The Inprint Poets and Writers Ball transformed into the most glamorous poetry slam ever this year thanks to featured speaker and rockstar poet Terrance Hayes. The MacArthur Foundation Fellow and National Book Award-winner turned his speech into collaborative poem involving all the gala guests and helped make the artful celebration at The Houstonian one Inprint supporters will never forget.
Chaired by Anne Whitlock and Michael Skelly, the evening helped raise more than $340,000 for the community programs Houston’s leading literary arts nonprofit organization offers including writers workshops for the general public, school teachers, senior citizens, healthcare providers, veterans, the incarcerated, and support for more than 500 of the nation’s top creative writing students in Houston since 1983. Of course, most literary-loving Houstonians know Inprint best for its low-cost or free readings by some of the world’s great authors for adults and children.
In keeping with that primary mission to bring writers and readers together, the Poets and Writers Ball always features salon readings with some of the most creative up and coming poets, fiction writers, and memoirists with Inprint or Houston connections. The 2020 Ball was no exception to this literary discovery opportunity as guests had an enthralling pre-dinner experience listening to authors Cait Weiss Orcutt, Ashley Wurzbacher, and Dr. Ricardo Nuila.
PhD candidate in poetry at the UH Creative Writing Program, Orcutt read from her award-winning, lovely and visceral poetry manuscript Valleyspeak, which tells the story in verse of a family in the San Fernando Valley with ties to the adult entertainment industry. UH PhD alumni Wurzbacher introduced guests to fake mermaid party culture as she read a delightful, yet complicatedly adult story, from her short story collection Happy Like This. Finally writer, physician and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine Nuila gave a rare treat to gala goers, a preview of his book The People’s Hospital: Stories and Lessons From a Safety Net Healthcare System, which will be published by Scribner in 2021. The real life stories from his work at Ben Taub General Hospital stunned and moved the salon audiences.
Later after wandering through the book-themed dinner tables, Inprint supporters dined from the sumptuous menu designed by James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande of The Annie Café & Bar.
But the night belonged to the poetic and teaching stylings of Hayes who composed an epic poem/speech on the transformative power of writing poetry. Near the beginning of the address, Inprint presented guests with the limited-edition chapbook A Poem By You written and illustrated by Terrance Hayes and handmade by book artists Cathy Hunt and Fiona McGettigan of FioCat Press.
As Hays recited, with many funny and touching asides and ad-libs, he asked guests to fill in the blanks of the book, calling for personal descriptions and reveals. Then the ballroom full of bibliophiles exchanged chapbook workbooks and created poems from each others’ words. The evening culminating in an impromptu poetry recitation, revealing the inner writer who lies in us all.
At the end of the evening, guests who wanted to keep the conversation going enjoyed a nightcap at Postscript, an after-hours gathering in the lobby bar of The Houstonian.
Seen partying with the poets were Kathryn Kase and Jeff Cohen; Nina and Michael Zilkha; Chinhui and Eddie Allen; Sis and Hasty Johnson; Stephanie Larsen; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Kathryn and Craig Smyster and Cecilia and Larry Veselka; Carolyn Roch and Matt Henneman; Carolyn Russell Brock and Glenn Brock; Dina Alsowayel and Tony Chase; Robin Angly and Miles Smith; Candace Baggett and Ron Restrepo; Liz and Steve Crowell; Sabria and Kevin Lewis; Nancy Powell Moore; Bobbi Samuels; Marcia West and Ron Lewis; Lazard; Debbie Gary; Mary S and Jack Dawson; Gwen Dawson and Ba Nguyen; Laura Calaway; Karen and Mike Brisch; Cullen Geiselman; Michelle and Rishi Varma; Eleanor and Dan Gilbane; Luba and Alan Bigman; Sannam and Scott Warrender; Katie Sammons and Terry Lohrenz; Mimi Swartz and John Wilburn; Tissy and Rusty Hardin; Bettie Cartwright; Chitra and Murthy Divakaruni; Andrea and Bill White; Justin Cronin; Mimi and Robert Del Grande; Bobbie Nau and Marc Grossberg.