Surfers have Haleiwa, on the north shore of O’ahu. Skiers have Aspen, Park City, Telluride. Olympic athletes train in Colorado Springs, astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, submariners out of Groton, Connecticut. Want to learn commercial fishing? Head to New Bedford or Kodiak. Seeing eye dogs practice crossing through traffic on the streets of Morristown, New Jersey, where local drivers know not to slow down (too much). Actors flock to LA or New York and cram in with painters and sculptors, musicians and composers, choreographers and dancers. What about aspiring writers? Where do they flock to master their craft?
Ever since the 1930s, when the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was formed, writers have traveled to Iowa City, a bustling, picturesque college town, to focus on their writing, study with experienced writers and teachers, and enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie that can only be found in a community of peers. During the last century other fine writing programs were established at the University of Iowa, including the world-renowned International Writing Program, the Nonfiction Writing Program, the Playwrights’ Workshop, the Translation Workshop, and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.
Iowa City became a mecca for creative writers of all kinds, and has earned a literary pedigree rivaling that of New York or Chicago. To get a sense of how far Iowa City’s reach extends through time and space, pick up a random novel or book of short stories or poetry from a shelf at your local bookstore. There’s a ninety percent chance that the writer either studied, taught, or read for an audience in Iowa City at one time or another.
To see how much Iowa City values its writers, stroll down its main street, Iowa Avenue, and look at the Literary Walk—a series of bronze relief panels that honors forty-nine writers with ties to Iowa—including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Marilynne Robinson. While you’re out walking, though you may not notice, you’ll be surrounded by aspiring Kurts and Flannerys, students at one of the many writing programs mentioned above, tapping away at their laptops in the Java House or sitting on the Pedestrian Mall contemplating some knotty problem in their work. There’s a reading nearly every night in Iowa City, year round, at Prairie Lights Bookstore or the University of Iowa, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, travelogue (it may be a young debut novelist, it may be that famous poet who just won the National Book Award) as well as a variety of other literary events: relay-readings, open-mics, book clubs, you name it.
If you’re a writer, you’re a citizen of Iowa City, even if you’ve never been here. We’re waiting for you!