An Open Book – The Inprint Blog https://anopenbookblog.org a place for literary conversation Tue, 02 Oct 2018 00:04:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.9 The 2018-2019 Inprint Reading Series Kicks Off with Insight, Obsession, and Humor https://anopenbookblog.org/the-2018-2019-inprint-reading-series-kicks-off-with-insight-obsession-and-humor/ https://anopenbookblog.org/the-2018-2019-inprint-reading-series-kicks-off-with-insight-obsession-and-humor/#respond Tue, 02 Oct 2018 00:03:30 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2403 Continue reading ]]> Last Monday night marked the first reading of the 38th season for the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, only days after the happy news that reader Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black was short-listed for this year’s prestigious Man-Booker prize. (Also listed is Richard Powers’ The Overstory, from which he’ll read in the series’ April installment.)

Edugyan read with Meg Wolitzer, and neither author is a stranger to recognition for their work. Edugyan’s previous novel Half-Blood Blues was awarded Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was also a finalist for the Man-Booker. Wolitzer’s new novel, The Female Persuasion, was named one of the most anticipated novels of this year by New York magazine, Time, and others, and several films have been based on her work. The most recent is The Wife, starring Glenn Close. (Playing in Houston now!)

After their readings—alternately funny, exciting, poignant, and wise—the authors sat with former Poet Laureate of Houston Robin Davidson, who invited them to share about their process and the timely thematic concerns of both novels.

Edugyan and Wolitzer agreed their fiction tends to orbit “primordial obsessions,” a phrase borrowed from Wolitzer’s previous comments on writing. In this case, their obsessions harmonized as the evening’s readings addressed different modes of dislocation and freedom. Edugyan’s protagonist “Wash” is liberated from enslavement in 19th century Barbados by an adventurer who wants to take him around the world in a flying machine. She spoke of the difficulties the character faces, wrenched from one understanding of the world and placed in another, alien both linguistically and culturally from all he’s ever known. Similarly, Wolitzer’s “Greer” is a college student who experiences an assault that upends her sense of reality—did something happen to her? Was it real? Wrong? How could she tell?

Though Wash experiences bodily freedom, the echoes of slavery inform his choices and sense of agency. As Greer’s experience of reality is both contracted and expanded by the narratives of others around her, her agency is also tested. Both writers spoke of creating fiction in a world in flux, where different generations, as well as individuals from vastly different backgrounds, are forced to confront the same crises together despite their unique perspectives.

Davidson drew the similarities between the projects to a point by asking both Edugyan and Wolitzer what they believed the role of the writer should be in contemporary political and social movements. Edugyan explained her interest in suppressed histories, those peoples and communities she had “no idea existed,” and that unearthing and telling their stories felt relevant in today’s social atmosphere. Wolitzer said she believed any personal obsession, political or otherwise, would find its way into her work, and highlighted the role humor could play in imparting the subtle realities of lived experience.

The discussion ended on what felt like an appropriate and important note: when Davidson asked the authors to discuss the craft element called “point of view” in fiction—Edugyan’s novel is written in “first person,” Wolitzer’s in “third”—they agreed writers should position themselves as close or far from a character’s voice as they feel grants the most liberty to explore their obsessions.

Both writers offered visceral and measured perspectives on these smart, incisive fictions, blending insight with humor and wonder, setting a high bar for the rest of what promises to be an outstanding season.

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Local writers celebrate the everyday stories of women https://anopenbookblog.org/local-writers-celebrate-the-everyday-stories-of-women/ https://anopenbookblog.org/local-writers-celebrate-the-everyday-stories-of-women/#respond Fri, 14 Sep 2018 16:55:44 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2393 Continue reading ]]> A very special evening is in store this Saturday, September 15, 6:30 pm at Kaboom Books as local writers  Eloísa Pérez-Lozano, Jody T. Morse (aka J. T. Haven),  and celebrated Houston Poet Laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton read from their work featured in a new anthology, I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen.

The timely anthology includes a collection of true stories, poems, and art by more than fifty women. Tamra Lucid, a blogger for Reality Sandwich and music and a documentary producer at Lucid Nation Media, says, “What makes this compilation extraordinary is that it does not rely on celebrity or well-established writers for content. This book gives voice to women who have remained voiceless for too long. It reminds us of the heroism of women facing what most casually dismiss as common challenges of life. It illuminates the courage and resilience, the resourcefulness and commitment women deploy daily to survive in a world where discrimination and injustice, not to mention cruelty, are all too common. It reminds us that small miracles happen daily. Refresh your faith in humanity here.”

We had a chance to catch up with Eloisa, Jody, and Deborah to talk about the anthology and what audience members can expect Saturday evening.

INPRINT: What was the inspiration behind this book project?

DEBORAH: The collection is geared toward celebrating the stories of everyday women and the power they hold.

The editor of the book Alyssa Waugh wrote this in the press kit: “Women are made of strength. I wanted to hear from sisters, mothers, daughters, teachers, firefighters—your everyday heroes who aren’t ever going to have a documentary made about them, but whose stories are just as important. So these will be stories about different kinds of strength that women possess in a variety of situations, all day, every day, whether it be physical, emotional, intellectual, mental, spiritual, whatever.

INPRINT: What in particular made you want to submit a piece to this book project?

JODY: I believe in, love, and cherish strong women. It is a combination of unworldly empathy and passion-fueled strength that will change our world. I wanted to contribute to this I AM STRENGTH anthology as a way to bond with others seeking this change, writing about strong, world-changing women.

DEBORAH: I have been looking into my family history a lot lately. In doing so, I have come upon so many powerful and striking women who make me understand myself and the world around me better. I wanted to share their stories in hopes that they can do the same for others.

