• Author Diane Lovejoy and one of her precious cats
  • Diane Lovejoy's Cat Lady Chronicles combines her two passions: art and furryfelines.
    Courtesy Photo
  • Diane Lovejoy and her father in Jackson Square in 1957. Even as a youngster, sheloved cats.
    Courtesy Photo

Worshiped in ancient societies and now the demigods of the Internet, cats have always fascinated us. Yet being a woman who owns multiple cats can sometimes invite the occasional joke or insult that she has become a "cat lady." In the new book Cat Lady Chronicles, Houston writer Diane Lovejoy sets out to paint a new portrait of who a cat lady really is.

Lovejoy, the director of publications at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has been part of the art world longer than the cat world. In the book, she combines those worlds, just as she has in life.

In the new book Cat Lady Chronicles, Houston writer Diane Lovejoy sets out to paint a new portrait of who a cat lady really is.

It is a memoir of how Lovejoy and her husband Michael rescued one cat and after several years of these stray "little creatures" pressing their faces to the glass of their back door, found themselves the happy cat lady and cat gentleman who head a 10-cat household.

It is illustrated with images of cats rendered by artists from Renoir to Kahlo to Chagall. Seventeen of the works in the book are from the MFAH’s own collection and are seldom on view.

CultureMap recently sat down with Lovejoy to talk cats, art, and the art of being a cat lady.

CultureMap: Throughout the book you use the term cat lady almost as if it were a calling or title. Is it?

Diane Lovejoy: I think that it’s both. I call myself "cat lady" and that’s a nickname I gave myself when we started on this process of rescuing all these cats. But I think it is a calling to serve others whether they be cats, or whether it’s my case, at work, the museum curators, or whether it’s volunteering. The people who feel there’s a need to serve others, in whatever capacity that might be, see it as a calling.

It’s a term that has typically had a bad rap, but what is so bad about being passionate about animals and being committed to caring for them?

It’s a term that has typically had a bad rap, but what is so bad about being passionate about animals and being committed to caring for them? Typically people think of cat lady as someone who may be hoarding and with all those reality shows about hoarding what is that line of demarcation between acquiring cats and hoarding them? But I am proud to wear the badge and if it’s a title, I’m OK with that.

CM: What are the responsibilities and rewards of being a cat lady or cat gentleman?

DL: I think the responsibilities are to make sure the cat is healthy. You’ve got to be very attentive to their care. Scooping the litter boxes is one of the fatiguing responsibilities. Spending time and caring for them.

In terms of the rewards, it sounds like a cliche but they really are infinite. The cats give unconditional love. I love getting home especially if I’ve had a tough day and there they are with no judgments, just waiting for me to come home.

CM: People sometimes say that it’s dogs that provide unconditional love with no judgment, and cats are more aloof, but you think that’s true about cats as well?

DL: I think that it is. Cats have more of that silent, looking you up and down, way about them. I think when you are interactive with them it becomes a completely different story. With ours we socialize them to the extent that they really are our fur kids.

CM: What was your objective in writing the book? Did you want to change perceptions of what a cat lady is?

DL: If I had to define the publishing rational, I wouldn’t say I was out to champion the brand of the cat lady, but I hope I do do that so people might think: "I, too, am a cat lady," and it’s not an embarrassment anymore. It was really to tell a feel-good story about unconditional love.

I thought that my perspective on being a cat lady might be a little bit different in terms of trying to bring in my working life in the art world. Herding cats is easy; herding museum curators maybe not so much. But the two worlds began to compliment each other.

CM: Why was it important to weave art into your story?

DL: I thought really this explosion of cats in my life could be paralleled by opening the book and all of a sudden there are these colored plates of images of cats. I had so much fun doing the photo research for the cats because it was like bringing together cats again from different streets in the Montrose area, cats from all over the art world from different collections coming to life together.

CM: Why have some artists been so fascinated by cats?

DL: Cats are who they are, sort of like artists are. They’re soulful creatures. They’re beautiful. It’s true since ancient times artists have always depicted cats. They were way ahead of the Internet in championing their cause.

CM: There are times in the book where you make the comparison between being a collector of art and being a collector of cats. Is the desire to collect art similar to the need to help, and perhaps even collect, cats?

DL: I try to be careful and explain that I do understand the distinction that the world in which I work is about collecting inanimate objects. Of course the artist’s hand is evident, and the works are informed by the artist’s spirit and so forth, but ultimately these are objects that can be picked up and hung, but with a cat it’s sustained care.

