Celebrating Texas Independents: Houston

“Texas rewards a desire for independence, and this is seen in the independent bookstores that serve as community hubs and in the incredibly diverse independent publishers who take pride in bringing out underserved voices.”

-LeeAnne Carlson

What a wonderful month we’ve had of Celebrating Texas Independents! From Odessa, to San Antonio, to Austin, and Dallas, we’ve so enjoyed meeting our great literary state’s wonderful writers and readers, as well as independent booksellers, publishers, and journal editors. We’ve got one more panel left this month in Houston on March 31 at 7 pm at Brazos Bookstore (details and address here). We hope you’ll join us for this discussion on the great opportunities for writers and readers that Texas has to offer. We’ll also discuss writers’ burning questions about the publishing process, submitting to presses and journals, catching the eye of an editor, and more.

In Houston, we’ll be speaking with four distinguished panelists. We recently interviewed three of them — Gabriela Baeza Ventura, executive editor at Arte Público Press;  LeeAnne Carlson, editor at Glass Mountain; and Jill Meyers, cofounder of A Strange Object — about the literary landscape in Texas.

Scribe: Can you share a few thoughts with us about the Texas literary landscape — what makes it unique, and what opportunities can be found here for writers, readers, publishers, and booksellers?

Gabriela Baeza Ventura

Gabriela Baeza Ventura: Texas has an extensive literary presence, especially in regards to the Latino community. Latinos have been publishing and writing in this territory since before it became part of the United States. The multitude of experiences of the people who live in this land, from those who are now established to recent arrivals, make the writing in our state unique. The small and large presses in Texas are also excellent venues for writers and readers.

LeeAnne Carlson

LeeAnne Carlson: Texas has an incredibly deep and rich literary community. The things that make Texas unique are those very aspects which have made Texas enticing for hundreds of years. Texas is a land built on independence — a sense that anything is possible, where innovation and creativity are given free reign. This desire for independence, new opportunities, and a fresh start is what brought Sam Houston, James Bowie, and Stephen F. Austin to Texas! Texas rewards a desire for independence, and this is seen in the independent bookstores that serve as community hubs and in the incredibly diverse independent publishers who take pride in bringing out underserved voices.

Jill Meyers

Jill Meyers: Texas is known for being friendly and open—as well as a place that operates according to its own playbook and its own rules. It is an independent-minded place! People pursue big dreams and launch new ventures here. That warm, welcoming culture as well as the Texas spirit of entrepreneurialism extend to the literary sphere.

As for opportunities? There’s such a wide array of projects to get involved in—as a reader of books and journals, a volunteer, an employee. Arte Público is the oldest publisher of Hispanic literature in the U.S., based right here in Houston. Cinco Puntos, in El Paso, publishes books for adults as well as YA and kids’ books.

Scribe: What do you see as the role of independents in Texas’s literary community (publishers, journals, booksellers) and what do you find most rewarding about the work you do? 

GBV: Our role—Arte Público Press—is to serve as a publishing venue for US Latino writers. In fact, we have been sustaining and promoting Latino literature for the past thirty-eight years. The role of any independent publisher, journal, or bookseller is to promote underserved communities and create spaces where their literature is represented and it is written by them. Working at a nonprofit publishing house that has been responsible for advocating for Latinas/os and creating literature for all ages in various literary genres–such as poetry, fiction, nonfiction, scholarly, and art–for over 35 years is quite rewarding.

LC: At Glass Mountain, we accept submissions from writers who have not not attended an MFA or creative writing PhD program. While we see the value for many writers in pursuing the more formal study of an MFA or PhD, the reality is that the majority of writers will not attend these programs. It is through independent journals, publishers, and booksellers that these writers have the best chance at having their voices heard. Sometimes these voices are not heard through traditional avenues because the voices are not conventional or mainstream. Sometimes these voices are not heard because the traditional avenues are not available to the writer by virtue of age or life circumstances.

Although Glass Mountain is technically a part of the English Department at the University of Houston, by accepting submissions only from emerging writers, we give voice to those writers who are not served by the formal academic study of writing. One of the most rewarding aspects of this is printing a writer’s first piece–some of these writers have been working in solitude for years with no recognition. In just the last two issues of Glass Mountain we have published work by writers from Russia, Columbia, and Mexico. We have also accepted work from high school students and, my personal favorite, a short story from a 65-year-old labor attorney from New Jersey. I am humbled to have been able to be a part of these artists’ first formal recognition.

JM: The role of independents is to signal-boost new voices. We do this through publishing debut writers. Bookstores do this by recommending compelling new titles and hosting book clubs and events.

In some ways, the independents offer their own ecosystem. Terrific independent bookstores like Brazos Bookstore promote and support our books, as they do local independent journals. Our books are available via that behemoth online retailer, but if folks are in Austin where A Strange Object is based, we send them to BookPeople, Malvern, Bookwoman—all the indie bookstores. The appetite for local, for relevant, for made-here is growing.

The most rewarding work is twofold: working with writers to refine their vision for their work, which in addition to editing the work with great care, includes working with cover designers, publicists, and a whole team to get that right. The writer-editor collaboration is full of discovery and delight. And then, of course, there’s introducing the book to the world by launching it at a local indie. So much of this is good–getting to hold the gorgeous physical object in our hands, getting to see strangers excited about this book that’s just come out,  and getting to see people itching to read these stories and hear a new voice.

Scribe: Tell us a bit about a program or event that you have upcoming that exemplifies the spirit of being independent in Texas (or, if that’s not applicable, tell us about something you have upcoming that you’re especially excited about; a chance to promote something to our readers! Include a link if appropriate).

GBV: Nicolás Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press, also funded Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, a program that has been locating, preserving and disseminating Hispanic culture in its written form since colonial times until 1960. For example, this program has been responsible for locating over 1400 Spanish-language newspaper and continues to do more. This summer we launched the first Digital Humanities Research for Latina/o Studies. Find more info on our website.

LC: Often those who would desire to craft a life around their art are made to feel as if there are two options–graduate study, or to blaze their own trails. Sometimes writers may feel as if their trailblazing is more akin to hacking their own path through what at times may seem like an inhospitable jungle. One way that we do assist those trailblazing writers is by hosting a yearly writing conference called Boldface. It’s specifically aimed at “emerging writers,” defined as those writers who have not attended an MFA or PhD program in Creative Writing. This conference, held at the University of Houston, is an entire week of intensive small group workshops, master craft classes, and professional panels on topics ranging from query letters to social media. One-on-one consultations with our visiting authors are also available. We work very hard to provide a world-class caliber conference at an affordable price. Find more info here.

JM: We are extraordinarily excited about our next title which will be out in the fall, The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Michael Noll. It’s a versatile, accessible, and funny book that examines stellar published work—from George Saunders, Roxane Gay, Rachel Kushner, and more—and unpacks the strategies the writers are using. It embraces and examines all kinds of good writing, from fantasy to mystery to literary fiction. As we lead up to publication, we’ll be hosting some workshops where you can get a preview of the book, dig into some exercises, and come away with some new work. Find more information on our website.

Thanks, Gabriela, LeeAnne, and Jill! Also included in this Houston panel discussion is Will Evans of Cinestate — read an interview with him here. You can visit our website for details on the past month of panels. We’ll also be posting a podcast version of our Austin panel on Soundcloud soon, so stay tuned!

Are you a Texas independent (publisher, journal, bookstore, etc.) interested in participating in a future event and/or learning about other opportunities for partnership and promotion? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at wlt@writersleague.org.

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