Since 2011, Houston Arts Alliance has been curating Writing & C/Siting Houston, a series of personal stories from local writers about their favorite Houston places: secret hike and bike trails along Buffalo Bayou, family-owned businesses in Midtown, Hindu temples in Sugar Land. Novelist and essayist Miah Mary Arnold and UH professor William Monroe will be the first in 2013 to contribute their stories to the series, giving a reading tomorrow night. Joining them will be essayist Phillip Lopate, who describes the city in “Houston Hide-and-Seek” as “a decentralized octopus gobbling up all the land around it.”
Lopate moved here to teach creative writing with Donald Barthelme at UH in the ’80s. Ambivalent, as any good essayist need be, the Brooklyn native was able to find a few bones to pick with Houston: “We are not lacking in millionaire-donated hospital pavilions and art museums,” he writes in a 1984 essay in Cite magazine, “but in those gestures that would help to bring the city itself together as a work of art. . . . The city itself as a built environment is rather inhospitable, impenetrable, and unfriendly to strangers, because there is so little public space to mediate between private homes and the impersonal corporate world.”
Tell us how you really feel, Phil:
One area I consistently try to avoid is the Galleria. As soon as I come within sight of its concrete panels, I feel a migraine approaching. Managing to combine the twin nightmares of claustrophobic congestion and anemic vacuity, the Galleria is my idea of hell. The whole Post Oak area around the Galleria is noteworthy for having the most concentration of buildings possible to assemble without achieving anything like urban texture. Architects are trained to build freestanding objects, but quite apart from whether the object is good or bad, if you keep placing one freestanding object next to another you get a proliferation of objects. What are needed now are not objects so much as places. Houston suffers from this malaise of placelessness, and nowhere more so than in the Galleria area.
- Writing & C/Siting Houston [Houston Arts Alliance]
- An Evening of Literary Placemaking [UH]
- Pursuing the Unicorn: Public Space in Houston (PDF) [Cite]