Houston Poet Laureate Outspoken Bean rounds out his tenure with projects that honor Black history and stories of Houstonians

Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean / Photo courtesy of the artist

Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean is a poet and more.  He is a poetic “producer of experiences,” as he calls it – from his artistry as a champion slam poet to his roles as festival producer, creator of Five-Minute Poems (in which he creates custom poems on-the-spot), collaborator with Houston Ballet, and mentor to the next generation of performance poets by coaching the Meta-Four Houston Youth Poetry Slam Team.

Since April 2021, Outspoken Bean has served as Houston’s Fifth Poet Laureate, a cultural ambassador position that aims to foster appreciation of poetry and expression through words among Houston residents. The role was created by former Houston Mayor Annise Parker in 2013 and is coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Houston Public Library.

A performance by Outspoken Bean in response to Ganzeer’s “It Takes A Village,” an installation at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts, June 2020 / Produced by Brandon Martin, Rice University

Houston has one of the longest-running poet laureate programs among the five largest cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix). Chicago will inaugurate a Poet Laureate this year, while New York City does not have a Poet Laureate for the city as a whole – though four of its five boroughs have individual poet laureates, with the oldest program established in Brooklyn in 1979. Phoenix began appointing a Poet Laureate in 2016, and Los Angeles started its program in 2012.

Houston’s long-standing tradition of Poet Laureates, as well as Youth Poet Laureates, points to the city as a literary hub – supported by other enduring literary institutions, such as Inprint, now in its 42nd season of literary readings, and Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Houston’s Former Poet Laureates, L-R: Robin Davidson (2015-2017), Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton (2017-2019), Leslie Contreras Schwartz (2019-2021), and Gwen Zepeda (2013-2015) / Photo by Pin Lim

As the City of Houston begins its search for the next Poet Laureate (to be announced in April 2023), Outspoken Bean culminates his two-year tenure with a community outreach project called Space City Story Tape, described in a press release as “a mixture of spoken word narratives of Houston residents set to music by [Houston composer-producer] Russell Guess.”

Bean’s Space City Story Tape will debut at an official Release Party on February 13 at Assembly HTX, free and open to the public.

In another form of community outreach, Bean will also produce the Woodson Black Fest on February 2 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, in celebration of Black History Month. The free festival will showcase spoken word, film, music, fashion, and a panel discussion.

“This is the second year of the partnership between Outspoken Bean and CAMH that brings together different art disciplines for a social night of community connection,” said Michael Robinson, Marketing and Communications Manager at CAMH.

Woodson Black Fest takes its name from the “father of Black history,” historian, journalist, and scholar Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) – who, among many groundbreaking advancements, created Negro History Week in February 1926, which inspired and evolved to Black History Month by 1970.

According to the article “How Negro History Week Became Black History Month and Why It Matters Now” by Veronica Chambers in the New York Times, “Dr. Woodson and his colleagues set an ambitious agenda for Negro History Week. They provided a K-12 teaching curriculum with photos, lesson plans and posters with important dates and biographical information … He and his colleagues also engaged the community at large with historical performances, banquets, lectures, breakfasts, beauty pageants and parades.”

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Outspoken Bean to learn more about his culminating projects as Houston Poet Laureate. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve described the Woodson Black Fest as “a small festival about enlightenment, creativity, and innovation, which celebrates Black artists and artisans’ contributions.”  Why did you think Houston needed a festival like this?  How were you inspired to start it?

Houston needs a festival like this because there’s always an opportunity to showcase Black art and Black artists in their many forms. I feel that our intelligence and creativity should be broadcasted and amplified. I was inspired because the CAMH came to me with an amazing offer to build a festival, and I thought of my former creation, Plus Fest, and made it Black-focused.

The festival is named after American historian, author, journalist, and intellectual Carter G. Woodson. Can you say a little a bit about what he means to you?

Well, originally, I was going to call the festival Douglass Black Fest. And I was talking with my friend Candice D’Meza about the idea of the festival and where I wanted to go and whom I wanted it to honor. And I learned through that conversation from Candice that there is a misconception of Black History Month. What’s usually shared is February is Black History Month because Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays are in February, and also that Frederick Douglass came up with the idea of Negro Week at the time. Which is not true. What’s true is that it was Woodson’s idea. And I think that there is a sense of sharing and informing and reminding that comes with this festival. Also, it gives an opportunity to spread Carter G. Woodson’s name and to give him proper credit for what we know as Black History Month.

What will be taking place at the festival on Feb. 2?  I’m also curious what the panel discussion will be about.