I had begun to wonder by collecting—so to speak—cats, was it because I’m surrounded by this acquisitive environment, and could I justify this process by thinking I’m a collector? But really, I know that collecting art and collecting cats are two different things. I’m collecting living creatures and bringing them into an environment where they not hung on walls; they’re a part of our life and they’ve become vital to our existence.

  • Ann Richards was a born entertainer, author Jan Reid says.
    Photos courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. From Let thePeople In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid, © 2012, TheUniversity of Texas Press
  • Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards
    Courtesy photo
  • Author Jan Reid believes Richards lives on so vividly in our memories becauseshe was “such a refreshing difference from what we see now.”
    Courtesy photo
  • Photo of a young Ann Richards.
    Photos courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. From Let thePeople In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid, © 2012, TheUniversity of Texas Press
  • Richards in her later years.

Forever hot: New book explores why Ann Richards continues to fascinate andendure

A refreshing difference

Though Texas remains very much a Republican state, one Texas Democrat still holds a high approval rating throughout the country. With a documentary making the film festival rounds, the play Ann headed for Broadway and now a biography on her life hitting the bookstores, Texas’ own white hot mama, Ann Richards, still blazes in our imagination six years after her death.

Why does her life, personality and politics still fascinate us? This is the question I posed to Jan Reid the author of Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, when I spoke to him before his visit to Houston and Brazos Bookstore on Monday night.

Why does her life, personality and politics still fascinate us?

In this political world of scripted politicians and 30-second sound bites, Reid believes Richards lives on so vividly in our memories because she was “such a refreshing difference from what we see now.”

Reid, a journalist and novelist, first met Richards in 1980 and would later serve as an advisor on environmental policy during her 1990 race for governor. During her governorship, he was sometimes a speech writer for her appointee John Hall, who served as chair of the Texas Natural Resource Commission. (Reid’s wife, Dorothy Brown, was a friend of Ann’s who served as a chief aide on her staff.)

In the prologue to the book, Reid is upfront about his connection with Richards.

“I knew people would know who was I was and who my wife was, so if I wrote a puff piece about Ann Richards, I’d just get beat to hell. I was really taking pains to give the warts in addition to the smiles. I was really careful about that. But I also thought I had to be upfront about it. I couldn’t pretend that I was never in the picture and that I didn’t have a personal relationship with her. [But] I didn’t want that to intrude,” he said.

The real Ann?

During the book’s recounting of her run for Texas governor, Reid references an October 1990 Texas Monthly profile of Richards where she says, “Everybody wanted to let Ann be Ann. And they all had different Ann's.” I asked Reid if this was also a problem he had to confront when writing the book.

“Well yeah, particularly the more I found about her other periods. I had the picture of her when she was 47-years-old, when her political career was just taking off. But I kept finding layers and layers of Ann both from what people told me and that wealth from the archive,” he says.

Reid found an Ann who “had a lot of fear. She was fragile in a lot of ways. That was the biggest surprise to find how human she was. It was good to discover that.”

Reid says that researching and speaking with her friends and family that knew her before she began running for political offices led him to understand that the woman we remember striding that motorcycle with white hair piled high as the Texas skies was one of many Ann's.

“When she decided to become Ann the public person, she created the persona that worked pretty well for her. Not to say this was a dishonest strategy on her part. She was a born entertainer,” he explained, adding that she understood style and show business and used them to accomplish her goals in government.

Yet by delving into some of Richards' correspondences, especially those between Richards and Edwin “Bud” Shrake, who in the prologue of the book Reid describes as the “second great love of her life,” Reid found a Richards who “had a lot of fear. She was fragile in a lot of ways. That was the biggest surprise to find how human she was. It was good to discover that.”

Though deeply focused on mapping the “amazing narrative arc” of her life, Reid pauses throughout the book to provide historical and cultural context for the reader. All this background information helps us understand how Texas created Richards and how Richards changed Texas.

The many photographs of Richards with political and media celebrities included in the book also help give the impression that Richards knew everybody and was always in the center of the action. When I made this observation to Reid he agreed.

“Oh she did. Her family was way too close for comfort near the Kennedy assassination. She had these very unpleasant face-to-face encounters with LBJ and Carter. She was in New York during 9/11. There was big earthquake in San Francisco in the '80s and she happened to be in San Francisco. It seemed like she was just everywhere all the time.”

Ann's Legacy

Though Texas might remember Richards with great fondness, I wondered if Reid still saw her presence in the current political landscape. Reid said he continues to see Richards' influence, even in Gov. Rick Perry’s administration when it comes to diversity in political appointments. Thanks to Richards, we can never go back “to the old, white boys club."

