Finding My People and Reclaiming Myself

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 | Comments Off


Kayla Bruehlman (at a different camp where they do mud archery)

Have you ever thought about how incredible fiction writing is?  Strangers slap words down on paper about fake people struggling in a fake world against fake villains/problems/disasters and somehow make me care enough to weep when a character I adore is thrown to the lions.  It’s beautiful.  It’s why I set out to be a writer.  But if you’re a writer, you probably understand what a lonely existence it can be.

It’s a solitary endeavor few people understand.  I’ve been blessed to have supportive parents captivated with books, and to have friends who write a little.  Even so, I felt alone.  My parents might have an idea of the volatile impact writing has on a person from listening to me ramble excitedly about a new plot development in my novel, or despair over an flat scene on different occasions, but they couldn’t really help me.  I could bounce ideas off my mom, for which I am deeply grateful, but when it came to the actual craft, I needed more.  I needed someone who understood the mechanics of it, who knew the fierce joy of having written a beautiful scene, who experienced the crushing certainty that his or her writing was pathetic and the sheer delight when they realized it was not.  That it was a stunning gift to the world and worth doing.  I wanted to talk with people who enjoyed writing, who loved creating characters and imagining worlds, people whom I could relate with.  I wanted to know people who treated writing as a passion. 

I found that at Iowa.

I found people who cared as much as I did.  I made friends who loved nothing better than to sit over the surprisingly tasty meals offered in Burge and discuss literature, or plot problems.  I learned under brilliant instructors like Ashely Clarke and the hilarious director, Stephen Lovely. 

I’ll never forget my fiction class with Ashley.  I miss our circle of eleven desks where we discussed anything from the plausibility of John’s undead skeletons moving without muscle to the wild crazy theories I threw out that my class actually listened to.  I miss questing out into the artsy city on writing missions.  I miss proofing my classmates’ amazing stories and receiving feedback on my own.  There is nothing more thrilling than hearing people discuss your characters and world like they actually exist.  I had fun figuring out how to steal a taxidermied polar bear from the museum for a writing exercise (the stairs were an issue).  I miss making puppets and costumes for the ridiculous swede Margaret helped us make of The Wizard of Jaws.  I miss the silly and profound questions shoved in the Question Hole.  I miss the late night writing sessions and the inherent comradery of being in a roomful of writers.  These superb human-beings came from all walks of life, with different beliefs and experiences, but all of us were bound together by our passion to write. 

This camp didn’t only change my writing, it changed me.

When I was younger, my parents worried I’d be snatched someday because I would go up to strangers and confidently strike up a conversation with them about anything and would even walk away with them.  As I grew older, though, I slowly became more antisocial, began to question my self-worth and struggled with self-esteem issues.  I still do some days.  As a cause, social situations became awkward, uncomfortable things that made me feel like an idiot.  I hated it.  Understand, no one ever bullied me.  I’m gracious with others, but merciless with myself.

On the last night before we all had to depart, we had a prom themed:  “The Sorrows of Youth in the Context of Youthful Sorrows.” I usually hate dancing.  It’s only ever made me more aware of my inadequacies, but that night, I didn’t care.  I just danced.  And danced.  And had an amazing time.  Later, lying in awake in bed at two in the morning, it struck me how great I felt.  How radiant, how beautiful, how incredibly myself I felt.  It hit me then how comfortable I was with these people; I felt like an equal.  Finally what God has been trying to tell me for years got through to me:  I was special.  I had worth, I didn’t need man’s approval, only God’s.  I felt like I could do anything.     

I still do.  Iowa started the process of reclaiming me, from secret fears, from self-doubt, from the cage I had put myself in.  Of course I still struggle, but I’m stronger now.  More confident.  And it’s a magnificent feeling. 

I originally chose the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio because it was the closest to my home out of all the camps I found online.  If I could, I’d choose it again because the city was beautiful (think cobblestone, trees, and pianos in the street!), the program structured just enough to teach me, but loose enough to let my writing thrive, and the people beyond wonderful.    

It’s the people I miss the most.