We will have performance by Houston Poet Laureate Emeritus Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton and a performance by me as the current Houston Poet Laureate. We will be showcasing Marlon Hall’s Visual Poems Series, entitled Folklore Films, through a video montage, and hearing him speak on his inspirations for his storytelling medium. And the panel discussion, which will be led by Danielle Fanfair, will conduct moving conversations with Black style icons who are the based here in Houston, Texas. The beauty of their fashion genius is that they get their works and inspirations out to the world, out to the public via social media, podcasting, pop-up events, what have you. So this panel discussion will give a lot of insight into Black, creative fashion forces.

The festival is also described as “a family reunion for Black artists” – can you say little bit about that idea of “family reunion” and why that matters? Is this something you want both the artists involved and the audience to feel?

Last year was the first year we had the Woodson Black Fest. And the goal was to make sure that the festival happened. There was no theme for the festival. So this year I wanted to have a theme that is steeped in Black American culture. And that will be changing from year to year, so this year the themes is Black Family Reunion, hence why the family tree, the style of font, and muted color palette. And just like a family union, we want everyone to come and have a good time.

Another project you have as you wrap up your term as Houston Poet Laureate is the Space City Story Tape.  Back in 2021, you described the project to me as “a community spoken word album,” which would feature stories collected from everyday Houstonians – kind of like “mini-memoirs” set to music.  Can you describe how the project turned out?

Yes! The Space City Story Tape is complete. February 13 at Assembly HTX at 6 PM, I will be hosting a mixtape release party in celebration of my city-sponsored Poet Laureate project. Russell Guess and I have been working relentlessly in the studio producing, mixing, writing poems, and listening to the stories to bring Houstonians a unique audio experience.

I couldn’t use all of the stories because I got so many, but a story that is on the project that I am moved by is about the Black Panther Party in Third Ward and how it has shaped the Third Ward today.

L-R: Russell Guess and Outspoken Bean / Courtesy of Outspoken Bean

What will take place at the Release Party?  How can people access the Tape?

Everyone who comes will scan the QR code so they can download the album or listen to it on any streaming device that they choose. Then there will be refreshments and a performance by me and a talkback with myself and Russell Guess. It’s going to be a good time. I invite you all to come. The Tape will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube music, Youtube, etc.  It will be available everywhere.

What did you learn from being Houston Poet Laureate?  What would you like to say about your experience?

The amount of people, who take up the well-deserved space that they take in Space City, is really miraculous. I also got a chance to hear so many stories through the Houston Public Library and MOCA (Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs) when it came to getting prepared for this project and learning about what this role could be, and can be, and how to improve it for the next Poet Laureate.

Applications to be the 2023-2025 Houston Poet Laureate will be accepted through Sunday, January 29, with more information available here.

Art League Houston announces a new Exhibitions and Projects Manager

Zhaira Costiniano / Photo by Lukas Costiniano

Zhaira Costiniano was recently appointed Exhibitions and Curatorial Projects Manager at Art League Houston, effective February 6, 2023.

“I look forward to working with local and national artists on their upcoming ALH exhibitions and public art projects from ideation through completion,” said Costiniano in an email to Houston Arts Journal. “I am also excited to collaborate with ALH’s Education and Community Engagement departments to explore new ways that exhibiting artists can connect with the Houston community.”

A Filipino-American arts professional and curator, Costiniano focuses on “accessibility and diversity in the arts, placemaking through public art, and contemporary arts at the varied intersections of gender, race, and queer theory,” according to a press release.

“I’m confident her passion for community engagement, paired with her talent and experience as a collaborative curator, and arts administrator, will ensure success in our strategic direction to present innovative and ambitious exhibitions and public art projects that support bold new ideas and spur public discourse around important subjects,” said Jennie Ash, ALH Executive Director, in a statement.

Costiniano, who studied art history at the University of North Texas, comes to Art League Houston from ArtWorks in Cincinnati, where she was Creative Project Manager and Gallery Director. She has previously worked for the Dallas Museum of Art, Ro2 Gallery, and Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas. During her last year at UNT, she founded ARThaus Denton, a grassroot arts organization that provided opportunities for local student artists and the community to create art, collaborate, learn, and network.

Art League Houston’s next round of exhibitions, opening Feb. 24, will include works by artist Violette Bule / Courtesy of Art League Houston

Costiniano joins Art League Houston during its milestone 75th anniversary year. One of Houston’s oldest arts organizations, ALH was founded in 1948, and its mission is “to connect the community through diverse, dynamic, and creative experiences that bring people together to see, make, and talk about contemporary visual art,” according to its website.

