The only day my iPad was on mail alert, I felt excruciatingly nervous on my way back home. My mother was driving the car and we had just crossed Bittan Market. My iPad beeped and I jumped to check my email. It was April 1, 2015 and I had been accepted to attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.
Few people knew what it meant for me. The months preceding my acceptance to IYWS were extremely painful. Due to various reasons, mostly stress regarding my academic performance, I had begun to lose faith in myself and my writing. In fact, this lack of self-confidence made me hate myself. Whenever I was alone, it didn’t take me two seconds to sit somewhere and start crying or disparaging myself. I sometimes went to bed, wishing time would stop.
But after April 1, I had something to look forward to. I had first heard of IYWS in my freshman year and I knew I had to attend the workshop. It seemed as though someone was calling me, something was waiting for me 7,890 miles away from my hometown, Bhopal, India. Actually, a lot was waiting for me.
If you go through the journal I maintained at Iowa, you will see one sentence written on almost every page: “I feel more alive.” How absolutely true it was! I woke up, walked, talked, ate, sat, stood as a writer. For me, each day in Iowa was a day spent in paradise. Deep within I used to think of myself as an unworthy person. I believed I wasn’t as talented as the other writers who I was going to be with. Truth be told, I was on the verge of breaking down one day when I told my teacher, Dan, that my acceptance was probably an error.
I still can’t figure out what magic happened last summer that helped me grow into a better, positive and confident human being. Perhaps I failed to tell my roommate, Chloe, and my friend, Jazz, how empowering and exhilarating their friendship had been. Perhaps I never told my teacher and the fellow poets in my class that they gave me a place where I knew I belonged. Perhaps I never told Stephen Lovely, the teachers and the wonderful counselors how their smiles simply made my day. Perhaps I never told the other campers that without them, I would never have felt so unafraid. Perhaps I never told that wonderful person who once complimented me for ‘having a smile like sunshine,’ that I no longer felt ashamed when I looked at myself or that I had started laughing heartily.
Despite all of this, I must say, I have no regrets. The Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, indubitably, has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Not a day goes by without longing to go back to the wonderful place that was Iowa City. Not only do I believe more in the future of writing, I believe in my own voice. I have learned to embrace my roots and know that my dreams are valid. I know that there are people out there who appreciate my poems for what they are. I know that I am the writer I want to be and I will and must continue to grow. I know that home is not the place you come from but where you belong.
Congratulations to all those who will attend the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio 2016! Let the experience mold, surprise, inspire and change you!
Devanshi Khetarpal is an 11th grader at St. Joseph’s Convent Senior Secondary Girls’ School in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. She attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio in the summer of 2015.