This fall I’ll be starting senior year a different person.  And though I will be busy applying for scholarships, fighting senioritis, and rushing to finish my novel before I graduate, I’ll always remember.  The Studio might be done for me (though I still dream about it sometimes), but the impact it had isn’t.  Thank you, Iowa, for the incredible experience. 

Kayla M. Bruehlman is a rising senior at Argyle High School in Argyle, Wisconsin. She attended Session 1, 2015, of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.


A Paradise for Writers by George Seyfried

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 | Comments Off

When asked about my summer, I proudly boast that I’m a graduate of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. The same question continues to inevitably arise from that statement: “Is it worth applying to?”

I always answer with the same enthusiastic, “Absolutely!” Because, if you’re anything like me, you never know what will happen.

I knew I wouldn’t get in. I was a freshman with mediocre grades, a freshman who couldn’t compete with older kids. In fact, before even reading about the historical significance of Iowa City, I was immediately attracted to it because it was far from home and I needed to escape.

In fact, I considered it such an unlikely event that I could get into the Studio that I told people that I honestly didn’t have any summer plans.

Iowa City is, according to UNESCO, the most literary city in America. Kurt Vonnegut, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, and many others all came to Iowa to hone their craft. There’s magic in the air in Iowa City; sitting in the beautiful pedestrian mall gives one inspiration to write.

I think the most brilliant people in the world are those who understand their strengths and weaknesses. When we harp on our strengths, we can become legendary. When we correct our weaknesses, we don’t become perfect, but rather better. Iowa harps on this philosophy, and has inspired me to as well.

The Studio definitely isn’t for everybody. If you’re looking to avoid reading over the summer, please don’t even consider applying to Iowa; the reading, while very enjoyable, is heavy. While I read more at Iowa than I did in English class at home, the reading we did at Iowa was filled with my teacher, Ashley Clarke’s, favorite pieces. I look forward to returning to English class in the fall with much more enthusiasm.

Iowa’s program is very well-rounded; including the workshop, which is all about revision. Every other day, students are expected to generate new ideas for writing. It truly is a paradise for writers.

George Seyfried

George Seyfried is a rising sophomore at Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, Connecticut. He attended Session 1, 2015 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. If you’re considering applying to the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and would like to ask George questions, you may contact him at

IYWS T-shirt Design Contest

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 | Comments Off

Hear ye, hear ye! The Iowa Young Writers’ Studio officially opens its SUPERB T-SHIRT DESIGN CONTEST to choose what we wear at camp next summer and beyond. The contest is open to all previous IYWS students.

Phrenological Head final

Ashley Thompson’s long-beloved IYWS T-shirt design, 2012-2014, now retired.

For some years we’ve squeezed every last drop out of the wonderful “Phrenological Head” design by Ashley Thompson, IYWS ’11,  but it’s time to move on. If you’re interested, e-mail a T-shirt design, in PDF format, to by February 1, 2015, at 12 o’clock midnight KRAT (Krasnoyarsk Time). Questions to the same e-mail address. Do not go to Krasnoyarsk! The winner will be chosen deep underground in the dark of night by an elite select committee that will include IYWS counselor extraordinaire Margaret Reges. The winner will be announced March 1, 2015, and informed by e-mail. THE PRIZE: triumphant bliss of victory, glory of having creative handiwork emblazoned across the chests of hundreds of youthful writerspractically your own private army!and a $100 gift certificate at the independent book store of your choice. How can you resist?!? You cannot. Even now, your gears are turning. We’ve included a few ideas for inspiration, and may add more, but don’t pander to us. Follow your bliss!

camp shirt 2

Traditional, but gives the cozy camp feelings.

camp shirt 1

A whimsical approach.

camp sunshine

Pirate Camp?

Blaming Díaz

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 | Comments Off

Dear Nemo,

Leonel Martinez photo

Leonel Martinez, sixth from left, with IYWS classmates and teacher/table tennis phenom Dan Cesca.