ELOÍSA: I’m always looking for opportunities that uplift women’s voices so when I saw the call for submissions, I immediately knew I wanted to submit my work. Not only do we find our strength in writing our truths as testimony, but we also share in the collective strength of all when our words find a home and in turn reach the people who hopefully need to hear our experiences to know they’re not alone.

INPRINT: Tell us a little bit about what audience members can expect on September 15?

JODY: Humor, estrogen, empowerment, and joy. There may be a few tears shed, but they’ll all be shared in the name of love and celebration of life. And door prizes! Can’t forget the door prizes.

DEBORAH: I think the expectations should be to leave inspired. We all have a beautiful strength in our everyday selves. I hope that readers see themselves in the pieces and leave wanting to celebrate their own voices.

ELOÍSA: All of the above!

INPRINT: What do you in particular hope readers will get out of reading this anthology and your piece in particular?

JODY: The knowledge that if I—a normal, everyday woman—can be a normal, everyday superwoman, they can too. Or, if a man, they can be a normal, everyday superman.

DEBORAH: I think readers should find their story and a place to share it. Whether verbally, written down, or acted out, women hold the power to create in our very nature. We are the narrative of history that needs to be told.

ELOÍSA: I hope every reader is able to see themselves in some way within the anthology’s pages and if so, we have done our job.

Two thirds of the proceeds from sales of this book will benefit No Means No Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world, and Girls Inc., inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.  For this specific book launch, 40% of the book sales will be donated to the Houston Area Women’s Center. For more information on the reading click here.

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Houston writer Theodora Bishop wins 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Award https://anopenbookblog.org/houston-writer-theodora-bishop-wins-2018-next-generation-indie-book-award/ https://anopenbookblog.org/houston-writer-theodora-bishop-wins-2018-next-generation-indie-book-award/#respond Tue, 11 Sep 2018 23:48:47 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2388 Continue reading ]]> Theodora Bishop, an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellow, is a woman of many talents. In addition to being the author of a chapbook of short stories, Mother Tongues, winner of The Cupboard’s 2015 contest, she was a Best New Poets nominee and her work has appeared in such well-known journals as Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, and Short Fiction (England). She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, and her latest publication, On the Rocks (Texas Review Press) came out earlier this year. I caught up with Theodora to talk to her about the new book and her writing process, among other things, and here’s what she had to say.

MATTHEW KRAJNIAK: Your novella, On the Rocks, won a 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Award. What was that like and what’s different with you and your writing now that this book is out?

THEODORA BISHOP: My husband and I were about ten hours into our drive from Texas to Pennsylvania when I received the news. I thought it was a mistake at first — I’m fairly certain we were listening to a book on CD and mowing down licorice; I was in a whimsical headspace. I was delighted when it turned out it wasn’t a mistake, and doubly delighted that On the Rocks was recognized as a novella. I think the novella is an important narrative form, and one which I relish reading, studying, and working in.Eva (the protagonist in On the Rocks) feels like an old friend, so I’ve enjoyed working on new fiction that feature similarly-minded characters who feel like they could be pals with Eva, if the novella’s universe of Ship Bottom were to slip into theirs. A great thing about the book being out is that I don’t touch the manuscript anymore; there’s been a place cleared in the cupboard, so to speak, and I’m happily immersed in new material.

MATTHEW: One of things people often note as to why they enjoyed On the Rocks so much is the use of humor in it. Humor is often an overlooked narrative tool—what’s your attitude toward it?

THEODORA:  My favorite books (and, oftentimes, people) blend a sense of humor with the serious. One of the reasons this resonates with me is because humor seems like one strategy people use to cope. As a reader, I appreciate characters that find themselves using comedy as a means to combat less favorable circumstances. On the Rocks is about a twenty-eight-year-old woman trying to come to terms with the death of her best friend — a man she claims to have been in love with since she and he were children — while preparing to serve as Maid of Honor at her mother’s second marriage. The first part (grief) is the more serious half of the equation; the second (Maid of Honor) is, on the surface, the comical (although Eva’s role here is also painful to her — she lost her father, her mother’s first husband, five years before the novella begins). The first line of the book is intended to not only set up the stakes, but to leave the reader with both tastes: “It was springtime, a year after Sebastian died, when my mother phoned to tell me she was throwing a bridal shower for herself, and I’d sure as dickens better be there: ‘You’re the Maid of Honor, Eva. So no excuses, m’kay?’ ”

When I was working on the novella, Eva’s grief preceded her mother’s impending second marriage/request of her daughter. I love standup and am a fierce advocate for artists excavating the “unsaid.” One of the delights I get from reading an author or poet I discover a particular kinship with is in feeling less alone, or recognized, because this writer has put a finger on the pulse of something I’ve experienced but have been unable to articulate or directly acknowledge for myself.

MATTHEW: You have a slew of publications, so I’m curious as to what your writing process is like. Is it relatively straightforward, are you someone that labors intensely for long hours every day, or is it some combination of both?

