A new award supports first-time Latino authors of children’s literature

Josefina’s Habichuelas / Las habichuelas de Josefina by Jasminne Mendez won the 2021 Salinas de Alba Award for children’s picture books. Arte Público Press has just launched the Reyes-Olivas Award for first-time Latino writers of children’s literature.

In 2020, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 228 (or 7%) of 3,299 published children’s books were written by Latinos and only 200 (or 6%) centered Latino characters.

Arte Público Press – the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic publisher in the U.S. based at the University of Houston – is launching a new $5,000 award that aims to inspire and support more first-time Latino authors of books for children and teens.

“There just are not enough writers producing works for and about Latino children. In particular, the Reyes-Olivas Award is squarely targeting those who have written for adults to encourage them to write for young adults and children,” said Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press.

Studies suggest a link between representation in literature and literacy rates, indicating that more inclusive children’s literature could lead to more successful reading skills and academic outcomes.

“Latino kids need to see themselves and their families in books, which will contribute to positive feelings about their identity,” said Dr. Kanellos. “Reading books by Hispanic authors will help kids believe they are important—in school and society—and will hopefully lead to increased educational achievement.”

The Reyes-Olivas Award for Best First Book of Latino Children’s and Young Adult Literature will be given annually, starting in the fall of 2022. In addition to the prize money, the award includes publication of the book, an advance, and future royalties.

In an email to Houston Arts Journal, Arte Público Press described the selection process:

“We’ll send calls for submission multiple times throughout the year … we are looking for books that authentically represent the lives of Hispanic children. So we’re not looking for re-tellings of Grimms fairy tales or books about life in Argentina or Spain. We want our books to speak to Hispanic kids living here, which means we might publish books about migration from Central America (given the influx of children and families from the region and the issue of unaccompanied minors, etc.), for instance. Our award committee will review appropriate submissions year-round and will make a decision by August for publication later in the year.”

The award is named for Dr. Augustina “Tina” Reyes and Dr. Michael Olivas, both retired University of Houston professors, who donated $80,000 to create an endowment for the prize.

“At a time when politics have brought libraries and teachers under fire, it is more important than ever to step in and encourage support for reading education, including the wide array of children’s literature by and from our community,” Reyes and Olivas said in a statement.

The couple say they plan to raise an additional $45,000 to ensure that the $5,000 award can be given each year using endowment interest.

The Reyes-Olivas Award is among the latest Houston-based efforts to support writers of color, including a new BIPOC Book Fest set to take place this spring.

In 2020, Arte Público Press also established the Salinas de Alba Award for Latino Children’s Literature, a $5,000 prize that is given to authors of children’s picture books.

Thousands of rare photos from Prairie View A&M will be digitized as part of a Getty Images HBCU grant

Photo of the Grandchildren’s Club from the 1943 Panther yearbook / Courtesy of Prairie View A&M University

A new Getty Images Photo Archives Grant for Historically Black Colleges and Universities aims to honor and amplify the legacy, stories, and contributions of HBCUs to American history.

Prairie View A&M University is one of four inaugural recipients selected to receive a combined $500,000 to support the digitization of up to 200,000 archival images this year.

Other grant winners are Jackson State University (Jackson, Mississippi), North Carolina Central University (Durham, North Carolina), and Claflin University (Orangeburg, South Carolina).

Roughly 50,000 rarely seen photographs from Prairie View A&M’s library will be preserved, restored, and digitized with funding from the grant. Photo subjects include stories of migration movements, voting rights, housing displacement, injustices, Black women in politics, and Black family life within Texas communities, according to a press release.

The collection also preserves the legacy of Elnora Teal and the Teal Portrait Studio, an influential African-American photography studio established in 1919 in Houston. It operated for decades in the city’s Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wards. Elnora Teal was one of only 100 Black female photographers in the country at the time, as documented by the 1920 U.S. Census.

Science class, undated photo / Courtesy of Prairie View A&M University

“Getty Images is proud to partner with archivists at each of the four HBCUs to uncover rarely seen photographs of Black culture and ensure these historical artifacts are preserved and accessible to storytellers around the world,” said Cassandra Illidge, VP of Partnerships at Getty Images, in a statement.