As of now, I’ve finished revising a story I began writing at Iowa. That was a month ago. One whole month. But that’s not all. It was the only story I had written during the summer. Three whole months and only one story to show for it. Whenever people asked what I had written during the summer, I assumed they thought I had written a 300-page novel. Well, maybe I’m making an ass out of you and me. Again.

To be honest, I didn’t write anything after Iowa. I had Empty Nest Syndrome in a way (I think that’s what I had). After I left Iowa, my writing life had no purpose. I even used Junot Díaz as a scapegoat. A few people at Iowa said that my work reminded them of his. I took it an extra step further by telling myself that I should stop writing, that I had no story to tell because Díaz had already done better than I ever would. But through a good friend, I realized that I would never be Díaz and that Díaz would never be me. Later, I realized that I was making excuses because I was afraid. I was afraid of everything that dealt with writing. I was afraid of what would happen to me and I stopped blaming Díaz.

Anyways, my first step was admitting that I had a problem. The other steps were to just keep on reading, writing, and editing. I did that by fixing the story from Iowa. And let me tell me, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever written. Well, everything I write is always better, in some way, than what I’ve written previously. My writing is like bricks for a building. I keep putting brick upon brick, and with each brick the building goes higher and higher. I still have a lot more bricks to pile on my building if I want it to reach the sky. I know that metaphor is a corny, but I’m a corny person.

Now, I’m not trying to write an advertisement for Iowa, but Iowa made me a better writer. I’m not a perfect writer. No one is (well, maybe Shakespeare but that’s up for debate). But Iowa made me know my strengths and weaknesses. I need to improve my weaknesses and keep going strong on my strengths. So kudos to you Iowa.

I have a love-hate relationship with writing. Writing will always cause me misery, but I’ll always love it. Stupid me.


Leonel Martinez

—Leonel Martinez in an 11th grader at All Hallows High School in South Bronx, NY. He attended Session 2, 2014 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.


IYWS Students on KRUI Radio!

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 | Comments Off

KRUi seal

This past summer, during Session 2 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, a group of students recorded oral histories, original works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and category-defying acts of weirdness and whimsy—including a radio play, The History of the Gazebo—at KRUI, the University of Iowa’s student radio station. You can now listen to the entire broadcast! Huge thanks to the good folks at KRUI for allowing us to record in their studio, and to the polymathic Liz Weiss for hosting and producing.

Part 1, in which, among other adventures, a girl reckons with a Halal meat market in her Brooklyn neighborhood, a boy eludes the Paris police, a mother knocks a raccoon out with an apple, a woken sleeper meditates through an early morning Iowa thunderstorm, and a boy is teased for buying fake Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.

Part 2, in which a girl ingests a woman’s hair, a boy conceals his creepy Nicholas Cage blanket, children listen to their heartbeats “in seashells cracked by creatures who were no longer there,” a woman prays over a drainage ditch at noon, and Christopher Walken drops by to philosophize.



Writers Just Like Me

Posted by on Aug 18, 2014 | Comments Off

I had a lot of anxieties before coming to the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. I was afraid of being the worst and least experienced writer in my workshop. I was scared my roommate was going to be a nutcase, because I’ve had nutcase experience, but I was mostly afraid that I wasn’t going to make friends, because I’m not an outgoing person. None of these things turned out to be true. I don’t think I’ve ever known a more intelligent, sensitive, well-read and incredibly talented group of people than in the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. These people were writers, just like me, and I couldn’t have felt more safe and at home.


Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman

When I first arrived at the studio, I was greeted warmly by the lovely writer Stephen Lovely, the director of the program, and the poet Margaret Reges, who wore the coolest cat eyed rhinestone-embellished glasses I ever saw. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be placed in Jamel Brinkley’s workshop. He was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. He was real, honest, funny, never disparaging of anyone’s work, and his advice was unbiased and truthful. I’ve never had so much fun reviewing and discussing other people’s work, or having my own work critiqued in his class. I loved the other students in the workshop—they helped me see things in my work and others’ that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own, and I really felt we grew together as a class. One of the most refreshing aspects of the class was that the atmosphere was never competitive—we were all supportive and encouraging with each other.