THEODORA: It’s relatively straightforward in the sense that I write as often as I can. I establish a routine based on where I am — in terms of jobs, school, travel, residencies, etc. The most writing (in terms of quantity) I ever accomplished was on a fellowship year in my MFA. I wasn’t teaching and had already completed coursework, so my days were spent writing and reading and wearing my pajamas for absurd stretches of time. I treated the funded time to work on my writing as a gift, and I am not one to let gifts go to waste (read: give me a carton of Cella’s cherries, and I’ll be glad to eat them all in front of you). I’ve never had a predetermined number of hours/pages/words to complete that I sign off in blood to. The amount I generate fluctuates based on what I’m doing/what works best for my routine. This year I’m taking a full course load, I’m teaching, and serving as a genre editor for two journals. I also have a wonderful husband and a cat that I want to spend time with (the second isn’t hard to accomplish — the majority of what I’ve produced in the past five years has come to fruition with her in my lap). Things that fall outside of those responsibilities tend to go on the backburner until I get my writing in. One of the wonderful things about being a writer is you can always keep what you’re working on with you — your subconscious is always hungry. So when I feel like my life circumstances have cut into the time I’d normally spend on my work, then I remind myself to kick back, relax: your subconscious is feeding. Whatever I’m working on at the time seems omnipresent. It’s there, like the best kind of secret.

MATTHEW: You serve as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts and also have a number of poetry publications. Do you find your poetry informs you prose and vice-versa? What’s that relationship like?

THEODORA: I’m sure that it does, but almost always in retrospect. My discoveries while working in fiction and poetry are so distinct from one another. With fiction, I feel like I’m casting a net into the dark, and crossing my fingers that whatever I pull up I’ll be able to arrange into a meaningful order that pleases and surprises me afterward. With poetry, I’m always in the woods. It sometimes feels like I’m trying to guess the number of candies in a jar — the only catch is, I was the one to originally put them in the jar. In other words, I feel like I come to some answer I buried from the start. I’m very sound and voice-driven across my work, so I tend to start from a sense of voice. Whatever waits for me at the end of the line in both genres is what compels me to write.

MATTHEW: If you had to tell us about two authors that maybe we aren’t familiar with who would they be and what about their work do you enjoy?

THEODORA: Barbara Trapido has a delicious sensibility. Her writing is exquisite for its sentences alone. Shirley Jackson I’ll mention because though many may have read “The Lottery” or are otherwise familiar with her name, I’m always encouraging others to familiarize themselves with her novels. We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House were groundbreaking for me. (Also, there is a charming character by the name of “Theodora” in The Haunting of Hill House. It’s rare for me to see my first name in print, so there’s that).

MATTHEW: Are you currently working on any big new projects? If so, can I ask what it/they might be?

THEODORA: My latest poems come from my playing around with a vision of sainthood – sainthood for the twenty-first-century girl/woman. I’m drawing from the stories of the saints, St. Lucy in particular, and mashing those ideas up with issues for young girls and women I see happening today. My current fiction projects all draw from a contemporary sense the gothic and are largely about women. I write a lot about anxiety and am interested in breaking stigmas related to mental illness. I think a good deal of that interest was rooted in my undergraduate and early graduate school years, and my experiences with, or watching friends struggle with, related issues.

MATTHEW: If you saw someone at a bookstore who was clearly indecisive about buying your book (let’s say this person is an author themselves who has never known what disposable income is), how might you intervene so that he/she might understand why they need the book in their lives?

THEODORA: First, I’d be honored. Then I’d be embarrassed — I’m often embarrassed; I’d have a good deal less to write about if that wasn’t the case. So depending on the vibes this potential book-buyer gave, I’d probably either bury myself in the stacks or creepily watch the person’s decision-making play out from a distance. I’d hope they’d buy it, if only to figure out for themselves why there is a mermaid on the cover, and why she looks so cross lounging across that rock.

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Submit Your Hurricane Harvey Stories to the Houston Flood Museum https://anopenbookblog.org/submit-your-hurricane-harvey-stories-to-the-houston-flood-museum/ https://anopenbookblog.org/submit-your-hurricane-harvey-stories-to-the-houston-flood-museum/#respond Fri, 15 Jun 2018 21:32:31 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2380 Continue reading ]]> As hurricane season is now underway and an impending storm looms over us this coming weekend, it is hard not to be taken back to last August and the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Stories often serve as conveyors of our history, reminding us where we have been and possibly enlightening us on where to go from here. It was with this intent that the Houston Flood Museum, funded by the Houston Endowment, was born.

The Houston Flood Museum was initiated by a group of community writers to create a virtual space that collects and preserves stories of the traumatic, catastrophic events during and after Hurricane Harvey from Houstonians who survived the storm’s flooding. The museum will serve as a place to reflect on our shared history, to learn from it, to mourn what we have lost, and to find inspiration about how to move together into the future.

Houstonians are invited to be a part of this communal project. The Houston Flood Museum seeks oral, written, and visual narratives about the storm’s impact on you, your family, your home and work and community. These stories can be related as informal personal narratives, essays, poems, or other written genres, or as audio recordings. Photographs and video, such as home footage or mini-documentaries, are also welcome. Stories in any language are welcome.

If accepted, your story would be added to an archive (preserved in partnership with the Harvey Memories Project) and possibly published online and/or read or displayed at future events. To submit your narrative, please use this form. The deadline for the first exhibition is July 1. Rolling submissions will be accepted for future exhibitions.

If you have any questions about this project, please click here to contact the organizers directly

May we all have a safe and flood free summer.

]]> https://anopenbookblog.org/submit-your-hurricane-harvey-stories-to-the-houston-flood-museum/feed/ 0 Celebrating Books by Houston women: A Summer Reading List https://anopenbookblog.org/celebrating-books-by-houston-women-a-summer-reading-list/ https://anopenbookblog.org/celebrating-books-by-houston-women-a-summer-reading-list/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 21:26:32 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2368 Continue reading ]]> As we think about good books to read during the dog days of summer, we invite you to add the following books to your list. Released during the 2017-2018 season, these books of literary fiction, poetry, and personal essays are by Houston women. We applaud them and the many other female authors who continue to enhance and expand our literary landscape. Happy reading!