“She was also the first ardent feminist elected to a major office in the United States. You hear a lot about the cracks in the glass ceiling. Well, she put some of them up there. Hillary Clinton considered Ann her mentor when she was first lady and then Senator of New York,” he said.

Reid continues to see Richards' influence, even in Gov. Perry’s administration when it comes to diversity in political appointments. Thanks to Richards, we can never go back “to the old, white boys club."

As we finished our conversation, I had to ask Reid if he felt a sense of deja vu when watching Richards' daughter, Cecile Richards, the current president of Planned Parenthood, speak at the Democratic Convention.

“Of course. Cecile is a star--just in a different way — just like her mother was. She’s just blossomed, as all her children have. . .But Cecile’s a politician. She can’t come back to Texas and run for office, it doesn’t seem, but she’s probably accomplishing more now than she would if she had an office. The last many weeks of the presidential campaign she was on the road with Obama. He was seeking her council all the time.”

And how would Ann feel about that campaign and it’s outcome? Reid believes, “To have been able to see that in her lifetime would have just been amazing to her.”

  • Author Emma Donoghue
    Photo by © Nina Subin
  • Astray by Emma Donoghue

In search of freaks & nobodies of history: Author Emma Donoghue createscharacters led Astray

Inprint Series

Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, the best-selling author of Room, is on a journey to Texas on her tour for her new book Astray. So perhaps it is appropriate that her collection of short stories is obsessed with types of immigration and travel, some physical, some mental.

These stories of wandering characters, who travel to or within a North America still new, are all based on historical events or on real people who left footprints in the historical record that are little more than footnotes. After each story in Astray, Donoghue provides the reader with that footnote, the historical documentation that sparked her story.

Reading Astray is a bit like watching a magician create a wondrous illusion before you and then reveal a few enticing hints as to how she did it.

Reading Astray is a bit like watching a magician create a wondrous illusion before you and then reveal a few enticing hints as to how she did it. When I talked with Donoghue before her trip to Houston for the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series I asked why she felt it important to give away Astray’s historical inspirations. She explained the choice was more ethical than aesthetic.

“While I’m getting great pleasure out of sort of resurrecting these dead people, I in no way own their stories. I don’t want to set down these stories as if I have ownership of them. I really feel strongly that I want to get these lives back into the public domain of knowledge,” she explains and hopes other writers, readers, or historians might further explore these forgotten people whether that exploration takes the shape of biographies, online projects, or other fictive works.

And how does she find these lost lives to turn into the fodder for story?

“I always look for something that’s unexplained and puzzling which is never going to be explained to us by the sources, especially because a lot of these people are truly obscure, the nobodies of history. I don’t think we’re ever going to find a clear explanation, so fiction can move in wonderfully in a situation like that. . .I look for a fresh angle that fiction can bring,” she says.

Searching for Mavericks

When I next asked Donoghue what it is that attracts her to these “nobodies of histories” much more than the somebodies we all might remember from history class, she says it’s the oddities and freaks of the past that she looks to for her fiction, the people “with strange bodies, people with strange minds, people who break rules.”

Donoghue says it’s the oddities and freaks of the past that she looks to for her fiction, the people “with strange bodies, people with strange minds, people who break rules.”

For Donoghue it’s all the better if these “mavericks” are not representative of the rest of the world or era she’s depicting. As an example, she cites the story in Astray, “Last Supper at Brown’s,” her take on an obscure bit of Texas history of a slave who killed his master and ran away with the widow. In Donoghue’s imagining the wife was abused by her husband and longed for freedom as much as the slave.

Donoghue notes that these types of cases were extremely rare but the “marginal cases can illuminate the everyday.” She believes “sometimes by looking at the most strange outlining case you can glimpse something that is true.”

Throughout Astray, Donoghue keeps at least a century’s distance between the historical subjects of her stories and her readers. The one exception is the last story “What Remains,” a quiet, heartbreaking scene from the last years of the U.S-turned-Canadian artists Frances Loring and Florence Wyle. The story depicts Wyle’s struggle to reach through Loring’s dementia to reconnect with her by visiting one of Loring’s great sculptures. The women died within three weeks of each other in 1968.

I asked Donoghue if writing fiction about two artist who are much closer to us in time and who are still well known in their adopted country puts restraints on her story telling. She says that there has been warm responses to the story in Canada.

“I think people are generally thrilled if you pay the compliment of fiction to somebody they’ve known or cared about. Yes, it’s a bit more uncomfortable writing about the 20th century then say the seventeenth, but on the other hand there are great rewards because I think people are often deeply moved when you’re dealing with something a bit closer in time to their experience,” she explains.

