Best Birthday Present (2000)
Gulf Coast's salute to the University of Houston Creative Writing Program
UH's Creative Writing Program turned 20 this year, and in its honor, the literary magazine Gulf Coast devoted its summer 2000 issue to essays, stories and poems by the program's alumni and professors. The fat issue (303 pages, about twice the magazine's usual size) bulges with surprises: national poet laureate Robert Pinsky finds generosity and intelligence in an old cat's bowel movement; Kathleen Cambor's "Summer" begins with the perfect sentence, "She writes letters to her Latin lover every day"; and in "Durian," poet Bao-Long Chu evokes the strangeness of the fruit that smells like dead flesh but tastes of jasmine and almond oil. Equally satisfying, though, is the pleasure of seeing the familiar -- the city of Houston -- described sharply. To Mark Doty, a former New Englander, this place embodies the raw, mongrelized future: "artificial, polluted, a little dangerous and completely confusing, yes -- but also interestingly polyglot, open-ended, divergent, entirely unstuffy and appealingly uncertain of itself." To Beverly Lowry, who now lives in Washington, D.C., Houston is a sweet episode from her past. Lowry mourns the razing of her old house in West U, the place where her boys grew up, where her books filled the shelves, where for a literary party she filled her washing machine with ice and beer. Houston is where Lowry became a writer, and this issue of Gulf Coast makes you feel lucky to know that.