Katherine Center, How to Walk Away: A Novel

Jane Chance, Tolkien, Self and Other: “This Queer Creature”

Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Nightbloom & Cenote

Patricia Hunt Holmes, Searching for Pilar

Sean Johnson, All My Heroes Were Assassinated: Poems for Our Beautifully Tragic Experiences

Caroline Leech, Wait for Me and In Another Time (coming out in August)

Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie: A Novel

Jasminne Mendez, Night-blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry

Robin Reagler, Teeth & Teeth

Analicia Sotelo, Virgin: Poems

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, House of Stone

Mimi Swartz, Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart (coming out in August)

Amita Trasi, The Color of Our Sky: A Novel

Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss

Holly Walrath, Glimmerglass Girl (coming out in August)

Cait Weiss Orcutt, Valleyspeak

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This list is a start, so let us know who we may have missed by emailing the author names and books to info@inprinthouston.org. We will be updating the list weekly so check back here for updates.

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Writer Adrienne Perry leaves a mark on Houston https://anopenbookblog.org/writer-adrienne-perry-leaves-a-mark-on-houston/ https://anopenbookblog.org/writer-adrienne-perry-leaves-a-mark-on-houston/#respond Wed, 23 May 2018 21:34:17 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2361 Continue reading ]]> As Memorial Day approaches and college graduation ceremonies have now all taken place, it also means that Houston will soon have to say goodbye to some of our city’s beloved writers, writers who had moved here to study at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program (UH CWP).

ADRIENNE G. PERRY, a recipient of the Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship, the Inprint Marion Barthelme Gulf Coast Prize, and the Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing, just completed her PhD in fiction at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. While in Houston, Adrienne has not only been a great friend to Inprint, she also served as editor of Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts from 2014 – 2016, as well as being active with a number of local institutions and initiatives.

Adrienne is incredibly accomplished. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College in 2013. She is a Hedgebrook alumna, a Kimbilio Fellow, and a member of the Rabble Collective. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper NickelBlack Warrior ReviewNinth Letter, and elsewhere. Currently, she is at work on a novel and an essay collection

This fall she will start the next phase of her career as a Professor of English at Villanova University. Earlier this spring she was kind enough to sit down and talk to Inprint/UH Creative Writing Program Fellow Charlotte Wyatt about her writing, and her experiences living and working in Houston.

CHARLOTTE WYATT: Congratulations on the new job! Those students will be lucky to have you. But first and foremost, I know you as a writer. How would you describe your work?

ADRIENNE PERRY: I describe myself as a writer in the same way that I describe myself as a human being. I come from a biracial family and was raised in Wyoming during the late 70s through the early 90s. My mother’s family homesteaded in the eastern part of the state and my father’s family comes from Southern California via the southeast; land—as an idea and as place—matters to me. As an auntie and a feminist who identifies as female while seeing that category as fluid, I also hope to be a good friend. I believe in magic. Serious magic and ancestors. I am interested in getting free and, with that in mind, I realize I have my work cut out for me. I want to create and encounter art—of any stripe—that feels the same.

CHARLOTTE: I so admire your clarity on that – well put! What brought you to the UH PhD Program?

ADRIENNE: While finishing my MFA in creative writing, I applied to the PhD program at UH on a lark. Eager to figure out my next step post-MFA, I’d agreed to a college counseling position outside London. But when I got into UH, gobsmacked as I was, I realized there was nothing I’d rather do. As someone who studied religion and creative writing as an undergraduate, had a career in education, and then headed into a low-res MFA, one of the appeals of UH was the chance to balance creative writing with the study of English. Outside of the mentorship I’ve received and the chance to edit Gulf Coast for two years, the most valuable part of the program has been the study of literary theory and the practice of translation. Both of these fields have fundamentally changed my relationship to language and literature, making me (somehow) both more playful and more critical as a writer.

CHARLOTTE: Knowing place is so important to your work, what has it been like to work and write in Houston?

ADRIENNE: Houstonians—whether for a day or for a lifetime—are storytelling people, and the city’s literary ecosystem supports the sharing of story and song. Inside the loop, Houston can feel like a small town, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know artists and writers from across the city. Such a warm, welcoming community has also meant that I’ve been able to get involved with a number of organizations or initiatives that, in another major city, might have felt more out of bounds. Starting the Writers of Color workshop with Elizabeth White-Olsen at Writespace, teaching at Inprint, joining the DiverseWorks Artist Advisory Board, being schooled by sassy 4th grade writers through Writers In The Schools, and having friends and colleagues engaged in wildly creative, interdisciplinary work—all of these have fueled my writing and feel unique to Houston.

CHARLOTTE: You gave a talk at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston later this spring; what led you to that speaking engagement?

ADRIENNE: I met the curatorial and programming staff at CAMH during my tenure as editor at Gulf Coast. The intersections of art and literature drive the journal, but they also interest me deeply. There’s a lot I’ve stolen or borrowed from my friends and other artists in dance, performance, and the visual arts. When Felice and Dean reached out, I was more than happy to have the chance to speak about the upcoming exhibit.

CHARLOTTE: That’s great! And while I know we’re going to miss you here, what plans and projects do you have in mind after graduation?

ADRIENNE: Immediately after graduation, my sweetheart Christian (also graduating this spring!) and I will celebrate with our friends and families! After the festivities die down, I plan to focus on my writing projects and community involvements, such as The Houston Flood Museum and teaching my last Writers of Color workshop at Writespace. I was fortunate to receive a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation this winter, which will allow me to focus on my novel See Through Girls this summer. I am also chipping away at a series of essays that braid together family and Wyoming history, focusing particularly on the Black community in Wyoming and the experiences of people of color in the American West.

