Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Above: Houston's Poison Pen monthly reading series features nationally know authors with Houston ties.
TOP 10 TEXAS BOOKISH DESTINATIONS 2016
Houston lays claim to the earliest literary contribution about Texas. After running aground near Galveston Island in 1528, Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions wandered more than 2,400 miles of the region that would centuries later become Texas. He published the account of his travels in 1542 as the Relación, the first literary work with Texas as its subject.
These days, more than two dozen bookstores don the Houston literary landscape. We count more than twenty-five new, used, independent, chain, and specialty stores in Houston proper, not to mention destination-worthy stores in nearby locales such as Conroe, Galveston, Spring, and the Woodlands. Houston’s Brazos Bookstore, Blue Willow Books, Murder by the Book, River Oaks Bookstore, and Kaboom! Bookstore, in addition to a dozen Barnes & Noble, Mardel, and Half Price Books outlets, are among those regularly featuring touring and local authors for readings and signings.
But bookstores are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to Houston’s cool literary scene.
Inprint Houston, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring readers and writers, fulfills its mission through the nationally renowned Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, the Cool Brains! Reading Series for Young People, literary and educational activities in the community that demonstrate the value and impact of creative writing, and support for the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
Writespace is Houston's newest writing center. Founded in April 2014 as a grassroots literary arts organization created by writers, for writers, Writespace supports writers of all genres, including literary fiction, poetry, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and young adult. Through their weekly writing workshops led by some of Houston's finest writing teachers, Writespace seeks to give writers who can't afford to earn an MFA in creative writing the same high-quality training and mentorship opportunities available through MFA programs.
Writespace held its first literary festival, Writefest, February 22-28, 2016, in Silver Street Studios. The festival included four-day writers’ workshops, panels, presentations, and a literary journal fair featuring McSweeney's, Nano Fiction, Gulf Coast, and more. As well as hosting its first literary festival and regular weekly workshops, Writespace offers manuscript consultations, write-ins, readings and open mics, and classes and private lessons for young writers.
Lone Star College will host the Lone Star Book Festival, a two-day event featuring nationally and internationally known fiction and non-fiction authors, April 8 and 9, 2016. The festival will be held at the LSC-Kingwood campus, about twelve miles from Houston’s city limits. Former Houston Astros manager Larry Dierker will be the luncheon keynote speaker and Former Houston Oilers QB Dan Pastorini, author of Taking Flak: My Life in the Fast Lane is featured on a panel. More than 125 authors in almost every genre will appear at one of the largest book festivals for the Houston area ever.
The city sibling rivalry between Dallas and Houston has been around, well, for about as long as when Cabeza de Vaca washed up on the Gulf Coast shore and headed inland. In fact, one book titled Bragging Rights by Houston author John DeMers and Dallas author Carolyn Kneese, published by Houston’s Bright Sky Press, showcases their civic one-upmanship. DeMers is also known to make mischief as a mystery novelist, cookbook author, and radio host. Other influential book publishers, including Arte Público Press, John M. Hardy Publishing, and Mutabilis Press, are based in Houston.
Speaking of the gulf coast. . . begun by Donald Barthelme and Phillip Lopate, Gulf Coast is the nationally distributed journal housed within the University of Houston's English Department, home to one of the U.S.'s top ranked creative writing programs. The journal spent its nascent years (1982–85) as Domestic Crude, a name that nodded to the major industry of the Houston area. It was a 64-page (magazine-formatted) student-run publication, with editorial advising coming from Lopate, who also contributed work to the first issues.
In 1986, the name Gulf Coast premiered. It stuck. After some experimenting, the journal found its dimensions and, eventually, its audience. The journal has since moved beyond the student body of the University of Houston and into the larger world. The readership of the print journal currently exceeds 3,000, with more and more coming to its ever-expanding website. The print journal comes out each April and October.
Located in Houston’s vibrant North Montrose District, the Museum of Printing History was founded in 1979 by Raoul Beasley, Vernon P. Hearn, Don Piercy, and J. V. Burnham, four printers with passions for preserving their vast collections and sharing them with the community. The museum was chartered in 1981 and had its official opening in 1982 with Dr. Hans Halaby, director of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, cutting the ribbon. In 2012, the Museum rebranded as The Printing Museum.
The lion of the Lone Star Literary scene, venerable Larry McMurtry, has written more than one ode to the influence of Rice University and Houston upon his work, and the Space City has also skyrocketed a multitude of authors onto the national stage. Houston writers include Laura Furman, Thomas Thompson, Attica Locke, Chris Candor, Kimberly Meyer, Antonya Nelson, poet Sarah Cortez, Donald Barthelme, Sr., Thomas McNeely, Mat Johnson, Katherine Center, and Ashley Hope Perez, among others.
In 1981 McMurtry famously wrote the controversial essay, “Ever a Bridegroom: Reflections on the Failure of Texas Writing,” faulting Texas authors for having ignored the life of the cities. McMurtry has set three novels in his beloved Houston, Texas’s largest city.
The Blind Bull (1952) by Rice creative writing professor and program founder George Williams won first prize from the Texas Institute of Letters and seemed to kick off the legacy of letters in Houston. Some of the more notable students Williams helped influence include David Westheimer, William Goyen, Larry McMurtry, John Graves, James P. Miller, and James Korges.
Public Poetry is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expose people to good poetry and to promote this art form by taking poetry public. Public Poetry collaborates with community partners such as the City of Houston/Houston Public Library, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Menil Collection, and Writers in the Schools/WITS to promote poetry in public venues and to present award winning poets to diverse audiences. Other collaborative partners include UH-Downtown, News 88.7 KUHF & Classical 91.7 KUHA, Mutabilis Press, and Houston Media Source. Public Poetry originates groundbreaking programs that introduce a roster of award winning poets to audiences citywide, free of charge. Since launching in April 2011, Public Poetry has been in 17 different venues, from inside the loop to beyond the beltway, organized 53 free poetry events, with over 130 poets participating, including a US poet laureate, 4 Texas state poets laureate and 2 Pulitzer Prize nominees together with local, regional, and several national poets.
Gulf Coast Reads: On the Same Page is an annual regional reading initiative focused on promoting the simultaneous reading or listening to a selected title by those living along the upper Texas Gulf Coast. Each year a representative committee of librarians from the area selects a book that has a broad appeal to adults in their communities, is recognized in authoritative and professional journals, is available in multiple formats from print to downloadable content, and preferably, is available in multiple languages. The title should also lend itself to related programming about the themes or subjects within.
The reading initiative’s goal is to encourage communities to read the same title during the month of October in order to encourage readers to come together in discussions about it with neighbors, co-workers, friends, and their families, as well as in classrooms and in libraries throughout the region. Last year’s Gulf Coast Reads selection was The Promise by Ann Weisgarber.
Above: The University of Houston's creative writing program is nationally ranked.
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