I loved being outside of class as much as I loved being inside; the readings, the karaoke, the talent shows, the trip to the cemetery, eating the same thing everyday, sometimes just relaxing and writing in the lounge with friends. I never felt overworked or stressed—or if I ever was, I was vaguely happy to be stressed about writing, something I love. I can’t think of a single piece of literature we had to read that wasn’t brilliant. While I panicked quite a bit when we had to write a 10-page story over the weekend, I actually had a lot of fun panicking, especially with other people. I loved the program, and I can definitely say I would have stayed and enjoyed two more weeks there.

Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman is a rising junior at Friends Seminary in New York City. She attended Session 2 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this past summer.

Milo on Irony, Sincerity, Iowa City and New York City

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 | Comments Off

The young people have fallen in love with irony. I know it may sound curmudgeonly to diagnose an entire generation with an affliction that obviously not all its members share, and frankly, it is. Sue me. It’s been my experience that an ironic sensibility pervades the air we breathe. We give voice to it when we make sarcastic jokes, when we do things ironically to save face, and when we belittle our friends and peers for trying too hard and being too enthusiastic. I don’t pretend not to be part of the problem; the fact is, I once ironically bought a notebook on whose front cover was plastered a life-size puppy (I have since decided that it’s less ironic than adorable).

milo & friends

Milo (self-embracing with sincerity) and his sincerely awesome IYWS friends

This is the culture I was escaping when I boarded my first solo flight ever, from New York City to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was expecting the Young Writers’ Studio to be a rewarding program populated by people as deeply into writing as I am. I was not, however, expecting it to be particularly different from my school, which has plenty of writers who do things sarcastically and make sure you know it.

I was egregiously, massively wrong. Arriving at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio that first day, I felt the closest I have ever come to culture shock. During my two weeks in Iowa, I was overwhelmed by something I didn’t even realize was missing from my life: sincerity. It blew me away how sincerely everyone was fascinated by literature and art and whatever else they chose, and didn’t try to mask it in layers of fakery. I was surrounded by scenes of genuine passion: my friend Oliver Hermann reading rapturously aloud from All the Pretty Horses in Prairie Lights, my wonderful teacher Liz Weiss telling our class about her devotion to puppets, frequent cries of “Yeah, that story was dope” at three in the morning in my overpopulated room. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio changed the way I read and write because its amazing students and teachers know what it is to be unabashedly in love with fiction and poetry and everything else, and they understand why other people are as well. My friends at the Studio have already learned the most important lesson for our generation, going forward: the best way to murder irony is empathy, and the best way to nurture empathy is writing.

Milo Davidson left his glasses at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, Session 2, 2o14. He’s a rising senior at Hunter College High School in New York City.

Journalism. No, Fiction. No, Creative Nonfiction. No…Journalism!

Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 | Comments Off

IYWS and Amy Butcher almost ruined my journalism career before it even began. I had just graduated high school, and would be going to Columbia, Missouri in the fall. I had declared a major in journalism. I was pretty sure I would be the best writer Columbia had ever seen. I signed up for creative writing with Amy Butcher, which included fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I was good at fiction, bad at poetry, and I didn’t know anything about creative nonfiction. I think I picked the class at random.

Over two weeks I discovered that I loved creative nonfiction. I love taking real people’s stories and real facts, and placing them within a narrative. I learned that I love long form nonfiction, and that I love editing. Those loves relate to magazine journalism and editing. I figured that I could use everything I had learned in creative nonfiction, and win a Pulitzer.

So I came to Columbia and wrote my first journalism article for the student paper. I interviewed people, got good quotes, and remembered to ask my sources to spell their names. I didn’t have a recorder, so I wrote it all down in a notebook. I had a great time.

I wrote my story, using all of my new techniques from Iowa to create a great, engaging story. Then I sat down with my editor, and she looked at my beautiful, clean copy, and asked, “Did they really say this?”

I said, “Ummmm…. I think so.”

The truth was, I had no idea. “It was the gist of what they said.”

While that may cut it in fiction, and possibly creative nonfiction, misquoting what people ‘might have said’ is illegal as a journalist. My story got cut down to a few bland quotes that I knew were accurate.