Thank you Adrienne for making Houston home for a while and being a beloved member of our literary community!

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Pulling Down Words from the Clouds: The Inprint Writers Class at Amazing Place https://anopenbookblog.org/pulling-down-words-from-the-clouds-the-inprint-writers-class-at-amazing-place/ https://anopenbookblog.org/pulling-down-words-from-the-clouds-the-inprint-writers-class-at-amazing-place/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 19:38:35 +0000 https://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2350 Continue reading ]]> For the past year, Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellow and UH Creative Writing Program graduate student Niki Herd has been teaching an Inprint Senior Memoir Workshop at Amazing Place, a day center for individuals with mild to moderate memory loss. The seniors have been meeting with Niki on a weekly basis, engaging in creative writing activities. Today, the participants from the Inprint Senior Memoir Workshop will have a celebratory reading. They will read excerpts of their written work for everyone at the center and invited guests. We asked Niki to tell us a little bit about the workshop participants and her reflections on using creative writing to work with the seniors. Please note that all names have been changed for the participants privacy.

Frank, a fighter pilot in Vietnam, saved hundreds of lives on both sides of the war. William, known to break out into song about constitutional law, is a former lawyer who taught at the University of Houston for more than forty years. Lewis, a pediatrician, considers Bolivia home after spending many years there helping the poor. Katherine worked in government and has a flair for the dramatic. When she walks into class, her presence exudes the grace of an elder actress still commanding praise.

Today the persona poem is the focus and we are reading Browning’s dramatic monologue “Porphyria’s Lover.” Paul, a former engineer, remembers the poem and Katherine begins reciting aloud sonnet 43 “How Do I Love Thee” from Sonnets from the Portuguese. “Wrong Browning!” someone counters.

We meet every Thursday morning for ninety minutes. Along with a staff member, intern, and myself, there are usually fifteen participants, with the majority regular attendees and all lovers of literature and writing. The fact that some today can recall the Browning poem feels like a win, but not a surprising one. The writers live with early to moderate memory loss, which at times affects their ability to recall recent matters and events, rather than knowledge from the far past. Participants may come to class unable to remember the day or the month or year. And no matter how enjoyable, they may altogether forget the previous week’s lesson. The severity of the memory loss is different for each writer. Carol often reminds us that she’s in Houston only for a short visit and will return to family in Florida in a few weeks’ time. Carol has been living in Houston and taking part in the programs at Amazing Place for years now—so there is no return to Florida. This is how the disease works.

According to Texas Health and Human Services, more than 5 million suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease in America and Texas “ranks fourth in the number of Alzheimer’s Disease cases and second in the number of Alzheimer’s Disease deaths.” In Harris County alone, more than 11% of those relying upon Medicare have some form of dementia—a statistic higher than the national average. Amazing Place has housed a day program for seniors with mild to moderate dementia for more than two decades. The Board of Directors includes a number local churches committed to serving the needs of this growing population.

A class may include a simple prompt that jumpstarts writing about a holiday memory or class time might include more challenging mental exercises—like the writing of a persona poem, where the writer must inhabit the mind and body of someone else and write a poem from that character’s perspective. Some time too is spent discussing craft techniques and strategies, and of course there’s always laughter. After writing, each participant has the opportunity to read and share their work aloud. Stephen appreciates the classes that are a bit more challenging. He was a fan of the ekphrastic writing exercise that asked him to craft a writing based on either Hopper’s Nighthawk or Rothko’s No. 5/No. 22. Stephen has difficulty writing, so he brings work his family has typed for him and shares it with the group.

In any good class, the instructor learns as much as her students, and working with the writers at Amazing Place makes this no less the case for me. What strikes me is not what these writers cannot recall, but the passion with which they share their stories, support one another, and the fascinating lives they’ve led—and continue to live. I’m also struck by Inprint’s commitment to Houston. The organization’s concern and interest in the intellectual and creative enrichment of seniors in writing classes like the one at Amazing Place is no less than their interest in the published writers participating in their respected reading series.

Below is an excerpt of from Lewis about his life in Brazil:

I worked as a pediatrician in Cochabamba, and stabilized community clinics where pediatricians, interns, and students delivered healthcare services. During this process, the political organization of the right thought I was stabilizing a communist system in my medical services, and they put me in jail. The Pan American Health Organization found out and had them release me after eight days. They told the authorities that if there were any more problems they would stop all of the projects they had in my country.

I went home and the telephone rang and the voice said, they know what street I go to work on and what school my children go. I decided to leave the country and come to the USA.

Paul has always been intrigued by language. He says he likes the class because it gives him ‘a pleasurable experience in introspection and a way to express that introspection in a coherent way.’ When Katherine’s asked what she enjoys about the class, she says:

My written thoughts are very important to me. They float through the air in front of my eyes and I would like to snag these thoughts & pin them to paper like John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and other great writers have done through the centuries…. Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the front door of the Wittenberg church. I could pull down big, whole words from the clouds above my head and slap them around with my fists & pin them to paper so people could read about all the loves of my life.

Yes Katherine. May we all aim high to find those precious words and pin them to paper.

To learn more about the Inprint Senior Memoir Workshops click here.