Emma Donoghue the Character?

And what of her own life, I had to ask. Donoghue has written several essays on her experience as a Irish woman, immigrant, lesbian, and mother. In interviews she has been so open about her life to even reveal what qualities she and her partner, Chris Roulston, looked for in a sperm donor. So if a hundred years from now some writer not-yet-born wanted to write a story, novel, or play in which Donoghue was a character, would she approve?

“I would feel free. I couldn’t care less what they do a hundred years from now, and I’d be honored,” she says but doubts the possibility, as she judges her life not to be good inspiration for story. “It’s been a very fairly even, peaceful, and happy life, not the stuff of fiction at all. That’s the paradox, I’m drawn to these strange, dark, particular stories and that’s not the way I actually like to live. But [writers can] feel free. They can do what they like.”

Emma Donoghue and novelist Hari Kunzru take the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall stage on Monday, Nov. 12, at 7:30. The Inprint web site sells admission tickets for $5.

  • Son by Lois Lowry
  • Author Lois Lowry
    Photo by © Matthew McKee

The mother of Hunger Games disaster lit laments the loss of imagination: LoisLowry unplugged

Cool Brains

What would people give up if they could achieve a society without poverty, hate, war, or crime? Would the loss of music, colors, love, choice and memories, both lovely and horrific, be worth living in that seemingly perfect world, or would those losses turn a utopia into a dystopia?

Such are the types of questions asked by the Newbery award-winning children’s book The Giver, a novel for kids that has been lauded and assigned in hundred of school districts across the country and challenged and banned in others. The Giver’s author, Lois Lowry, has just completed Son, her fourth and final book in the series, and will be in Houston for Inprint’s Cool Brains reading series Sunday afternoon to meet with her many fans both young and old.

"There was a time some years ago when kids were willing to be forced to use their own imagination and that seems less true now."

Lowry has been writing children’s books for more than three decades, so when I had a chance to talk to her before her Houston visit I had to ask about her audience. Do the kids of this generation want and need the same kind of stories they did when she first began writing?

Her answer is decidedly no.

“They want faster paced books," she says. "They want action and they want things spelled out. They don’t like, for example, the ambiguity of the ending of The Giver. There was a time some years ago when kids were willing to be forced to use their own imagination and that seems less true now.

"I’m over generalizing, of course, but they want things told to them. I suppose that has to do with technology. They’re just so accustomed to having information come at them all the time that when something forces them to slow down and think . . . they don’t necessarily like that."

Dystopias for Kids

This change in kids might also be the reason for the popularity of dystopian novels, like The Hunger Games series. With the publication of The Giver in 1993, Lowry became the forerunner, or perhaps the mother, of the dystopian trend, but she thinks it will eventually fade like vampire books before it.

Yet, she also thinks there might be a reason kids gravitate towards these novels.

Recalling her own childhood growing up during WWII, she says her father served in the Pacific, so of course she was aware of the war, but she was never bombarded by the images of it like children today see of their own torn and strife-filled world.

“Kids are not exempted from knowing the terrible things that my contemporaries and I were protected from as children because of the media being less of a presence in our lives," Lowry says. "I think the fact the kids are being forced to think about what the world will be like as they grow into it is perhaps the reason they’re interested in speculative fiction, books about a future world that they’ll be part of."

Lowry doesn’t believe that kids want to actually live in those dystopian worlds, but that kids do believe they can change what’s wrong with our own world.

“Nobody these days, whatever age they are, is unaware that there’s a lot of things wrong in our poor world," she says. "I think kids are very much aware of that, but I think that kids are optimistic. They believe, as they should, that they’re going to grow up and they’re going to be educated and learn stuff and they’re going to do better than the last generation.

"And maybe that’s true. I guess one has to hope that’s true."

Moments of Recognition

Like The Giver’s protagonist Jonas, Claire in Son, a 14-year-old assigned the role of birth mother in the Community, begins to recognize that there is something wrong with this community. It is only with that recognition that these young heroes can make changes, but it also proves to be an agonizing loss of innocence when they realize that the safety and security they knew in the world is all a facade.

“Nobody these days, whatever age they are, is unaware that there’s a lot of things wrong in our poor world. I think kids are very much aware of that."

When I make this observation to Lowry, she acknowledges there was probably some truth to it and notes: “It’s probably not surprising that in that particular series of books each protagonist is at the age of entering adulthood. I think with that age of entering, and that entrance into, the world of adults comes a sort of recognition of responsibilities. I think it’s my favorite age to write about for that reason.

