You Could be the First Houston Poet Laureate

Posted February 27, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


The Houston Public Library and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs are pleased to announce the newly-established

DEADLINE: March 8, 2013

Mayor Annise D. Parker announces the application/nomination process for selection of Houston’s first Poet Laureate. Submissions are welcome from persons nominating a poet for the position of Poet Laureate or from individual poets who are seeking the position. Only online applications will be accepted.


Mission Statement: The Houston Poet Laureate Program (HPLP) celebrates Houston’s rich culture and diversity through the work of a poet who will represent Houston by creating excitement about poetry through outreach, programs, teaching, and written work.

Term of Service: The term of service is two years. The current term will commence in April 2013 and expire in April 2015.

Term Expectations:

• Develop a community outreach project in which the Poet Laureate shares the art and love of poetry with a non-traditional and/or underserved audience.
• Plan and/or attend at least 4 community-based poetry programs per year. These may include public library programs, civic and other forms of community events.
• Provide content to the Houston Poet Laureate Program web page.
• Prepare and provide an annual written report of activities.

Criteria for Nomination and Selection of Poet Laureate:
• Have strong ties to the city of Houston and a strong interest in serving the city.
• Residence in Houston of at least 4 years.
• Experience in public speaking and public performance. Some teaching experience is preferred, but not required.
• Must have a body of published work, including at least one full-length book (not self-published or vanity press) or CD (not self-produced) or at least 20 published poems in established publications (print or online) over the past 5 years.
• Must be at least 21 years of age and not currently enrolled in an academic program.


• The Houston Poet Laureate will receive an annual honorarium of $5,000 through the
City’s Initiative Grant Program of the Houston Arts Alliance.

• A nominating statement of 2 or 3 paragraphs detailing why the nominee would be a good
selection for the Houston Poet Laureate Program.
• A writing sample of 10-15 pages in length consisting of select poems or other literary works.
• Résumé or curriculum vitae, not to exceed 2 pages.
• Brief biography, not to exceed 1 page.
• Proposal for a community outreach program, not to exceed 1 page.
• If the application package is submitted by a nominator (rather than the poet) a statement
by the nominated poet that he/she is aware of the nomination and is willing to fulfill the
requirements of the program if selected.
• Completed application packets should be submitted either as MS Word or PDF documents
via e-mail to [email protected], (Note: All nominations submitted must be
complete and fulfill all requirements. Incomplete nomination packets will not be considered.)


• Mayor Annise Parker, along with Library Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, has appointed the Houston Poet Laureate Selection Committee, a group of acknowledged and diverse poets, scholars, and literary experts, to assist in the nomination and selection process. The group will be chaired by a library representative who will be a non-voting member of the committee.
• The selection committee will review all applications, which will be scored on a 100 point scale, with up to 70 points for artistic quality of the work sample, experience, and other professional accomplishments, and up to 30 points for the quality of the proposed outreach project.
• Finalists will be interviewed in person by the committee in late March and early April.
• The names of the finalists will be forwarded to Mayor Annise D. Parker and Library Director
Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, in order of preference, for their approval and FINAL SELECTION.

• The Poet Laureate will be announced in April 2013 to coincide with National Poetry Month.

Public Poetry Readings

Posted March 30, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Writers in the Schools (WITS) loves Public Poetry, and we know you do too!  Please read the latest from our friends at Public Poetry. Go to the readings and hear WITS students read their work alongside accomplished poets.  Read the invitation below and mark your calendars:

We’re celebrating our 1st anniversary and National Poetry month in a big way with two events in the month of April. Look for poets downtown at the newly restored Julia Ideson Building, across from Central Branch Library, onSaturday, April 7, at 2 PM, and more poets again at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium two weeks later, on Saturday, April 21, at 3 PM.

We’re delighted to confirm that Houston Mayor, Annise Parker, will be joining us as the special guest of honor for the Public Poetry library reading series. Last year, our Poet Mayor read one of her own compositions and also selected My Parents Watch the July Fourth Parade by Richard Beban. We’re eagerly anticipating her additions to the April 7 program, where featured poets –Mike Alexander, Janet Lowery, Jeremyah Payne/The Fluent One and Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan – will be reading. Noted architectural historian, Stephen Fox, will also be speaking briefly about this special library building.

Since Fall 2011, we’ve been telling you about the ARTlines ekphrastic poetry competition in collaboration with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  On April 21, we reveal the winning poems at a special museum event.  There will also be contributions from the jurors – three Texas Poets Laureate among them –docent led tours and a museum reception.  And, poetry will continue to have a presence at the MFAH on their web site, on wall labels and as a cell phone audio stop.   See ARTlines tab (next to Community Links) for additional details.

The public is welcome at both events.  The library event is free, and the museum program is free with general museum admission.

See you there!

Lessons from the Classroom: Writing that Transcends the Page

Posted April 13, 2011 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, WITS People.

As I walked towards the front entrance of E.O. Smith Education Center to observe WITS Writer Deborah Wiggins, I sensed love in the air. On this Valentine’s Day, Wiggins’ writers were preparing to work when I slipped through the classroom door. An international performance poet with a commanding stature, Wiggins is a take charge teacher with a big smile and a warm heart. She wasted no time arresting the boy’s and girl’s attention, using a count-to-ten approach. By the time she reaches number 10, every bottom should be in its seat and all eyes should be on her. (She later told me her students usually are glued to their chairs by number 9.)

Deborah Wiggins inspires her 4th graders to create heart-shaped love poems. Photo by Jennifer Watson.