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Inprint Writers Workshops: offering more and doing more for the community https://anopenbookblog.org/inprint-writers-workshops-offering-more-and-doing-more-for-the-community/ https://anopenbookblog.org/inprint-writers-workshops-offering-more-and-doing-more-for-the-community/#comments Thu, 22 Feb 2018 23:59:01 +0000 http://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2341 Continue reading ]]> “We love meeting the wonderful aspiring writers from all walks of life who come to Inprint,” says Inprint Executive Director Rich Levy. “Some of them have been writing for a while and others are just taking a workshop as a hobby, supplementing an already busy work and family schedule. The thing that they all have in common is a desire to tell a story, whether through fiction, poetry, or personal essay. Learning how to shape one’s thoughts in writing is hard but also an exciting process, you learn so much about yourself, the world, and your place in it.”

Over the past few years, Inprint has experienced an upsurge in demand for writers workshops. Meeting this demand has been a high priority for the organization.

“These workshops have been helping Houstonians enhance their creative writing skills since 1991,” says Marilyn Jones, Inprint Associate Director who manages the Inprint Writers Workshops. “We work hard to maintain an intimate and supportive environment in each workshop, so most workshops are limited to 12 people. We also want to offer high quality workshops, so instructors are rotated regularly to avoid burn out, and all participants are asked to fill out evaluations at the end of the sessions to ensure we are meeting participants’ interests.”

“I came away with concrete strategies and advice for improving my own writing.  Plus, the instructor was just sort of awesome, very in command of the class, discussion, etc., but also with really interesting ideas.”

Workshops continue to receive positive evaluations. Recent participants have said: “This was for me such a positive experience. I can only say thank you.” “I’ve taken a lot of writing classes, and this instructor really impressed me.” “I came away with concrete strategies and advice for improving my own writing.  Plus, the instructor was just sort of awesome, very in command of the class, discussion, etc., but also with really interesting ideas.”

And Inprint workshop alumni continue to publish their work, gain admission to MFA programs, and in general succeed at telling their stories. Ann Weisgarber, author of two celebrated historical novels, sold the film rights to her first novel, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, to actress/director Viola Davis – a novel that had its origin in Inprint fiction workshops. Mark Dostert developed his acclaimed memoir of working in Chicago juvenile justice facilities, Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, in Inprint personal essay workshops.

With small classes, great instructors, and positive evaluations, workshops often filled up in minutes. To meet demand, for the first time in many years, Inprint is offering a fourth session. In addition to summer, fall, and winter workshop sessions, a spring session will offer a combination of 8-week workshops and weekend intensives starting in March.

Another way Inprint is helping to meet demand is to offer priority registration to those who signed up for a waiting list during the previous session. For example, individuals who tried to enroll in a workshop in fall 2017 but found it full were given the opportunity to register in advance for the winter 2018 workshops. “It’s a fair and straightforward way to ensure we’re able to serve as many people as possible through our programming,” says Levy.

Over the years, Inprint has also increased the number of workshops per session, added more weekend intensives, and explored alternate venues. These efforts are working. Workshops now see a steady enrollment, and anyone interested in a workshop can likely get in, if not the first time, then the second.

“One of the things we are truly grateful for,” says Levy “is that when people enroll in our writers workshops, they indirectly help to make possible everything we do. You can focus on your own writing while helping someone else.”

Unique among other writing workshops locally, Inprint Writers Workshops also make it possible for the organization to offer similar caliber workshops, tuition-free, to senior citizens, school teachers, healthcare workers, veterans, the incarcerated, and the homeless. “One of the things we are truly grateful for,” says Levy “is that when people enroll in our writers workshops, they indirectly help to make possible everything we do. You can focus on your own writing while helping someone else.”

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Celebrating Houston’s Favorite Poems https://anopenbookblog.org/celebrating-houstons-favorite-poems/ https://anopenbookblog.org/celebrating-houstons-favorite-poems/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 19:56:36 +0000 http://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2334 Continue reading ]]> All of us have favorites, a song, a color, a book, a restaurant. But what about poems? Which poems have stayed with you over the years, which poems do you come back to and read and reread? Which poems make you think, move you to tears, or make you feel alive?

Former Houston Poet Laureate Robin Davidson took on these questions and the power that poetry can play in our lives when she initiated Houston’s Favorite Poems, now an anthology. Tonight, Thursday, January 18, 6 pm at the Julia Ideson Building, Houstonians will come together to celebrate the launch for the anthology. Click here for more information and join the celebration.

Earlier this week we caught up with Robin to talk about the project and the process of putting the anthology.

INPRINT: What inspired this project?

ROBIN DAVIDSON: Robert Pinsky first came to Houston in the early eighties to stand in for then poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine, Howard Moss, who was teaching a poetry workshop in the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. I was a graduate student in that class. When Mr. Moss became ill, Pinsky stepped in as our teacher, and one assignment that was life-changing for me was the personal favorite poem anthology he asked each of us to develop. We were to choose at least ten of our favorite poems and write them out, feeling the line breaks in our hands as we wrote or typed and allowing the poems to become our own for a moment. The poems could come from any poet, language, or century, including from among our classmates’ work—what a thrilling exercise it was! I’ve kept my anthology to this day, adding to it over time, and have, for many years, asked my own students to keep such an anthology that includes a preface discussing why each poem is meaningful to them. The results are always lovely—moving and beautiful—and the poem choices are often surprising.

I’ve kept my anthology to this day, adding to it over time, and have, for many years, asked my own students to keep such an anthology that includes a preface discussing why each poem is meaningful to them. The results are always lovely

The community project I proposed as part of my application for the role of city poet laureate was a city-wide anthology of favorite poems chosen by Houstonians similar to the kind I’ve kept on my own now for more than 30 years. The very spring that Mayor Annise Parker appointed me to serve as Houston’s second Poet Laureate. Fran Sanders, founder and executive director of Public Poetry, had a vision for bringing the Favorite Poem Project to our city. She invited former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, founder of the national Favorite Poem Project in 1997, to Houston to launch the project. Houston’s Favorite Poems first began as a reading of beloved poems by Robert Pinsky, Mayor Parker, Dr. Rhea Lawson, Director of the Houston Public Library, and a number of other distinguished Houstonians at the Julia Ideson Building on September 9, 2015. It’s fitting that it should come to completion this week—Thursday, January 18—as a book launch and reading at the Julia Ideson.