“This year’s Grant is just the beginning of our work helping to preserve HBCUs history and our commitment to the HBCU community,” Illidge said.

The HBCU Photo Collection is now online and available for licensing, with thousands of images to be added throughout 2022.

Other aspects of the grant:

  • Prairie View A&M archivists and librarians (and each of the respective HBCU recipients) will work alongside Getty Images and the post-production agency Adnet Global in the digitization of its collection.
  • HBCUs will retain copyright of their photos. 
  • Getty Images will provide funding and mentoring to support HBCU students interested in becoming involved in the digitization process.  
  • Revenue from the photos will be distributed to HBCUs: 50% will go to Grant recipients; 30% will go to a Scholarship Fund for HBCU students, with scholarships becoming available in 2022; and the remaining 20% will be reinvested to fund the Getty Images Photo Archive Grants for HBCUs each year.

Read more on the subject of African American photography in Texas:

Did you know there is a Texas African American Photography Archive?

Houston’s only festival for high school playwrights is accepting submissions

“Keep Your Head Above the Water” by 2020 student playwright winner Rachel Iliev, directed by Christine Weems; (L-R: Justin Bernard as Jake, Chris Szeto-Joe as Quinn, Helen Rios as Shalla) / photo courtesy of Dirt Dogs Theatre Co.

Founded in 2015, Dirt Dogs Theatre Company “collaborates with other Houston artists and playwrights to provide an opportunity for new works to be seen” – and this includes works by the next generation of aspiring playwrights.

Since 2018, the company has hosted a competition and showcase of plays by high school students. It is currently accepting submissions for its 2022 Student Playwright Festival.

The festival is open to high school seniors in the Greater Houston area, who are invited to submit previously unproduced one-act plays, up to 30 minutes in length. The deadline is February 11, 2022. Rules and application are available here.

Three to five plays will be selected to be produced by the festival on June 8, 2022 at the MATCH, with the winning playwrights in attendance as guests of honor.

Each winner will also receive a $500 scholarship and the experience of preparing their works for the stage – including mentorship by a Houston-based playwright and participation in the rehearsal process leading up to the festival.

A unique opportunity for area students, Dirt Dogs Theatre Company’s Student Playwright Festival is the only one of its kind open to high school students across the city, based on Houston Arts Journal’s review of multiple local theater organizations.

Other local efforts to engage teens indicate an active youth theater scene overall in Houston, with an emphasis on performance – including youth training programs offered by the Alley Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Main Street Theater, Stages, and Theater Under The Stars. The University of Houston’s School of Theatre and Dance also produces an annual 10-Minute Play Festival that showcases new works by college playwrights in its B.F.A. program.

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Trevor B. Cone, Executive Director of Dirt Dogs Theatre Company, for the following interview to find out more about the impact of its Student Playwright Festival (SPF).

“The New World” by 2020 student playwright winner Jack A. Mowry, directed by Trevor B. Cone; (L-R: Todd Thigpen as Guard, Jeff Featherston as Walter Dunningham, Allen Dorris, Jr. as Jeff Drake) / photo courtesy of Dirt Dogs Theatre Co.

Is there any story behind the festival? How and why did you start it?

Our younger daughter, Sydney, took a playwriting class at her high school in the spring of 2017. Their semester concluded with each of the students in the class producing their plays. The performances were done over a weekend and were mainly attended by friends and family.

We figured there were other high school students who were also playwrights that maybe didn’t have an opportunity to see their work go from the page to the stage but would really benefit from it. After some brainstorming with our artists in residence, Doug Williams and Donna McKenzie, the framework for the Student Playwright Festival was built and then launched in 2018. 

The first two festivals took place in June 2018 and 2019. The 2020 SPF was postponed due to COVID and was held in November in 2021.

How many student plays have you produced through the festival so far?  Are there any particular plays or experiences of mentoring past winners that stand out?

