Like a lot of newcomers, Justin Cronin didn't think of Houston as a literary mecca. When he got a job offer to teach at Rice University in 2003, his wife remarked, "I've always wanted to live in the desert." But like a lot of newcomers, Cronin and his family learned to overcome their misconceptions.
Cronin, the featured speaker at Saturday night's Inprint Poet & Writers Ball, told a large audience at Houston Country Club that he never would have written his best-selling book, The Passage, if he and his family had not left Philadelphia for the "weird-looking, always changing, chaotic" Texas city.
"I moved from a city where something doesn't change to a city where things change all the time. In Houston, you don't stand on ceremony. You can feel free to fail," he said.
"I moved from a city where something doesn't change to a city where things change all the time. In Houston, you don't stand on ceremony. You can feel free to fail."
The Passage became a runway hit in 2010, earning Cronin at least $5 million, with a sequel, The Twelve, due out later this year. "But I still would tell my kids that even if it didn't work out right, this is how you should live your lives," Cronin said.
More than 400 lovers of the printed word jammed the venerable country club for the annual gala that benefits Inprint, the nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire readers and writers in Houston.
During the cocktail hour, guests fanned out into three rooms that became salons for the evening where authors Robert Boswell, ZZ Packer and Ann Weisgarber read from their works. Afterwards, everyone gathered in the main dining room for a scrumptious dinner developed by Ouisies's Elouise Jones. (The butternut squash flan was amazing.)
The literary theme carried over into the table decorations, where the tradition each year is for guests to personally decorate a table to salute their favorite books and authors. Rachel Frazier saluted The Story of Edgar Sawtelle with a barn plank as a centerpiece, along with handcrafted trees and miniature dogs, and The Tiger's Wife, with a table of tigers, tiger lillies and grapes, which alluded to a section of the novel where an unmarked grave is dug up in a vineyard.
Cullen Geiselman paid homage to the literary classic The Scarlet Letter with Puritan hats, women’s bonnets and big A’s along the center. Ed Larsen and Dean Burkhardt each honored Cronin's second novel, The Summer Guest, at different tables with stuffed fish toys, a vintage fishing basket, fishing pole and river stones. Inprint associate director Marilyn Jones decorated a table with a robotic hand, clock tower, film loops and a wind-up mouse to salute The Inventions of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the source material for the Oscar-nominated movie Hugo.
At the table where I sat, Doreen Stoller spearheaded a tribute to Tracy Kidder's House, with architectural blueprints, buildings made of Legos and Gilbane Construction hardharts.
The gala, chaired by Susie and Sanford Criner, raked in a goal-breaking $340,000.The Criner's daughter, Kate Criner Bellin and husband Andy Bellin, flew in from New York for the evening, joining her sister, Annie Criner and fiancé Campbell Eifler. Andy penned the screenplay for Lovelace, the much buzzed-about movie about revolutionary '70s porn star Linda Lovelace that just completed filming near Los Angeles. It stars Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Also on hand were Inprint board president Matt Henneman and Carolyn Roch Henneman, Inprint board chairman Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray, Inprint executive director Rich Levy, Anne and Albert Chao, Franci and Jim Crane, Nanette and Jerry Finger, Marty and Richard Finger, Jeff Fort, Tony Hoagland, Sis and Hasty Johnson with their daughter, Alice Johnson, Dianna Strassmann and Jeff Smisek, Bill White, Lynn Wyatt and her son Bradford Wyatt.
Franci Crane announced the establishment of the Marion Barthelme Literary Prizes in honor of the longtime Inprint supporter who passed away last year. Crane, who spearheaded the fundraising effort, said that more than $290,000 has been raised to established three prizes, benefiting the UH Creative Writing Program, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature & Fine Arts and Rice University.
"I know Marion's spirit is here tonight," Crane told the crowd.