Literature

10 Things To Know about Inprint And Its 2018-19 Season

A profile of the Houston literary organization’s programs, reading series, and daily life in ten questions

Rich Levy remembers joining Inprint in 1995 as Executive Director.

“It was me and a part-time person … our budget was less than 1/6 what it is now, and we’ve added so many new programs over the years, in response to the reading and writing community in Houston.”

Levy and Krupa Parikh, Communications and Community Relations Director, both have personally been a part of programing the organization’s flagship program – the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series – for about the past 20 years.

Now in its 38th season, that series is an annual showcase of the world’s leading writers presented in Houston performance venues, where they read from and talk about their work, are interviewed on-stage, and meet audience members during a book signing afterwards.

Parikh, who also produces the podcast, Ink Well, joined Inprint in 1998, and says that what she loves most about her job is “the people,” including colleagues, Houstonians who come to readings, educators with whom they collaborate, writers who participate in workshops, and supporters.

“We all share a collective passion for reading and writing. And that is what is so exciting about helping bring great writers to Houston, the way these readings touch the lives of so many people.”     

Rich Levy and Krupa Parikh answer ten questions about Inprint and its 2018-19 season below.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri was featured on the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series on January 29, 2018 at UH Cullen Hall

1. What do you look for when you curate the series each season? Also, do you program with a “Houston” audience in mind, in considering the writers and themes that would be appeal to this community?

Krupa: The Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series is national and international in scope, and we are very proud of this because Houston is an international city. We think it is important to have a series that speaks to that diversity, and we strive to create a series that feels inclusive to Houstonians.

Rich: When we curate the series we are always trying to present top literary authors – fiction writers, poets, and creative nonfiction writers. We want to make sure we have authors from a diversity of backgrounds, and we want to make sure there is a good balance of men and women in the season.

Krupa: We also like to have some blockbuster authors that are perhaps more well-known among readers, as well as a few writers each year that may not be as well-known but are destined to be big in the literary world.

Rich: In addition to the authors reading from their work, there is an on-stage interview with a local writer, scholar, or artist. This helps give the readings a local connection. Our on-stage interviewers this season include Robin Davidson, Andrea White, Robert Cremins, Rick Lowe, Daniel Peña, Jasminne Mendez, and Chitra Divakaruni, all well-known Houstonians in the arts and literary scene.

Man Booker Prize finalist Esi Edugyan will read from her new novel, “Washington Black” on September 24, 2018 at University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall

2. You’re opening the 2018-19 season on September 24th with novelists Esi Edugyan and Meg Wolitzer. Can you tell us a little bit about them, as well as what you personally find exciting about their latest novels, from which they’ll be reading?

Krupa: It feels that we are presenting Esi Edugyan, a Canadian writer of Ghanaian descent, at the very moment when she is beginning to reach a much larger audience through her brilliant new novel (her third novel), Washington Black. The book, set in the 1830s in Barbados on a sugar plantation, follows the journey of an 11-year-old field slave, George Washington Black, as he transits, through a mix of cruelty, compassion, and the world of science, to freedom – but at a cost. The reviews have been stunning, including the recent front page of The New York Times Book Review, and Edugyan was just named a Man Booker Prize finalist. And although historic, this novel highlights many of the issues surrounding race that we continue to grapple with today.

Rich: Meg Wolitzer will be reading from her 12th novel, The Female Persuasion, which is an engrossing and timely novel. Many of Wolitzer’s novels have become New York Times bestsellers, and this one is no different. It was one of the most anticipated novels of 2018 by Time, New York Magazine, and other major publications. The New York Times describes it as “uncannily timely, a prescient marriage of subject and moment that addresses a great question of the day: how feminism passes down, or not, from one generation to the next.” It will be wonderful to see these two terrific writers on stage together. After the reading, they will join former Houston Poet Laureate/UH Downtown faculty member Robin Davidson, who is incredibly thoughtful and will lead the two in what promises to be a fascinating conversation.