"A boy that age, like the boy in The Giver, is still a child at the same time he’s beginning to become a man. It’s such a complicated age and very interesting to me.”

Much of Son tells of Claire’s journey and what she will sacrifice to unite with her son once he is taken away, like all “products” are taken from “vessels” in the Community.

Lowry wrote an autobiography in 1998 and in her many speaking engagements and interviews, she has been open about the fact that part of the inspiration for writing Son came from the death of her own son Grey, a U.S Air Force pilot who died in a plane crash in Germany only a few years after the publication of The Giver.

When I ask her if she is the type of writer who takes some comfort in sharing her real life with the readers of her imagined worlds, she tells the story of an actor friend who sent her a simple quote from Macbeth when he heard about her son’s death: "Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak/Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break."

“I think that’s an important thing to speak of our strong feelings,” she says, “And of course that relates to The Giver where people have no strong feelings to speak about with each other because they’re so deeply repressed because of the way they’re been programmed. So I do think it’s an important thing to speak about what we undergo.”

Fans old and young can speak with Lois Lowry 3 p.m. on Sunday at Johnson Middle School.

  • Novelist Attica Locke
    Photo by Jenny Walters
  • Locke's new book, The Cutting Season, is set in a Louisiania plantation.
  • Attica Locke's father, Houston attorney Gene Locke

Novelist Attica Locke writes about Houston murder, Gulf history & characters whoare not her dad

Hometown Glory

Novelist and screenwriter Attica Locke has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years but she thinks she’ll probably be writing about her hometown Houston and the Gulf Coast region for the rest of her life.

Locke’s first novel, Black Water Rising, was set in Houston in the 1980s and her recently published second novel, The Cutting Season, takes place on a restored Louisiana plantation in 2009. In my interview with the author before her trip home this month, she explained she is one of those writers whose early environment continues to have great influence on her creative work.

“There’s something about the Gulf Coast and Houston and Texas that is stamped on my psyche, and I view the world through the lens in which I was raised and am hoping to hold on to some of the great things about the way I was raised,” she says.

“There’s something about the Gulf Coast and Houston and Texas that is stamped on my psyche, and I view the world through the lens in which I was raised and am hoping to hold on to some of the great things about the way I was raised,” she says.

Locke is the daughter of former city attorney and 2009 mayoral candidate Gene Locke. On Monday, the Lockes will have a bit of a public family reunion as both are set to speak at the University of Houston Political Science Department event: "Revolution on Cullen: The Personal Challenges of Integrating UH in the 1960s." Over the next few days Attica Locke will also be making bookstore appearances to read from her new novel.

The Cutting Season, though plotted as a murder mystery, is a novel that wrestles with the question of how we comprehend and make peace with our individual and national history. The novel’s reluctant detective, Caren Gray, manages the Belle Vie plantation in its 21st-century form, as an event and conference venue.

Gray’s life, and the novel, is filled with ironies of history. The successful Gray was two years into Tulane Law School before financial considerations set her into hotel management, but she is also the daughter of the Belle Vie’s former cook and the great, great granddaughter of slaves who worked the plantation. Meanwhile, the father of her own daughter, Morgan, works for the Obama White House.

Her set life is completely upset when the body of Inés Avalo, an undocumented El Salvadorian migrant worker, who toiled in the nearby sugar cane fields, is found on the Belle Vie grounds. Only by unraveling the tangled histories of Belle Vie and her own individual past does Gray manage to solve the two murders separated by more than a century.

The inspiration for the novel came when Locke and her husband attended a wedding at the real Louisiana plantation, Oak Alley. The magnificent beauty of the house and grounds juxtaposed with its ugly history left Locke unsettled but gave her much material for a novel. When I asked her if writing the book helped her to answer some of the questions the experience had left her with, she said not quite.

The inspiration for the novel came when Locke and her husband attended a wedding at the real Louisiana plantation, Oak Alley.

“What I got out of writing the book was coming face to face with my own personal ancestral history and finding peace with that, but also deciding which parts of my history am I going to carry forward in my life and give to my children and which parts of the idea of what it means to be black in America that we’ve known up until the 21st century am I going to let go of. Writing it was kind of an act of healing,” she explained.

Part of that healing came in the from a gratitude she felt for all those who labored before her so she could live in “this incredible life of freedom.”

“I also felt a sense of pride, not only in black people, but in my country. My God, look at what this country has done. Look at the breadth of progress. It’s just kind of awesome to think of the ways in which America has the capacity of self correction when we are at our best,” she says.

