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Inprint celebrates National Poetry Month with renowned poets Yusef Komunyakaa and Carl Phillips as part of annual Reading Series

Staff Writer

Houston-based literary nonprofit Inprint will bring in National Poetry Month with a live poetry reading by award-winning poets Yusef Komunyakaa and Carl Phillips on April 11. They’ll be reading from their recently published works, “Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems” and “Then the War: and Selected Poems, 2007-2020” respectively.

The two books are collections of each poet’s work over their respective careers. The two poets will read briefly from them, before conversing with another poet, Francine J. Harris, a University of Houston Creative Writing professor, whose own book, “Here is the Sweet Hand” won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2020.

Rich Levy, Executive Director of Inprint has been with the nonprofit for 26 years, and is a poet himself. He described both poets as individuals who represent “something special” in the world of American poetry, and spoke on their inclusion in the reading series with glee.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to present so many great poets,” recounted Levy. “So for me, these occasions are always special. Yosef Komunyakaa is one of my heroes, and he is an amazing writer. Carl we’ve never had in the reading series, but I’m glad that’s changing, especially on the occasion of him publishing his major retrospective collection of him. ”

Komunyakaa’s experiences as an African American man who spent time in the Vietnam War are reflected in his works. In a similar vein, many of Phillips’ works were written in times of rising racial inequality in the country, of which he also was witness to him throughout his life. Some works, such as his poem “Domestic,” also focus on his life as a gay man.

The Inprint Margarett Root Brown reading series has been ongoing since 1980, making this year its 41st season. Over the years, Inprint has featured different authors, poets, and memoirists alike from all over the country. The season of this particular series started in August 2020, and will continue on into May of this year.

In addition to the reading series, Inprint also hosts a separate reading series for children called “Cool Brains,” where they give out 100 free books at every reading. Inprint also does writing workshops across the city for aspiring writers and senior citizens looking to write their memoirs. They even work with the Harris County Jail, and hold workshops for various re-entry programs.

“We’re just trying to make writing part of life,” explained Levy. “Jericho Brown, who just won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago earned his PHD here at UH. He taught one of our senior memoir workshops for four and a half years. We want to continue to have that kind of impact and to help shape American littérateurs.”

According to Levy, Inprint has given over $4 million in prizes and fellowships to young writers at the UH creative writing program since 1983. On top of that, they also give back to the medical community, hosting workshops at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Ben Taub Hospital.

For Levy, writing is a means for him to understand the world and his place within it. He said that Inprint has given him the means as a creative to not only create good work for Houston, but work that contributes to the literary scene as a whole. For aspiring writers, poets, and authors, he gives the following advice:

“Keep writing,” stated Levy. “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do. But you also have to learn to have a more objective sense of your own work over time. It always helps to share it, and get some thoughts from other people. You become a better reader of your own work, and a better reader of other people’s work too. So keep writing.”

The upcoming reading event will be $5 per person, though Levy stated that students are able to get in free via consulting Inprint. The reading will be virtual, and will be conducted via Inprint’s own virtual studio. More information on the event can be found via the Inprint website.

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