Getting the children to focus is one of the many challenges Wiggins learned since she took on the class last fall. WITS writers are tasked with developing innovative teaching methods that encourage children to think of language in unconventional ways in addition to showing them that writing about their everyday experiences can be fun. Although each WITS writer is given a sample curriculum as a guideline, customizing the lesson plan to each classroom is no easy feat, not even for a seasoned teacher like Wiggins.

“The biggest trick to working with the kids at Smith is [finding] engaging and active ways for them to interact with writing that transcends the page,” she said. “There are no interesting pieces without imagination. As long as their imaginations are alive, so are their emotions and stories.”

WITS student Guadalupe Hernandez and Mayor Parker. Photo by Gayatri Parikh.



In the spirit of the holiday, Wiggins shared a heart-themed prompt to inspire love poems. Everyone was given construction paper, scissors, and pencils to create a heart and decorate it and asked to write a poem beginning with a simile. The children read their work aloud, and the results were beyond charming. What impressed me most was the individual attention Wiggins gave to every student and her ability to draw on their emotions in a way that got them excited about describing their hearts’ desires.

Wiggins’ natural gift of connecting with her audience as a spoken word poet is a skill she transfers exceptionally well as a teacher. In a recent public performance she was invited to showcase both talents at the kickoff event for Public Poetry, a reading series established to celebrate poetry in the community. She brought along Guadalupe Hernandez, a 4th grader from E.O. Smith, to read poems in honor of National Poetry Month. Of the featured poets including Wiggins, Mayor Annise Parker, Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, and Eva Skrande, it was Hernandez who stunned the crowd with her two poems “Diamonds” and “Untitled” (below).
By Guadalupe Hernandez

My world feels
Cold and windy
The grass is wet
temperature around 65 degrees
it moves like a sphere
an airplane
the right way the wind is going
My world sounds like
Vibration of the wind
In my ear
Trees blowing
I could hear the freeway
When the wind blows
And the trees blow
And the leaves get in your face
And the bears migrate in the winter
And when it stops
It feels hot
I get mad
And our stuff flies away.

Her courageous performance was a testament of how writing “transcends the page” and manifests itself into an experience memorable enough to make a teacher/writer/poet’s heart incredibly proud.

by Jennifer Watson,
Writers in the Schools

It’s Celebration Time!

Posted November 2, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

The WITS Celebration of Story is just a few days away! We hope you’ll join us in what will be our most memorable evening yet as we honor Mayor Annise Parker and feature best-selling author Jeannette Walls. Proceeds from the event  will support creative writing programs for under-served Houston children.

WITS has been engaging students in the pleasure and power of reading and writing since 1983. Thank you for helping us to bring the joy of writing to the children who need it most. For just $50, you can give the gift of WITS to a Houston child for an entire year.

WITS would like to extend a special thanks to major sponsors, who have made this event possible through their generous support :

Poet Laureate

Shell Houston Open

Newbery Medalists

H-E-B Tournament of Champions

Sysco Corporation

Wells Fargo

NY Times Best-sellers

Baxter International Inc.

Continental Airlines – the official airline of A Celebration of Story

Christine Baranski Cowles & Matthew Cowles

Nancy & Joe Ford

Christina Gonzalez

Lenora Noroski & Frank Inselbuch

King & Spalding LLP

Xavier Peña

Vinson & Elkins LLP

WITS Writers Award

Emily Pipkin Blackwell & James Blackwell

CenterPoint Energy

Jennifer Langdon & Joe Crownover

Jim and Jenny Elkins Family Fund

Beth & Quentin Haag


Isabel & Christopher Murphy

Susan and Tom Scotty

Texas Medical Center Orchestra

The Big Event is a Week Away!

Posted October 28, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

A Celebration of Story, benefiting Writers in the Schools (WITS) takes place next Thursday, November 4, 2010, 7 PM at the Junior League of Houston. Discounted tickets for $150 are still available for a limited time, so reserve your seats now. Jeannette Walls will tell why she wrote  her best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, an Amazon “Top 10 Book of the Decade” currently in movie production by Paramount. A book sale and signing will follow the program courtesy of Brazos Bookstore.

WITS will proudly present the  “Founder’s Award” to Mayor Annise Parker for her advocacy in education. Proceeds will help WITS serve more than 20,000 students in schools, community centers, hospitals and homeless shelters. Join us for an inspirational evening and help us further creative writing programming for the exceptional students empowered by WITS each year.

Join Your Neighbors this Saturday for Books on the Bayou

Posted August 27, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

WHAT:    The Houston Public Library (HPL) kicks off  the 9th Annual Books on the Bayou, a series that   promotes community reading of the same book at the same time. The selection for 2010 is Persepolis: The Story of Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. The public is invited to discover the book through discussions, a film screening, Persian cuisine, and musical and dance performances.

WHEN:     Saturday, August 28, 11 am – 5 pm

WHERE:  Central Library, 500 McKinney, Houston, TX 77002

WHO:        Guest speakers Mayor Annise Parker, HPL Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson

This event is free and open to the public. Please join HPL in celebrating a culture of  literacy and read Persepolis with your neighbors. For more information visit, the HPL website or call 832-393-1313.

WITS is pleased to honor Mayor Parker for her support of literacy and art programs at A Celebration of Story, November 4, 2010, at the Junior League of Houston. Jeannette Walls and young writers of WITS will share in the celebration of their stories at this memorable event. We invite you to make a difference with us.