Inprint, a literary arts nonprofit based in Houston, Texas, operates a number of programs to promote creative writing and reading. In 2017, the organization took part in EmcArts’ New Pathways | Houston program, supported by the Houston Endowment and delivered in partnership with the Houston Arts Alliance. In the program, Inprint worked with process facilitator Mitty Owens to become a more adaptive organization through the design and implementation of multiple “small experiments with radical intent.”
Now that these experiments have had some time to play out, I reached out to Krupa Parikh, Inprint’s Director of Communications and Community Relations, to learn what new directions their experiments have taken them, and what’s coming up next in their journey.
Ben: Can you tell me a little more about Inprint and where you were as an organization going into the New Pathways program?
Krupa: Inprint has been around for 35 years, and we have a variety of different programs centered around creative writing and reading. For example, we conduct readings for adults and children. Through the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series we present the world’s top authors, more than 350 from close to 30 countries through the years, including winners of 62 Pulitzer Prizes, 56 National Book Awards, 15 Man Booker Prizes, 9 Nobel Prizes, and 19 U.S. Poets Laureate. Our Cool Brains! series features the nation’s top middle-grade authors for free, fun, family-friendly events on Sunday afternoons. Inprint also opens its doors to many community groups to use our space to feature local and visiting writers for readings.
In addition to exposing and connecting readers to great writers, we also conduct writing workshops for the general public that attract individuals from all parts of the city, as well as tuition-free workshops for K-12 educators, senior citizens, healthcare employees, veterans, the incarcerated, and more. All of the workshops are geared towards helping individuals become better writers of the stories they want to share.
Core to the organization’s founding is the support we give to emerging writers. Inprint provides fellowships and prizes to students studying creative writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program and now one annual prize to a student at Rice University. Many of the recipients of these fellowships and prizes also serve as instructors for our workshops, enhance the city by participating an educational and arts initiatives, go on to publish books, and help raise the profile of Houston as a great place to be a writer.
Other innovative programs we run include the Inprint Poetry Buskers, a team of local writers who go out with typewriters and write free poems on requested themes on the spot at festivals and special events, spreading the joy of poetry to people of all ages and helping to demystify it for the public. We also now have a podcast in collaboration with Tintero Projects called Ink Well, which was an outgrowth of our work in the New Pathways program. Ink Well showcases established and emerging writers, mostly Latinx. The first season has been wonderful and we’ve had 1,000+ listeners.
When we came to New Pathways most of our programs were running successfully, our workshops were fully subscribed, our season ticket sales had been the highest they had ever been—in general things were good at Inprint. Yet we were grappling with what was next for the organization: How do we reach younger people? What is Inprint’s role in Houston as the city’s literary landscape grows and changes? How do we sustain ourselves financially over the long-term? We came to New Pathways with these questions in mind and a desire to gain some clarity in these areas. We knew that in another year we would also begin a long-range planning process for the organization and felt that New Pathways might be able set the groundwork for that effort.
Ben: Of the various experiments you developed in and through your New Pathways work, which have been the most fruitful or rewarding? Are there any that have been left behind or shifted in a different direction?
Krupa: Through the process of identifying Inprint’s complex challenges, our group decided to work on deepening program diversity through partnerships. The small experiments with radical intent we came up with were to launch the Ink Well podcast, to rethink our partnerships and marketing approach for the Cool Brains! reading series, and to develop a deeper program partnership with Tintero Projects.
Each experiment has been fruitful and rewarding in a unique way. As I mentioned, the first season of Ink Well was great. We had nine episodes with some leading local, national, and internationally acclaimed authors. We have had more than 1,000 listeners to date, many of whom were not familiar with Inprint or our other programs. We did all this in a very short time with barely knowing anything about launching and hosting a podcast! We are already scheduling a second season, and we can confidently say this is something we plan to continue. Working with Tintero Projects, founded by husband and wife team Lupe and Jasminne Mendez, has been very rewarding. They have helped bring a burst of energy into the organization and championed not only our collaborative programs but other Inprint programs as well. We worked with Tintero Projects on our Cool Brains! series event last year featuring Juan Felipe Herrera. Jasminne led a writing activity with the kids and families in attendance, resulting in a community poem. We have also consulted with Tintero Projects for suggestion of authors to be featured in the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. Now Lupe and Jasminne are also exploring making the third floor of our office the Tintero Projects headquarters.
One change we made to the Cool Brains! series is to give away books at the event. We were spending money on beautiful posters and bookmarks to promote the series, but we have now put that funding into giving away 100 books at each event and are moving to all online marketing for the series. The book giveaway has been successful and feels really true to the mission of the series, getting kids excited about reading by actually putting books in their hands. This is something we will continue to do for the coming year. In addition, we also started partnering with different organizations and initiatives to give a context to the books the authors are reading from and talking about. When we had Ann M. Martin read from Rain Reign, about a lost dog during a hurricane, we invited Houston Pets! Alive, which had conducted 1,800 pet rescues during Hurricane Harvey, to make a presentation. This season, we will look to similar community partners for the Inprint Cool Brains! readings.
These experiments marked a greater degree of change and vulnerability than we were generally used to at Inprint, but overall they have been a great success, and we’ve learned a lot from the process.
Check back soon for Part 2 of my interview with Krupa Parikh, in which we discuss the continuing impacts of Inprint’s experiments, as well as what’s coming up next for the organization…