Inprint, Houston's leading literary arts nonprofit, put on another splendid show this year with its 34th annual Poet and Writers Ball, held earlier this month at The Houstonian and chaired by Anne Whitlock and Michael Skelly. All told, 380 guests helped raise more than $340,000 to further Inprint's efforts of promoting literary arts in the community. Each year, the organization serves more than 15,000 people through activities like low-cost and free author readings for adults and children and writers workshops for the general public, teachers, seniors, healthcare providers, veterans, the incarcerated, and more.
This year's ball began with salon-style readings by three creative writers who have benefited from Inprint's programs: Ricardo Nuila, Cait Weiss Orcutt, and Ashley Wurzbacher. Nuila, a physician and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, took Inprint fiction workshops during his residency. Now published in Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, he's also an Inprint Advisory Board member and has helped launch writing workshops for Harris Health/Ben Taub employees. Nuila read from his forthcoming debut book, The People's Hospital: Stories and Lessons From a Safety Net Healthcare System, to be published by Scribner in 2021.
An Inprint C. Glenn Cambor/MD Anderson Foundation Fellowship recipient and PhD candidate in poetry at the UH Creative Writing Program, Orcutt read from Valleyspeak, the semi-autobiographical manuscript that won her Zone 3 Press' First Book Award. Orcutt's poetry and essays have also been featured in Boston Review, Bust Magazine, Chautauqua, and elsewhere.
Finally, Wurzbacher—who holds a PhD from the UH Creative Writing Program, won the Inprint Alexander Prize in Fiction, and was awarded an Inprint J.A. & Isabel M. Elkins Foundation Fellowship—read a portion of her 2019 short story Fake Mermaid. Wurzbacher was named a 2019 5 Under 35 honoree by the National Book Foundation, and her debut story collection, Happy Like This, earned last year's John Simmons Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press.
Each reader spoke of Inprint's impact on their art and careers, a theme repeated throughout the night as guests moved to the elegant ballroom for dinner. There, table hosts and volunteers decorated each table according to a different literary theme: One Harry Potter table featured a sorting hat, snake, and a sprinkling of winged Ferrero Rocher truffles (golden snitches, of course—talk about attention to detail); another centered around Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls was bedecked with a pink feather centerpiece reminiscent of the novel's flashy cover.
James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande of The Annie Café & Bar designed the inspired menu, which guests devoured before featured speaker Terrance Hayes took the stage. A National Book Award-winning poet and MacArthur Foundation fellow, Hayes gave a spirited talk about the poet's creative process and guided guests through an interactive workshop to collaboratively craft their own poems. Between bites of dessert and sips of coffee, they scribbled prose in the signed, limited-edition chapbook Hayes created with book artists Cathy Hunt and Fiona McGettigan of FioCat Press—each guest received one, featuring new poetry, original drawings, and writing prompts from Hayes.
In the spirit of sharing work, some brave dinner guests rose from their seats to read aloud from their chapbooks, met by great enthusiasm from Hayes and the crowd. The conversation continued over cocktails at an after-hours gathering in the lobby bar.