Each SPF has featured three plays, so in total we have produced nine. The mentors have each formed lasting relationships with one or more of the students they have mentored that have extended beyond the festival into their college and adult lives. We continue to hear stories of other projects their students have worked on because of the connections established by the SPF.

How is the scholarship funded?

So far, we have been very fortunate to have the scholarships underwritten by a mixture of individual, corporate, and foundation gifts. Our first SPF scholarships were funded by the Salners Family Foundation. Since then, we have been sponsored by Carrabba’s Original, and this year we received funding from the J. Flowers Health Institute.

Have any past winners gone on to study theater or playwrighting, or go on to produce more plays?

Yes, one of the students in the first festival studied at Brandeis and continues to write and design. Another is currently studying theatre at Emerson College and another is finishing his college career this spring at California Institute of the Arts.

How have you seen the festival impact students and the community?  In these complicated pandemic times, when many companies are struggling to present a full season amidst COVID, why is it important to you to continue to offer this opportunity to students?

The festival has been extremely fulfilling to the playwrights, the mentors, and Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. For the playwrights, the SPF is a validation of their talent and a celebration of their creativity and dedication to their craft. As 2018 SPF winner Carter Prentiss told us, “Seeing my show go from the moments in my mind to the words on a page and finally to actions on stage was nothing short of amazing.”

For some, the SPF exposed them to how a play is produced and all that goes into it. Another 2018 SPF winner Addison Antonoff said, “Being able to help a show go from a draft to full production has given me the ability to work in different areas of theatre I didn’t have previous experience in because I was able to see not just the work of those areas, but how they fit together in a show.” For the mentors and Dirt Dogs, the SPF allows us to foster the talents of the next generation of theatre makers. 

Regarding the company in general, what would you like people to know about how the pandemic has impacted Dirt Dogs Theatre Company?

We were mid-way through Season 4 when COVID-19 reached the United States. Our production of The Dead Eye Boy completed its run on March 7, 2020. The city shut down the following week. We were unable to complete Season 4, and in Season 5 we produced a streaming production of Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Originally produced by the playwright as a one-woman show with Ms. Smith performing over 30 roles, Dirt Dogs instead chose to cast 32 local actors, and we rehearsed and filmed them under strict socially distanced guidelines. The cinematic theatrical production was made available on demand during the month of November 2020 and again in February 2021.

We launched our Season 6 in October 2021 with a production of The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson. In December, we continued our ULNEASHED series, which debuted in January 2020 with Jeff Goode’s The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Both shows were well attended, showing us that people are excited about the return of live theatre.

Rehearsals have begun for our restaging of A Steady Rain, which we originally produced as the first show of our premiere season in 2016. We are hopeful that the current omicron surge will subside enough for our audiences to come back to MATCH when we open on February 18.

As Houston theater veteran, do you know of any other local student playwriting festivals or similar opportunities?

We are not aware of any other local or regional playwriting festivals that are specifically targeted at high school students. This is one of the reasons we decided to start the SPF. With encouragement and guidance, we hope that kids who are interested in theatre, and specifically the creation of new plays, will follow through on that urge. These kids are the future of the American theatre. Hopefully, Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. can have a positive impact on them.

NEA announces over $33 million in project funding nationally, including $1.7 million for Texas arts

Photo credit: Young Audiences of Houston / Facebook

The National Endowment for the Arts is awarding 1,498 grants totaling nearly $33.2 million for its first round of funding for fiscal year 2022.

Of that amount, $1,746,000 is going to 77 institutions in Texas, with 22 Houston arts organizations receiving $632,000.

The overall funding spans every state, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The types of grants awarded include Grants for Arts Projects, which represent 15 artistic disciplines; Challenge America grants, “for projects that extend the reach of the arts to populations that have limited access to the arts due to geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability”; Literature Fellowships in creative writing and translation; and Arts Research grants.

“These National Endowment for the Arts grants underscore the resilience of our nation’s artists and arts organizations, will support efforts to provide access to the arts, and rebuild the creative economy,” said Ann Eilers, NEA Acting Chair, in a press release.