What does that have to do with IYWS? When I showed up at Iowa City I didn’t know a thing about creative writing, or creative nonfiction. In two weeks, Amy Butcher taught me what was allowed, and not allowed, in the genre. I learned the rules and I began to write. IYWS taught me, in essence, how to learn to write. It taught me how to learn new genres and forms of writing that are strange and alien.

After misquoting my sources, and having my byline next to a boring article, I had to learn how to truly write journalism, and how to accurately quote sources. IYWS gave me the tools to start that process. IYWS not only taught me a lot about my creative writing, but gave me the tools to learn journalistic writing for my career. I’m thankful for that assistance, and I’ll keep on learning, and I’ll keep on writing.

Ruth Serven attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this past summer. She is a 2013 graduate of Veritas Classical Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She now studies journalism at The University of Missouri, Columbia.

A Tale of Two Camps, from Iowa City to Baltimore

Posted by on Sep 3, 2013 | Comments Off

A couple weeks back, I lay in a twin bed, unable to sleep. My mind raced with the things I’d learned that day at camp. Have I articulated what my main character wants?  Is my prose bogged down with too many subject—verb—subject complement sentences? If I told my story backward would I figure out a way to approach the ending? I lay there, wanting to turn on the light and dig into my work, but I couldn’t wake my roommate. Besides, morning would bring another full day at the Baltimore Writer’s Studio, and as its Director, I’d better be awake. But before I fell asleep, I thought back to the first time I’d felt like this. I was seventeen, and I lay awake in strange dorm room, my mind alive from the first day of classes at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

Patrice Hutton

Patrice Hutton

People repeatedly call me crazy for loading a bus with Baltimore teens and taking them out the woods of western Maryland for a week-long creative writing camp. But to me, an ‘03 and ‘04 alum of IYWS, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Of course there are kids who want to leave civilization and study with a community of writers. Of course they’ll still focus in hour six of workshops. Of course they’ll spend their free time working on their novel. As a teenager at IYWS, these were my people. Now, I’m lucky to spend my professional life bringing a similar experience to kids who might otherwise not have it readily available. I direct Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS), a program that provides low-income school students with a vibrant environment for literary development through in-school and after-school writing workshops, and two years in, our sleepaway writing camp has become our flagship program. I think that’s because there’s nothing comparable to giving young writers time, space, and community, be it in the woods of Maryland or small town Iowa.

IYWS marked a turning point in my understanding of the study of writing. As an extrovert born into a big, loud family, sitting alone in a room is often torture. Unfortunately, to get writing done, this must happen. But IYWS introduced me to the concept of a community of writers: people who are in it together, all striving to hone their craft, yet giving each other the necessary space to get work done. Writing will always be a communal activity for me, and I have IYWS to thank for that. A favorite step of my writing process will always be handing over a draft to a trusted reader and then sitting down to discuss what needs to happen in the piece. For me, that’s truly when the story comes alive. There your friend is, sitting and talking about your character as if he/she’s a real person. It’s exhilarating. At IYWS, those conversations marked the landscape of Iowa City: in the cafeteria, at Prairie Lights, strolling through the city cemetery, and on the dorm roof (was that allowed?).

In creating the Baltimore Writer’s Studio, I sought to replicate this community of writers. WBS uses its in-school programs to identify young writers who could benefit from an intensive week of writing workshops. These kids often come from Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods; many attend schools where 96% of the students receive free and reduced meals. When I asked one kid how he’d learned to write such fantastic sentences, he told me it’s because he listens. He stands on his street corner and listens to the dealers and junkies tell stories. He’s twelve, understands why he doesn’t want to get involved, but will take what he can: their sense of storytelling. We hold our campers to the highest standards. At the end of five days, they will have produced a “core story,” another shorter, prompt-driven story, and a few pieces of poetry. The bulk of the Studio is organized around production of the “core story,” thanks to a curriculum developed by Teach for America alum Will Wheeler. Early in the week, students develop their main character and shortly thereafter, decide what their character will do or face—the basic stuff of story. As writers ourselves, who also struggle to finish work, we wanted to challenge students to write a complete short story in week. And that they did. In the last hours of camp, several students met me beaming: “Miss Patrice, that’s the first story I ever finished!” As someone with a Word graveyard of story beginnings, I congratulated them as if they’d solved a deep mystery of the universe. Because to me, they had.

