Houston is filled with creative diversity, allowing for new artistic outlets to pop up all over the city. The Heights is home to Grackle and Grackle Literary Enterprises, an outlet that provides creative writing classes for all experience levels.
Miah Arnold and husband Raj Mankad founded Grackle and Grackle about four years ago. Both Arnold and Mankad have a PhD from the University of Houston’s writing program. After leaving a job in Georgia and coming back to Houston, Arnold knew she wanted to teach, but creative writing jobs in academia are few and far in between. So, Grackle and Grackle was founded as a way for Arnold to continue teaching.
“I just started it with one little class in a tiny little garage apartment and the next semester I think I had two classes, then I had three. Over the next two or three years we just grew. So now we have a whole bunch of different classes,” Arnold said.
When looking for a house Arnold had in mind an attached creative writing studio to host writing classes.
Things fell perfectly in place when they found a house that once belonged to Dorothy Hood, who was one of the first modernist painters. The studio that came with the house happened to be Hood’s painting studio.
And though Arnold admits the house is a bit small for her family, she couldn’t pass up a space that already had creative history.
The writing classes that Grackle and Grackle offer aren’t just a repeat of what other organizations in Houston have, but they try to offer a variety of new and interesting classes.
“Claire Anderson’s going to teach this class called starting and finishing, because there are so many people who start a short story and they workshop it, then they revise it then they don’t know what to do. So, you start there, you finish it and then after you finish it, in the class you have to start your next one,” Arnold said.
Allyn West, an editor and writer for the Houston Chronicle, will be teaching a 4-week Literary Journalism class.
“We have a song writing class, which is really fun because by the end of it you produce a song. The guy who teaches it can play anything,” Arnold said.
This semester also features a special class funded by the Houston Flood Museum. In the class the students will go into the northern part of the Heights, where the flooding was especially bad.
“People are going to go in and take the stories of people who were affected but might not feel as comfortable as [we would be] sitting down and writing a story. It’s going to be transcription so it’s not going to be like taking oral history, it’s going to be like if you want to write a poem or if you want to write a story, this writer will sit there and write it with you and ask the questions,” Arnold said.
Because this is a free class there will be an admission process. The writing that comes from this class will be featured in the Flood Museum.
“I signed up for [the weekend class], and the piece I wrote during the weekend eventually made its way into the Chronicle. So not only incredibly productive, but I really learned a lot from the instructor. The instructors know their craft and are excellent teachers. The environment is laid back, welcoming, with a great community-feel (which could be from just the feeling I get walking through the backyard of a Heights home to get to the “classroom.”) And many of my classmates I’m really impressed with – published writers who continue to hone their skills. I’m learning from my classmates as well – and that’s a real plus when you’re spending time reading and critiquing other’s work,” said Amy Pearl, a student at Grackle and Grackle.
A novel workshop is also available. It takes place throughout a whole year and is capped at five participants.
People bring in their completed novel and each one is completely read through.
Another thing that makes Grackle and Grackle unique is that Arnold has scholarships available based on what you can pay. All you need to do is email her and she can help set you up in a class.
“I did not come to Houston with very much money, I couldn’t have taken a creative writing class,” Arnold said, “I just feel like everyone should get to take a class if they want to.”
A lot of people can be timid toward writing or feel that they aren’t good at the craft.
“I think even really famous writers feel timid about starting to write when they sit down to an empty page and because it’s linked to your memory and it’s linked to your imagination,” Arnold said,” in the act of writing it unlocks thoughts and ideas and places you didn’t even know you had in your brain.”
Being around other writers creates a nice space to open those doors inside your mind and it allows for you to watch other people discover those places. You also come to realize there are good and bad writing days, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
“My husband always said [writing is] the cheapest form of therapy,” Arnold said, “I worked many years at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a writer and would write with the kids. Even if we were writing fiction and they never mentioned having cancer you could always hear the story of their struggles and their thoughts and their processing in the stories that they told. Writing helps you work things out. And it’s art. It can be both things.”
An important part of the process at Grackle and Grackle is the instructors. Arnold only has teachers who love teaching students and who love reading students writing to become an instructor.
“If you want to find your writer’s voice, discover a new narrative style, write about the inexpressible, or simply think aloud as you put random thoughts into words, this is the place for you. If you want no pressure guidance in an environment where writing rules are not compulsory, this is the place for you,” said long-time student Patricia Montanes.
Grackle and Grackle also has a monthly book club that features a translated novel. At the previous meeting they had the opportunity to have the translator Skype in and talk about the novel. The business also aims to become a publishing house that will focus on publishing translated young adult novels.
Whether you’re new to writing or are seasoned in the craft, Grackle and Grackle is a fun environment to learn and progress in. To sign-up for classes go to grackleandgrackle.com.