Bestselling author Meg Wolitzer will read from “The Female Persuasion” on September 24, 2018 at University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall

3. If you don’t mind my asking, how have you kept ticket prices at a minimum of $5 for nearly 40 years?

Krupa: Thank you for acknowledging this and asking about this. It is something we are very committed to doing and work hard to maintain. The actual cost to the organization for each reading is much, much higher than $5, but thanks to our very generous underwriters at The Brown Foundation, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts, we have been able to keep ticket prices very low and provide free rush tickets for students and senior citizens.

Rich: It’s an important way to ensure access, from across the community, and this leaves money in our patrons’ pockets to buy books! Always important to publishers.

 

4. Recently a GQ Magazine article called Houston the “New Capital of Southern Cool,” and touched on its food scene, arts scene, and music scene.  How would you describe Houston’s literary scene? Do you think it’s also at the “cool” forefront?

Rich: I think it’s safe to say that Houston’s literary scene is as rich, lively, and diverse as any in the country – and we are enormously proud of that. Several members of our staff have been working in this vineyard for two decades or more, attracting some of the nation’s top writers to Houston (through our fellowships and prizes at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program – more than $4 million since 1983), providing vital workshops and venues for local writers of all ages and backgrounds (including K-12 teachers, senior citizens, veterans, healthcare providers, and of course aspiring writers), while also presenting some of the world’s great writers for adults and children, and keeping it all accessible and diverse. We think that’s very cool.

Celebrated Mexican author & “Los Angeles Times” Book Prize winner Valeria Luiselli will read on February 26, 2019 at Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall

5. Who are some of the other acclaimed writers and new voices appearing later this season, and what kinds of themes do they tackle?

Rich: There is so much new exciting work, from writers who rarely if ever come to Houston. Barbara Kingsolver will be here next month with her new novel, Unsheltered, that documents life in the U.S. in uncertain times, both now and 150 years ago; Jonathan Lethem has a new novel, The Feral Detective, that is an edgy, funny, and utterly contemporary take on the genre; Claudia Rankine will present her acclaimed poetry and discuss her new play, The White Card, much of which confronts issues of race and privilege; Tommy Orange is reading from his brilliant, heartbreaking, intense debut novel, There There, about urban Native American life in contemporary Oakland; Valeria Luiselli is presenting her first novel in English, Lost Children Archive, about a family’s road trip across the United States and tackles issues of justice and inequality.

Krupa: Poet Carmen Giménez Smith’s latest poetry collection, Cruel Futures, has been described as a “Latina feminist State of the Union address.” We are excited to feature a Houston-based internationally renowned Palestinian poet/translator/physician, Fady Joudah, who will share his latest poetry collection, Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance. Tayari Jones’ latest novel, An American Marriage, focuses on an African American couple and what happens to them when the husband is wrongly incarcerated. Richard Powers’ recent novel, The Overstory, which was just shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, spans decades and has “talking” trees and a diverse cast of characters, touching on themes of the environment and other social issues.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Jonathan Lethem will read on November 12, 2018 at University of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall.

6. Inprint’s Margarett Root Brown Reading Series is called “one of the premier reading series in the nation.” How unique is it in the U.S.?

Rich: One of the things that makes our literary series unique is that it focuses exclusively on fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction – more than 370 writers since 1980, from 35 countries, including winners of nine Nobel Prizes, 62 Pulitzer Prizes, 56 National Book Awards, 48 National Book Critics Circle Awards, and 15 Man Booker Prizes, as well as 19 U.S. Poets Laureate. We do not feature historians, social science writers, research-based authors. We focus on the craft of creative writing.

Krupa: The other thing that is unique, in comparison to series of similar caliber in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, is really the price. We prioritize accessibility in our series, and to see these same authors in other cities would cost you $20, $30, even $40.

 

7. The Margarett Root Brown Series is your primary reading series, but you also offer other community programs. Can you tell us a bit about the Cool Brains! Series for young readers? And you provide workshops and buskers! How can people get a poem written spontaneously by a poetry busker?

Krupa: We started the free Inprint Cool Brains! Series about 10 years ago, and it is a real delight. Each year, we conduct three to four readings on Sunday afternoons at Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School. We just had a great reading, featuring Girl Scouts CEO and former NASA rocket scientist Sylvia Acevedo, who recently published a memoir for middle-grade readers entitled Path to the Stars. She was such an inspiring speaker, and we had close to 600 kids and parents in attendance. On November 4, we will present kids lit rock star, Jason Reynolds, who will be reading from his new book, Lu (#4 in the beloved Track series). We give away at least 100 books to families at each reading and also provide bus scholarships to these events for school groups from across the Houston metro region, all thanks to the support of HEB.