Being on the grownup end of things, you often miss what happens outside the formal schedule of camp: the romances, the spats, the existential crises (and thank goodness). That’s where my memories of IYWS come in and help me understand that our Studio provides the kids with something beyond the classroom outputs. I recently turned to my teenage journal to see what the weeks in Iowa had meant back then, and while I cringe sharing this, it helps me remember how IYWS was an awakening.

A day, yet an eternity. We discussed the philosophy of architecture and its immortality while getting acquainted. We read sonnets raging with expletives that told you to turn to page 91 if you wanted to make love or 127 if you wanted to die. Page 127 wasn’t there. We walked through tunnels spray-painted with phrases like “The best social critics leave their marks in spray paint.” We giggled about a building shaped like Noah’s ark. A critique session turned into an afterlife discussion, and then our teacher told us that we’ll all have to hang out at her house. We decided to make tee-shirts that say “A lie to you, but fiction to me.” Permanent marker black on tee-shirt white. Our night out on the town was spent hopscotching around Locke quotations embedded within the sidewalk. Then off to a radio recording of an author’s short story reading at the bookshop downtown. The people are lovely. A lad with leopard print sneakers and night sky eyes. A girl who told me to come down to her room to cry about sonnets and discuss Beckett.

patrice and her writers

Patrice Hutton (in red) & Baltimore Writers’ Studio students

At IYWS, I began to see the world through a new lens, and as a community of writers, we explored Iowa City. We bought pies at the Amish market and invented legends about the Black Angel statue, and while most of this never made it into our stories, it taught us that fascination with the quotidian was okay, because after all, anything was game for stories. And when I talk to Baltimore kids about their work, that’s what I hope they come away understanding: writing can give a little extra oomph to life. You’re forced to see in a new way. Because you have to describe in a way you’ve never heard before. And it’d better sound good or else your community of writers will call you out.

Patrice Hutton directs Writers in Baltimore Schools. She’s currently a graduate student in writing at Johns Hopkins University. Her fiction appears in Mount Hope Magazine, Prime Number Magazine, and Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. She attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio in 2003 and 2004.


Chicken Knees, Skinny Luther, the Carnival-less Carnival Room, and Other Mysteries

Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 | Comments Off

Over the two weeks in Iowa City, I learned a vast array of important knowledge that will stick with me for the rest of my life. For example, chickens in fact have knees, that there is no prom like a prom thrown together at the last minute by a group of pioneering young writers. I learned that the street performer Skinny Luther cannot, in fact, juggle six balls while swallowing a sword for a total of six seconds, but can juggle five balls while swallowing a sword for a total of eleven seconds, and that he now holds the record for that. But more than that, I learned the names and faces of (most of) the sixty-five other brilliant young writers that joined me for the second session of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.

The camp began with a bang. The opening ceremonies involved the lovely Stephen Lovely reading to us all in what turned out to be quite a hilarious event including details of our ukulele playing, accordion wielding, and Irish dancing peers who find themselves in the occasional drum circle. From there, the amusement levels dropped no lower as we filtered to the inaccurately named Carnival Room (it did not contain any carnivals, to my great disappointment) in order to engage in an awkward ice breaker made delightfully morbid by the witty, dark humor of counselor Margaret Reges. Many of our days were made brighter with the help of her and our residential professional amateur meteorologist, James Longley.

On the second day, everyone got right down to business, heading off to our rigorous morning seminars where we met our teacher and classmates properly. I attended the poetry class led by swashbuckling Margaret Ross. As expected of a crowd of nine poets (including our valiant captain, Margaret), we were a group of rough cut individuals who didn’t play by the rules. Immediately, the group became infamous for being the cuddliest, closest knit group around as we pirated our way through Iowa City, plundering and pillaging every coffee shop we visited with the quiet, awkward sounds of poets loitering.