“The supported projects demonstrate how the arts are a source of strength and well-being for communities and individuals, and can open doors to conversations that address complex issues of our time,” Eilers said.

Among local grantees, Young Audiences of Houston will receive $50,000 for its Neighborhoods, Identity, and Diversity Project, which aims to increase arts access and equity. By providing free programs across 10 communities, the project works to amplify youth voices, infuse local cultures and traditions into arts-based learning, and collaborate with teaching artists and schools.

“We look forward to sharing over the next year the progress of this exciting project, unique to Houston and the communities that create our region’s vibrancy,” said Mary Mettenbrink, Young Audiences of Houston’s Executive Director, in a statement. “This project will support Acres Homes, Alief-Westwood, Fort Bend Houston, Gulfton, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia-Park Manchester, Near Northside, Second Ward, Sunnyside, and Third Ward.”

Houston’s Discovery Green Conservancy will receive a $15,000 NEA grant in support of its project, Tejas Got Soul: Celebrating Houston’s Tejano Roots Music Legacy.

Initiated by East End residents Pat Jasper, Nick Gaitan, Isaac Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez, and Angel Quesada, the project includes 3 free concerts in fall 2022 that feature traditional music genres popular in the Chicano community, from orquesta to conjunto and Tejano to Brown-Eyed Soul. There will also be panel discussions about the history of the local Chicano music scene and a social media campaign to add historical and cultural context about the music, musicians, and the community.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to shine a light on the diversity of traditions that exist in Houston,” said Barry Mandel, Discovery Green Conservancy President, in a statement. “The Conservancy is very proud to work with talented Houstonians to present these concerts and is very grateful for the National Endowment of Arts support.”

A full state-by-state listing of grants is available here.

A full list of Houston grantees follows:

Alley Theatre
Grants for Arts Projects – Theater

Arts Connect Houston
Grants for Arts Projects – Arts Education

Aurora Picture Show (aka Aurora)
Grants for Arts Projects – Media Arts

Da Camera Society of Texas (aka Da Camera chamber music & jazz)
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Discovery Green Conservancy (aka Discovery Green)
Grants for Arts Projects – Folk & Traditional Arts

FotoFest, Inc.
Grants for Arts Projects – Visual Arts

Guez, Julia
Literature Fellowships: Translation Projects – Literary Arts

Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature & Fine Arts (aka Gulf Coast)
Grants for Arts Projects – Literary Arts

Houston Architecture Foundation (aka Architecture Center Houston)
Grants for Arts Projects – Design

Houston Arts Alliance (aka HAA)
Grants for Arts Projects – Local Arts Agencies

Houston Cinema Arts Society
Grants for Arts Projects – Media Arts

Houston Grand Opera Association, Inc.
Grants for Arts Projects – Opera

Houston Symphony Society (aka Houston Symphony)
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Musiqa Inc.
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Nameless Sound
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Open Dance Project Inc.
Grants for Arts Projects – Dance

Rothko Chapel
Grants for Arts Projects – Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works

Society for the Performing Arts (aka SPA)
Grants for Arts Projects – Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works

Theatre Under The Stars, Inc.
Grants for Arts Projects – Musical Theater

University of Houston (on behalf of Arte Publico Press)
Grants for Arts Projects – Literary Arts

University of Houston (on behalf of Blaffer Art Museum)
Grants for Arts Projects – Museums

Young Audiences Inc of Houston (aka Houston Arts Partners)
Grants for Arts Projects – Arts Education

Collector loans Stradivarius violin to the Shepherd School of Music

Clara Saitkoulov plays the 1687 Kubelik Stradivarius violin. Photo credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice Universit

When Clara Saitkoulov played her first notes on a rare Stradivarius violin, she said something special happened.

“I just put my bow on the violin, you know, and tried it for 15 seconds. And I just thought, Wow, this is something amazing,” she said in a video. “As I was playing, you know, my heart started to speed up. It’s like when you fall in love.”

Saitkoulov, a graduate student, will be the first student at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music to use the 1687 Kubelik Stradivarius violin, newly on loan to the school by its owner Peter Naimoli.

