One-on-One with Visiting Writer Susan Briante

December 8, 2016, by

DSC_8740-EditLast month, Susan Briante visited Houston as featured guest of the Gulf Coast Reading Series. Her most recent book, The Market Wonders (Ahsahta Press), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. She is also the author of the poetry collections Pioneers in the Study of Motion and Utopia Minus (an Academy of American Poets Notable Book of 2011). A translator, she lived in Mexico City from 1992-1997 and worked for the magazines Artes de México and Mandorla. Briante has received grants and awards from the Atlantic Monthly, the MacDowell Colony, the Academy of American Poets, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fundand the US-Mexico Fund for Culture. She is an associate professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Arizona. Read on for our exclusive interview following her visit.

  1. Your new collection of poems, The Market Wonders, personifies the economic structure we live by and philosophizes its existence. Can you talk a little bit about how the concept for the book was born and why you felt compelled to write it?

As the financial crisis began to take hold, the endless crisis from which many of us have never felt relief, I began to notice the dissonance between how that crisis was reported and how it was experienced. Stock market indices are described as if they were the most important measures of our national health. That’s not necessary. The way we prioritize the strength of our financial markets over everything else is dangerous to the values of this country.

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Rabih Alameddine & Juan Gabriel Vásquez talk about fiction teaching empathy and guarding our memories

December 6, 2016, by

Rabih at podiumOn November 21st, the Alley Theatre was already decked for the holidays. A grove of themed trees in the lobby welcomed the Inprint Margaret Root Brown Reading Series for the final performance of the year. Inside, Rabih Alameddine and Juan Gabriel Vásquez read from their novels on the dormant set of A Christmas Carol, and artificial flurries escaped from their rigging throughout.

Though the theater looked towards Christmas, both Alameddine and Vásquez spoke towards the gratitude and displacement so many of us experience on the Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not we return home or reconnect with loved ones. Their words were melancholy and reflective. Alameddine’s The Angel of History spoke of loneliness and makeshift family; the narrator tells his lost love, “you left me roofless in a downpour.” Vásquez prefaced his reading by explaining the words he would read were not his own, and while he thanked his translator, compared the experience to reading someone else’s work. Continue reading

Poetry students experience the thrill of writing poems for the public

November 22, 2016, by

Upright IMG_7475One of Inprint’s most innovative and highly popular programs is the Inprint Poetry Buskers program. A collective of talented local writers and graduate students and alumni from the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, the Inprint Poetry Buskers write free poems on requested themes for attendees at festivals and special events throughout the city. The program demystifies poetry for the public and makes it more accessible, in a joyous and interactive way. Poet, Inprint blogger, and University of Houston Creative Writing Program graduate student Erika Jo Brown helped her undergraduate students appreciate the power of serving as an Inprint Poetry Busker.

A few weeks ago, intrepid students in my Introduction to Creative Writing Poetry class at the University of Houston felt the thrill and caliber of being an Inprint Poetry Busker at the Red Block Bash, coordinated by the Blaffer Student Association. They busily worked while emcees freestyled and drawing students sketched caricatures in the arts district courtyard.

These are their stories:

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Spotlight on Alexandra Naumann–UH Creative Writing Program Student

November 9, 2016, by

DSC_8596-EditInprint Edgar M. Larsen Fellowship recipient Alexandra Naumann is a fiction writer of Lebanese-Mexican descent. She’s in year two of the MFA program at University of Houston Creative Writing Program (UH CWP), where she’s a nonfiction editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. She’ll be reading for the Gulf Coast Reading Series this Friday at Rudyard’s at 7 pm, along with featured poet Susan Briante and fellow UHCWP writers Sam Dinger and Nathan Stabenfeldt. We thought we’d ask her about who and what inspires her writing, the experience of sharing her work aloud, and returning to her hometown of Houston.

MELANIE BRKICH: You read for the Poison Pen Reading Series last week and now Gulf Coast coming up this week. How has that experience been, doing two readings almost back to back?