Rich: Helping Houstonians become better writers and better able to share their stories in writing is core to Inprint’s mission. We conduct a variety of workshops at our office for the general public, as well as tuition-free workshops across the Houston community for K-12 school teachers, senior citizens, veterans, the incarcerated, healthcare employees, and more.

Krupa: And Inprint Poetry Buskers – yes! The Inprint Poetry Buskers bring the joy of poetry to festivals and public events each year. This troupe of traveling poets, composed primarily of grad students and alumni from the UH Creative Writing Program, write poems on topics chosen by the recipient – on the spot and free of charge, sharing the magic and accessibility of poetry one-on-one with patrons of all ages at events across the greater Houston region.

 

8. Your events take place at venues around the city, but where is your office located? It must be brimming with creativity! I imagine people drinking coffee and reading books all day.

Rich: We wish! We are very lucky that our offices are located in the heart of the Menil campus, on the same street as Writers In The Schools, in the same neighborhood as Da Camera and the Rothko Chapel, and a block from The Menil Collection. We are in an old house that has been renovated by the Menil Foundation. Thanks to Houston author Caroline Leech, we now have a bright orange Little Library on our front lawn. It is wonderful to be in this neighborhood, and it does feel like a privilege to be around these great Houston arts institutions.

Krupa: I wish I could say we were drinking coffee all the time and reading books, that would be so fun! Most of the time we, the staff, have our head down finishing reports, planning events, working on logistics, etc. Once a week, on Friday mornings, we open the downstairs of our office space for what is called the Inprint Writing Café, a free quiet place for writers to come and do some writing. It is sweet to walk in to the office on Friday mornings and see writers working diligently on their prose. Our many workshops also take place at Inprint House, and it is great to see aspiring writers from all parts of the city come and gather in our space to write. We also have other groups, like First Fridays and Tintero Readings & Workshops, who use Inprint House to conduct events. So yes, the house is always brimming with creative energy, and that is so inspiring to see.

 

9. What is one of the most memorable moments that happened during a reading? Most unusual or funniest moment?

Krupa: There have been so many memorable moments, it is hard to pinpoint just one. That is the great thing about Inprint readings, you never know what may happen on-stage. George Saunders’ choral reading, along with five Alley Theatre actors, of Lincoln in the Bardo was amazing. Poet Kim Addonizio, when giving a reading with poet Terrance Hayes, played the harmonica in between reading poems in the lobby of the Menil Collection, which was quite beautiful. In November 2013, with Alley Theatre’s A Christmas Carol as the background stage set, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Irish writer Colum McCann broke into song as part of the on-stage interview conducted by South Asian writer Chitra Divakaruni, which was a funny and awesome scene, very memorable.

Rich: And of course we hosted Salman Rushdie on his first book tour after the fatwa had been declared – which was on 9/10/2001, the night before 9/11. That’s a whole other story.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen signs books following his Inprint reading on November 13, 2017 at Rice’s Stude Concert Hall

10. Reading a novel or poem that you connect with, and that moves you, is such a magical experience, in and of itself. What do people get out of coming to hear the author read their own work?  What kind of experience does Inprint hope each reading brings to its audiences?

Krupa: This is so true, it is a magical experience, that is the best way to describe it. Reading a book, a book you love, is a very intimate experience. It is in your head, you spend hours with the book, and if it is a great book, it can move you and get under your skin. By coming to a reading, you get to make that private experience a collective one, an experience that connects you to a community. By hearing the author read his or her own work and by hearing him or her talk about the work, we hope people leave the readings with a deeper and shared understanding of the content, an appreciation for the process of writing, and sometimes even a new lens through which to experience the written text.

Rich: Also, there is something very gratifying about seeing your favorite author on-stage, in your own city, coming to Houston to engage with Houston audiences. It brings you closer to the work of the author. And for those writers and books you are unfamiliar with, it exposes you to a whole new world. We hope audiences feel this way by coming to the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.

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Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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