Naimoli, a Texas-based collector and an amateur musician, was interested in lending the violin to a music school, so that the instrument would not just sit on a shelf but could be used for music-making to the benefit of students.

He chose Rice, following encouragement from his friend, Shepherd School alumnus Geoffrey Herd, which led to further talks with violin professor Paul Kantor and former dean Robert Yekovich.

Clara Saitkoulov performs “Jingle Bells” on the 1687 Kubelik Stradivarius with James Palmer, pianist and doctoral student, and Alex Garde, percussionist and graduate student.

Prized for their quality of sound, physical beauty, and construction, violins by the legendary 17th and 18th century craftsman Antonio Stradivari are considered some of the finest string instruments ever created.

It is estimated that Stradivari produced around 1,100 instruments, including violins, violas, cellos, guitars, and harps. Only around 650 instruments survive today.

Though Rice University is not publicly sharing the value of the 1687 Kubelik, Stradivarius violins range in value from hundreds of thousands to several million.

“The pinnacle of incredible, old instruments – Italian instruments – is of course Stradivari,” said Matthew Loden, Dean of the Shepherd School, in a video.

“The fact that we actually have the opportunity for our students to get their hands on one of these instruments, and to perform, live with it, practice on it, concertize on it, that’s just extraordinary. Those kinds of opportunities are incredibly rare,” said Loden.

The Stradivarius will be on loan indefinitely to the Shepherd School, where violin faculty will choose a different student each year to use the instrument.

Saitkoulov was selected “because her truly remarkable talent, skill, and dedication to her craft stand out even among the brightest talent,” said Rice University in an email.

A winner of the 2021 Shepherd School Concerto Competition, Saitkoulov will perform Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 on the instrument with the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra on April 1, 2022 in Stude Concert Hall.

Saitkoulov is a student of violin professor, Cho-Liang Lin, who performs on the 1715 “Titian” Stradivarius and who remarked that a special instrument empowers a performer onstage not just artistically but also mentally.

“When you have a great Stradivarius violin in your hand, it’s an instant boost of confidence, that extra something that no studio lessons or practicing can ever deliver,” said Lin in a press release.

“And when you hold it and you start to make a sound with it, it’s different,” he said. “And it’s magic. I don’t know how else to describe it, except it’s like the biggest boost of confidence any performer can have.”

Shepherd School of Music welcomes a new flute professor

Marianne Gedigian / courtesy of Rice University

Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has appointed flutist Marianne Gedigian to the faculty. She begins her official role after the next academic year, starting July 1, 2023.

Gedigian will follow in the footsteps of Leone Buyse, her former mentor and longtime Shepherd School flute professor, after she retires at the end of the 2022-2023 year.

In a press release, Buyse described Gedigian as “an extremely perceptive musician, a virtuoso performer, and an empathetic teacher with an uncanny ability to analyze problems and inspire solutions.”

“We have known each other since her days as a student in Boston,” said Buyse. “It has been a great delight for me to follow the evolution of her career as an orchestral musician, soloist, chamber music player, and professor.”

An international concert flutist, recording artist, and noted educator, Gedigian is currently a professor of flute at the University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music, where she has taught since 2004.

Gedigian established her career in Boston, earning her bachelor’s degree in flute performance at Boston University and later joining the faculty of BU as well as the Boston Conservatory. During her Boston days, she met Buyse, with whom she studied at the New England Conservatory.

While Buyse would join Rice’s Shepherd School in the mid-1990s, Gedigian would continue her concert career for a while longer in Boston, performing for more than a decade with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She also served as principal flute with the city’s major arts organizations, including the Boston Pops, Opera Company of Boston, Musica Viva, Boston Chamber Music Society, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra. 

Her solo performances, recitals, and master classes have taken her to Australia, Armenia, Canada, China, England, Japan, and throughout Europe.

In addition, Gedigian has performed on several John Williams movie scores, including Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, and has numerous recording credits on major labels.

During the 2022-2023 school year, leading up to her formal appointment, Gedigian will reunite with Buyse as they work together to coach students and prepare them for the change in flute studio leadership.

