Where Are We Now: Karen Shepard

Posted December 19, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Karen Shepard worked with WITS as a writer and a staff member between 1989 and 1993.  She is now living in Massachusetts with her husband, three children, a beagle, and a parakeet.  She teaches creative writing at Williams College half of the year and writes the other half.

Karen recalls numerous instances in which the magic of WITS came alive to inspire her and the students she taught. “I remember so many things. In particular: the boy who came to the Menil to write. His teacher was shocked at how much he was writing, how into it he was. When she asked why he didn’t write like that at school, he said, ‘At school, you don’t let us lie on the floor.’  I remember the Young Writers Reading Series as a few of the best nights out of my whole time in Houston.  I still have photos from the readings on my shelves at home.”

Karen believes that teaching with WITS changed and continues to change her writing, teaching, and parenting. “I think about the possibilities and pitfalls of all of those endeavors. I think, and try to practice, the mix of rigor and optimism that is at the heart of WITS. We demanded better of our students and ourselves because we believed we were capable of better.”

Karen has published three novels: Don’t I Know YouThe Bad Boy’s Wife, and An Empire of Women.

The Thread that Binds: Art by Houston Women

Posted March 4, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


WITS Writers Carina Gauna and Diana Muniz will be featured in an Art Exhibit at MECA running from March 1 – 15. “The Thread that Binds” is part of an exhibition of female artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The public is invited to the Opening Reception on March 6th, 2008, at MECA.

Visual Art Exhibit: The Thread that Binds

ON DISPLAY: March 1-15, 2008
Featuring work from female artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures in celebration of Women’s Month.

OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, March 6, 2008 – 7 p.m. at MECA (MAP: Click Here)



  1900 Kane Street
Houston, TX 77007
  Time:7:00 PM

(photo by sillydog via flickr)

The Weight of Addition Represents

Posted January 17, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Mutabilis Press published a new anthology of Texas poets in December. The book, The Weight of Addition, features WITS alum such as:

Alan Ainsworth
Jericho Brown
Sarah Cortez
Carol Denson
Jennifer Grotz
Kate Schmitt
Randall Watson

and friends of WITS, including

Sandra Cisneros
Grady Hillman
Edward Hirsch.

A group of poets will be reading from the book on Saturday, January 19, 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in The Woodlands. The event is free and open to the public. Congrats to the editor, Randall Watson, and the publisher, Carolyn Florek.

WITS is Mentioned in the New York Times

Posted January 7, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

ishaphotowanita-purplesongscanfly.jpgToday the New York Times published a great story about Purple Songs Can Fly, an organization founded by Anita Kruse that helps young cancer patients write, record, and produce original music. Writers in the Schools collaborates with Purple Songs at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Both WITS and Purple Songs are part of the Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Hospital led by Carol Herron. You can read more about the collaboration between WITS and Purple Songs in an article by WITS Writer Marcia Chamberlain here.

Origin Stories

Posted December 12, 2007 & filed under Notebook.


I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. I didn’t live there long; within a few years my family had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where I spent my so-called ‘formative years.’ I remember billboards coated in the dripping wax of a local bourbon manufacturer, the sickly sweet smell of tobacco at the state fair, and the hot air balloons they would launch every year around the start of the Kentucky Derby.

My last interstate move was in high school, when I left Lakeland High School in the middle of tenth grade for Bellaire here in Houston. One of my first memories was of speaking to newfound friends about the beaches in Florida and Texas, when Galveston was just an ocean-blue blank in my imagination.

In my experience, there are two types of children who move around: the children of enlisted men and women and the children of engineers. My parents were engineers. My mother studied chemical engineering at Pratt Institute, an art school in New York City, and to this day, she says she would have been better off studying painting. Of course, it’s fortunate for me that she didn’t: since Pratt didn’t offer chemical engineering courses, she had to take them at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn (now merging with NYU), and that was where she met my father. For me, NYC was always associated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, the immigrant section of Queens, and relatives braving the flyover country to stay for a weekend with us.