Quickly though, others joined the fun of coffee shop loitering. It dominated the studio as the main pastime and sport. Nothing can quite top the endless hours spent at Prairie Lights and Java House, bickering over which of the locations was more productive and which one had better drinks. This led to the Great Coffee House War at the end of Week One, A.L. (After Lovely), which culminated with a six hour jam session between Nina and me at Java House as we worked through a year’s worth of writer’s block and emerged victorious with pages of new plans for her work-in-progress novel.

The business of week one stepped aside briefly for the Intermission Weekend, a time of peace and prosperity across the land of Iowa City. On the first day of the two day national holiday, we put our differences aside and signed up for dunk tanks, electives of various forms ranging from song writing to improv. I found myself along with three other poets from my class in the Food Writing course. The class of about 12 spent the morning at the food market following people around discreetly and writing down everything they did. Havoc was wreaked, pie and donuts were had, and a joyous time was achieved by all.

Sunday followed, bringing a day to sleep in before heading to brunch. A large populous had made the journey to a local breakfast place to indulge in the joys of eggs, sausage, and pie shakes. Two brave travelers stayed behind though in wait of a third, and upon hearing the news of a forty-five minute wait, began their legendary trek to the boonies of residential Iowa City to indulge in the delights of Sunny’s Restaurant, with its reportedly amazing French toast, and much more debatable Tempeh Reuben. The path was a long one, but the writers found themselves an enjoyable yet affordable meal that had them leaving satisfied, other than the tempeh, which was as debatable as reviews suggested.

Week Two, A.L.,  started up as quickly as Week One, and everyone returned to work critiquing each other’s poems and stories (all well-armed with the 100 line poems and the 10 page stories that were assigned to be written over the holiday). The week progressed much as the first did until the Tragedy of the Washington County Fair occurred, in which a villainous mechanical bull took on challengers and emerged victorious over all but the brave and powerful Margaret Reges. Her victory will be told of in many tales and songs to come. The night progressed much as expected, accompanied with poorly fried Jell-O and Klondike Bars, until on the way back it was revealed that the bus’s radiator had broken down, leaving us very briefly stranded by a roadside gas station in the middle of the eternal cornfield that is Iowa.

The Tragedy, though fierce, did not lessen the trip at all, but instead improved spirits and brought about much mirth and joke making from the staff and students alike. Week Two ended with an hour long “prom,” whose theme was voted upon by students from a wild list of eleven themes. Though close, classics such as “North Korean Submarine Luau,” and “Magic the Gathering: a Magical Gathering” all lost out to “Rumspringa,” and so the Amish themed dance began.

The following day was of course one of great sadness as dozens of campers returned home from their grand pilgrimage to the holy land of writers. Two-thirds of the writers, counselors included, went without sleep, many wanting to stay up to see the first shuttle off. For the 5:30 shuttle, there were a dozen or so bystanders to wave the crowd goodbye, a number that increased after a trip to Java House for morale boost much needed. After reaching its peak at the 9:30 shuttle, the group began to dwindle as there simply weren’t enough people remaining. After noon, there were four campers left standing. Gabran, a young novelist, and I joined our counselors David and James for one last lunch at the fine eateries of Burge. As a somber last dare, James challenged Gabran to make and eat a chicken sandwich using grilled cheese sandwiches as buns. This last meal will surely be marked throughout time as both the grandest and saddest of all meals ever attended in those halls.

gabrans last meal

Gabran asks himself, Have I created a monster?

It wasn’t long after lunch that Gabran’s parents picked him up, and time had not long passed before mine came for me. The once bustling Burge Commons were now quiet and empty, wearing only the scattered bodies of counselors and teachers who remained without anyone to counsel or teach. Dear Leader Lovely was all that remained to brighten their days as they began to prepare for Session 1 of 2014.

—Noah Dversall

Noah Dversall is a junior at the Dayton Regional STEM School in Kettering, Ohio. He attended Session 2, 2013 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.