“Leone is a source of inspiration as my mentor and in bridging the worlds of performer to artist-faculty,” Gedigian said in a statement. “Our close collegial relationship will prove invaluable in facilitating a seamless transition for the students.”

Meet Avalon Hogans, Houston Youth Poet Laureate

Avalon Hogans / Courtesy of Writers in the Schools

Writer, activist, and senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Avalon Hogans was recently appointed Houston’s sixth Youth Poet Laureate. She will serve from fall 2021 – fall 2022 and receive a $1000 scholarship.

During her tenure, Hogans will create and implement a civic engagement project. Past youth poet laureate projects have included reading series, workshops, book drives, and podcasts. Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean to develop her own project to serve the community. The position also aims to empower young people and to address a social issue through poetry.

Houston has the longest-running citywide youth poet laureate program in Texas. Since 2016, the city has appointed a teen poet in the position, which is sponsored by Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library. The adult counterpart, the position of Houston Poet Laureate, was created in 2013.

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Avalon Hogans for the following interview and permission to print her poem “Big Red Road.”

Avalon Hogans with her parents, Marvin and Bristy Hogans, at the Houston Youth Poet Laureate ceremony, November 17, 2021 at Writers in the Schools / photo by Bhavin Misra

When, and how, did you fall in love with poetry?

I fell in love with poetry in middle school. Back then, I would use poetry as an outlet for my angsty emotions. I remember in eighth grade, I got really into reading verse novels like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Solo by Kwame Alexander. But it was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo that I was truly in love with. At 14 years old, that novel heavily influenced my writing style and my love for writing.

I remember I started writing poems inspired by Acevedo’s, and I would share them on my Instagram at the time. My friends would reshare my poems and give me positive feedback. It was such an amazing and affirming feeling as a young aspiring poet to evoke feelings from others using my writing, even if it was just on a small scale.

How would you describe the kind of poems you write and themes you’re interested in?

I would describe the kind of poems I write as authoritative, identity-based, and charged. Most of the poetry I choose to share and/or perform center themes of Black pride, womanism, anti-racism, and social change. 

How does a poem begin for you? Do you have any writing rituals?

I don’t have any specific writing rituals. My poems typically begin with a brain dump on a blank Google Docs page or in my notebook. I prefer to write a poem all at once with minimal distractions. Usually, I have Thesaurus.com and my Kendrick Lamar playlist on deck in case I’m needing some extra inspiration.

What are your plans as Houston Youth Poet Laureate?  Will you have a specific project?

As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, I’m currently in the running for Regional Youth Poet Laureate and I’m planning out my service project. So yes, I will have a project. I’m very excited to work on it. I plan on centering it around teaching anti-bias and anti-racist practices. I love teaching. I’ve taught middle schoolers and elementary students creative writing and artivism through volunteer programs at my school, and it has always left me feeling fulfilled. I just want to be able to give as many people as possible the resources, awareness, and courage it takes to be an artist, ally and/or activist.

Avalon Hogans performing at the Houston Youth Poet Laureate ceremony / photo by Bhavin Misra

Why do you think poetry is important – why should people read or write it? 

Poetry is important because it unifies people through emotion and experience. Spoken word poetry has the power to create change because it commands and demands ears. Written poetry has the power to create change because it requires patience and consideration. This art form makes people listen and think. People should read poetry to listen to new ideas, and people should write poetry to share their own.

Has the pandemic impacted you as poet?

The pandemic has taught me how to be patient and flexible with sharing my craft. While it was uncomfortable performing spoken word to a mass of silent, staring video squares, I was able to adapt. I collaborated with many local advocacy groups for virtual fundraisers, info sessions, and rallies. I taught writing skills to younger students virtually. I had more time to read. During the pandemic, I wrote a lot of poems that I couldn’t perform or workshop, but I believe that taught me the significance of self-critiquing, revision, and it gave me time to plan ahead for future live readings.

Regarding “Big Red Road,” could you tell me a little bit about what inspired this poem?  If there is a story behind it, I’d love to hear.