As Exhibitions and Curatorial Projects Manager, Costiniano succeeds Jimmy Castillo, who left the role in October 2022. Bridget Bray, an independent Houston-based curator, has served in the interim and will work alongside Costiniano to facilitate her onboarding.

Art League Houston tells Houston Arts Journal that Costiniano will be involved with ALH’s next round of exhibitions opening on February 24, which will feature works by:

  • Violette Bule, exploring unplanned connections and physical proximities that happen through ride-sharing in a car-dependent city like Houston
  • Alexander Squier, looking at the tension between the built and natural environments in Houston and the ceaseless flux of the city’s urban landscapes
  • Sallie Scheufler, scrutinizing the nature of crying as a physical manifestation of human emotions, and the cultural norms around trying to contain or control those emotions
  • Royal Sumikat, engaging with the processes of grieving the loss of a parent and the communities that can cohere around shared loss

“I am honored and humbled to be joining ALH’s dynamic team and look forward to building off the organization’s commitment to inclusivity, creativity, and service,” said Costiniano in statement.

Shepherd School’s search for a new orchestra director gains momentum with an extensive roster of guest conductors

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Grams, Giancarlo Guerrero, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Hans Graf, William Eddins, Joshua Gersen, Robert Spano, Patrick Summers, Lidiya Yankovskaya, and Cristian Măcelaru / Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has announced 10 lauded conductors of the classical music world – including those with ties to leading Texas ensembles – to guest conduct the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra through the 2023-24 season.

The sheer number, range, and reputation of these conductors, scheduled over a concentrated 15-month period, is a record for the Shepherd School, “marking the first time in the school’s history that such a variety of internationally renowned conductors will work with its orchestras,” according to a press release.

The extensive roster is part of the school’s search for a new orchestra director to succeed the late Larry Rachleff, longtime professor and Music Director of the Shepherd School Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, who passed away last August.

“The search for a new orchestra director presents a unique opportunity for the school and its students to experiment with finding new voices to help lead the renowned program and creatively design ways for it to continue to grow,” said Matthew Loden, Dean of the Shepherd School, in a statement.

Guest conductors are:

Feb. 4, 2023: Andrew Grams, former music director of Elgin Symphony Orchestra

Mar. 4, 2023: Rice Shepherd School alum Cristian Măcelaru ’06 ’08, music director of the Orchestre National de France and artistic director of the George Enescu Festival and Competition

Apr. 21, 2023: Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera

Joshua Gersen, former assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, will prepare the orchestra for all spring 2023 performances.

Sept. 29 and 30, 2023: Robert Spano, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival and School and former music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Oct. 27, 2023: Hans Graf, music director of the Singapore Symphony and former music director of the Houston Symphony

Dec. 1, 2023: William Eddins, music director emeritus of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 2, 2024: Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of the Chicago Opera Theater and founder of the Refugee Orchestra Project

Mar. 2, 2024: Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director laureate of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and director of orchestral studies at Baylor University

Apr. 19, 2024: Giancarlo Guerrero, music director for the Nashville Symphony and NFM Wrocław Philharmonic in Poland

Noteworthy guest conductors at the Shepherd School not only offer high-level music-making for the community through concerts that are free to the public, but also provide valuable experience and connections for students as they train for professional careers, according to Loden.

“We hope Houstonians will come see their favorite conductors on the podium at the Shepherd School’s Stude Concert Hall,” he said, adding: “Giving our music students more opportunities to engage with these types of high-caliber international conductors from top-ranked professional ensembles will help them to keep winning big orchestra jobs.”

Rachleff’s death in August left many in the community mourning the loss of a “musical genius” and friend, and the Shepherd School is currently operating without an interim orchestra director

Larry Rachleff / Photo courtesy of Rice University

“One of the lasting legacies from Larry Rachleff’s tenure is a Shepherd School community of students and faculty that are continuing to set the highest artistic and educational ideals,” Loden told Houston Arts Journal.

“While we are eager to find new leadership for this important program, in the interim, our faculty will work closely with guest artists to ensure we provide remarkable and meaningful performance opportunities for our orchestral students,” he said.

Loden says the school hopes to have a new orchestra director in place for the start of the 2024-25 academic year.

That appointment would increase the school’s new leadership, which includes a new Director of Opera Studies, Joshua Winograde, who will begin that role in July 2023.

A new public art commission contemplates the fraught history of Vietnamese shrimpers in the Texas Gulf

Diane Severin Nguyen, Not in this life, 2023. Billboard. Commissioned by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo by Michael Robinson.

