The 2021 Inprint Poets & Writers Ball celebrates Houston’s literary spirit with George Saunders and others

February 25, 2021, by

Although writing and reading are solitary and quiet acts, the 2021 Inprint Poets & Writers Ball—Inprint’s annual fundraising gala which went virtual this year—was a festive, engaging, collective, and inclusive experience, especially for those passionate about sustaining Houston’s literary arts scene. More than $280,000 was raised, surpassing the fundraising goal by close to 20%, thanks to the generosity of 250 donors who tuned in from all over the country on Saturday, February 6.

Raising funds to support Inprint programs, while delivering a memorable and high-quality evening that celebrates the power of creative writing and reading, has always been at the heart of the unique annual black-tie event and what has made the Inprint Ball a favorite gala for many patrons. Although the Inprint Ball looked a little different this year, gala supporters and their guests were able to enjoy the festivities from home.

The presentation portion of the evening began at 7:30 pm CST featuring welcome remarks by Inprint Board President Marcia West, followed by a video tribute in memory of recently departed Inprint founders Glenn Cambor and Karl Kilian. This was followed by what is often a beloved part of the evening for many attendees—a series of short readings by Inprint fellowship and prize recipients, all of whom are MFA and PhD students and alumni from the University of Houston. Five Inprint fellows, including Raquel Abend van Dalen, Lauren Berry, Matthew Salesses, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and Sasha West, each read excerpts from their new work and spoke about how Inprint’s support has impacted their writing life.

As a special treat, gala attendees then had the opportunity to enjoy brief remarks from Inprint National Advisory Council members Sandra Cisneros, Richard Ford, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Salman Rushdie, who each spoke eloquently about their own connection to Inprint and the importance of supporting the organization.

Executive Director Rich Levy followed by introducing MacArthur Fellow and Booker Prize winner George Saunders, the featured speaker of the gala. Saunders, also a member of the Inprint National Advisory Council, gave a moving talk about the role of storytelling in cultivating compassion and how Inprint’s work is doing that in a variety of ways in Houston. Afterwards, Saunders participated in a lively conversation with Ricardo Nuila—Inprint Advisory Board member, Baylor College of Medicine physician and hospitalist, and director of the Baylor Narrative Medicine Program. Saunders and Nuila also touched on some of the themes in Saunders’ new book A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. Nuila had been a salon reader during the 2020 Inprint Poets & Writers Ball and guests were thrilled by his participation again this year. Many also enjoyed the music provided by renowned Houston guitarist Edward Grigassy and his ensemble Latin Carnival.

In addition to the presentation portion of the gala, the Inprint staff arranged private Zoom salon sessions for six tables with visits from George Saunders and Inprint fellowship and prize recipients. Several guests also opted to enjoy a three-course dinner and wine catered by A Fare Extraordinaire, included with each seat and table level contribution. Most dinners were picked up curbside on Saturday afternoon at The Revaire.

As a thank you gift, all attendees received a signed, limited edition chapbook of George Saunders’ I CAN SPEAK!™ created by Fiona McGettigan and Alan Krathaus of CORE Design Studio. Others also received a copy of Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain.

Donors and guests responded to the evening very enthusiastically.

The program was interesting, amusing, compelling and deeply moving.

The virtual gala was brilliantly executed, but the big takeaway was the mission. That came through loud and clear.

Congratulations to everyone involved, especially the Inprint staff, on last’s night’s triumph…. It was wonderful just how inclusive our program is. Thank you Inprint for all that you do for our community. We look forward to celebrating in person next year.

A special thank you to lead 2021 Inprint Poets & Writers Ball donors: Chinhui and Eddie Allen; Nancy Allen; Anne and Albert Chao; Liz and Steve Crowell; Mary S. and Jack Dawson; Susie and Joe Dilg; Randi Faust and Carl Herman; Edward and Helen Oppenheimer Foundation; Caroline Kerr and Andy Lusk, Sabria and Kevin Lewis; Franci Neely; Sidley Austin LLP; Phoebe and Bobby Tudor; Michelle and Rishi Varma; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Marcia West and Ron Lewis; and Nina and Michael Zilkha.

Proceeds from the Inprint Poets & Writers Ball make possible a wide range of literary performance programs, community writing workshops, and fellowships and prizes for creative writing students, all of which have continued virtually during the Covid-19 pandemic and serve thousands annually.

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