I wrote “BIG RED ROAD” in June of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was a time when George Floyd’s name was trending, and protests were occurring in most major cities. I felt compelled to write this piece as an attempt to express my feelings of grief and anger. A friend of mine helped me revise this, and I shared it on social media. I captioned this poem saying, “Red represents destruction, both good and bad. Because it takes destruction in order to rebuild. And we have a lot of rebuilding to do.”

By Avalon Hogans

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

our lives are prizes
for easy prices
in their eyes.

but what they don’t know is,
our Red is coming,
and they won’t be able to catch us
after the pride stampedes.

i see Red in their vile souls;
i see Red in the streets.
big Red road where
the intersection meets.

big Red fire trucks,
big Red graffiti.
big Red anger
marching through the city.

Red eyes over blue uniforms
and the 99 sheep.

blood on my fallen
brothers and sisters.

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

the power hungry
can’t tell right from wrong;
blinded by privilege and
deaf to kendrick songs.

but only justice can
relieve the Red away.
ignore our voices,
and Red is here to stay.

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

loud Red static
all around the nation.
take a step back, america,
and look at your creation.

Houston’s first BIPOC book festival is in the works

The Houston BIPOC Book Fest is planned for spring 2022.

Houston journalists Brittany Britto Garley, Jaundrea Clay, and Brooke Lewis are organizing the city’s first BIPOC Book Fest.

Scheduled for spring 2022, the festival is planned as a two-day event centered on writers of color and literary works that feature Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and members of other marginalized communities, according to its website.

Organizers will collaborate with writers and readers to curate artist talks, readings, vendors, and literary memorabilia, inspired by the spirit of book fairs.

“Houston is my hometown. It’s a city full of rich culture and diverse backgrounds that I love deeply,” said Brooke Lewis in a tweet. “Houston also represents the America of today. That’s why we know Houston is the perfect spot to host a festival that celebrates diversity in literature.”

While the BIPOC Book Fest will be the first of its kind in the city, Houston has seen notable efforts to support writers of color, locally and nationally – a testament to its diverse literary scene.

The University of Houston is home to Arte Público Press, the oldest and largest Hispanic publisher in the U.S., and the recently-established Puerto Rican Literature Project, which aims to be the most comprehensive digital archive of its kind when fully launched.

Other initiatives in Houston include The Colony, a summit for writers of color founded by poet Deborah DEEP Mouton; Tintero Projects, a grassroots organization that provides opportunities for Texas Gulf Coast-based Latinx writers; and Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, a longtime literary group and radio show founded by writer-activist Tony Diaz

“I know how important it is to see books with characters that look like me in them,” Lewis said in a tweet. “Representation matters, and we hope all who come to this festival can leave seeing a piece of themselves, but also walk away with knowledge of other cultures and backgrounds.”

BIPOC Book Fest organizers see a link between representation in literature and literacy rates, citing studies that indicate that Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to have lower literacy skills and reading habits, along with an analysis of children’s books in 2020 that showed that only 8% were written by Black authors and 12% centered Black characters, while 7% were by Latinx authors and 6% were about Latinx characters.

With literacy a key motivator behind the festival, organizers say they hope to make reading more inclusive, in an effort to impact local academic success, political engagement, and the economy.

The festival will also aim to bring awareness to BIPOC-led publishers and independent bookstores through local and regional partnerships with Kindred Stories in the Third Ward, Native-owned comic book shop Red Planet, SOA Co Books, Arte Público Press, Brazos Bookstore, and San Antonio’s Guadelupe Latino Bookstore.

Organizers are working to raise $10,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to cover costs of the festival, and have applied for a grant from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.

Houston names a new Youth Poet Laureate, as interest in poetry grows in Texas

Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, Houston Poet Laureate; Avalon Hogans, Houston Youth Poet Laureate / photo by Bhavin Misra

In a ceremony on November 17 at Writers in the Schools, Avalon Hogans officially took the helm as Houston’s 2021-2022 Youth Poet Laureate.