In Houston’s Midtown, a new piece of public art by New York- and Los Angeles-based artist Diane Severin Nguyen is visible from US 59 near the San Jacinto onramp and from street level at the intersection of Caroline and Barbee Streets.

Commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Not in this life (2023) was unveiled on January 2 in the form of a commercial billboard and will remain on view through January 29, 2023.

Depicting two shrimps and text rendered in a calligraphic font, which reads “If Not In This Life,” “Then In Another,” and “Hẹn Kiếp Sau,” Nguyen’s billboard is inspired by the history of Vietnamese immigrant shrimpers in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Galveston Bay, according to CAMH.

As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “armed Klansmen cruised Galveston Bay and practiced guerrilla tactics at secret paramilitary camps,” in an effort to destroy Vietnamese-Americans’ fishing businesses and eliminate competition to white fishermen. The KKK burned boats, terrorized families, and used intimidation tactics like cross-burnings and figures hung in effigy. This led to the 1981 court case Vietnamese Fishermen’s Association v. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – a significant win for the Asian American community, ending the KKK’s violent and racist harassment of Vietnamese fishermen.

Nguyen’s billboard draws upon this history [of Vietnamese shrimping] and the polarized political climate in which we find ourselves. Employing a popular romantic Vietnamese phrase, “hẹn kiếp sau,” which loosely translates to “we will meet in the next fate,” Nguyen’s work is equally mournful, hopeful, and comical in its pairing of image and text, which suggest two shrimps as those fated for love on another astral plane.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Not in this life was made specifically for the billboard as a site,” said Rebecca Matalon, Senior Curator at CAMH, in an email to Houston Arts Journal. “The image was created with the context of Houston in mind, and of course the context of a commercial billboard located along a major highway.”

Drawn to Nguyen’s “stunning, surreal” photographs in exhibitions in LA and New York, Matalon says that CAMH invited the artist to create the billboard as way for her to experiment with a very different scale and context.

Nguyen’s billboard is presented in conjunction with her first solo museum exhibition, Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS – featuring a video installation, photographs, and a site-specific architectural intervention – on view at CAMH through February 26.

“Her work across spaces and mediums really asks us, as viewers, to consider states of transformation, including those associated with diaspora and transnational Asian identity,” said Matalon of Nguyen’s artwork.

“But her works are also fundamentally about what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a subject under capitalism, and the immense power and potential held by youth,” Matalon added.

CAMH will present the panel discussion, “Difference and Diaspora: Transnational Asian Identity in Art,” featuring Diane Severin Nguyen and local Houston artists Anh Hà Bùi, Matt Manalo, and Preetika Rajgariah on Thursday, January 26. Moderated by Dr. Alden Sajor Marte-Wood, Assistant Professor of English at Rice University, the event is free and open to the public.

Not in this life marks Nguyen’s first public art commission – and continues CAMH’s engagement over the decades with public art, which has included a work on a blimp in 1972 by the late Michael Snow, a billboard by Marilyn Minter in 2015, and a project with Nathaniel Donnett along the fenced exterior of CAMH in 2020.

Teen spoken word artist Ariana Lee is Houston’s new Youth Poet Laureate

Ariana Lee / Photo courtesy of aripurplecrayon.com

Selected through a citywide application process, Ariana Lee was recently named 2022-2023 Houston Youth Poet Laureate

The Houston-area high school senior is a member of Meta-Four Houston, the city’s official youth slam poetry team, and the winner of a National YoungArts Foundation 2023 Writing Award for Spoken Word.

Lee’s poetry has been published in Defunkt Magazine (“Homeward Bound”) and featured by One Breath Partnership (“Through the Eye”). She wrote and performed “Stars of Space City” in honor of the 2022 Word Series Champions Houston Astros:

“I’m H-Town born and raised and am so proud to represent this community,” wrote Lee in a social media post. “I’m honored to be receiving the torch from 2022 HYPL Avalon and to be holding this position after so many talented poets.”

Succeeding Avalon Hogans, Lee is the 7th teen to serve as Houston Youth Poet Laureate, which is a joint initiative of Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Houston Public Library. The program aims to identity young writers to serve as leaders and cultural ambassadors through poetry, performance, and civic and community engagement.

Established in 2016, Houston’s youth poet laureate program is among the long-running in Texas, where Austin and Dallas recently inaugurated youth poet laureate positions.

