They’re kids trying to make sense of the world. Or older folks examining their lives. Or carpenters, doctors, farmers, or bankers, high-school grads or PhDs. But when they come to Iowa City, they’re writers.
Participants in the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival get a unique chance to learn from students, teachers, and graduates of Iowa’s renowned writing programs—and especially from each other.
“We want them to find their tribe, people who are in love with writing and reading, and who speak the same language,” says Stephen Lovely, director of the Young Writers’ Studio.
The studio attracts high school students from across the country for two-week sessions taught by students and alumni of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (including Daniel Khalastchi, a 2005 poetry graduate, whose photo appears on this week’s UI home page). Admission is competitive—nearly 400 apply for 120 spots.
The Iowa Summer Writing Festival, on the other hand, is open to anyone drawn to an item on its menu of 135 weeklong or weekend courses. About 1,500 writers enroll, making it one of the biggest, broadest programs of its kind.
“Our students come from every level of literary practice and accomplishment, and every stage of life,” says Amy Margolis, the festival’s director. “It’s astonishing how many people have been writing for years, and how much they’ve done on their own time, with their own instincts.”
Both programs nurture work in various genres and forms, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Writing exercises spark creativity, while workshops offer feedback on students’ manuscripts. For many, it’s the first time anyone else has read their writing.
Also influential is Iowa City itself, with its vibrant literary scene and ample stock of seasoned writers eager to share their experience. “We couldn’t do this in any town but this one,” Margolis says of the community that keeps both students and teachers coming back.
“The gift of these programs is to put writers in each others’ company,” she adds. After a few days or weeks, they’ll return to their regular lives—awakened, inspired, and hopefully undaunted by the blank page.