Creating Mystery

While Cutting Season is loaded with complex issues and themes, it is also a well plotted satisfying murder mystery. Explaining how she achieves such a balance in her work, Locke says, “The murder mystery element keeps me from going off on tangents with those big American themes. If you leave a body on page three, you have to keep things moving along.”

At the same time, Locke acknowledges the importance of writing a mystery novel that contains more than just a crime to be solved.

“The other thing about having sophisticated character studies behind the mystery is if someone figures out what the mystery, I still want them to finish reading the book. To me every mystery, on some level, is Scooby-Doo. It’s the first guy to walk by in the first chapter or whatever. There’s only so many ways you can fool people, but at least you can add all this other rich stuff that keeps people reading anyway,” she explains.

Jay vs. Gene

When Locke returns to Houston she is also set to revisit her character, Houston attorney Jay Porter, in a sort of sequel to her first novel Black Water Rising. Jay, like Caren, is an example of Locke’s interest in creating “regular people” who are “presented with extraordinary circumstances” that place them in the role of amateur detective.

“People who really know my dad, know that Jay’s not him, and I can’t control the rest of it. My dad has been a good sport. He never gave me a hard time once,” she says.

The new book will take place during an election in Houston, and since the character of Jay shares some qualities and life achievements as her father Gene Locke, Attica Locke will likely have to continue to explain to people that Jay is not Gene.

“People who really know my dad, know that Jay’s not him, and I can’t control the rest of it. My dad has been a good sport. He never gave me a hard time once,” she says and then adds “Other than paying for college and giving me braces, one of the greatest thing he’s ever done as a father is not giving me a hard time about that. . .He never said anything. He just completely supported me.”


Attica Locke will read at Brazos Bookstore on Tuesday and Blue Willow Bookshop on Wednesday.

  • Author Junot Díaz will open the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series onMonday.
    Photo by © Nina Subin
  • This is How You Lose Her, Díaz's newest book, was released on Sept. 11.
    Courtesy Photo

How Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz plays with his readers — & ended upin Vogue

Inprint Reading Series

Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer Junot Díaz likes to play games with his readers. "Not games of manipulation," he assured CultureMap during a phone conversation in anticipation of his trip to Houston to open the 2012-2013 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series on Monday night.

Instead, the Dominican-American author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao likes to create games in the sense that writer and reader play together to assemble the book.

Case in point: When reading his latest work, This Is How You Lose Her, the reader might wonder how to categorize the book. Is it a collection of short stories linked by the same narrator, Yunior de Las Casas, who has appeared in all three of Díaz's books? Or is it a novel loosely woven together by connected scenes from Yunior's life?

Díaz calls the book somewhat of a "hybrid," but asks readers to decide for themselves.

Instead, the Dominican-American author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, likes to create games in the sense that writer and reader play together to assemble the book.

"Many readers will read both my first book [Drown] and this book as something far closer to a unified book than many novels . . . Other people will read it and see something completely different. I think a part of me just relishes the chance to give my readers the opportunity to be the ones to name a genre," he explained.

And how do those first and third books connect to the acclaimed Oscar Wao, his second book and first novel, which is also narrated by Yunior? Díaz thinks of all three works as "chapters in the life of this crazy, conflicted, smart but infuriating, protagonist, Yunior de Las Casas." And here again, the author asks the reader to play with him in the creation of Yunior’s world.

"A reader who actually reads all three books begins to assemble them in their heads in interesting ways. I always thought that I was writing a larger novel and each of these books was a chapter in it," Díaz said.

In This is How You Lose Her, Yunior, a Dominican Jersey boy and budding writer, records the many losses in his life from childhood into his late twenties — the majority of which are racked up in games of love, familial or romantic. Many of the short stories have been previously published in The New Yorker, but Díaz said that each was written with its placement in the book's "superstructure" already in mind.

"I conceptualized the beginning of the book from the get. I had this idea that this would be the rise and fall of a cheater. I had certain points that I knew I wanted to hit. I had a certain structure that I was really interested in. And then I had to go out and find the material that would fit it," Díaz said of his process.

Coming towards the end of the first half of the book, the story "Otravida, Otravez" seems to break that structure Díaz has set up, with the introduction of Yasmin, another first person and female narrator. The story stands on its own as a different perspective on cheating: Yasmin is the other woman in a relationship with Dominican immigrant Ramón, who has left his wife and children back home to work in the U.S.

Readers familiar with Díaz's previous two books might remember that Ramón is the name of Yunior's father and that Yunior is a writer, and will perhaps begin to wonder who is telling this story — Yasmin or Yunior?