There are over 60 youth poet laureate programs in the U.S., supported by Urban Word – the literary organization that also launched the National Youth Poet Laureate program, whose inaugural laureate was Amanda Gorman in 2017, with Alyssa Gaines currently serving in that role.

The city is currently searching for its next Houston Poet Laureate – the adult counterpart position, now in its 10th year – with applications due by January 29 and a new laureate to be announced in April.

Meet Jennifer Davenport, Houston Grand Opera’s newest executive leader

Jennifer Davenport / Photo by Hierarchy Advertising

Jennifer Davenport says that football fans and opera fans have something in common – they’re both among the most passionate audiences she’s met.

A longtime sports marketing executive, Davenport joined Houston Grand Opera on September 6, 2022 from the Houston Texans, where she most recently served as Chief Marketing Officer for the NFL team.

Davenport is now Houston Grand Opera’s first Chief Marketing and Experience Officer, a newly created leadership role that “will head initiatives to grow and engage the organization’s audiences,” according to HGO.

Prior to her decade-plus career with the Texans – which included leadership on the Houston Super Bowl LI Committee and activating the organization’s community response to Hurricane Harvey – Davenport also served as Marketing, Promotions, and Events Manager for the Houston Rockets.

Soprano Angel Blue will star as Violetta in HGO’s season-opening production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Oct. 21 – Nov. 6, 2022 / Photo by Catherine Rose (Royal Opera House production)

With HGO set to open a 2022 – 2023 season of “powerhouse women,” as described by Arts and Culture Texas, Houston Arts Journal reached out to Jennifer Davenport for the following interview about her goals, the connection between sports and arts, and more:

First of all, congratulations, Jennifer Davenport, on your new position at HGO!

Thanks! I am thrilled to join HGO and have the incredible opportunity to lead initiatives to share great art with this city. I was born and raised in the Houston area. I know how important it is for us to offer top-in-class art and culture. It’s so meaningful for me to be a part of that.  

You’ve had an impressive career in the sports industry, from leadership roles with the Houston Texans to the Houston Rockets.  Now that you’re joining an opera company, I’d love to hear a little bit about your relationship to the arts.  What is your experience or personal connection to the arts – and perhaps to opera specifically?

My love for music and art goes back to my childhood. I grew up in Crosby, Texas and participated in church and school choirs and played the flute in middle and high school band. I’ve always loved attending art and music events—and how amazing is it to now have that be part of my professional life? I am fascinated by the way opera combines all the art forms together into something else in a league of its own. I look forward to fully immersing myself in the art form and everything it has to offer.  

I think Houstonians know their city is home to a world-renowned opera company, but they might not realize it is here for them. We want to be sure this art form is accessible to all, and for the stories we share to resonate with the people we serve on a personal level.

Jennifer Davenport

What do you see as the connection between your love of sports and your love of the arts?  What might you see as the relationship between football and opera, for example, and is it useful to think about it that way as you step into your role?

The fan bases for football and opera are two of the most passionate audiences you will find. And as Houstonians we love to cheer on the exceptional, whether on the field or the stage. The anticipation and energy around both show night and gameday create an opportunity for us to bring our community together through unforgettable, shared experiences. Also, football and opera are powered by talented people who are living out their dreams. It is my joy to help showcase their brilliance to opera lovers, while introducing new people to their talents.   

Your position of Chief Marketing and Experience Officer is a newly created role at Houston Grand Opera.  What can you tell us so far about your vision and goals? 

Two of my priorities for year one will be reaching new audiences and improving the guest experience at the theater. I think Houstonians know their city is home to a world-renowned opera company, but they might not realize it is here for them. We want to be sure this art form is accessible to all, and for the stories we share to resonate with the people we serve on a personal level. When you join us for a night out, we want every aspect of your experience to be seamless—and for the memory to be something you share with everyone you encounter for days to come. 

You were quoted in the press release as saying, “Under the company’s forward-thinking new leadership, we have a wonderful opportunity to reimagine how we engage Houstonians through opera.” My emphasis there. What are some of your ideas about how to do that?  And what do you think is missing in the way we currently engage people with opera?

The outstanding grand opera produced by HGO at the Wortham each season will always be at the center of what we provide to Houston. But we don’t stop there! As a company we perform in schools, libraries, and community spaces throughout our city. And as we move forward, we plan to double down on that, making art that has deep roots in this place and the people who live here. For example, next spring, we will be presenting the original operatic work Another City, based on deep collaboration with unhoused Houstonians, in a series of performances at Ecclesia downtown. This is the transformative power of opera: stories shared through words and music open our worlds to each other, helping us to see each other more clearly. 