Everyone comes from somewhere. One of the joys of teaching with WITS has been hearing the stories of my students and seeing Houston outside its familiar context, as the backdrop to a strange new young life. I know that, one day, the students I teach will be telling stories like these, too. My hope is that, when they do, my teaching will make them richer.wits-blog-pics-002.jpg

posted by Julian Martinez, Writers in the Schools

Introducing 3 New Bloggers

Posted December 4, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

Three of the writers (teachers) from the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program will join the Poem a Day blogging team this week. Here’s a brief introduction to each one of them.

wits-blog-pics-007.jpgAmy Lin participated in the WITS program as an eighth grader at Sharpstown Middle School and fondly remembers her WITS writer, her Menil visit, and her anthology. She is delighted to have experienced WITS as a student and as a writer. Amy is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she received her degree in secondary education. Before joining WITS, she taught three years of freshman and sophomore English at Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas. Amy enjoys writing personal essays, reading mysteries, and perusing cookbooks. She is currently an associate editor with Texas Family Magazine and writes for their education section. This is Amy’s sixth year with WITS and her first as Field Coordinator.

wits-blog-pics-002.jpgJulian Martinez attended high school at Bellaire High School in Houston and graduated with a B.A. in liberal arts from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to teaching with WITS, he als leads ESL courses through Literacy Advance Houston and can be heard on the radio every Wednesday at 11:30 A.M. on 90.1 KPFT’s “Human Rights Show.” He co-edited a student newspaper at UT and has contributed articles to periodicals nationwide. He has completed one unpublished novel and is currently at work on a second. He has lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas and has called Houston home now for over five years. He’s an avid runner, and in between short stories you can find him at Memorial Park.

wits-blog-pics-003.jpgTria Wood  is a native Texan and lifelong art aficionado who earned her M.A. in English from Texas A&M University, where she also served as an assistant lecturer before moving to Houston. In addition, she holds an M.Ed. in Art Education from the University of Houston. For several years, she mentored disadvantaged youth through arts-based nonprofits.  Tria serves as Editor in Chief of Visual Arts for ArtsHouston magazine, which allows her to merge her passions for writing, aesthetic theory, and contemporary art. Tria’s poetry, fiction and reviews have appeared in a variety of publications; she also teaches creative writing to Houston area children through the Writers in the Schools program.

Look for their insights and their bylines in the weeks to come.

Beach Time

Posted September 24, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

beach.jpg I love going to the beach in Galveston. I like to walk in the sand. It feels like quicksand, like I’m sinking. Sometimes I bury my feet in the sand. The water is brownish and the waves aren’t very high. I walk out a little way, but not too far. Sometimes I think a crab is pinching my toe, but it isn’t. I hear the waves hitting the shore and people laughing. I love going to the beach.

by Tobi, age 8
Texas Children’s Hospital
[photo by Eschipul via Flickr]

Poetry Slam: The Next Generation

Posted August 7, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

The national poetry slam comes to Austin next week. Here are the details.

DATE & TIME: Saturday, Aug. 11th, 3:15 – 4:45 pm
PLACE: Ruta Maya World Headquarters, 3601 S. Congress, Austin TX
For more information, contact the Texas Youth Word Collective.

HYPE: What do you get when you combine the Texas Youth Word Collective’s Austin Under 21 Poetry Slam with the National Poetry Slam and Austin Poetry Slam? One incredible afternoon of spoken word artistry! Come hear some of the best youth slammers from across the country compete for the title of National Youth Slam Champion!

Here’s the stage for the next generation, open to all poets under the age of 21. The slam will be hosted by Kim Holzer (Durham, NC), Saturday, August 11th, 3:15 – 4:45 p.m., Ruta Maya Int’l Headquarters, 3601 S. Congress, D-200, Austin. Free.

And be sure to check out the rest of the National Poetry Slam! A Youth Writing Workshop will take place on Friday, Aug. 10th, 2:30-4:00, at the Hideout Upstairs. The competition will involve more than 300 poets competing and reading at many of the venues that serve as home to performers during Austin’s famed SXSW Conference. This year’s NPS will draw audiences numbering in the thousands to the premier annual showcase for performance poetry. The event will culminate with the Individual Finals show on Friday, August 10, and the Team Finals show on Saturday, August 11; both events will be at Austin’s historic Paramount Theater, home to sold-out poetry competitions when Austin hosted the National Poetry Slam in 1998 and 2006. Tickets for both events, as well as passes for the entire week of competitions, readings, and late-night shows, will be available at gettix.net.


Posted July 13, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

frida_kahlo_self_portrait.jpgShe is bleeding.
It looks like she’s angry.

She’s probably mad at her husband.
She doesn’t look like she’s in pain.
She’s letting the bird hang on her neck.
She looks like she got out of a wreck.
The thorn branches represent her anger.
The monkey is messing with one of the branches.
The cat is hiding behind her neck.
The cat might represent her anger too.
It’s a black cat.
She looks serious.
She looks like if anything gets in her way,
She would mess something up.
The flowers represent her sensitivity
And the butterfly.
She feels like nobody respects her or
Pays attention to her.

by Victor, age 17, Texas Children’s Hospital – Renal Division