"My heart goes out to those of us who are somewhat broken. I'm drawn to that. I know it's kind of weird. Other people like brand new shit; I love ruins," Díaz admitted.

To unravel this layering of writer, narrator and second narrator, Díaz explained, "For Yunior, a character who suffers profoundly from an inability to imagine women, I think one of the great tests for him in a journey like this is his ability to imagine a woman who he would never have any sympathy for, the woman who stole his father from the family . . . For the average reader, they're just going to think this is a completely disconnected story and that's cool. I don't mind, but for someone who's really invested in the work and has that investigative impulse, the story suddenly slides perfectly into place."

Díaz compares this kind of game with the reader who knows his writing well to Easter eggs in video games and DVDs. "I don't mind those games," he said. "As a writer you've got to take some risks. It doesn't work for everyone but sometimes you take these kind of risks because you're like: Hey, this is fucking interesting complexity."

In the past, Díaz has described the brash and broken Yunior as a bit of a dumb-ass. When questioned about the allure in creating such a character, Díaz turned introspective.

"I enjoy people who are human, which means they are flawed and imperfect and they struggle with themselves. They fail other people at the same time as they're failing themselves. I'm so attracted to those people because I've never felt perfect. I've made so many mistakes in my life. I've not done half what all I could have done if I had courage," he admitted.

"My heart goes out to those of us who are somewhat broken. I'm drawn to that. I know it's kind of weird. Other people like brand new shit; I love ruins."

And as to the question of whether Yunior will remain a ruin, Díaz leaves it up to the readers to participate and to decide for themselves. "Do you believe what Yunior is going to write next is going to transform him? Do you believe that it's possible for us to write a new future for ourselves?"

Of all the new and strange futures Díaz has written for his own life, perhaps the oddest is a model. As we finished our discussion, I had to ask how he came to play diplomat Walter Van Rensselaer Berry in an Edith Wharton garden party reenactment, featured in the August issue of Vogue. Blaming his participation on "writerly curiosity," he jokingly comparing the experience to the time he interviewed "a bunch of old torturers from the Trujillo regime."

Enticed to do "this fucking ridiculous dress up" and getting to meet famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, Díaz reasoned, "[If] I did this more than once, it would be suspect. But as someone who's curious and tries to write both high and low, I couldn't fucking resist. I said, I will wear a clown outfit so that I can see the inside of a Vogue shoot, which not many people have, and I think they’d be surprised by my point of view on it, to be honest."

Readers wanting to glimpse that point of view and come play some games in Yunior's fictive world can meet Junot Díaz in the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater Monday at 7:30 p.m..

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Brad Paisley steals hearts — and a fan's phone — in his Star Trail of Fame RodeoHouston show

a star is born

Just a few hours before hitting the stage for his 15th show at RodeoHouston on Saturday, March 18, Brad Paisley was inducted into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Star Trail of Fame.

The guitar picker joined the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Reba, Charley Pride, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry (the first performer ever), Roy Rogers, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Selena.

Unless you are a certified rodeo rat like myself and have spent years stalking the halls of the NRG Center assignments, you’ve likely never seen this wall of gold plaques, located on the second floor of NRG Center outside HLSR’s offices.

Paisley’s star is the tenth on the wall, hanging next to Selena. On Saturday, he spoke briefly at an unveiling ceremony hosted by HLSR organizers.

“There’s nothing like this in the world,” Paisley told the assembled Houston press and rodeo brass on Saturday afternoon. “You guys realize that.”

It’s an honor reserved for the performers who’ve made a pronounced mark on the event. For some, like Reba and Strait, it’s about longevity and universal draw. While Selena (1993, 1994, 1995) and Elvis Presley (1970, 1974) only appeared at the rodeo a handful of times, their appearances have grown into sacred cultural milestones for two distinct demographics.

In Houston, you can age a native by who they first saw at the rodeo, like cowboy cosplay carbon dating. It doesn’t take long into a casual conversation about the rodeo without someone bragging about who they first saw.

Not unlike vegans, it won’t take long for someone to edify you with tales of seeing Elvis’ name on the Dome’s exploding scoreboard, or seeing Selena’s famous outfits in living color on Diamond Vision from the cheap seats. For me, it was being four years old and Strait showing off some of his ocean front property in 1987.

Paisley’s rodeo stops have always been breathers, nights to stretch and enjoy the scenery, like an industry night for the rodeo season. He’s performed at every RodeoHouston held since 2014, and without COVID changing the world’s plans, Saturday night’s matinee would have been his 17th show.