The sports industry has had its share of challenges when it comes to pay equitydiversity and inclusiongender rights, and racial bias. How does your experience in that industry prepare you for addressing overlapping challenges in the opera world – which, as a whole, still struggles with equity and inclusion whether on stage or on the podium, as well as racism?

I’ve always believed a marketing and guest experience team should reflect and understand the community we are welcoming and the new audiences we want to engage. I am excited to work alongside the talented team at HGO, because it’s important to them, too. In fact, it is right there in the company’s strategic focus, which I’ve heard my peers going back to again and again: to create profoundly enriching experiences for our diverse audiences. One of the HGO offerings I’m most excited for this season is February’s Giving Voice concert, a celebration of Black opera stars that will take place at Wheeler Baptist Church’s new building, in collaboration with Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University, the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, and the HGO Chorus. It’s going to be a truly joyful evening. 

Do you think your experience as a woman in sports – where women leaders, managers have also been underrepresented – will shape how you approach such issues in the opera world?

I became a first-time mother just before accepting this role with Houston Grand Opera. This life change has made me even more aware of the challenges women face balancing personal and professional lives. I am curious and excited to take on this challenge alongside our General Director and CEO, Khori Dastoor, who is a fantastic leader, role model, and mother herself. She has recruited a number of dynamic, inspiring women to lead this organization into the future, and I’m proud to be a part of that.

Poet francine j. harris becomes tenured professor at UH, Kevin Powell named Writer-In-Residence at Prairie View A&M

francine j. harris / Courtesy of University of Houston

Award-winning poet francine j. harris has been promoted to full professor with tenure at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Department of English at the University of Houston.

Professorship and tenure are “remarkable achievements on their own accord and rarely granted in unison,” according to UH.

Harris, who joined the UH Creative Writing Program as an Associate Professor in 2019, becomes the first Black woman professor in that program to receive tenure, as harris announced on social media and as confirmed by UH CWP.

This comes at a time when only about 2% of tenured associate and full professors at U.S. universities and colleges are Black women, as harris also noted, according to 2019 data by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Harris won the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award, considered among the most prestigious literary awards, for her third collection Here is the Sweet Hand. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and MacDowell Colony, and her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, Lambda Literary Award, and an Audre Lorde Award.

In an interview with the University of Houston’s Jillian Holden, harris said: “I think a lot about nuance and subtlety. Poetry is the one place I have felt like I have the room just to suggest things … I can digress, tangent and drift off … If more people understood that poetry gives you this kind of freedom, maybe more people would tap in.”

Kevin Powell / Courtesy of Prairie View A&M University

This week, Prairie View A&M University announced poet, journalist, author, cultural critic, and activist Kevin Powell as the second writer-in-residence of the Toni Morrison Writing Program.

Powell succeeds Nikki Giovanni, who served as the program’s inaugural writer-in-residence last academic year. His term began on September 1, 2022, with his first public lecture to be scheduled later this month, according to a press release.

Author of 15 books, including the essay collection When We Free The World, Powell has worked as senior writer at Vibe Magazine, and he has written for The New York Times, CNN.com, The Nation, NPR, ESPN, Essence, Esquire, Ebony, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, among others.

Following his appearance on The Real World: New York, the first season of the seminal MTV reality television series, Powell wrote Keepin’ It Real: Post-MTV Reflections On Race, Sex, and Politics.

His new poetry collection, Grocery Shopping with My Mother, will published by Soft Skull/Penguin Random House in December 2022.

Powell studies; Powell thinks deeply. He takes a stance on a cornucopia of issues, including, but not limited to, social justice, interpersonal relationships, hip hop culture, and environmentalism, you name it. He challenges a multi-generational audience and issues to them a call to action. Given today’s socio-political climate, nothing could be more timely, especially for HBCU college students for whom the college years are an apprenticeship for thoughtful, meaningful, intentional participation in the change they wish to see.

Provost Emerita Emma Joahanne Thomas-Smith, Director of the Toni Morrison Writing Program

The Toni Morrison Writing Program was established in March 2021 with a gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, a former student of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison. Scott donated $50 million to the University in October 2020, with $3 million of her gift to endow the new program.

The writing program also partners with the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice and aims to foster an “exploration of social justice from the perspective of literature, public policy, entertainment, environmental science, athletics, health, and other areas,” according to its website.

First-ever Houston Theater Week could mark the start of a new performing arts season tradition

In place of the once annual Theater District Open House, Houston First Corporation and the Theater District Houston Association have collaborated to launch the first Houston Theater Week, August 22 – 29, 2022.