Through a citywide application and interview process, the teen writer was selected for the position, which is a joint initiative of Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library.

A senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Hogans is a storyteller, artist, and civil rights activist. She also volunteers as a creative writing teacher for local elementary school students. Her poetry stems from a passion for social justice, and she is “determined to change the world through her talents,” as described in a press release.

Houston’s youth poet laureate program is one of over 50 in the U.S. These programs are 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 Alexandra Huỳnh currently serving in that role.

At a time when poetry has been on the rise nationally – with visits to Poets.org up by 30% during the pandemic, a spike in online poetry events, and the popularity of Gorman’s Presidential Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb” – the art form is also seeing increased interest in Texas. Both Austin and Dallas have launched youth poet laureate programs this year. Dallas has also announced a search for its first adult Dallas Poet Laureate.

In Houston, Avalon Hogans serves as the city’s sixth Youth Poet Laureate. She follows Madison Petaway (2020 – 2021), Jackson Neal (2019), Rukmini Kalamangalam (2018), Fareena Arefeen (2017), and Andrew White (2016).

During her one-year term, Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, to develop a civic engagement project to serve the community and address a social issue. Other duties include speaking and performing at city events.

Hogans will have the opportunity to apply to become National Youth Poet Laureate and to act as a youth poetry ambassador for the Southwest region.  She receives a $1000 scholarship.

Orange Show’s expanded campus aims to become a major destination for folk and outsider art

Rendering of the expanded Orange Show Center for Visionary Art / Courtesy of Rogers Partners

The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art recently announced plans for a major expansion to its campus, which will lead to more exhibition space, additional facilities, and increased programs to serve the public – and to engage community art-making.

What began as a monument in honor of a favorite fruit – from 1956 to 1980 Houston postman Jeff McKissack used common materials and found objects “to transform an East End lot into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures” – became the Orange Show Center in 1982.

The Center restored and preserved the monument, then later acquired the Beer Can House and developed Smither Park, a mosaic art-adorned green space. Since 1988, it has also produced Houston’s annual Art Car Parade.

Earning its reputation over the decades as a hub for folk art activity in Houston, the Orange Show has also been nationally recognized a “temple for outsider art,” most recently by GQ Magazine.

Rendering of the expanded Orange Show Center for Visionary Art / Courtesy of Rogers Partners

The newly expanded campus – to be completed over the next five years – will aim to bring more attention to its major role in supporting self-taught art, and to widen its reach within the community and beyond.

“We want to encourage visitors not only to see the art, but to participate, make, and engage with it. This experiential environment differentiates the Orange Show from other museums or gallery spaces,” said Tommy Lee Pace, Orange Show executive director, in a statement.

Here’s what to expect from the expansion:

  • The new campus will use a 5.7 acre property acquired by the Orange Show Center in 2017.
  • It includes a 31,000-square foot warehouse building, which will be converted into a performance and exhibition space – with potential use for offices, programs, education, events, and an art library.
  • A new 800-foot ramp will be built throughout the entire campus, serving as an extended display area for art cars and a promenade for visitors.
  • The newly expanded space will be adjacent to the current Orange Show Monument, which is located at 2401 Munger Street.
  • Inclusive of the current site, the total expansion will create an 8-acre campus that will seque into the nearby Fonde Park.
Rendering of Smither Park’s Mosaic Alley / Courtesy of Rogers Partners
  • Smither Park will “nearly double in size thanks to a new ‘Mosaic Alley’ … [and] the public will be encouraged to contribute to the ongoing mosaic project,” according to reporting by Glasstire.
  • The projected timeline is a 2026 public opening.
  • Rogers Partners, a New York-based architectural firm with offices in Houston, will lead the design project.

Read more here:

Houston’s Orange Show Announces Major Expansion (via Glasstire)

Houston’s beloved Orange Show reveals vivid expansion of vibrant headquarters (via CultureMap Houston)

Houston’s Orange Show Center announces expansion to 8 acres of vibrant art cars, creative displays (via Houston Chronicle)

Rendering of the Orange Show Monument / Courtesy of Rogers Partners