I’ve never heard anyone say an unkind word about a Paisley variety show stop. The rodeo’s starred stage, in whatever iteration, feels like home to him. The Grand Ole Opry and Guitar Hall of Fame member could be the house performer at an all-year rodeo theme park and no one would bat an eye.

He’s grown into an ambassador for a gentler, comical side of modern country music that’s always needed. Running counter to the stuffy modern hat acts, the sterner indie-toned traditionalists, and the rap-liters. Paisley’s the dude playing the hits, showing off his picking fingers, and having a beer with everyone in the room. No one else on this year’s rodeo lineup besides Paisley has recorded a song with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, either.

On Saturday night, Paisley brought the warmth from his plaque unveiling onto the stage in front of a sold out matinee crowd. “River Bank” kicked things off with Paisley’s slashing riverbilly guitar out front.

It only took three songs for Paisley to make his first tour onto the dirt for “Perfect Storm”, which morphed into a cover of “The Love Boat” TV theme song as Paisley took a victory lap on the west side of the stadium. Of course, “Water” was the next song.

Music videos have always been Paisley’s multimedia creative jam and he made sure to sprinkle some gems from his videography into the set and screens. “Waitin’ On a Woman” came with the requisite posthumous cameo from Andy Griffith from the music video. For “Celebrity,” Paisley’s own mascot from the industry-skewering viral video made a minor cameo in the chute seats.

For a foggy mountain jam, Paisley and his band members with instruments that can go mobile joined him on the dirt for a road trip.

“You’re such a beautiful mix of Budweiser, cow shit, and Brut Cologne,” Paisley told the crowd as “I’m Still A Guy” worked its way into the set list.

Paisley stole a fan’s phone for a spell and began to play on Aurora Fernandez Sordelli’s Instagram account, perusing her socials and critiquing her profile. It completely made sense for United States Congressman Dan Crenshaw to sit in on “American Saturday Night,” playing tambourine more than slightly off beat.

Brad Paisley RodeoHouston 2023

Photo by Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

“The Brad Paisley Variety Hour has been a certified hit for 15 rodeo seasons running and hopefully, we’re only at the beginning of its run.


River Bank

Wrapped Around

Perfect Storm

The Literal Love Boat Theme


Waitin’ On a Woman



Last Time For Everything

Old Alabama

I’m Still A Guy

This is Country Music

American Saturday Night (with Dan Crenshaw on tambourine)


She’s Everything

Longtime Houston news anchor's new commercial success leads week's hottest stories

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Longtime Houston news anchor boasts serious commercial success in new TV gig. Our columnist catches up with the former ABC13 employee about life as a TV spokesperson.

2. The ultimate Houston list of kid-friendly and family fun for spring break 2023. We've rounded up more than 20 suggestions to beat back boredom.

3. Turnpike Troubadours kick up some red dirt redemption in RodeoHouston's top-selling show to date. Like Ferris Bueller, Turnpike brings together the country music tribes..

4. 9 best Houston bars for 2023 mix legendary local faves with must-visit newcomers. Presenting the nominees for Bar of the Year in the 2023 Tastemaker Awards.

5. Local Foods owner serves up French bistro with caviar service, regional classics, and a duck-short rib burger in Rice Village. The new restaurant is located in the former Thai Spice space.

Brad Paisley joins George Strait and Selena with induction into RodeoHouston's prestigious Star Trail of Fame

paisley park

Country superstar Brad Paisley's RodeoHouston performance on Saturday, March 18 will mark more than his 15th time taking the Rodeo stage.

The amiable singer and crooner will also be inducted into the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s prestigious Star Trail of Fame at 3 pm the same day.

This honor makes Paisley the 10th star honored with a gold plaque to commemorate his years of outstanding entertainment at the Rodeo. For those keeping score (and there are many), Paisley has played at RodeoHouston every year since 2014. He's also famous for his choice of wife, noted actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

"Brad Paisley is a great addition to our Star Trail of Fame, as he’s playing his 15th show at RodeoHouston this weekend and continues to be one of our top performers each season," Jason Kane, RodeoHouston's director of entertainment, tells CultureMap. "We’re thrilled to recognize Brad and welcome him to our RodeoHouston family, alongside fellow artists who have helped shaped our show over the years."

As for those other artists on the trail, those include names like the King of Country George Strait, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, and our beloved Tejano queen Selena.

Fans who want to check out the official Star Trail of Fame can find it on the second floor of NRG Center outside the Rodeo’s offices.