Modeled after New York’s Broadway Week (a bi-annual event that offers 2-for-1 Broadway tickets), Houston Theater Week features the opportunity to purchase Buy One, Get One Free tickets to more than 100 concerts and shows presented by more than 20 local arts organizations in the 2022 – 2023 season.

“Think of it like the Black Friday of the performing arts season,” said Holly Clapham, Chief Marketing Officer of Houston First.

Houston First also called the new week-long event “the largest consumer promotion celebrating live theater and performing arts in Houston’s history.”

The previous annual tradition of Theater District Open House took place for 26 years until 2019.  While that event was a day-long festival of ticket deals, as well as activities and performances, Houston Theater Week will focus on providing significant discounts to benefit patrons and to drive ticket sales that will help the local performing arts community continue to recover from the pandemic, according to Houston First.

Clapham told Houston Arts Journal that it was “hard to keep the momentum” of the Theater District Open House in the face of modern technologies, such as social media – and that the new concept of Theater Week “marries well with the way people shop … and engage with products.”

However, with the construction of Lynn Wyatt Square – a new plaza framed by downtown’s major performing arts venues – expected to be finished in early 2023, there is still the potential for a reimagined in-person event in the future, Clapham said. She anticipates that the new plaza will allow for “endless possibilities” to engage the public, and that arts leaders will be taking note of how Houstonians use and respond to that space.

In the meantime, Houston Theater Week provides the return of a collective citywide celebration of the performing arts season – and one that aims to include acclaimed local arts groups that perform beyond the downtown Theater District, such as the Ensemble Theatre, which recently won the Theatre Longevity Award at the 2022 National Black Theatre Festival.

“Houston Theater Week was developed to showcase and strengthen Houston’s diverse professional performing arts portfolio,” said Michael Heckman, Houston First President and CEO, in a statement.

“We are proud to partner with resident companies in the heart of downtown, as well as community theater groups located throughout our city, and look forward to this campaign continuing to grow in popularity and success,” he said.

Participating local arts groups include:

  • 4th Wall Theatre Company
  • Alley Theatre
  • Ars Lyrica Houston
  • Chamber Music Houston
  • Da Camera
  • Dirt Dogs Theatre Company
  • The Ensemble Theatre
  • The Hobby Center
  • Houston Ballet
  • Houston Brass Quintet
  • Houston Chamber Choir
  • Houston Grand Opera
  • Houston Symphony
  • Kinetic Ensemble
  • Main Street Theater
  • Mercury Chamber Orchestra
  • Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company
  • Performing Arts Houston
  • ROCO
  • Stages
  • Tee Zee Productions
  • Theatre Under the Stars

Details on Houston Theater Week will be updated and available here.

UPDATE, 8/16/22, 4pm: This article was updated to reflect the increase in the number performances eligible for discounts from 86 to 93, and to include the addition of the Ensemble Theatre’s participation in Theater Week.

UPDATE, 8/22/22, 9:30AM: This article was updated to include the added participation of Chamber Music Houston, Houston Brass Quintet, Houston Chamber Choir, and Stages. The number of performances eligible for discounts was updated to “more than 100,” and the number local arts groups participating updated to “more than 20,” to reflect the changing numbers on Houston Theater Week’s website.

Houston music community remembers Larry Rachleff, mourns passing of the longtime Rice conductor

Larry Rachleff / Courtesy of Rice University

The classical music world has lost a conductor, educator, and mentor described by many as a “genius” and a musical “giant,” and noted for his humor, humanity, and ability to bring people together.

Larry Rachleff, longtime professor and conductor of the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, died on Monday, August 8 at the age of 67 after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Rice University shared news of his passing yesterday in a remembrance article, as well as in a social media post – with hundreds of students, colleagues, musicians, and friends reacting and commenting with personal tributes in appreciation of Rachleff, who touched countless lives during his 31 years at the Shepherd School.

“[Larry Rachleff] was a champion of all young musicians, not just those who sat under his baton several times a week or studied conducting with him,” wrote Grammy-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank, who earned her bachelor and master degrees at Rice’s Shepherd School.

“He took interest in me as a composer and followed my career for decades afterwards, sending me the occasional note of encouragement and cheer, premiering one work, and programming many others.

“I always loved talking with him, from the time I was an undergrad when he first came to Rice, until our last exchange just a few months ago when we were thinking of ways that I could come back to Shepherd as a guest. What an enormous loss. What a gift he was to all of us for so many years,” commented Frank on Facebook.

