many activities as Houston Poet Laureate. Which activities stand out in your mind the most? Which have you been the most proud of?
Gwen: So far, my favorite has been the workshop series we did at the Houston Public Library’s downtown branch. I conducted four weekly classes on poetry basics that attracted a pretty varied cross-section of Houstonians. We did several writing exercises that resulted in work the participants were proud of, and it was gratifying for me to be a part of other people’s “poetry awakening,” so to speak.
There are about a hundred runners-up for favorite activity, but I have to tell you that I really enjoyed doing poetry busking with Inprint at Sunday Streets. That was a hectic, super-inspiring two hours.
We did several writing exercises that resulted in work the participants were proud of, and it was gratifying for me to be a part of other people’s “poetry awakening,” so to speak.
Inprint: What activities are coming up in the next few months? Anything in particular your fans should keep an eye out for?
Gwen: We have more workshops happening this year, which I hope will have the same magic as the first series. I don’t know the dates offhand, but readers can check the Houston Public Library and Poet Laureate websites for details. This is the year I’m writing the Poet Laureate blog, which will hopefully be of interest. Oh, and this October, I’m participating in Houston Poetry Fest.
Inprint: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book coming out later this year?
Gwen: Sure. It’s my second poetry collection, called Monsters, Zombies, and Addicts. This one has some short prose mixed in, which I really like. I’m pretty excited about it. I love working with Arte Público Press because they’re so open to writers’ ideas and they’ve always been supportive of my work, so publishing with them makes me feel free to do whatever crazy idea pops into my head. I think readers will be able to see that in this book and hopefully enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Inprint: Your term will end in April 2015 and then you will serve on the selection committee for the next Poet Laureate. Would you give any advice to the new Poet Laureate or is there anything you would change about the Poet Laureate program?
Gwen: My advice would be not to try to take on too many obligations. There are a lot of fabulous organizations in Houston who will want to work with you, and, sadly, you won’t be able to say yes to them all. Focus on a few things that make a difference for a few people, and try to have fun.
We thank Gwen for her time and service to Houston’s literary community. To learn more about Gwendolyn Zepeda, visit her website here. Gwen, along with Inprint’s Rich Levy, will be honored with the La Valiente Award by Voices Breaking Boundaries on August 23rd. To learn, more click here.