INPRINT: What was the process of putting the book together? How many submissions were received and were all of them included into the book?

ROBIN: The project is modeled on Pinsky’s national anthology, Americans’ Favorite Poems—an initiative dedicated to celebrating, documenting, and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives (http://www.favoritepoem.org/). In spring 2016, the Houston project—with the support of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office—made a call for favorite poems to those living in Greater Houston, a nine-county metropolitan area. I invited a team of Houston poets of diverse aesthetic styles and cultural backgrounds to work as an editorial team in choosing poems for inclusion. My deep thanks go to those poets—Sara Cooper, Billie Duncan, Rich Levy, Guadalupe Méndez Medina, Jasminne Méndez, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton (Houston’s third Poet Laureate), Martha Serpas, Melissa Studdard, and Chris Wise. We received approximately 400 poems in response to that call, and each poem entry was reviewed by the poet team who carefully considered submissions. We selected approximately 200 poems to be included and then began the onerous process of determining which of the accepted poems were in the public domain and which we would need to secure permissions for. Only about 60 of those poems accepted were in the public domain and available for inclusion at no cost. The remaining 130-140 poems waited in limbo for some time until rights to the poems could be acquired, licensing agreements signed, and permissions fees paid. Regrettably, we were not able to afford all poems we’d hoped to print. There were several poems that Houstonians chose that I had so hoped to include, but the fees were too costly for the project. We have been able to include 185 poems in the volume just published by Calypso Editions, a nonprofit independent literary press housed at the University of Houston-Downtown.

My deep thanks go to those poets—Sara Cooper, Billie Duncan, Rich Levy, Guadalupe Méndez Medina, Jasminne Méndez, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton (Houston’s third Poet Laureate), Martha Serpas, Melissa Studdard, and Chris Wise.

Of the more than 200 Houstonians whose favorite poems appear in Houston’s Favorite Poems, as you might expect, many are teachers, students, writers, editors, and librarians. However, what we discovered in our review of submissions was that poems are also deeply meaningful in the lives of many Houstonians not trained or employed in the literary arts. You’ll find favorite poems submitted by those in occupations as diverse as an engineer, a cattle rancher, a wood worker, or clergy, CPAs, electricians, scientists, many in various health professions, as well as musicians, visual artists, and arts administrators. These contributors, ranging in age from 18 to 87, live throughout Greater Houston, and represent more than 100 zip codes.

You’ll find favorite poems submitted by those in occupations as diverse as an engineer, a cattle rancher, a wood worker, or clergy, CPAs, electricians, scientists, many in various health professions, as well as musicians, visual artists, and arts administrators.

The anthology includes 120 poets from across the globe whose work appears in alphabetical order by poet surname. Many poets from the United States are represented, ranging in ethnic background from such African American poets as Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Nikky Finney, Langston Hughes, and A. Van Jordan to Asian American poets Amanda Huynh and Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan, Mexican American poet Juan Felipe Herrera, Native American poet Joy Harjo, and Sudanese American poet Safia Elhillo. But Houstonians have also been moved by poems from other national and cultural origins, many of which were composed in languages other than English and appear here in English translation—Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Greece, El Salvador, England, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Palestine, ancient Persia, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, Somalia, and Wales.

We have chosen to include two special sections in this volume. The first celebrates the work of Houston youth studying in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program and appears in the book’s center, with some poems rendered graphically by University of Houston-Downtown graphic design students. We are grateful to Robin Reagler, Jack McBride, and all at WITS for the opportunity to publish poems by Houston youth—including those by Houston’s two Youth Poet Laureates, Andrew White and Fareena Arefeen. The second of these sections concludes the book as a memorial tribute to Houston poet, Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan (1969-2016), who was a member of the selection committee nominating me as Poet Laureate for Mayor Parker’s consideration and who was also an early participant in the poet team designing the anthology. Claire’s husband, Dr. Rajesh Ramakrishnan, stepped in on her behalf in the crafting of the book, and I am enormously grateful to Raj for his strength and dedication.

It’s also important to note that this book would never have come to fruition without the generosity of hundreds of poets, translators, publishers, permissions professionals, and many Houstonians, including: Mayor Turner and his staff in the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Radu Barbuceanu and Debbie McNulty; Dr. Rhea Lawson and her Library staff, Jennifer Schwartz and Carmen Abrego; Dr. Michelle Moosally and the faculty of the Department of English at University of Houston-Downtown (and a former student of Houston poet Lorenzo Thomas and dear friend of the English Department who wishes to remain anonymous); Christine West and Houston First Corporation; and a number of my beloved students who worked on the permissions process—especially Joshua Johnson and Jon Adams. I also want to offer a shout out to Tony Bonds, a novelist and the graphic designer for Calypso Editions! This man is enormously talented, and patient beyond all belief. Another such talented, patient guy is my dear husband, Tony Davidson, whose lovely photograph of one of Jaume Plensa’s Tolerance statues appears on the book’s cover. I’m indebted to hundreds of terrific people for their collaborative collaboration and hard work, including you great people at Inprint!

INPRINT: Can you share your favorite poem with us?