Soprano Melissa Givens, a Shepherd School alumna who sings with the Grammy-winning choir Conspirare, wrote on social media: “[Larry Rachleff] was a gentle giant and will be greatly missed. My condolences to the enormous circle of family, friends, and colleagues he leaves behind. I have very fond memories of working with him.”

“Larry made me a better musician and he forever touched my life,” commented Houston soprano and music educator Ana Treviño-Godfrey, who earned her doctorate at the Shepherd School.

Larry Rachleff conducting the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra / Courtesy of Rice University

Joining Rice University in 1991, Larry Rachleff was the Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Orchestral Conducting and Music Director of the Shepherd School Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. Rachleff also served for two decades as Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, stepping down in 2017.

As a guest conductor, Rachleff worked with numerous major U.S. orchestras, including the Utah Symphony, Houston Symphony, and the Seattle Symphony, and he was active at prestigious music festivals, including Tanglewood, Aspen, and Interlochen, among others.

Joel Luks remembers him as a “beautiful person.”

While studying for his Masters of Music in Flute Performance at Rice, Luks experienced a special connection with Rachleff during a rehearsal of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony.

“‘Joel,’ he said decisively but with a mischievous (but somber) tone. ‘Sound expensive,’” Luks posted on Facebook.

“I knew exactly what he wanted and how to give it to him. His descriptions and instructions were memorable, an imprint on all young musicians he trained at Rice,” wrote Luks in his personal tribute.

An advocate of public school music education, Rachleff conducted all-state orchestras and festivals throughout the U.S., Europe, and Canada. It was in this role that Houston composer Pierre Jalbert first met the conductor.

“I first played under him as a high school student in the early 80’s at the Vermont All-State Music Festival. Who was this amazing conductor who brought out the best in all of us and introduced us to such interesting repertoire?” wrote Jalbert on Facebook.

“It seems I followed Larry around most of my life, learning about music from him all the while,” posted Jalbert – who later studied at Oberlin Conservatory, where Rachleff also taught, and went on to join the Shepherd School faculty, alongside his former teacher.

Rachleff was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

The Shepherd School will honor the late Larry Rachleff at the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra’s 2022 – 2023 season opening concert on September 30 at 7:30pm in Stude Concert Hall. Details will be updated here.

Houston Texans’ Jennifer Davenport named Houston Grand Opera’s first-ever Chief Marketing and Experience Officer

Jennifer Davenport / Photo credit: Hierarchy Advertising

Jennifer Davenport, who most recently served as the Chief Marketing Officer for the city’s NFL team Houston Texans, will join Houston Grand Opera in a newly created leadership position.

In a press release today, HGO announced Davenport’s appointment as the company’s first Chief Marketing and Experience Officer, who “will head initiatives to grow and engage the organization’s audiences.”

Her position begins on September 6, 2022 – in time for HGO’s 2022-2023 season, which opens with Verdi’s La Traviata on October 21 at the Wortham Center.

“I’m so excited to be joining HGO at this extraordinary juncture,” said Davenport in a statement.

“Under the company’s forward-thinking new leadership, we have a wonderful opportunity to reimagine how we engage Houstonians through opera. I cannot wait to work alongside the incredible artists and professionals that form the HGO community,” she said.

Davenport’s hire comes at a time when HGO says that it has spent the past year recruiting new leadership talent – including a new Music Director of HGO Studio (Maureen Zoltek), Composer-in-Residence (Joel Thompson, in a newly created full-time position), Director of Community & Learning (Jennifer Bowman), and Board Chair (Claire Liu).

HGO says it recruited Davenport for her unique expertise and experience, which encompasses more than a decade with the Texans, as well as previously serving as Marketing, Promotions, and Events Manager for the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center and Director of Promotions and Marketing for Clear Channel Radio/iHeart Media in Austin.

[Jennifer Davenport’s] track record of drawing crowds from across our diverse community together through unforgettable shared experiences is exactly what our organization needs as we seek to increase access to this transformative art form.

Khori Dastoor, HGO’s General Director and CEO, in a statement

As the Texans’ Chief Marketing Officer since 2021 (having started as Director of Marketing and promoted four times during her career with the Texans), Davenport was responsible for creating community-focused strategic marketing plans, increasing the fan base, improving the gameday experiences, and leading initiatives that secured corporate partner investments, according to a press release.

Davenport is a founding board member of Houston’s Women in Sports and Events chapter and served on the YMCA of Greater Houston Board of Directors for 11 years. She was also a Lead Executive and Marketing Committee member for the Houston Super Bowl LI Committee.