Michelle and Rishi Varma. Philanthropist Franci Neely served on the gala host committee for the event and was also an underwriter, patron, and benefactor.
Through its 40 years of celebrating the diversity of literature supporting writers of all ages and backgrounds, Inprint has become an internationally renowned literary light and power,”
Neely, who previously served as the nonprofit’s president, recently said in a statement.
The Inprint Poets & Writers Ball has been held annually since 1986 and raises funds to produce workshops, support emerging writers and literacy performance programs. This year, Inprint honored poet, Inprint Fellow and Prize winner, and University of Houston creative writing program alum Jericho Brown as its keynote speaker.
Brown authored the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection The Tradition, an assemblage of poems that depict, in a stark detail, the pains of being Black in America.
I am really proud of that book and the experience I had writing that book makes writing anything else very difficult,
Brown shared in a pw.org video interview.
“It’s very difficult to forget that feeling and I really just want to hold onto it. When you’re a poet, you really just want to write. But when a book is done, you feel a little death happen.”
This isn’t the first time Inprint honored the talented writer.
Brown was the recipient of an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship and an Inprint Prize while earning his Ph.D. in the University of Houston’s creative writing program. Brown also conducted a virtual poetry reading in 2021 as part of the Margarett Root Brown Reading Series for Inprint Houston.
A Night To Remember
Those in attendance sipped cocktails and snacked on hors d’oeuvres before feasting from a menu created by James Beard Award-winning Robert Del Grande, chef emeritus of the acclaimed Annie Café & Bar.
As guests sat at tables decorated with literary themes, they swayed and were entertained by the band Latin Carnaval, specializing in music from all over Latin America, including Argentina and Brazil.
Neely’s table was an ode to Camaroon, a favorite of hers. She says she traveled there last year to explore the Grassfield Kingdoms. Fittingly, her table spotlighted Cameroon-American novelist Imbolo Mbue, best known for her debut novel Behold the Dreamers, which garnered her the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.
The evening also featured readings by Oindrila Mukherjee, Joy Priest, and Josh Estanislao Lopez, three young authors who benefited from the Inprint program.
Mukherjee is an Inprint Diana P. Hobby Prize recipient and Inprint Brown Foundation Fellow. Priest is currently an Inprint MD Anderson Foundation Fellow and a doctoral student in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston.
Lopez earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. He’s presently leading Inprint teachers-as-writers workshops and continues to teach high school and college-level students.
“What literary magic this weekend at the @InprintHouston Poet and Writers Ball!” Lopez tweeted soon after the event. “Immeasurably grateful for the words of @jerichobrown @Dalai_Mama_ and @oinkness! Still floating.”
Deep Vellum Bookstore & Publishing Co. owner Will Evans piled on more praise about the evening. “An honor to celebrate 40 years of @InprintHouston leading the charge for a literary Texas and to celebrate @uhcwp alum the one & only @jerichobrown,” he tweeted.
Past Poets & Writers Ball speakers have included Jeffrey Eugenides, Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, and dozens of other notable literary figures. The 2022 event raised more than $440,000.
Goodwill in Review: 40 Years of Inprint
The ball also marked the 40th anniversary of Inprint Houston, which has been instrumental in promoting literacy and assisting 15,000 readers and writers. Managed by volunteers until 1991 when funding made it possible to hire a full-time staff, Inprint Houston thrives on donations and community volunteers.
“Through its 40 years of promoting, praising, and prizing the diversity of literature, Inprint has become an internationally renowned literary light,” Franci Neely shared. Neely said the Poets & Writers Ball is an event she looks forward to every year.
It’s not just emerging and up-and-coming authors who have benefitted from Inprint’s enduring presence. Longtime partner Core Design Studio shared on its Instagram account that it has been working with Inprint for its printing needs. The studio produced this year’s chapbook, Happy Poems by Jericho Brown, as a gift to attendees. All 325 books were signed by the author.
“For over 20 years, Core has had the pleasure of working with Inprint to create and maintain its signature identity in print, digital, and 3D. Thank you Inprint, for trusting us with all of your visual communication needs and for bringing amazing authors and poets to the city while supporting up-and-coming writers at UH through scholarships. You all are amazing.”
Inprint Houston’s essential literary resources are more vital now than ever. Nationwide, in 2022, 21% of adults in the U.S. were illiterate and a staggering 54% of adults read below a sixth grade level. This is why book lovers such as Franci Neely, who cites President Barack Obama as one of her favorite authors, and Inprint Houston are working more vigorously than ever before to change those statistics.
Inprint Houston routinely keeps a packed calendar of events for its patrons. Many events feature options for literary enthusiasts of all ages, including virtual programming over Zoom.
Inprint Houston Continues To Make Imprint on Local Community
Franci Neely says she has a deep appreciation for the written word — and a passion for promoting literacy. She says reading isn’t only a hobby, but one of her go-to stress relievers. That’s why she’s a staunch supporter of Inprint, Houston’s premier literary arts nonprofit organization.
“Serving as Inprint’s board president was my singular honor, working with Rich [Levy, executive director] and Krupa [Parikh, an associate director] and Marilyn [Jones, an associate director] in the atmosphere of grace and wit and warmth they created. My life is richer because of it,” Franci Neely says.
“I don’t think we really create community so much as provide a space for community to evolve,” says Marcia West, a member of the Inprint Houston board of directors. “What Inprint does is offer a space where you easily can integrate literature, reading, and writing into your everyday life.”