ALEX NAUMANN: Fun. A gift! I feel so grateful to be a part of a community where folks listen and share work, but I also feel nervous. Reading work aloud is like singing in someone’s ear. It’s intimate.

Reading work aloud is like singing in someone’s ear. It’s intimate.

MB: How do you prepare for readings?

AN: Step One: Panic. Step Two: Find pages that feel fraught or stunning or that contain the most tender, love-worn, raw/bleeding spots (narrative wounds!). It seems helpful, too, for reading fiction to find some narrative parcel that can be lifted from its larger context and still retain meaning, if that makes sense?

MB: Absolutely. What sort of projects are you currently working on? Are there certain themes/subjects that show up often in your work?

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Donald Barthelme’s Snow White comes to the stage

November 8, 2016, by

Snow White for eblast image004While most of us will focus on electoral theatrics until late Tuesday, The Catastrophic Theatre, Inprint, and Brazos Bookstore will be there to raise the curtains, come what may, on Wednesday night.

In partnership with Inprint and Brazos Bookstore, Catastrophic Theatre will give a staged reading of Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White this Wednesday, November 9th at 7:00 pm. The performance will take place at Brazos Bookstore, and is free and open to the public. Join us if you can, and stay tuned—this is only a preview of the complete adaptation set to run next year!

The full production will open in early April to honor Donald Barthelme, who played a key role in establishing Houston as a vital center for the literary arts. Inprint Executive Director Rich Levy recalled the piece as read by the Alley Theatre actors, which he described as “brilliant and funny and irreverent [..].” He felt a full adaptation would be an ideal way to bring the author’s fans together, and “Luckily,” he told us, “Katharine Barthelme [Barthelme’s daughter] and Greg Dean (of Catastrophic) were equally thrilled!” Continue reading

Aja Gabel, UH Creative Writing Program alum, sells first novel to Riverhead Books

October 24, 2016, by

Aja GabelAja Gabel, University of Houston Creative Program PhD, Class of 2015, has sold her first novel, In Common Time, to Riverhead Books, where it will be published next year. We caught up with Aja in the calm before the storm of her literary debut. Some of you may know Aja as the recipient of the Inprint C. Glenn Cambor/Fondren Foundaiton Fellowship, winner of an Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Nonfiction, and winner of an Inprint Alexander Prize in Fiction. Aja also taught writing workshops for Inprint and was one of Inprint’s beloved live tweeters.

MAT JOHNSON: Congrats on placing you first book with the prestigious Riverhead imprint of Penguin Random House! Can you tell me, what’s the novel about? Did you start this book at the writing program, or after?

AJA GABEL: Thanks! The novel is about a string quartet, and how they manage their personal relationships as they battle for professional success. Each member desperately needs the quartet to succeed, but for very different and secret reasons, and along the way they navigate heartbreak, death, birth, marriage, injury, failure, and more. It’s told from all four of their perspectives and covers about 25 years. I played cello for 20 years, and I’ve always been fascinated as to how professional ensembles make a living together while also maintaining relationships with each other. It seems like it must be full of all kinds of turmoil and drama (hence, the novel).

I came up with the idea in the very first workshop I took with Chitra Divakaruni, when she forced us to pitch novels, and I panicked. That synopsis I pitched back then was so silly, but the general idea stayed with me. It took me a few years, but eventually I figured out how to actually make it into a novel that didn’t sound like a Lifetime movie. Hopefully.  Continue reading

Lauren Groff & Ann Patchett charm audiences at Inprint reading

October 21, 2016, by

RM3_3546Last Monday night, the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series brought award-winning writers Lauren Groff and Ann Patchett to the Alley Theatre. Trying to find a seat in the sold-out crowd, I ran into a friend from my graduate program. We fell into a sudden and deep discussion about marriage, and what it means when only one rather than both members of a couple are able to pursue the career of their choice. How can you decide whose vocation will shape a family’s life?