ROBIN: I treasure so many poems, it’s genuinely difficult for me to identify a single favorite. I love the work of German poets Rilke and Hölderlin, and many Polish poets—Ewa Lipska, Anna Świrszczyńska, Wisława Szymborska, and my dear teacher, Adam Zagajewski who will soon be visiting you guys at Inprint! And I admire and have learned so much from the poems of Eavan Boland, Wallace Stevens, Louise Glück, Carolyn Forché—and the work of younger, newly publishing poets too—new books by Tyehimba Jess and Mai Der Vang are brilliant, mind-blowing really. But, I can say that when I’m in need of consolation, comfort, I turn most often to the poems of my former teachers—and in the days and weeks during and subsequent to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of our city, like so many other Houstonians, I experienced the disaster as an ongoing tumult of fear, relief, hope, anger, despair, fatigue, guilt, sorrow, and sometimes just dispiritedness. The words that I sought for calm amid the chaos are those of my long-time teacher and friend, Edward Hirsch, in the closing lines of his poem “Earthly Light,” from his book Earthly Measures (Knopf, 1994)—and I chose to conclude the introduction I wrote for Houston’s Favorite Poems with those lines:

“Because this world, too, needs our unmixed

attention, because it is not heaven

but earth that needs us, because

it is only earth—limited, sensuous

earth that is so fleeting, so real.”

As I watched my husband rebuild our own small losses, or in the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter where I witnessed the grief, the intermittent humor and hope, of those who’d lost everything—Ed’s words, committed to memory years ago, were those I’ve repeated in my mind’s ear for solace. I hope that this amazing collection of poems held dear by so many Houstonians will serve as a testament to and celebration of the vibrant presence of poetry in our great city—and will offer its readers, as Ed’s work so often offers me, the experience of poems as beloved human voices, companion spirits, at our sides when we need them, leading us into light.

I hope that this amazing collection of poems held dear by so many Houstonians will serve as a testament to and celebration of the vibrant presence of poetry in our great city—and will offer its readers, as Ed’s work so often offers me, the experience of poems as beloved human voices, companion spirits, at our sides when we need them, leading us into light.

A big thanks to Robin Davidson for taking the time to chat with us about the project. For more information about tonight’s celebration click here.

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Flash Fiction expert shares tips about the genre with Houston writers https://anopenbookblog.org/flash-fiction-expert-shares-tips-about-the-genre-with-houston-writers/ https://anopenbookblog.org/flash-fiction-expert-shares-tips-about-the-genre-with-houston-writers/#respond Tue, 02 Jan 2018 22:59:23 +0000 http://anopenbookblog.org/?p=2330 Continue reading ]]> This January Inprint continues offering a section in Flash Fiction as part of its popular Inprint Writers Workshops offerings, taught by Inprint Fellow (and PhD candidate at the University of Houston) Kaj Tanaka.

Kaj is extensively published, and a number of his pieces are examples of what is often called “flash fiction,” though you may also see (very) short fiction called “nano,” “quick,” “micro,” or hilariously, “sudden.” Flash fiction is generally shorter than 2,000 words, though there are specific forms. For instance, Hemingway made the six-word story famous with “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” Some writers now compose on twitter (“twitfic”) in the 140-character length, and there are dedicated online magazines to variations of the flash form – see Flash Fiction Online and 100 Word Story, among others, or even the Flash Friday features on the Tin House site.

The form is far from new. The Hemingway piece is famous, but so are stories from writers like Robert Coover, Amy Hempel, George Saunders, and almost any piece from Joy Williams’ most recent release, Ninety-nine Stories of God.

There are a number of advantages to writing flash fiction, not least of which is the basic rule-of-thumb in placing new work – the less space it requires, the easier it (generally) is to find your work a home. Also, since the pieces are shorter, Kaj’s flash fiction workshop will focus in part on helping writers generate new work.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kaj to get his perspective on the form and his upcoming workshop.

CHARLOTTE WYATT: What do you love about Flash Fiction? What made you decide to teach it?

KAJ TANAKA: Flash fiction is the Wild West right now. It’s an open frontier. It’s a genre that’s so young, no one knows the rules yet. We are all making it up as we go along. This means that writers from all backgrounds and styles can try their hand at flash and leave a mark. When I write flash fiction, I only have two rules for myself: 1) amaze your reader with every sentence and 2) keep it short.

Teaching flash fiction is amazing because writers tend to show their true colors when they write flash. There’s no room for anything but the essential, and I think a writer’s flash fiction says a lot about who they are and what they value most, both in subject and style.

CHARLOTTE: What are some examples of Flash Fiction you are excited about, or authors you would recommend to readers?

KAJ: I don’t know if reading one or two writers can provide a full sense of the genre—it’s simply too diverse. I wouldn’t even say there are “essential” or “celebrity” flash fiction writers yet–though a few are emerging. This is just another thing to love about the genre. The doors are open, and there’s no established hierarchy.

I’d say, if you’re trying to learn what flash fiction is all about, check out the most recent Best Small Fictions Anthology and Wigleaf’s annual Top 50 Best (very) Short Fictions list. That’s where all the best flash fiction writers eventually end up.

CHARLOTTE: What do you foresee doing in your first workshop meeting?

KAJ: I want to make sure all of us (myself included) write and share a flash story during the first workshop. I prefer to get to know my students through their writing—plus, I don’t think there’s anything more liberating than writing a complete story in a few minutes. I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to experience that feeling.

Writing new material is going to be a priority because I want to make sure my students leave the class with a large quantity of work and an idea of where they can send it for publication.

————–

A few spaces are still open in the eight-week Winter 2018 Inprint Writers Workshop in Flash Fiction taught by Kaj Tanaka and beginning on Wednesday, January 17. Learn more here!

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