Before flying to the historic writing town that is Iowa City, I took some time to research some of the many famous writers who had spent time there before me, including John Cheever, Philip Roth, and of course my teacher, Nick Dybek. I spent time reading their work, and was amazed at their literary prowess. The welcoming letter I received from Nick asked me to read “If on a Winter’s Night A Traveler” by Italo Calvino. Needless to say, I was utterly confused after completing the novel and began to worry about what lay ahead.
When I first arrived at the university, I shared a meal in Burge Hall with the people who would become some of my closest literary critics and supporters; I could feel the brilliance emanating from their bodies. Daily life at the studio was both enjoyable and educational to say the least. The two hour afternoon workshops involving the daily critique of a student’s pieces allowed for my writing to truly blossom, as my work was given careful attention and constructive criticism by both my teacher and my peers. I already miss the morning reports and stretch exercises, where we were told the day’ s activities, attempted to decipher French poetry, and listened to emotion filled music while writing whatever came to mind. The mid-day seminars were always amazing, as my class spent time unpacking some of the most prominent short fiction around, ranging from Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” to Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”. Nick Dybek taught our class so much about fiction, and perhaps his most important point to me was asking “is this story believable?”
The true power of details and the importance of developing a strong reader to writer connection were also emphasized, two valuable lessons I will never forget. Most of all, the atmosphere created by the students, counselors, and faculty of the studio was conducive to writing. I even picked up a few new vocabulary words from some of the friends I made from the east coast, including “good looks” and “that’s vio.” Few people appreciate the value of a great piece of literature, and everybody at the studio shared a similar passion for writing.
Yes, I will miss the flash flood and tornado warnings I periodically received on my phone, the writing activities and classes I attended throughout the day, and the humid nights spent writing in my dorm under dim lights, but I will miss the friends I have made at the workshop more than anything else. The Iowa Young Writer’s Studio helped me find my writing voice and connected me to others with a shared passion, and I will never forget my time spent in Iowa City.
David Ohta is a rising junior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. He attended Session 1 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.