RM3_3593Both of the featured novels that night, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, concern the consequences of marriage, either maintained or dissolved, and the discussion that followed revealed the depth with which both writers have entertained questions similar to our own.

Groff introduced her reading by describing the composition of Fates and Furies, which examines a marriage from husband Lotto’s perspective before we hear from his wife Mathilde. As moments and phrases leapt to mind, Groff says she darted from her desk to record them on butcher paper hung from the wall, one for each character. Her startling language and sharp sense of the absurd was a perfect complement to Ann Patchett’s reading, which featured a large cast of Benadryl-tripping, gin-stealing, gun-toting kids whose families have been recombined by their parents’ changed relationships. In her selected passage, they mistake their longing to spend summer at a nearby lake as the source of their dislocation and sorrow. Continue reading

Monster Manuscripts

October 19, 2016, by

Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31I asked several local literary tastemakers for their recommendations of spooky stories and haunting poems, inspired by this month’s Halloween celebration. After all, is there really a way to know that the person in the Ken Bone costume at your next party is not the man himself?

The next time you’d like to get your mind off the horror of this election season, consider grabbing a copy of work by Angela Carter (like “The Bloody Chamber”), Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson (“The Witch,” “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, the Ripliad), Helen Oyeyemi (White is for Witching), Edgar Allen Poe, or any of the below:

Robin Davidson, Houston Poet Laureate

The first story that comes to mind for me is William Butler Yeats’ piece “Red Hanrahan,” a story of Samhain Eve (Gaelic for what we call Hallowe’en but is the evening prior to the Celtic New Year, November 1, when the doors to the other world are open and spirits are said to be a’travellin’) in his collection of Irish/Gaelic folklore called Mythologies. I’ve used the story often with my students as a creative writing prompt at Halloween… Continue reading

Houston writer Jennifer Staff Johnson gives first public reading

October 12, 2016, by

Jennifer Staff Johnson.689f418bce3e5f33635012ea502526aa21The Gulf Coast Journal’s Reading Series presents writers from the University of Houston’s nationally acclaimed Creative Writing Program, as well as renowned writers whose work has appeared in the magazine. This Friday, the Series presents Lisa Olstein, Henk Rossouw, Corey Campbell, and Jennifer Staff Johnson at Rudyard’s Pub in Montrose. Reading starts at 7 pm.

This week marks the very first public reading for Jennifer, who is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction at UH. She sat down with Inprint blogger Charlotte Wyatt to discuss her work and how Houston has shaped her writing.

CHARLOTTE: This is your first — okay, alright, second reading ever, but your first reading was Wednesday night as part of the Poetry & Prose series through UH. How did you choose what pieces to read this week? How did you prepare? Continue reading

Failure to Identify and Tintero Readings came together to present Rodrigo Toscano & Charles Alexander

October 10, 2016, by

UprightIMG_7239On one of the first cool nights of Houston’s autumn, September 27, Rodrigo Toscano flew in from New Orleans and Charles Alexander came from Victoria, Texas to deliver their singular and meditative poetry at Kaboom Books. They were brought together by a partnership between Failure to Identify and Tintero Readings.

Failure to Identify bills itself as an “Occasional, Itinerant, Sporadic, Vagabond, Versatile, Irregular, Incidental, Intermittent, Roundabout, Accidental, Stray, Raro, Combustible series of arts & writing events.” Tintero Readings is the events arm of Tintero Projects, run by married couple Lupe and Jasminne Mendez, which “aims to promote writing and reading opportunities for emerging Latinx poets and writers in the Houston” and beyond.

Toscano works for the Labor Institute, “a non-profit organization that provides labor unions and community groups with education on health and safety”—and this has inspired his work, which recalls Muriel Rukeyser in its activist intentions. He read from his newest book Explosion Rocks Springfield, inspired by an “actual event in Springfield, MA,” in which a gas leak combusted “almost four square blocks of property,” including a daycare, where the kids were fortuitously on a school trip, and a strip club, which was evacuated in the nick of time by a quick-thinking manager.  Continue reading